Ecclesiastes 10:1-11

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, June 8, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

At the end of chapter 9, the Teacher gave an example of how wisdom is better than strength or size. This leads perfectly into chapter 10, which is a set of proverbs as we saw in chapter 7.

The structure of proverbs, especially in the Hebrew, has interested me for many years. A while back, I spent over 4 years (slowly) reading through the book of Proverbs in both Hebrew and Greek with a group of language nerds friends, and we learned a lot about the structure of proverbs through that journey. Proverbs are typically divided into two phrases and they employ various kinds of parallelism. The two most common are synonymous parallelism (where both phrases say essentially the same thing in a different way) and antithetical parallelism (where the phrases say the opposite thing). Both of these prove the proverb’s points in a slightly different way. Watch for these as we go through the proverbs of Ecclesiastes 10:1-11.

“As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” (verse 1). Perfume is supposed to be a good thing, as are wisdom and honor, but even a little foolishness makes wisdom and honor go bad just like dead flies would do to perfume. This reminds me of the saying that one bad apple spoils the whole bunch; just one very foolish act can ruin many wise and honorable ones.

“The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left” (verse 2). This could be an easy verse to misread with our lens of today’s political climate. It is not saying that Republicans are wise and Democrats are foolish; remember that the Teacher wrote this book likely in the 900s B.C., and today’s political parties in the U.S. definitely did not exist 3000 years ago. The words “right” and “left” are used metaphorically here to mean “good” and “bad,” respectively. So, this proverb is simply saying that wisdom is good and foolishness is bad.

“Even as fools walk along the road, they lack sense and show everyone how stupid they are” (verse 3). In everyday life, a foolish person will show how foolish they are. When a foolish person encounters someone with more wisdom, they will undoubtedly show their foolishness in some way.

“If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great offenses to rest” (verse 4). When we encounter someone in authority over us, we need to submit to them (see this post for more on that). If we disagree with them, we should not get riled up but remain calm. When we take the time to examine the situation and not act rashly, we may find that what seemed to be a great offense is really just a minor thing.

“There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones” (verses 5-6). Piggybacking on the previous proverb, we see that those who are in authority may not be there because of their wisdom. If a foolish person rises to a high place, they will likely fill the roles surrounding them with similarly foolish people. Those who may have been influential will be humiliated because they are not of the same mindset as the authority.

“I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves” (verse 7). This seems contradictory to how things should be; princes should be riding horses in honor and their slaves should be on foot. So how does this happen? Sometimes people are manipulative enough to rise to high positions even when they shouldn’t be there. This world is fallen, and we know that people don’t always get what they deserve, whether good or bad.

“Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake” (verse 8). This proverb warns us to be careful with what we do. You may dig a pit with the intention of capturing someone else, but you yourself may fall into it if you’re not careful. If you break through a wall to try and get someone else’s property, that may backfire on you if a snake is on the other side. We may do things with the best of intentions, but they backfire on us if that’s not what we’re supposed to be doing.

“Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them” (verse 9). Again, even actions done with the best of intentions may backfire on you. Quarrying stones and splitting logs are actions needed for building materials, but even essential activities can be dangerous.

“If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success” (verse 10). Anyone who has cut anything knows that it works better when your ax, scissors, knife, etc. is sharpened. This is a metaphor for wisdom, in that when we have wisdom, are actions are “sharper” and we’ll be able to accomplish our goals better. But even if we aren’t blessed with wisdom, working harder and acquiring more skills can still provide the same result of success.

“If a snake bites before it is charmed, the charmer receives no fee” (verse 11). I’m not all that informed on snake-charming, but the idea behind this proverb is engaging in life or death activities. The wisdom here is to just do it and not keep putting something off just because we’re afraid of it. If a snake charmer’s victim dies, there’s nothing more that they can do, so they should go ahead and charm the snake rather than putting it off out of fear.

While these proverbs are written from the worldview of life in the 900s B.C., you can see that the principles in them still apply to today. Some prove their point with two phrases saying the same thing (synonymous parallelism), while others give contrasts (antithetical parallelism) to make their point. The key point to remember is that wisdom is always better than foolishness, and we can obtain that wisdom from the wise words of others such as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.