Ecclesiastes Chapter 12

underthesun(Last in a series of 12 insights into Ecclesiastes) by Gene Whittum

SoWhittumlomon continues his warning about death. He has spoken of it many times in his journal and again is imploring the readers to avoid severe judgment by calling to mind their duty to “remember their creator” while they still have the strength, mind and will to do so. The call to recollect has more significance than to just bring something to mind—it involves embarking on a course of action. It is the same as the association between the words “obedience” and “trust”, or “belief” (faith).

When one is presented with the Gospel, there is an interaction between the belief, or faith in the word and the acceptance (obedience) to the word. Obedience is the effect of the presentation of the gospel. Hebrews 4:2 illustrates this principle: “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” This principle is also reflected in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 and Luke 8. For this reason, many who call themselves Christians and who have no evidence to support it, may not be true believers. The Epistle of James emphasizes this throughout the book. Much more could be said about this but we will leave it to your own personal study.

Bear in mind that Solomon, here, appears to be approaching the end of his life. When we read of his history, with his hundreds of wives and concubines, we can conclude that he was a very gifted man with untamed passions. He never had any recorded contact with a prophet (as his father David did with Nathan), and as a result, had no accountability with anyone. He was the king, after all. His testimony is given, in part, in chapter two. His experience of life is recorded in much of the remainder of the book and his wisdom concerning righteous living is delineated in the Proverbs, some of the Psalms and the book called the Song of Songs.

So what does one say when facing the end of life? Death is nothing new to the human race and, here, Solomon is about to expire but he has some final things to say to us. He is telling us to fear God today because old age and death come upon us quickly. He uses the word “before” three times (12:1,2,6) and then he says “when” several times and closes with “then” (verse 5), which appears to be the time of death.

In these verses he mentions several bodily ailments which, collectively or singly, are enough to cause one’s death. Scholars differ somewhat on what these verses mean in the progress of dying, and I can only attempt to sort them out knowing that others may disagree with the conclusions. That is okay. Some of the best scholars disagree with each other. One thing can be said as being certain: it is a description of a body dying. I shall number the verses and offer a brief comment.

Verse 1. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble (difficulty) come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’” Old age is debilitating to say the least and many pleasures are no longer pleasurable because they are not possible or worth the effort. Verses 1 through 7 consist of one long sentence which is difficult to break up into an interpretation of the whole passage—therefore the semi-colons interspersed in our descriptions of the passage.

Verse 2. “Before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;” Many dark days come with a note of the reality that the past is past, emphasizing the transitoriness of life. The dark days may also include some amount of depression. In any case, there is a contrast between the vigor of youth and the incapacitation of old age, life lived in a minor key.

Verse 3. “When the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few and those looking through the windows grow dim;” Here the arms and hands begin to tremble, perhaps with palsy or feebleness; the legs become weak and unsteady; the back begins to stoop over; the teeth (usually molars) are few and chewing becomes difficult; and finally, the eyes begin to lose their sight and simple tasks of years gone by become arduous. The picture of the teeth is of female mill-grinders in the ancient world. The literal meaning would refer to the teeth.

We begin to observe the approaching frailty of old age. Because of these impending weaknesses of getting older, the author encourages the young to learn and practice godliness before the onset of advanced years. The habits formed in earlier years, become hardened and in later years are difficult to remedy without great deliberation.

Paul writes about this condition in Ephesians 4:18 where he states: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” The verb ‘darkened’ is in the perfect tense—‘being darkened in the past with results that they are presently darkened’. It is a process of life that culminates in their hearts being ‘hardened’ by ignorance and carnal practices (We get our word ‘sclerosis’ from this Greek word). It results in a sad spiritual condition and robs old age of much happiness and spiritual peace, hope and satisfaction.

Verse 4. “When the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades;” “The lips (to quote Walter C. Kaiser Jr.) swinging or folding doors, as the jaws of leviathan are called the ‘doors of his face’ in Job 41:14 fall into the mouth for lack of teeth. (A street is a cleft between two rows of houses.)” The ancient world did not have dentists as the modern world does, so teeth were missing (or all gone) and chewing does not make much noise, thus, the ‘grinding fades’.

The next phrase: “when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint” indicates the inability to get a full night’s sleep due to being awakened by every little noise. It seems that the hearing is also included when “all their songs grow faint”. The person, or persons, described here do not have all the infirmities mentioned in this passage. Every individual will have different ailments with which to cope. Authors differ in their interpretation of these verses. However, the context indicates that there is a slow or fast disintegration of the body and each of us can fill in our own disabilities as we age.

Verse 5. “When men are afraid of heights and of dangers (terrors) in the streets;” Many elderly people are afraid to go outside or walk along the streets and consequently remain inside. Ladders, also, are a common phobia. “When the almond tree blossoms (white hair) and the grasshopper drags himself along.” This would describe the hobbling walk of one with a cane.

The last part of verse 5 requires some additional translation. The NET Bible renders it “and the caper berry shrivels up”; the ASB reads “and the caper berry is ineffective.” The Complete Jewish Bible says “and the caper berry has no (aphrodisiac) effect”, and the Tanach (another Jewish translation does not mention the phrase. Another Jewish translation expresses it “and the caper berry shall fail.”
The significance of the verse is similar to Genesis 30:14-15 where mandrake plants were commonly thought to be an aphrodisiac in the culture of the time. Here, in old age, sexual virility may become a distant memory and even aphrodisiacs fail; the caper berry shrivels up as it remains on the branch beyond its period of ripeness.

An interesting series of words and phrases lead up to the conclusion of verse five that we mentioned earlier. Four times the word “before” is used in verses 1, 2 and 6; six times the word “when” is used in verses 3-5, and then a concluding word “then” is given at the end of verse five. “Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets.” The ‘eternal home’ is an idiom for the grave as one’s final resting place and the “mourners (who) go about the streets” are referring to the common practice in funerals of that day. Mourners were often hired to advance before the funeral procession.

Verse 6. Solomon is not yet done with his description of the hazards of old age. He once again gives an admonition to “remember him”– the Creator mentioned in verse one. He wants to emphasize again the theme of the passage that it is always best to serve the Lord when one is young, fresh and able. The word “before” appears again to introduce more conditions that attend the elderly.

The occurrence of death is, as the prior verses, explained metaphorically and commentators differ as to what is meant by the silver cord, the golden bowl, the pitcher and the wheel. One thing is certain—it is a reference to the dissolution and the frailty of life. The “silver cord” seems to refer to the spinal cord; the “golden bowl” may be the skull or brain; the “pitcher”, which is used at the well and drawn up by a rope, may refer to the heart or stomach; the “wheel” at the cistern perhaps refers to the heart or circulatory system that transports the blood continuously throughout the body. When that breaks down, it is then terminal as mentioned in the following verse.
Verse 7: “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” To interpret the prior verses, different translations do not help a great deal in the unraveling of the meaning. Authors differ and what I have written seems to be more of a common thread of agreement with many writers. In this verse, however, it is much easier to discern what is being said. Solomon is referring to the death of a person who has grown old. The life has been lived, admonitions and examples have been given, and now the individual must await the judgment of God as to how the life was spent.

Verse 8. “Meaningless! Meaningless!’ Says the Teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless’ “. This is a strange conclusion to what he has just said regarding “remembering” and “death”. This was the theme of his introduction in chapter one. In the context of the chapter, he seems to be saying how vain it is to have lived a full life and not learn the meaning and solution to righteous living. We can all say that to live and die without having the joy of life and the fellowship with God is indeed meaningless—a great tragedy.

Solomon now gives the conclusion to the matters of life. He has told us to enjoy life in spite of all the hurdles we may face. He has looked toward the God who is above the sun and who is intimately involved with His creation. Life is seldom free of various kinds of obstacles and problems and mysteries.

What qualifies a person to set down a dissertation such as this? He was certainly wise and throughout history has plainly taught many, especially those who take time to contemplate his words. He has not trifled with his readers; he researched and wrote thousands of proverbs and anyone who spends time in what he has written elsewhere (Proverbs and Psalms), receive much benefit from learning and observing his counsel and exhortations.

In his admissions in this journal, he too has learned right from wrong. Therefore he can say–verse 10, that “what he wrote was upright and true.” It is wisdom that has withstood the ages, and we still acknowledge that fact because what he has written became a part of our Scriptures. It has been written for our admonition. If we are honest in our assessment, we will have to agree that he was wise.

Verse eleven is critical to his conclusions. He writes: “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd.” Shepherd is capitalized and therefore refers to one much superior to Solomon, the teacher. In Genesis 48:15 Jacob, in blessing his sons, says: “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my Shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm—may he bless these boys.” God was Jacob’s Shepherd. We all know Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd . . .”and Isaiah 40:11 “He tends his flock like a Shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.” See also Jeremiah 31:10 and Ezekiel 34:11-12.

Solomon in effect is giving credit for his words to the “Shepherd” when he notes that they were “given by one Shepherd.” He is not necessarily calling himself wise—his words were ‘given’ by the Wise One. He is using the third person (the Shepherd) rather than the first person, himself. The revelation of the book came from God. The words he sought were “delightful words” but they were also like prods to make the individual think. His work was not that of a pessimist or defeatist; he did not advocate artificial happiness nor did he deny the existence of God. He learned, perhaps too late, the same lessons that he is trying to help us to learn.

We must believe that his sincerity was real, albeit very difficult in places. Goads and nails are designed to prod and fasten—prodding towards righteous living and fastening us onto truth. Much of life is still enigmatic and puzzling, but with the guidance of the Shepherd, we are under gracious, tender and merciful care. The “words of delight” are words that he (Solomon) took delight in. Recall verse nine where he tells us that he “taught, heard, investigated, and put in order” his writings.

Verses 12: “Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” Moffatt translates this to read: “My son, avoid anything beyond the scriptures of wisdom.” I believe he is speaking of anything beyond the scriptures as being a final authority for life. All true bible teaching, hearing (others), investigating (checking them out) and putting in order (writing it down) is truly a wearying process.

Verses 13 and 14 are his concluding exhortation: Fear God, and obey His commands. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (14) For God will bring every deed into judgment, (see 3:17, 11:9) including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” He has been inserting just enough warning throughout the book to keep us obedient.

The word “fear” has many connotations. It means to fear from an understanding of who God is and from a sense of our own weakness and dependence, joined by trembling in certain instances. It is to venerate God, praise and worship him in the knowledge of him. The more we know about God, the more we are able to worship “in spirit and in truth.” In this verse, the word is an imperative—a command, not just a suggestion (Moses did not go up on the mountain just to get a few suggestions from God. They were the Ten Commandments).

The word “evil” has many connotations in Scripture, everything from hating God to being mean to someone. It is always a negative word, meaning that anything that is not righteously based, may be said to be ‘evil’. As far as the judgment is concerned, the first line of judgment is the written word, the Scriptures. They should be the ‘goad’ that spurs us on to further investigate the Word of God.

There are several judgments in the bible and we cannot deal with them all here. Just one passage will be dealt with. It is 2nd Corinthians 5:20, a passage that deals with the judgment seat of Christ, or the Bema Seat. The verse reads: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body (that is, while living), whether good or bad.” The Greek word is kakos, which essentially means ‘worthless’ as does the Hebrew word rah, or rawah–to spoil or be good for nothing. The words do include sinful activity of many sorts but when dealing with the judgment of believers, the deeds we perform will be either “good” or “bad”.

In 2nd Corinthians, Paul is speaking to believers about pleasing the Lord and exhorting the believer to fear the Lord while working for him in the vineyard. When the believer appears before Christ at the judgment seat, our sins will not be an issue. All sin will be left in the grave and our deeds done in the body will be judged—whether good or bad (worthless). Are the things we do motivated by our love of Christ, or are they just out of a sense of duty? Are we filled with the Spirit as we live and labor, or are we carnal? When we worship in our churches, are our minds focused on the Lord or on ‘carnal’ things?

As an illustration: There is nothing wrong with a wheelbarrow of sand but you do not take a bucket of sand to the grocery store to pay for groceries. The sand is worthless. It is the same with our ‘spiritual’ deeds—are we motivated by the flesh or the spirit? It is a thin line at times as we gather together or walk around in the market place of life. Do we serve the Lord with a pure motive to honor him?
This does not answer all the questions that may be raised about these verses, but my desire is that we stop playing games with God and begin to get serious about our spiritual state. I think that when we appear before the Lord and he ‘wipes away all tears’, I believe the tears will be tears of sorrow, regret and shame that we did not do all that we could and should have done for the Kingdom while alive on earth. All that we have and all that we have done will seem insignificant as we stand in His presence.

These words on Ecclesiastes are from my heart; they are in no way complete or perfect. I trust that the reader will have received some instruction from this difficult book along with a blessing or two and that your own study of the Word will be enhanced and encouraged.
May the blessing of the Lord be with you.this old house

May I add one thing to this chapter. Some liken the description of the ailments of old age to an old house falling apart. Following is the song written by Stuart Hamblen in 1954 which he named “This Ole House”. Note how it fits someone who is becoming decrepit.

“This ole house once knew his children This ole house once knew his wife. This ole house was home and comfort as they fought the storms of life. This old house once rang with laughter This old house heard many shouts Now he trembles in the darkness when the lightnin’ walks about.

Chorus: Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer Ain’t a-gonna need this house no more Ain’t got time to fix the shingles Ain’t got time to fix the floor Ain’t got time to oil the hinges Nor to mend the windowpane Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer He’s a-getting’ ready to meet the saints.

This ole house is a-gettin’ shaky This ole house is a-getting’ old This ole house lets in the rain This ole house lets in the cold On his knees I’m getting’ chilly But he feel no fear nor pain ‘Cause he see an angel peekin’ Through a broken windowpane.

This ole house is afraid of thunder This ole house is afraid of storms This ole house just groans and trembles When the night wind flings its arms This ole house is getting’ feeble This old house is needin’ paint Just like him it’s tuckered out But he’s a-gettin’ ready to meet the saints.”

I just thought many of you would appreciate the subtle (or not so subtle) truth of this old classic.

Ecclesiastes Chapter Eleven

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Gene Whittum

How does one get through life when very little is guaranteed? Solomon has been telling us that the one thing that is guaranteed, is death. And after death, there is a judgment. He also talks about the God who is above the sun and that He is able to give wisdom in this “meaningless” life we experience. He never leaves us in a deplorable condition, but tells us that the hand of God is with us (2:24-26) and that we can distinguish ourselves from the “sinner” by being fulfilled and happy in life.

He also tells us that we will have difficulty understanding the providence of God and how to navigate the circumstances we may find ourselves in. In chapter ten he advises being industrious and involved in all of life. We are here, so let’s make the best of life in the confidence that God will provide strength and wisdom for all that we do. Discouragement is a course of little resistance and must not be the pattern of one’s life.

Chapter eleven continues the proverbial pattern of ten but without the pressure and involvement of the government, fools and their foolishness. It starts out with a perplexing verse which reads: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” Solomon’s intellect doesn’t reduce this to feeding the ducks on the pond. A better rendering reads: “Send your grain overseas, for after many days you will get a return.” (The NET Bible, LXX, NEB et al). Solomon was in the maritime business as well as many other trades. First Kings 9:26 tells us that he “also built ships” and sent them out. His businesses encompassed everything from agriculture to gold.

Further advice is given in verse two: “Divide your merchandise among seven or eight investments, for you do not know what calamity may happen on earth.” (NET Bible) What he is saying is comparable to one of our common sayings of “do not put all your eggs in one basket”. Diversity of capital is being advised here since we cannot predict what will happen in the future. Common sense is the issue, just as in chapter ten. Again, there is no assurance given that anything we do will succeed. We do have to deal with those above us, all around us, and those below us. Much of the Bible deals with money. The admonition in James 4:17 can be applied here.

uncertainityThe next few verses reflect the same uncertainty of life. We do not know when certain things will occur in our individual journeys through life. Solomon is approaching the end of his journal and the conclusion that judgment and death is certain so we are admonished to “remember your Creator . . .” With all the uncertainties of life, our attention to the details of life are important. The phrase “you do not know” is pertinent to the passage and is further warning to us to be observant, diligent and wise.

The fall of rain drenching the earth is inevitable. But when will it rain? When will the tree fall? When it falls, it will be a random act of nature—unchangeable and final. If we are inordinately fixated on trying to predict future events, we may never get anything done. Clouds come and go; the wind is fickle. We cannot control either and we can only live with the effects. Solomon lived in an agricultural society and the wind and rain could be beneficial or contrary. Also, being overly cautious may be hazardous to what we are trying to accomplish in this life. Sometimes nothing appears to be “safe”, but we cannot stand around and do nothing.

Verse five repeats the phrase “as you do not know . . .” This passage extends the analogy of the wind and rain to the development of a fetus in a mother’s womb. We must learn to deal with what actually is and at the same time, learn to live with it. It is God who makes everything.

Verse five is a difficult verse. Verse four talks about the wind, which is literal. “Wind” can also be translated “spirit” and mean something entirely different. Craig Bartholomew translates is thus: “Just as you do not know the way of the spirit (in) the limbs in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who does all things” (page 337). Psalm 139:13-16 speaks about a child in the womb—“I am fearfully and wonderfully made . . .” The Psalmist lends credence to the interpretation of “wind” to read “spirit”. How does the life breath of the mother pass into the life of the infant inside her?

(With all of the modern wonders in the science of reproduction, we must still stand amazed at the development of a child in the womb. We do not know the character of the child, the health, the intellect, the future, and a host of other issues about the child, but we know the Creator. The beauty and wonder of the formation of a human being makes the problem of abortion all the more hideous and evil).
Whatever interpretation one takes, the idea of uncertainty in the passage is the same. The conclusion is also the same—that God is the Maker of all things and our faith and trust in Him must be grounded in His Sovereignty. We are to find our meaning of life in the knowledge that He is true and good—not always safe, but good. We do not always know how He works, or why. He does not always reveal the details to us. If He did, we would no longer need faith.

Verse six continues the theme of uncertainty and diligence. Since we do not know, we must be watchful of what we do and plan and expect. It is like the return of Christ; we do not know when it will occur, but we are enjoined to be vigilant. I John 3:3 says “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he (Christ) is pure.” In this verse, all of life comes into its sphere. Both morning and evening are in view here and “you do not know” whether success or failure will follow. We find, however, in the mercy and grace of God, that much of what we do is good. A song I love repeats the phrase “fear not tomorrow, God is already there.”

In verse seven, Solomon begins the conclusion to his “journal” of life. We noted earlier that the colors of his diary began with very dark colors (chapter one), but as he poked holes in the “canopy” under the sun, he began to reveal the God Who is above the sun. While life was “meaningless”, his perspective of existence was to enjoy all that God had provided; he ultimately saw God as Providential in the life we live.

Here, he notes that “Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.” It is as if he had been feeling his way through life with scales on his eyes that gradually fell off to allow him to see life clearly. He does not deny that there will always be dark days, but the apparent absurdity, complexity and paradoxes of life will always have a silver lining when one acknowledges the attendance of God to all of our pilgrim experiences. The ultimate “dark day”, the day of death, it ahead of all who walk the face of the earth.

He has learned that the journey is serious and fraught with dangers, but it will be rivaled with great joy and gladness and peace of mind. Verse 8 tells us: “However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But (a conjunction of contrast—a warning and caution) let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless.” If we do not face these facts, we will be fragmented by it all. (A better translation of the last phrase would be “all that is about to come is obscure”, not “meaningless”. It harks back to the idea of the uncertainty of life spoken of earlier.)

The Teacher has brought us along through many experiences of living and much admonition. The peril of it all is if we do not heed what he has been saying, our final conclusion will be that “everything to come is obscure,” (NET) or “nothingness” (Jewish Study Bible). To not learn the lessons of life is risky.

This section of the discourse involves one’s youth and its demise all in a few verses. His caution spans the whole of one’s life, and gives a final counsel to enjoy life but be aware of the pitfalls because there will be a judgment of all activity. Hidden behind all this admonition would be his teaching that one must pursue godliness in all of one’s endeavors.

Quoting from the NET (New English Translation) we read: (Verses 9-10) “Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the impulses of your heart and the desires’ of your eyes, but know that God will judge your motives and actions. (10) Banish emotional stress from your mind, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the prime of life are fleeting.”

The passage is one of mixed feelings and emotions; of good news/bad news; joy and sorrow; rejoicing and dismay; expectancy and disappointment—an entire gamut of the emotions of one’s biography. Where does one go for solace after the course of life has been run? After everything has been said and done, what is there, by way of substance, left? Everything tangible will be left; everything insubstantial must be sent on ahead to the care of our Redeemer. Rewards for our activity will be given out by the One Whom we have honored with our lives.

A poem by William Laud expresses it well:

“Grant, O Lord, that we may live in thy fear, die in thy favor, rest in thy peace, rise in thy power, reign in thy glory; for thine own beloved Son’s sake, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Also, I Cor. 15:54 & 58: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ (58) Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
We must all carefully evaluate our own lives, not someone else’s. Do you ever wonder where all the past years have gone? What was accomplished? Was it worth the effort? Time can be a friend or an enemy. It is what we do with it that gives it value. I’m afraid there will be many who will go into eternity with great fear of what it holds for them. That need not be the case because provision has been made for us all—it is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who both left us an example, and provided and escape for all who would confess Him.

Ecclesiastes Chapter Ten

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Gene Whittum

Chapter ten continues the thoughts of chapter nine in that it is dealing with the results of wisdom and folly. He emphasizes the superiority of wisdom over foolishness and articulates it in a series of rather loosely connected proverbs and is reminiscent of the book of Proverbs. Some of the verses are perplexing, but we will do our best to unfold their meaning. They seem to be designed to illustrate what Solomon says in verse 18 of the previous chapter: “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.” What is ‘good’, and what is ‘bad’ often conditions our reactions to life and the ways it unravels for us.

Verse 1 states: “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom honor.” The proverb is simply saying that it takes less to ruin something than it does to create it. When one commits an error in life, or a more serious sin, the world is usually ready to quickly condemn that person. To regain one’s reputation, then, often takes a number of years to restore—if ever. It is the mosquitoes, ticks and flies that sometimes give us the most discomfort.

These “flies of death” (as some call them), begin to struggle and then fall into the perfume and spoil it. Solomon puts it a little differently in his Song of Songs when he writes: “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom” (2:15) The little things in ones’ life do not always lead to ruin but Solomon, here, is noting the ‘tendency’ of mankind to folly and lapses of other- wise good men that are able to multiply and emerge if not checked by ones’ conscience.

One look (David and Bathsheba), one thought (“the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked”), one act (Esau and a little bowl of lentil stew) are at times just enough to ruin ones’ life. Wisdom and folly both have moral overtones. To be wise requires one to be able to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14) and the Psalmist who writes: “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you” Ps. 119:11). The evil comes readily while obtaining wisdom is a lifelong endeavor.

One additional caution that is not explicitly stated in the verse but may be applied to these verses is that even though a little folly outweighs wisdom, we, as the ‘non-foolish’ crowd, tend to remember the little bit of folly of someone else more than all the wisdom they may have exhibited prior to their moment of folly. Our inclination is to accuse or criticize others because it makes us feel better about ourselves since we have not “done that”. Such pride is often worse than the sin of others whom we so easily condemn. The sin of gossip, too, may be included in greater condemnation than the folly of another. To avoid these judgments requires a lifetime of reflection on sin and our experiences of life as well as an attentive study of the word of God.

Verse 2 is an odd verse that we must not apply to a political leaning. It reads: “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.” Again, the subject and context is wisdom and folly. Where does folly come from? The verse tells us that it can be traced to the heart, the unseen portion of life. The word ‘heart’ is found about forty times in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is seldom used of the material, or physical heart in our body. Its significance is of the seat of feeling and affections or the mind, or intellect. It is the determining factor in our purposes, understanding, knowledge, insight, or our intentions etc.

The essence of the heart and the problems it causes is what Solomon is contending with. Eternity is set within it (3:11); it contains evil (8:11, 9:3); it can be joyful (5:20); wise (8:5), etc. In the Bible, the hand is associated with strength (Ps. 16:8, Isaiah 41:13); Psalm 16:2 says “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Also Psalm 121:5 “The LORD (Yahweh) watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand…” These thoughts are not intended to insult left handed people. The French and Latin word for ‘left’ or ‘left handed’ is sinistre and sinister, and refer to those who may be suspicious, wrong, wicked, evil, tending toward disaster, unfavorable, etc.,

sheepThe gospels enforce this thought with the account of the sheep and the goats. Matthew records in 25:33 that “He (Christ) will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” In verse 41 it says: ”Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ ”. An extended passage regarding the activity of the ‘fool’ is given in Proverbs chapter seven. Chapter six contains many admonitions to the foolish.

Verse 3 reflects a small part of the teaching of Proverbs. The book is designed to help the individual to conform to the Divine, or the created order of God and chapter ten of Ecclesiastes is on the order of Proverbs in that it is designed to help one distinguish between wisdom and folly. Verse 3 states: “Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is.” We have all observed these individuals and they are usually easily recognizable. It is a nonverbal declaration of his moral condition. This fool considers everyone else a fool. The Septuagint says “In every way at least when a fool is on his march his heart (moral compass) will fail him so that all which he shall devise is folly.” Very well said.

In the next few verses, we observe folly in high places. How does one confront an angry, unpredictable and uncontrollable ruler? The ASV seems to say it best on verse 4: “If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.” One need not abandon one’s standards or resign in the face of the anger of one’s superior. The wise man will remain calm in difficult situations and attempt to reconcile any differences. Proverbs says “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Rulers are expected to promote justice and peace in a society rather than abusing power and privilege by sanctioning evil officials. Note what David did when he faced the anger of Saul—he played his harp and the music calmed his troubled soul. This may be called a social tightrope.

Verses 5 to 7 give further illustrations of rulers who are trouble making fools (history is full of them). We often think that because a man is rich, he is competent to rule over others. Politics and politicians are by nature erratic. Verses 6 and 7 are opposite situations. In one instance, “Fools (folly) are set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places”, then, “I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land” (verses 6 and 7). This type of governing is an illustration of chaos and incompetence in a nation. These men are strangers to the wisdom of God, and without wisdom, there will be social chaos.

The next few verses, 10-15, advise caution in the area of common sense or, the opposite, nonsense. Again, they have a pattern much like the Proverbs and involve subjects such as planning ahead, work, and speech. Wisdom and foolishness are involved in these verses. Verses 12-15 give us a portrait of a fool. The word ‘fool’ or its derivatives (foolish, foolishness, etc), are mentioned some 25 times in the book.commonsense

The verses do not require very much explanation because what they are saying is quite obvious. Noting the expressions “may be” ‘bitten by a snake’, ‘ injured’, or ‘endangered’ are precautionary words. It is like warning someone that ‘if you drive too fast, you may have a wreck’. We all understand these cautions. If one uses a dull ax, it takes more strength. Those who can make the correction and don’t, are deemed foolish, or unwise. These are everyday admonitions that may even appear to be out of place in the overall context of the book. Nevertheless, they are all just a common sense approach to life that ought to be applied to all of the previous chapters. I read a sign once that emphasized this. It simply read: “THIMK”. It was a subtle caution by its misspelling. I do not believe that we should be looking for “deeper” meanings in these verses.

Verses 12-20 illustrate the normal and personal interactions we have with people in everyday life. The theme, again, is why it is better to be a wise man than a fool and shows that wisdom is better than folly. Words are an expression of what is inside an individual. Christ tells us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:24b). And in Proverbs 18:21 is this warning: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it (life) will eat its fruit.” The wise man knows how to be gracious with his words and they include charm and kindness, and at the bottom is a life of humility.

The fool, on the other hand, reveals himself to be the exact opposite. It reads: “But (a contrast) a fool is consumed by his own lips”. Another rendering is “but the lips of a fool will destroy him”. In verse 3, we laughed at the fool. Here, we observe his tragic and perilous side of him. He refuses to begin with God. The book of James has a great deal to say about the tongue and indicates that it is the acid test of wisdom and godliness (James 3:1-12).

Verse 13: “At the beginning, his words are folly (moral); at the end they are wicked madness—(mental).” “Madness” implies so great a departure from wisdom, that the mind, without any control, rushes on with a blind fury. The New Testament word is “mania”, maniac. (Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies page 262). This is strong language and appears to be progressive in the lives of fools. Job 5:3 states: “I myself have seen a fool taking root, but suddenly his house was cursed.” Here is the progression of a fool. A perfect example of this is Hitler—the ultimate fool, steeped in the occult and thoroughly wicked.

The following verse tells us that “the fool multiplies words.” Multiplication is stacked up addition which means that his prattle is incessant, off the top of his head, and argumentative; it has no basis in truth, logic, or wisdom. The end result is an enigma that no one can comprehend. What trouble will he ultimately cause? His inner character is dangerous and his posture is one of arrogance.
Verse 15 seems to indicate that the fool works hard at his foolishness, and, perhaps seeing no real progress or gratification, gets weary of worthless effort. His labor and toil are wearisome and painful and he ends up in dislike and disgust. Perhaps that result is the only thing that compels him to think and review his life. He gets to the point of not knowing where he is and “gets lost on an elevator”. We tend to roll our eyes and heave a sigh–hopefully, of pity—for the fool. Our modern version of this is that “he doesn’t know enough to come in out of the rain.”

In verses 16-20, Solomon works some more on rulers. How are they to avoid foolish decisions? “Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant and whose Princes feast in the morning.” The feasting in the morning indicates a ruler without dignity or wisdom. He is also apparently lazy and surrounded by decadence. The feasting also includes drinking which indicates additional irresponsibility. The servant may have been an underling (secretary) to a king, but the word also connotes a youth who does not have wisdom or experience to keep control of his kingdom.

This chapter ends with some shrewd insights concerning rulers. Verses 4-7 accent a rather negative view of rulers. The “woe” of verse 16 changes to “blessed” in verse 17. The wise man cares much about the way his country is governed, and about the way he is to rule himself and his affairs in a world that is described in the remaining verses 18-20. The contrast between verses 16 and 17 are striking. An illustration of the “land whose king was a servant” is given in I Kings 12:1-15 when Rehoboam followed Solomon as king of Israel and made his disastrous decision to follow the advice of “the young men who grew up with him”. The kingdom was irreparably split because of a fool’s decision.

With such a defective leadership, there is most often a body of dignitaries who are given over to self- serving and self-gratification, feasting during the day while ignoring their responsibilities to the citizens they purportedly rule over. The consequences are disastrous and the government resembles the retinue of a boxer approaching the ring—all hangers-on, parasites and essentially worthless.
In verse 17, the contrast is not so much the difference between young and old but between wisdom and foolishness. There are other issues also, such as self-control, laziness, indulgence and arrogance. Solomon was concerned with just such an outcome in chapter 2:18-19 where he laments: “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.” How prophetic.

The world is demanding. Verse 18 asks a question concerning laziness that would apply to much more than a house with a leaky or sagging roof. All of life demands effort—physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, economically, politically—and on and on. Without, usually valiant effort, all these things decay and the details of life become a worthless liability, for the individual and the nation. The word “leak” could be better translated “collapse” which is more in line with the thought of the verse. My observation has been that if one owns a house, everywhere you look there is something to repair. Such is life. [JIV Editor’s Note: Even the best of homes have people on staff to keep it pristine and repaired]

Verse 19 does not reflect the “drunkenness” of verse 17. This verse expresses the joyous results of a life lived in wisdom. It is a difficult verse but appears to reflect the contrasts in the chapter as a whole. Money is never to be despised because it is a neutral substance. Solomon mentions it in 2:8 noting that he “had a lot of it”; 5:10 where he admits that it did not satisfy; 7:12 where, for him, it was a shelter, or protection. Here it could be regarded as a necessity. I Timothy tells us that “money is the root of all kinds of evil”, not evil in and of itself.

The reference to the “feast made for laughter” and the “wine that makes merry” does not have the context of the prior verses (15-17). Life is to be enjoyed and pleasing “under the sun”. A merry life and laughter are not illegitimate pleasures, however, all things must be appropriate to true spirituality.

Verse 20 is a further discussion of the situations and dangers of life spoken of earlier in the chapter (8-11) digging pits, breaking down walls, quarrying stones, splitting logs and chopping wood. There is also danger in politics and the offending of those over you. Wisdom is still the solution and difference between success or failure. If it is an afterthought, one will ordinarily fail and pay a price. It does no good to lock the barn door after the horse has escaped.

Solomon is urging discretion when speaking of the ruling powers. Life, at times, becomes a social tight rope when one begins maneuvering through the problems of government and society. What does one say in difference circumstances when it may affect one’s future socially and politically? We are back again dealing with men in power. King David, in his discourse with the woman of Tekoah in II Samuel 14:4-20 asked “is not the hand of Joab with you in all this? The woman answered, ‘As surely as you live, my lord the king, no one can turn to the right or the left from anything my lord the king says’”.

The common expressions that “even the walls have ears” and “a little bird told me” reflect the idea of the verse. The “word on the street” was the ancient electronics of Solomon’s day. Survival, sometimes, is the task of the day. When the rumor mill is churning, a righteous life and an honest tongue, along with a daily habit of prayer, is the best protection from the king.