I Wish I’d Known this Before I Started!, cont’d. Ecclesiastes 7:1-12:12
Ecclesiastes 10:1-20 Wisdom for the Uncertainties of Life
Solomon compares the actions and consequences of a foolish man to a wise man.
Ecclesiastes 10:1-Solomon again makes a rather strange statement. At least, strange to us. But to the people of his time it probably made perfect sense.
Verses 1-3. - Section 11. A little folly mars the effect of wisdom, and is sure to make itself conspicuous. Verse 1. - Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor. This is a metaphorical confirmation of the truth enunciated at the end of the last chapter, "One sinner destroyeth much good." It is like the apostle's warning to his converts, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (1 Corinthians 5:6). The Hebrew expression is literally, "flies of death," which may mean either "dead flies," as in our version and the Vulgate (muses morientes), or "deadly, poisonous flies," as in the Septuagint (μυῖαι θανατοῦσαι). The latter rendering seems preferable, if we regard the use of similar compound phrases, e.g., "instruments of death" (Psalm 7:14: ); "snares of death" (Psalm 18:5); and in New Testament Greek, ἡ πληγὴ τοῦ θανάτου, "the death-stroke" (Revelation 13:3, 12). The flies meant are such as are poisonous in their bite, or carry infection with them. Such insects corrupt anything which they touch - food, ointment, whether they perish where they alight or not. They, as the Hebrew says, make to stink, make to ferment, the oil of the perfumer. The singular verb is here used with the plural subject to express the unity of the individuals, "flies" forming one complete idea. The Septuagint rendering omits one of the verbs: Σαμπιοῦσι σκευασίαν ἐλαίου ἡδύσματος, "Corrupt a preparation of sweet ointment." The point, of course, is the comparative insignificance of the cause which spoils a costly substance compounded with care and skill. Thus little faults mar great characters and reputations. "A good name is better than precious ointment" (Ecclesiastes 7:1), but a good name is ruined by follies, and then it stinks in men's nostrils. The term, "ointment of the apothecary," is used by Moses (Exodus 30:25, etc.) in describing the holy chrism which was reserved for special occasions. So doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor. The meaning of the Authorized Version is tolerably correct, but the actual rendering will hardly stand, and one wants some verb to govern "him that," etc. The other versions vary. Septuagint, "A little wisdom is more precious (τίμιον) than great glory of folly;" Vulgate, "More precious are wisdom and glory than small and short-lived folly;" Jerome, "Precious above wisdom and glory is a little folly." This last interpretation proceeds upon the idea that such "folly" is at any rate free from pride, and has few glaring faults. "Dulce est desipere in loco," says Horace ('Carm.,' 4:12. 28). But the original is best translated thus: "More weighty than wisdom, than honor, is a little folly." It is a painful fact that a little folly, one foolish act, one silly peculiarity of manner or disposition, will suffice to impair the real value of a matt's wisdom and the estimation in which he was held. The little clement of foolishness, like the little insect in the ointment, obscures the real excellence of the man, and deprives him of the honor that is really his due. And in religion we know that one fault unchecked, one Secret sin cherished, poisons the whole character, makes a man lose the grace of God. (For the same effect from another cause, see Ezekiel 3:20; Ezekiel 33:13.) Jerome sees in the "dead flies" wicked thoughts put into the Christian's mind by Beelzebub, "the lord of flies."
The Pulpit Commentary,
Ecclesiastes 10:2-3-A foolish person is easily recognizable because of the decisions he will make.
Ecclesiastes 10:4-If you are in a disagreement with a leader and he becomes angry about it. If you are right, don’t change your position just because he is angry. But don’t be arrogant about it. Show respect to him as a leader. Your calmness and quiet confidence will very persuasive.
Ecclesiastes 10:5-7-Solomon says that he has seen strange things happen…such as the rich being humbled and slaves being exalted.
Ecclesiastes 10:8-9-We should always anticipate the unexpected. Think ahead and don’t be so focused on the moment that you are not aware of what could happen next.
Ecclesiastes 10:10-Though it may take a little time to stop and sharpen an ax…it will be a great benefit because afterwards you will be able to cut more wood in a shorter time and with less exertion. Wisdom is much the same. If you will take time now to learn…it will make you much more productive in the long-run.
Ecclesiastes 10:11-Think your plans out thoroughly…and be prepared for the unexpected. Have an alternative plan…just in case something goes wrong.
Ecclesiastes 10:12-14-People enjoy listening to a person who speaks with wisdom. But they get tired of the incessant prattle of a fool. He never knows when to stop talking. He is generally the only one who enjoys listening to himself.
Ecclesiastes 10:15-A foolish person is so unaccustomed to hard work that if he works even a little he becomes so tired that he cannot even find his way to town (home).
Ecclesiastes 10:16-19-A land is blessed that has mature leaders who know the appropriate times to party and to work (:16-17). Verse 18 shows the result of leadership that confuses the two. Verse 19 speaks of the attitude of leadership that confuses the two.
Ecclesiastes 10:20-Don’t speak harshly of leaders even in the most intimate of settings. Somehow such words seem to find their way to the leader that was spoken of. The phrase, “a bird of the heavens…the winged creature” is similar to our modern phrase, “a little bird told me”…meaning that someone secretly spread word, they gossiped.
Ecclesiastes 11:1-12:8 Wisdom for the Stages of Life
11:1 Cast your bread on the surface of the waters. A metaphorical expression taken from the grain trade of a seaport town, illustrating the successful prospects of a bold business venture.
The Ryrie Study Bible, Charles Ryrie, footnote on 11:1, p. 997
Ecclesiastes 11:2-There are two general interpretations of this verse. First, it is advise to diversify your investments because you don’t know what may happen. Second, be gracious in helping the less fortunate…don’t just help some, but help as many as possible.
Ecclesiastes 11:3-While we cannot know everything that is going to happen…it is good to be observant and to learn as much as possible concerning how the world around us operates. That way we can be better managers of what we have.
Ecclesiastes 11:4-Be careful of being so overly cautious and waiting for the perfect conditions…that you wind up doing nothing.
Ecclesiastes 11:5-6-There are many things that we don’t know. However, there are many things that we do know and we should act based on what we do know. Don’t allow uncertainty to dictate what you do.
Ecclesiastes 11:7-10-Enjoy all the days of your life...but remember to be cautious about what you do because ultimately you must face God's judgment.
Ecclesiastes 12:1-7-Always keep God in mind...develop this practice while you are young and things are good so that you will not forget Him when you become old and life becomes difficult. Don't forget that one day this life will end and you will stand before God.
- Vernon McGee aptly summarizes verses 12:2-7 in the following way:
Verse 2: "Failing eyesight makes it appear that the sun, moon, and stars are getting dimmer. Time flies and one sad experience follows another-clouds return after rain."
Verse 3: "Keepers of the house shall tremble" refers to the legs. The old person begins to totter. "Strong men" are the shoulders that are no longer erect. "Grinders" are the teeth. "Those that look out of the windows" refers to failing eyesight.
Verse 4: "Doors shut in the street" refers to being hard of hearing. "Sound of grinding is low" refers to the tongue. The voice of old age gets thin.
"Shall rise up at the voice of the bird"—it took an alarm clock to wake him before, now the chirping of a bird disturbs his sleep.
"Daughters of music shall be brought low” indicates that he can no longer sing in the choir, cannot carry a tune anymore.
Verse 5: "Afraid of that which is high"—things that formerly did not frighten him. "Fears shall be in the way”—he no longer enjoys traveling. "Almond tree shall flourish"—our senior citizen is getting gray-haired, if his hair has not fallen out. "Grasshoppers shall be a burden"—little things annoy him. "Desire shall fail"—romance is gone. "Man goeth to his long home"—death comes.
Verse 6: "Silver cord"—the spinal cord.
"Golden bowl"—the head.
Willmington’s Guide to the Bible, H.L. Willmington p. 137
Ecclesiastes 12:8-Life “under the sun” is such a waste. Vanity.
Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 Wisdom for the Whole of Life
Solomon says that it has been his intent to write a book of truth and instruction for life. He gives his readers a warning: While it is good to study and to read…there comes a time when you have to put what you have learned into practice. Add to that the fact that there are many books which you can read that will provide you with no benefit (:12). His conclusion is: "fear God and keep His commandments...For God will bring every act to judgment" (:13-14).
Prayer: Father, help me to slow down long enough for You to speak to me. Sometimes I catch myself running at a break-neck pace. There are so many important things that I have to do. And yet, I realize that the quality with which I do things is important. Please help me to learn more than ever the value of my time with You. The personal, quiet times of prayer and study of Your word.