part 20 – a little birdie told me (Ecc 10)
This morning we move into chapter 10 of Ecclesiastes. Go ahead and turn there in your bibles. Now, we are drawing nigh unto the end. Only two more chapters after today. I’ve had mixed reviews on Ecclesiastes. I have had at least three people tell me that they are really enjoying this series and they don’t want it to end. Others, have mentioned that they aren’t exactly that excited. In fact, I am aware that some people haven’t really been thrilled about the teaching here period, across the board. Know how I know that. You may be wondering who said that or how I know that. Well, let’s just say that a little birdie told me.
That’s understandable, and to borrow from Abraham Lincoln, who borrowed from John Lydgate, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” I get that. Nonetheless, I want to please as many as possible, which is why I sent out a survey yesterday. I would love to hear your voice because I am here to serve you. I want to know what topic or passage from which you would like for me to preach so that I can plan accordingly. We will be wrapping up Ecclesiastes soon and I would like to get a jump on preparing some direction for the next series, so it would honor me if you took a few minutes to take the survey. If you didn’t receive the survey invitation, that means you need to sign up to receive emails from us. Fill out a contact card and drop it in the giving box before you leave today.
Now in Ecc 10 we have another section in chapter 10, like we had in chapter 7. A string of proverbial statements. It begins with verse 1
1 As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,
so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
The point that he is making is that it doesn’t take much of a bad thing to ruin a good thing. This comes right on the tail of the end of chapter 9, which ended with the words: wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.
Israel can destroy Jericho but one sinner, Achan, can take some of the items that were supposed to be set apart and devoted to God and the result, the small group from Ai, with only a few people defeated the Israelites. One sinner destroyed much good. It doesn’t take much of a bad thing to ruin a good thing.
We tend to have this individualistic mentality here in 21st century America. We lack the communal mentality of the ancients. We tend to think things like, “It’s my life to live” and “I’m not hurting anyone else.” However, when we walk in sin, when we make foolish decisions, we don’t just affect ourselves. When we make foolish or sinful decisions, we bring pain to those who love us and want what is best for us. As the body of Christ, each member is affected by what the other does and a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
Camaraderie in the office and then one person with a cynical attitude.
In the classroom, you have great opportunity to grow and learn but that one student derails the discussion with some rabbit trail or some silly comment.
A little bit of bad goes a long way in ruining a lot of good.
You can process every work order at work flawlessly, with accuracy, proficiency, flawlessly, but one mistake on a key account, your biggest customer and consider the implications. All that good fades into oblivion when set next to this one blemish.
Build your whole career with one wise decision after another, years and years. You’re at the top or close to it and one idle moment of folly, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in a staff meeting and that one statement can bring your whole career crashing down.
Live your whole life cautiously with discretion and one night one too many drinks and then you could wake up next to a stranger who comes to you in two months telling you she is pregnant.
A little bit of folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
One bad apple ruins the whole bunch.
Let’s move forward in the text, in verse two, we see that clearly the Teacher’s political orientation as a conservative republican. He says:
2 The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
but the heart of the fool to the left.
Just kidding. The idea here is that the majority of the world is right handed, so the strength, the power, the value is in the right hand. VERSES. So the wise is inclined to the right, toward that which is valuable. The fool is inclined toward that which is less valuable.
Wisdom is about walking down the path of life seeing a fork in the road where two options are presented. The path to the left and the path to the right. The path that leads presents certain options; they aren’t necessarily bad, they aren’t necessarily evil, but they aren’t as valuable. Perhaps that path presents facebook with links to videos that while they may be funny they don’t add value in any way to our lives. We watch them and then we say “well that was a waste of my time”. Again, it’s not inherently wrong, bad, or evil, just less valuable than what the other path had to offer. Then there is the path on the right. That path may present reading something substantial, our bible, something that will enhance our professional career, quality time with a loved one.
One of the keys to walking in wisdom is asking the question, which path holds more value? Which path leads to that which is more valuable? This is essentially to have our own best interest in mind.
I could go down the path to the left and keep putting off my research paper – after all it’s not due for a month and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the path to the right gets a jump start on it and leaves wiggle room for any roadblocks that may come up and it reduces the stress of last minute madness. If I am looking out for my own best interest, doing what is better, going the path that has more value, I’m inclined to the right. I ask the question, which way is better? I could go down the path to the left and I wouldn’t even be sinning. But it wouldn’t be the wise choice; it wouldn’t be the best decision. I wouldn’t be looking out for my own best interests.
3 Even as fools walk along the road,
they lack sense
and show everyone how stupid they are.
This verse, as I understand it, simply points out that one doesn’t need to hire a private investigator to dig deep into a person’s life in order to see that they are a fool. Just watch them as they go about their business and their stupidity will be on display for all to see. It will be immediately evident in their ways.
4 If a ruler’s anger rises against you,
do not leave your post;
calmness can lay great offenses to rest.
As I understand it, the precept he is teaching here is simply, “keep your cool. Stay cool, calm, and collected.” You may have messed up and the boss is coming down on you. Don’t allow your emotions to get the best of you and get into a shouting match. Don’t retort. Stay calm. Don’t get flustered. In a fit of rage it is easy to say something you might regret. But if you keep your cool and simply explain the situation, the results will be much better. Even if you made a huge error that was completely your fault, calmly apologizing and making it clear that you learned your lesson and will take precautions against such actions in the future will lay great offenses to rest.
Proverbs 15:1 Gentleness turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Stay calm. Last week I mentioned the NFL playoff games (which by the way, the predictions weren’t that far off regarding who was favored to win and even the predicted scores were fairly accurate). In the Seattle vs San Fransisco game, the first play of the game, the Seattle quarterback fumbled and SF recovered. But that young QB didn’t show frustration, throw his helmet, scream at his team mates. He calmly jogged off the field, keeping his composure, and he led his team to a win. That really impacted me. I was very impressed with his ability to remain calm in the midst of it all.
5 There is an evil I have seen under the sun,
the sort of error that arises from a ruler:
6 Fools are put in many high positions,
while the rich occupy the low ones.
7 I have seen slaves on horseback,
while princes go on foot like slaves.
Folly and error is not limited to the lower class citizens and common people on the street. Even the ruler, the one in the position of authority is not exempt from folly, from error. And here, the Teacher points out one error to which rulers are prone. In their position of authority, they have the power to employ whoever they want and at times their decisions about who to put into high positions are foolish. Rather than putting the most qualified people in high positions, they put their friends who may not be the most qualified and they may very well be foolish.
This is simply an observation and he doesn’t exactly give any advice on what to do about it, just yet. But I think we see the implications in vv 16 & 17. If we have the opportunity to employ someone, to delegate power to someone, we should be careful who we choose.
8 Whoever digs a pit may fall into it;
whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.
9 Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them;
whoever splits logs may be endangered by them.
These, I believe, in short, communicate: you reap what you sow. Whoever digs a pit may refer to something done with ill intention so that someone else may fall into it. You dig a pit expecting someone else to fall into it, you yourself could fall into it. Now, the cynical scoffing mocker says, “You deserve to fall into the pit if you’re not smart enough to remember where it is.” Just be more cautious. Yes, be cautious, but also be humble and check your heart. The other examples seem to refer to simple work. Whatever you’re doing has its inherent dangers and we should be mindful of them, just common sense stuff. But as one of my cynical co-workers has written on his whiteboard, “Common sense is not so common.” However, I prefer the way Steven Covey phrases it, “Common sense isn’t always common practice.” Wisdom is all about putting common sense into common practice. Wisdom says, “Yes, that is the best way to do it, that is the more valuable choice; that is what I will do.” Folly says, “Yeah, I know that I should do that, but I’m not going to.”
He leads right into another very practical insight right along these lines:
10 If the ax is dull
and its edge unsharpened,
more strength is needed,
but skill will bring success.
This is one of those very practical insights. A sharp ax will be much more efficient and effective than a dull ax. We have wood to chop. We see that the ax is dull. We are at the fork in the road. The path to the left is the path of “I have too much wood to chop to waste my time sharpening this blade.” The path to the right is the path of, “If I take a few minutes to sharpen this blade before I begin, I will spend less than half of the time and strength.” It’s not a sin to chop wood with a dull blade, but it isn’t the wise choice. It is working harder and less efficient and it’s the course of action that doesn’t have one’s own best interest in mind. The precept here is work smarter not harder.
I know that I’m extremely busy right now and it feels like I don’t have the time to sharpen the blade, but if I make the time right now, I will save a lot more time in the long run, not to mention all of the energy I will save.
I’m too busy to change my oil or maintain my vehicle. I don’t have the money to spend on changing my oil or maintaining my vehicle. But down the road, if I don’t maintain it, it will poop out on me and I will have no choice but to take time and money to fix what could have been prevented with maintenance. I used the example of maintaining a vehicle, but the same is true with most things. Relationships, our homes, our appliances.
Back up my hard drive now, save frustration later when my computer crashes.
11 If a snake bites before it is charmed,
the charmer receives no fee.
12 Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious,
but fools are consumed by their own lips.
13 At the beginning their words are folly;
at the end they are wicked madness—
14 and fools multiply words.
We have already discussed the role of one’s words with regard to wisdom. Here we see that the fool just carries on and on and on and doesn’t know when to just stop talking. He puts his foot in his mouth so to speak and then he just shoves it deeper and deeper.
Prov 10:19 When words are many sin is not absent but he who holds his tongue is wise.
No one knows what is coming—
who can tell someone else what will happen after them?
15 The toil of fools wearies them;
they do not know the way to town.
Perhaps this refers back to verse 3 (even as he walks along the road he shows everyone how stupid he is).
16 Woe to the land whose king was a servant[a]
and whose princes feast in the morning.
17 Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth
and whose princes eat at a proper time—
for strength and not for drunkenness.
I believe this is a follow up to his commentary earlier about folly in rulers. This shows the importance of having the right people in positions of power. The land is blessed when the king and his high officials are wise and prudent but it is a misfortune when the leadership is foolish, selfish, and wreckless.
18 Through laziness, the rafters sag;
because of idle hands, the house leaks.
This is just more common sense. Preventative maintenance is important; you reap what you sow. Better to take a few minutes now to fix the broken things than to put it off in laziness only to face worse issues down the road.
19 A feast is made for laughter,
wine makes life merry,
and money is the answer for everything.
Before I try to even attempt at explaining this, let me just say that when he says “money is the answer for everything” we have to understand the term “everything” as it is intended and not to mean everything without exception. Obviously money is not the answer to man’s need for salvation because we know in Acts that when a man tried to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit he was harshly rebuked.
It seems that this could be referring to the theme of enjoying life. Food and drink contributing to that and money being a versatile means of obtaining that which is desired. It could be connected to the previous verses. Feasting at the proper time and not drinking for drunkenness but in moderation for merriment. If the rafters are sagging, money is the answer to pay a guy to come fix the roof. Either way, we know that he has already told us that he had it all and that riches are not the answer to the deepest longing of the soul, so we know that by this verse he isn’t encouraging a focus on money. But with regard to the theme of the book, I do think we could make the point that well, money sure does make life more enjoyable on a practical level. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
20 Do not revile the king even in your thoughts,
or curse the rich in your bedroom,
because a bird in the sky may carry your words,
and a bird on the wing may report what you say.
This is where we get the phrase “A little birdie told me.” The point is, be careful what you say. You never know who is listening. It is a small world. You may think you are alone, but you never know who is standing right outside the door, who may be evesdropping. The cynical scoffer, the fool, will not fully heed this warning. He will say, well just look all over first, make sure no one is there. But the fool is missing the point and again, he needs to check his heart. The point, is what my mother used to tell me when I was a child. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Now, obviously, there is a time and a place for a rebuke, there is a time and a place and a way for criticism, etc. But when it comes to talking about people, we ought to be very very slow to say anything negative.
This is hard, isn’t it. There’s somebody at your work or at school or in your family and they kinda drive you nuts, don’t they? And when someone else starts talking about them, you’re tempted to join in and put in your two cents. The teacher’s encouragement: don’t. Never know who is listening. Never know who the person that is talking with you will talk to.
Here, the context is the king. And he says don’t even revile the king in your thoughts. It all starts in the thoughts. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Nip it in the bud before it can flower forth in the mouth. The king is powerful and the last thing you would want to do is offend the man with the power.
But I hear all kinds of talk about my boss. And he always finds out about what people say. As we have said before, unless you would say it to the person or with the person in the room, better not to say it at all. And even if you would say it to the person or with the person present, it may not be appropriate to say to someone else.
This goes back to where we began. A little folly outweighs wisdom. It’s so easy for just a little bit of bad to ruin a lot of good. One little flick of the tongue can be like a drop of poison that can ruin the waters of a friendship or an employment.