The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Ecclesiastes 10

Ecc 10:1

AS DEAD FLIES GIVE PERFUME A BAD SMELL, SO A LITTLE FOLLY OUTWEIGHS WISDOM AND HONOR: The common understanding of this parable is certainly true enough, and easy enough to grasp. But perhaps a more specialized meaning is intended: "dead flies" = "flies of death" (KJV mg). At the last, the corrupting worms of death (eg, Mar 9:44,46,48: the maggots that breed in and feed upon decaying flesh) cause even the most carefully embalmed ("perfumed") corpse to stink. Thus a "good name" (the Name of the LORD, called upon believers) is far better than "fine perfume" (embalming spices) to save from death. For this same general thought (which also gives another connection with death, funerals, and embalming), cp Ecc 7:1-6.

Cp the way Judas responded to Mary anointing Jesus with oil (Mat 26:8; Mar 14:4,5). While the odor of the ointment filled the house (John 12:3) Judas was behaving like the "dead flies" spoken of here, in complaining about the cost. (Notice, as a corroboration of this interpretation, that this anointing was, in Jesus words, "for burial": Mat 26:12; Mar 14:8; Joh 12:7).

A LITTLE FOLLY OUTWEIGHS WISDOM AND HONOR: "One single act of sin may injure the character of a wise and honourable man, and greatly expose him to shame and contempt, and cause him to stink in the nostrils of men, Gen 34:30; and to be reproached by men, and religion and government to be reproached for his sake. Thus the affair of Bathsheba and Uriah, what a slur did it bring on the character of David, so famous for wisdom and honour, for religion and piety?" (Gill).

Folly is associated with wickedness (Ecc 7:17), and is the opposite of wisdom (Ecc 2:19). Elsewhere the wicked are said to be skilled in doing evil (Jer 4:22), and to be characterized by moral insensitivity (Jer 5:21). As has been pointed out before, folly is a moral rather than an intellectual deficiency.

Ecc 10:2

THE HEART OF THE WISE INCLINES TO THE RIGHT, BUT THE HEART OF THE FOOL TO THE LEFT: 'Choose what you will enjoy doing. Make it "second nature". Make sure that your wisdom supports your better impulses, and is not used to justify your worse ones. And at every opportunity, when you have a reasonable choice, choose that alternative which is spiritually upbuilding and worthwhile.' This parable probably gave rise to the common saying: "to have one's heart in the right place".

"For the heart to be at the right hand means that all our affections and emotions shall be well placed, helping and supporting us in the work of life. For the heart to be at the left hand means that feelings are wrongly placed, entangling and hindering, preventing good work and possibly even dragging down to destruction. Emotions which are quite good in themselves may be a hindrance if they are not properly guided. They may run counter to our life's work, they may throw us out of balance just when a sober poise is most urgently needed, they may warp our judgment or vitiate our reasoning. They may even lead us to forsake the path of duty altogether. In all such faults whether the evil influence is great or small, the heart is at the left hand" (PrPr 220).
"How thankful we should be that the weekly memorial meeting is an opportunity to examine the heart and analyse our inward motives to see if we are truly demonstrating a love for God -- or is ours simply a desire to impress others? In this unusual expression [Ecc 10:2] (because, in fact, the heart is positioned slightly to the left in the human body) is demonstrated that the heart, emotion and intellect of a spiritually-minded individual has an 'unnatural' inclination! It is centrally positioned with harmonious desire to give pleasure to Yahweh, rather than at a left-handed inclination to please self. Let us have the courage to thoroughly examine our true motives so that our service to Yahweh may not be 'rite' by 'right'!" (SJ Mansfield).

RIGHT: For the symbolic use of the right hand, see Psa 16:8,9,11; 48:10; 20:6; 21:8; Gen 35:18; Exo 15:6.

LEFT: Since the right hand is associated with all that is good and righteous, the left hand of necessity must sometimes symbolize the reverse (cp Mat 25:33,41).

Ecc 10:3

EVEN AS HE WALKS ALONG THE ROAD: That is, in his daily life, in the public view.

THE FOOL LACKS SENSE AND SHOWS EVERYONE HOW STUPID HE IS: His most ordinary words and behavior, since he lacks discretion, may proclaim him to be a fool. In Ecclesiastes alone, the fool is said to love rowdy songs (Ecc 7:5) and noisy, shallow laughter (Ecc 7:6); he is lazy (Ecc 4:5), talkative (Ecc 5:3; 10:12). As the old adage goes, "It is much better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt!" Furthermore, the fool is irritable (Ecc 7:9), and impervious to advice (Ecc 9:17): neither gentle persuasion (Pro 23:9) nor stern rebuke (Pro 17:10) affects him.

Ecc 10:4

IF A RULER'S ANGER RISES AGAINST YOU, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR POST; CALMNESS CAN LAY GREAT ERRORS TO REST: If the anger of a king (or a master) is directed against you, do not leave his service (cp Ecc 8:3), but accept his rebuke in meekness. This has the effect of pacifying him. See Pro 14:29; 15:1; 19:11; Heb 12:5-17. Storming out in an emotional fit will not improve your standing. "Rulers are looking for men who can remain composed and self-controlled" (Miller).

An example of this is Gideon's calm answer to the angry criticism of the Ephraimite leaders (Jdg 8:1-3).

DO NOT LEAVE YOUR POST: This phrase in the Hebrew has a military connotation: 'do not desert your post', 'do not resign your commission.'

Ecc 10:5

THERE IS AN EVIL I HAVE SEEN UNDER THE SUN, THE SORT OF ERROR THAT ARISES FROM A RULER: Vv 5-7 describe favoritism, and even perhaps nepotism. Rulers and others in authority may be blinded by friendship and family. And so they often make the error of appointing their incompetent friends, or incompetent relatives, to high office. In short, they put the wrong people in the wrong places. People who have no ability are exalted and put in high places, while those with great ability are passed over and given no opportunity. Henry comments: "Men of shattered brains, and broken fortunes, are put in places of power and trust, while the rich men of good sense and good estates, whose interest would oblige them to be true to the public, and whose abundance would be likely to set them above temptations to bribery and extortion, yet sit in low places, and can get no preferment; either the ruler knows not how to value them or the terms of preferment are such as they cannot in conscience comply with. It is ill with a people when vicious men are advanced and men of worth are kept under hatches."

Ecc 10:6

FOOLS ARE PUT IN MANY HIGH POSITIONS: This sort of thing was lamented in the Proverbs: "It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury -- how much worse for a slave to rule over princes!" (Pro 19:10). "When the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding" (Pro 28:12). Such men were the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in Christ's day, and so he assails them: "Woe to you... you shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to" (Mat 23:13).

WHILE THE RICH OCCUPY THE LOW ONES: "The Hebrew suggest a man of ancestral wealth and good character... who normally would be the friend and associate of kings and princes" (Krygger).

What is being described is a revolution of sorts, in which the whole social order turned upside down, in which those who have no background nor education nor proper training take over positions of authority, and those who do have such credentials are turned out, and reviled, and ignored. In the NT, Jesus is the man born to be king, but who becomes the stone rejected by the builders of Israel, reduced to the lowest level, reviled and finally murdered by the Jewish "fools" in "high positions".

Ecc 10:7

I HAVE SEEN SLAVES ON HORSEBACK, WHILE PRINCES GO ON FOOT LIKE SLAVES: Horses being associated with royalty and rulership (eg, Deu 17:16; Jer 17:25; Est 6:8). The writer continues to ponder this tremendous reversal of the social order. Cp "a servant who becomes king" in Pro 30:21,22 (as well as Pro 19:10). (Does this describe the base men, like Ahaz, who succeeded Uzziah after his leprosy set in? Or the foolish counselors of Hezekiah, who took over the reins of government when their king was laid low?)

PRINCES GO ON FOOT LIKE SLAVES: A vivid example of this is David, when he fled from Absalom: "David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up" (2Sa 15:30).

Leupold sees in this verse a sort of prophecy, on a national scale -- of Israel, destined by God's grace for the highest of positions amongst the nations, yet through its folly and disobedience being brought low -- while those peoples who should have been the "servants" of Israel lord it over her: cp Gen 49:10; Exo 19:6; Deu 33:29; Isa 44:5; 45:14; Deu 28:13-43; Isa 61:5; Dan 7:27. But of course, there will yet be one more gigantic reversal: when, through her faith at the last, Israel will be elevated to the position for which Yahweh always intended her!

"Upstarts frequently usurp the highest places, while the truly great pine in obscurity. This is a riddle in providence whose solution will one day gladden the hearts of the upright; but it is so common a fact, that none of us should murmur if it should fall to our own lot. When our Lord was upon earth, although he is the Prince of the kings of the earth, yet he walked the footpath of weariness and service as the Servant of servants: what wonder is it if his followers, who are princes of the blood, should also be looked down upon as inferior and contemptible persons? The world is upside down, and therefore, the first are last and the last first. See how the servile sons of evil lord it in the earth! What a high horse they ride! How they lift up their horn on high! Haman is in the court, while Mordecai sits in the gate; David wanders on the mountains, while Saul reigns in state; Elijah is complaining in the cave while Jezebel is boasting in the palace; yet who would wish to take the places of the proud rebels? and who, on the other hand, might not envy the despised saints? When the wheel turns, those who are lowest rise, and the highest sink. Patience, then, believer, eternity will right the wrongs of time" (CHS).

Ecc 10:8

Vv 8-11: Some of the benefits of prudence and caution, and the consequences of folly, described in metaphorical language.

WHOEVER DIGS A PIT MAY FALL INTO IT: The man who plots and sets a trap for his enemy may accidentally fall and be caught in it himself. This is a common picture in OT "wisdom" literature: Psa 7:15,16; 9:15; 35:7,8; 57:6; Pro 1:11-17; 5:22; 26:24-28; 28:10; cp Num 32:23; Jer 18:18-22. The mental picture is of a malevolent and secretive adversary working furiously to excavate a deep hole for the righteous servant of the Lord to fall into. Instead, what may happen is that the enormous mound of earth which he has thrown up slides back on top of him. Thus he digs his own grave, and buries himself! In addition, of course, to Saul, in his desperation to destroy his "rival" David", compare also (a) Haman, hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai (Est 7:9,10), (b) Absalom, who destroyed himself in his eagerness to wrest the throne from his father, (c) Balaam, who sought to entrap the men of Israel but brought about his own destruction, and of course (d) Judas, who plotted the arrest of his Master, but found in the end his own suicide (Mat 27:3-10; Acts 1:15-20).

WHOEVER BREAKS THROUGH A WALL: Thoughtlessly disturbing something already well-established, so as to do harm to one's neighbor. Cp Gen 49:6.

BITTEN BY A SNAKE: This parable makes sense naturally: for, in dry climes especially, snakes often nest in loose stone walls, or old fences, or rotten hedges. Cp, generally, Acts 28:3; also, cp Amo 5:19: "It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him."

"The reference is to one who has made a conquest and then proceeds utterly to destroy what was conquered. How often conquering nations did this to discourage those conquered or to destroy their last stronghold! Such a course on the part of the conquerors is not without danger, for, as out of the crannies in the hedging wall around a vineyard a viper may suddenly strike him that disturbs her as he destroys the wall, so the undue severity of the conqueror may rouse the conquered to a fury of opposition" (Leupold).

But to pursue the spiritual lesson: of course, the man who seeks to harm someone else may actually harm himself. "Wisdom understands that when you try to break down some wall of obstruction that keeps you from getting at someone or something, you are in danger, for hidden in that wall is a serpent that will bite you. Many a person has discovered that in heavy-handedly trying to break down somebody's resistance he has triggered a serpent within himself that flashes up in anger and leads to hurtful, dangerous things. He himself has been bitten" (RS).

Parabolically, Adam and Eve sought to "break through a wall" -- ie, to break down the barrier erected by God between them and Himself, to become "like the Elohim" (Gen 3:5). In seeking to do this, Eve first and then Adam heeded the advice of the serpent (Gen 3:6), but that advice proved to be a fatal bite (Gen 3:16-19)!

Under the title "Walls and Serpents", the old preacher Alexander MacLaren has this to say: "The first thing that the child learns is, that it must not do what it likes. The last lesson that the old man has to learn is, you must do what you ought. And between these two extremes of life we are always making attempts to treat the world as an open common, on which we may wander at our will. And before we have gone many steps, some sort of keeper or other meets us and says to us, 'Trespassers, back again to the road!' Life is rigidly hedged in and limited. To live as you like is the prerogative of a brute. To live as you ought, by obeying the laws and limitations stamped upon our very nature and enjoined by our circumstances, is the freedom and the glory of a man. There are limitations, I say -- fences on all sides. Men put up their fences... in regard to these conventional limitations and regulations, which own no higher authority or lawgiver than society and custom, you must make up your mind even more certainly than in regard of loftier laws, that if you meddle with them, there will be plenty of serpents coming out to hiss and bite. No man [can defy] the narrow maxims and petty restrictions of conventional ways, and set at nought the opinions of the people round about him, [without making] up his mind for backbiting and slander and opposition of all sorts. It is the price that we pay for obeying at first hand the laws of God and caring nothing for the conventionalities of men.

"But apart from that altogether, let me just remind you of the various limitations or fences which hedge up our lives on every side. There are the obligations which we owe, and the relations in which we stand, to the outer world, the laws of physical life, and all that touches the external and the material. There are the relations in which we stand, and the obligations which we owe, to ourselves. And God has so made us as that obviously large tracts of every man's nature are given to him on purpose to be restrained, curbed, coerced, and sometimes utterly crushed and extirpated. God gives us our impulses under lock and key. All our animal desires, all our natural tendencies, are held on condition that we exercise control over them, and keep them well within the rigidly marked limits which He has laid down, and which we can easily find out. There are, further, the relations in which we stand, and the obligations and limitations, therefore, under which we come, to the people round about us. High above them all, and in some sense including them all, but loftier than these, there is the all-comprehending relation in which we stand to God, who is the fountain of all obligations, the source and aim of all duty, who encompasses us on every side, and whose will makes the boundary walls within which alone it is safe for a man to live.

"We sometimes foolishly feel that a life thus hedged up, limited by these high boundaries on either side, must be uninteresting, monotonous, or unfree. It is not so. The walls are blessings, like the parapet on a mountain road, that keeps the travellers from toppling over the face of the cliff. They are training-walls, as our hydrographical engineers talk about, which, built in the bed of a river, wholesomely confine its waters and make a good [cleansing flow] which gives life, instead of letting them vaguely wander and stagnate across great fields of mud. Freedom consists in keeping willingly within the limits which God has traced, and anything else is not freedom but licence and rebellion, and at bottom servitude of the most abject type."

Ecc 10:9


Possibly this verse is really continuing the thought of v 8, by a sort of parallelism: thus, "digs a pit" // "quarries stones", and "breaks through a wall" // "splits logs". Likewise, the "ax" of v 10 might connect with both "wall" and "logs", and the "snake" of v 11 could refer back to the "snake" of v 8. Or... each verse -- even though somewhat related to what went before -- might of course be read as its own, self-contained, parable.

One result of the sin and the curse in the garden of Eden was that a sort of enmity would exist between man and his environment, the "thorns and thistles" which would plague man as he went about his work (Gen 3:17-19). So this verse could refer to such occupation hazards, generally. And so the practical lesson is: take reasonable and sensible precautions in all things that you do (cp Deu 19:5,6).

Also, there may be spiritual hazards in every ordinary daily task. "The battle between man and his environment, whether it be nations, rocks, forests, or people, is all indicative of the unsettled state of continual conflict which can only be resolved when the earth is full of the glory of Yahweh" (O'Grady).

Or... "Oppressors may get their will of poor and needy men as easily as they can split logs of wood, but they had better mind, for it is a dangerous business, and a splinter from a tree has often killed the woodman. Jesus is persecuted in every injured saint, and He is mighty to avenge His beloved ones. Success in treading down the poor and needy is a thing to be trembled at: if there be no danger to persecutors here there will be great danger hereafter" (CHS).

QUARRIES: That is, "removes". Typically, those who sought to remove the chief cornerstone: Psa 118:22; Mat 21:42-44.

Ecc 10:10

IF THE AX IS DULL AND ITS EDGE UNSHARPENED, MORE STRENGTH IS NEEDED: The need for wisdom and foresight: sharpen the ax!

"The lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life: the desire to have something, to enjoy something, to be something: possession, gratification, accomplishment. We all have these lusts. Adam and Eve had them in their innocency. In themselves, they are not wrong: they are 'very good': they are the creation and blessing of God. It is their misdirection that is evil. 'Thou shalt not covet' (Rom 7:7) is exactly the same word in the original as 'with desire I have desired to eat this passover with you' (Luk 22:15). Desire and affection are of themselves neutral, and potentially good, as the gifts of God. It is where we set them that makes the difference between sin and sainthood, between sorrow and salvation, tragedy and triumph. Wisdom perceives this, and directs all its desires in the way of wholesomeness, godliness, spiritual productiveness, eternal worthwhileness. Folly does not. Folly lets desire run its natural blind animal course which -- since Adam's transgression and sentence -- has been downward and corrupt and abominably perverted" (GVG).

UNSHARPENED: The verb "qalal" means "to sharpen; to make a blade sharp" (HAL). This verb is derived from a root which means "smooth; shiny" (referring to bronze; Eze 1:7; Dan 10:6). Sharpening the blade or head of a bronze ax will make it smooth and shiny.

BUT SKILL WILL BRING SUCCESS: "But wisdom is profitable to direct" (AV). This is much better than the NIV. In Ecclesiastes, 'chokmah" is the word usually translated "wisdom", and "yithron" is the word usually translated "profit". It is not "skill" which is needed, as though one could by one's own ingenuity, or even dexterity or brute force, overcome every obstacle -- including sin. Rather, it is "wisdom": preparing beforehand, seeing that the right tools are available, and in working order -- or in spiritual terms, having the sword of the Spirit sharpened and the armor polished, and above all carefully seeking the help of God in prayer.

Ecc 10:11

IF A SNAKE BITES BEFORE IT IS CHARMED, THERE IS NO PROFIT FOR THE CHARMER: The KJV has "Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better." The first half is misleading (the NIV is much better), and the second half is totally confused (the NIV is vastly better: "babbler" should be "charmer"! -- lit "master of the tongue", and relating back to the "charming" of the first phrase).

Therefore, to carry on the thought from the previous verses, the "charmer" should be wise and careful, and do his work as soon as expedient. Wisdom or skill is rendered no better than ignorance and ineptitude if it is not put to use in a timely manner. If the charmer is slack or neglectful in doing what he should do, then the snake may bite -- and all his wisdom and skill will have been to no avail.

Of course, in Scripture, the snake symbolizes sin, sinners (Psa 58:1-5; Mat 23:33; Num 21:6; Jer 8:17; Pro 23:32), and especially the sins of the tongue (Psa 55:21; 59:7; 64:3; 140:1-3). So the spiritual lesson is: do not treat sin lightly, or ignore its deadly sting, but use every means at your disposal to keep it under control. This is done first in regard to one's own tongue (cp Jam 3:6-10). But there may be advice and warning here, as regards the tongues of others: be careful and prudent, when possible, to avoid the "hissing" or the whispered slanders of human "snakes".

There is a fascinating play on words, or ideas, in this verse. Just as the serpent "hisses", so the "charmer" mimics the sound of the serpent with his own "whispers" ("charmed" is the Heb "lachash" = to whisper, hiss, or mumble); these sounds keep the serpent's attention and make it less likely to strike. And so, in the spiritual realm, prayer -- which could easily appear, to an observer, as whispering and mumbling -- becomes the preferred means of "charming" the serpent of sin!

Ecc 10:12

WORDS FROM A WISE MAN'S MOUTH ARE GRACIOUS: The English versions are divided: should it be: (a) the wise man's words "are gracious" (as KJV, ASV, NASB, NIV), or (b) the wise man's words "win him favor" (NEB, RSV, Moffatt)? Both ideas are equally true. In the end, therefore, it makes little difference.

GRACIOUS: Lit, "grace" -- embodying all that is gracious and kind (cp Psa 45:2). The primary example of such words is the Saviour: "All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips" (Luk 4:22). Gracious words are appropriate (Pro 15:23; 25:11), helpful (Eph 4:29; ct Col 3:8), and likeable (Pro 25:12,13). The wise man's words have the ability to bring favor upon himself -- from both God and man (Pro 10:11,14,21; 15:23; 22:11). "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him" (Mat 12:35). See Lesson, Prov and speech.

BUT A FOOL IS CONSUMED BY HIS OWN LIPS: "One of those grotesque verbal pictures which remind one of the Lord's description of a man with a plank in his eye or a man swallowing a camel [compare the common saying, 'Opening his mouth and putting his foot in it.'] It has the pungent humour of a scathing cartoon" (LGS).

This is the converse to the first half of the verse: "...the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him" (Mat 12:35,36)... and FOR him! "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken" (Mat 12:36). "A fool's mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul" (Pro 18:7; cp Pro 10:8,21; 14:3). Adonijah foolishly spoke against his own life (1Ki 2:23). "Many a man has been sunk by having his own tongue fall upon him, Psa 64:8" (Henry). "His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant!' " (Luk 19:22).

CONSUMED: Words may devour, or swallow up (Psa 52:4: where "harmful words" is lit "devouring words"; cp Psa 5:9): they consume the fool's reputation (Psa 52:3), his character (Jam 3:6), his opportunity to do good (Eph 4:29), and finally the man himself (Mat 12:36,37).

Ecc 10:13

AT THE BEGINNING HIS WORDS ARE FOLLY; AT THE END THEY ARE WICKED MADNESS: "End" is "outcome", as in Ecc 7:8. Here is a progression in folly: merely foolish talk deteriorates until it becomes irrational -- a madness in behavior as well as speech. By this time, the folly IS the man; they have become inseparable: "Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him" (Pro 27:22). Even if you reduce the man to the smallest parts, you will never be able to separate the folly from the man!

Ecc 10:14

AND THE FOOL MULTIPLIES WORDS: And is made known by his multiplicity of words (Pro 15:2). The fool speaks with "authority" of those things about which he knows absolutely nothing, and he refuses good advice and instruction -- for he feels that he knows best. The multiplication of arguments that ignore the revelation of God in Jesus Christ can end only in foolishness (1Co 1:18-25).

NO ONE KNOWS WHAT IS COMING -- WHO CAN TELL HIM WHAT WILL HAPPEN AFTER HIM?: This echoes Ecc 3:22; 6:12; 7:14; 8:7. The uncertainty of the future is a constant theme in Ecclesiastes. That which the fool knows nothing about includes, especially, the future -- both of the world and of his own life. He is like the rich fool in Christ's parable -- making grandiose plans for a personal future that is not to be (Luk 12:18-20). To him James gives warning also: "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil" (Jam 4:13-16; cp Pro 27:1).

Ecc 10:15

A FOOL'S WORK WEARIES HIM: He is probably weary from talking, not from actually working (this is the point of v 14)! "Sloth (Ecc 4:5) has already been set down as [a fool's] chief characteristic. Here it is again, a moral and intellectual laziness which leads to a stumbling (Ecc 2:14), fumbling (Ecc 10:2), crumbling (Ecc 10:18) life" (Eaton).

HE DOES NOT KNOW THE WAY TO TOWN: This is probably proverbial, to Qoheleth, just as "He isn't smart enough to come in out of the rain" might be to us! A fool has no sense of direction. He cannot even find and follow the well-worn path. And in a spiritual sense, a fool -- since he does not know, or refuses to heed, the simple lessons of the Bible -- has no sense of spiritual direction in his life, no practical knowledge of the narrow way (Mat 7:14; cp Psa 107:7), the "way to the tree of life" (Gen 3:24; cp Mat 22:16; Joh 14:6). And so he will not walk in that way (cp Isa 35:8-10). He is a "blind" man following the misguided lead of other "blind" men, and all alike will inevitably fall into the ditch (Mat 15:14).

Ecc 10:16

WOE TO YOU, O LAND WHOSE KING WAS A SERVANT: Or "a child" (RSV; NIV mg); "a slave" (NEB), or "a lad" (JB). The Heb is "nahar" = a boy, from the age of infancy to adolescence, with emphasis on moral and mental immaturity, and possibly by implication a servant (Strong). Perhaps Ahaz, Uzziah's grandson: cp with the denunciations of Isa 3:4-12; 5:11 -- during reign of Ahaz -- while, apparently, Uzziah was still alive (cp Isa 6:1).

AND WHOSE PRINCES FEAST IN THE MORNING: Children, when left on their own, and without proper instruction, are apt to indulge themselves at a whimsy. And so it is here, with those who are spiritual "children". "Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst" (Isa 5:11-13; cp Amo 6:4-6). "It is not for kings, O Lemuel -- not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights" (Pro 31:4,5).

Even an adult servant, who is foolish, will act like a child if he thinks there is no effective supervision: "But suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers" (Luk 12:45,46).

And he will act the same way if he has convinced himself that there is even a shred of justification for doing so. Even those who are nominally believers in Christ may, under certain circumstances, throw off all restraint and embrace the worst of their own passions: "But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you" (2Pe 2:12,13).

Such a sad picture will be wonderfully and completely reversed when Christ rules in God's kingdom (Jer 32:39-42; 33:6; Isa 1:26; 9:6,7; Eze 34:26; 37:22-24; Psa 72; etc).

Ecc 10:17

BLESSED ARE YOU, O LAND WHOSE KING IS OF NOBLE BIRTH: The contrast with v 16 is not so much one of age, as of level of maturity. The land is blessed when the king is governed by principles of honor, animated by a noble spirit, which scorns to do any thing base and unbecoming, and concerned for the public welfare before any private interests. Wisdom, virtue, the fear of God, generosity, and a readiness to do good to all mankind ennoble the royal blood.

AND WHOSE PRINCES EAT AT A PROPER TIME -- FOR STRENGTH AND NOT FOR DRUNKENNESS: When the subordinate rulers are more concerned to discharge their duties than to gratify their appetites (heeding the advice of Pro 31:1-9); when they eat in due season (Psa 145:15), to strengthen their bodies so as to serve God and people, and not for the indulgence of their appetites. It is well with a people when their princes are examples of temperance, when those that have most to spend upon themselves know how to deny themselves.

And it is the same with the elders in an ecclesia: "Now the overseer [of the ecclesia] must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)" (1Ti 3:2-5; cp 1Ti 3:8; Tit 1:6,7).

Ecc 10:18

IF A MAN IS LAZY, THE RAFTERS SAG; IF HIS HANDS ARE IDLE, THE HOUSE LEAKS: A warning to princes about the state of their realms: vv 16,17. Cp Pro 18:9; 21:25; 24:33,34. Contrast to Pro 9:1; 24:3. Cp and ct Pro 14:1. See LB 390. Cp the old saying: "A stitch in time saves nine."

Perhaps with special reference to Uzziah's day, when he would have lived to see the temple fallen into disrepair in Ahaz's reign (2Ch 29:16).

Also, going along with the previous verse: the ecclesia is the spiritual "house", or family; an ecclesial elder must know how to govern and guide his own family, and the spiritual "house" of God (cp 1Ti 3:4,5).

Ecc 10:19

A FEAST IS MADE FOR LAUGHTER, AND WINE MAKES LIFE MERRY, BUT MONEY IS THE ANSWER FOR EVERYTHING: This answers very well to the times of Hezekiah. At the time when the king was laid low by his fatal disease, and before his recovery, the princes and counselors took over the reins of power. During this time they indulged themselves shamelessly (Isa 5:22; 28:7,8; 56:10-12), while they thought that they might pay off their threatening enemies, the Assyrians (2Ki 18:16), or alternatively "buy" protection from the Egyptians (Isa 20:5,6; 28:15; 30:1-3; 31:1-3). Either way, they believed that "money was the answer" to all their problems! What fools they were! (See WHez ch 8 as well.)

Ecc 10:20

DO NOT REVILE THE KING EVEN IN YOUR THOUGHTS, OR CURSE THE RICH IN YOUR BEDROOM: Cp Exo 22:28 and Acts 23:5; Mat 10:26; Ecc 12:14. Even as Hezekiah lay on his death-bed, his subordinates were keeping watch over him, not in hopes of his recovery, but in anticipation of his death (Isa 22 seems esp to deal with this period).

BECAUSE A BIRD OF THE AIR MAY CARRY YOUR WORDS, AND A BIRD ON THE WING MAY REPORT WHAT YOU SAY: "The figure of speech expresses the idea of private opinions being spread so easily and quickly that swift flying birds might be the messengers. Everyone knows that such news is spread with astonishing speed" (CEcc).

As if to say: 'The walls have ears.' This is probably the root of the old saying, "A little bird told me!" Cp the idea, 2Ki 6:12.

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