Ecclesiastes 10:12-20

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, June 15, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Last week, we discussed the first part of Ecclesiastes 10 and examined the proverbs there. This week, we’re continuing with the rest of the proverbs in Ecclesiastes 10:12-20.

“Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips” (verse 12). These first few verses of this section all have to do with wise and foolish talk. This proverb shows the difference in speech between being wise and gracious versus being self-centered. If we speak words of grace and love toward others, we are practicing wisdom; if we only talk about ourselves and what matters to us, that is foolishness.

“At the beginning their words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness—and fools multiply words” (verse 13-14a). The words “beginning” and “end” are used here to show inclusiveness - that everything a fool says is foolishness. They multiply their words and say a lot of things, but there is really no substance to any of it. Whatever a foolish person says should be regarded as nonsense.

“No one knows what is coming—who can tell someone else what will happen after them?” (verse 14b). The Teacher has already written at length about mankind not knowing the future or what will happen; only God knows that. He is repeating that thought here in this shortened proverb form for further emphasis on this idea.

“The toil of fools wearies them; they do not know the way to town” (verse 15). If a person is truly foolish and not wise, then their work likely has no real benefit to the greater society. Even a foolish person will eventually get tired of doing work that is meaningless. The fool not knowing the way to town may be intended literally, as in the foolish person is that unintelligent that they can’t even find their way someplace. But, more likely this is a metaphor for not knowing where he is going with his life overall. A wise person follows God’s leading, whereas a foolish person will try to follow their own leading, which will likely not be where God wants them to go. Therefore, the foolish person really doesn’t know where his life is going.

“Woe to the land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning” (verse 16). These last few verses of the chapter focus on leadership. This verse does not imply that being a servant then rising to a leadership position makes that person a bad leader; instead, the word “servant” refers to one who is inexperienced. A king without experience will likely bring difficulties to the land because they will make mistakes and likely not know how to correct them well. The princes feasting in the morning implies that the king is not in control over those who serve under him, which is another sign of bad leadership. If the princes are doing what they want instead of respecting the king’s leadership, that too will likely bring difficulties to the land.

“Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness” (verse 17). This verse contrasts with the previous one, in that this king is clearly born to be a leader. The king has been born into the noble family, so he would have experience leading (or at least observing good leadership) from a young age. The princes are eating at the proper time, meaning they’re following the king’s authority. They are eating for the purpose of having strength to do what is required of them, not for the purpose of getting drunk and being foolish. They have the appropriate amount of self-control to assist the king rather than working against him.

“Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks” (verse 18). While this verse appears to have more to do with home maintenance than leadership, this is really about the attributes of a good leader. If the king is lazy, the kingdom may not fall to pieces yet, but it will start to “sag,” potentially beyond repair. If the king is not proactive in doing good for the kingdom, it will “leak” or start to have problems. Just like a leaky house, if these problems are not caught, a major disaster could occur.

“A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything” (verse 19). This verse is likely written tongue-in-cheek, as we know from the rest of the book that the Teacher firmly believes that feasting, wine, and money are not the answer for everything; he’s said before that they are all meaningless in the grand context of life, though we should enjoy the life that we are given. Lazy rulers are preoccupied with feasting, wine, and money, whereas wise rulers are more concerned with running their kingdom well.

“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” (verse 20). Most of the people to read the Teacher’s writings are not those in authority, so it is important for the rest of us to respect our authorities - whether they are good or bad leaders. The Teacher advises us to not speak badly of those in authority, even in private, because our words may be found out. We should either remain silent with our criticisms or be prepared for those in authority to hear them and act on them in whatever manner they see fit.

These proverbs give us two pieces of wisdom for today: 1) speak words of wisdom rather than foolishness, and 2) respect those placed in authority over you, whether they are good or bad leaders. We can take these one step further and turn them into things we should pray about. Pray for the Spirit to guide your words so that you are not showing yourself to be foolish but to have the wisdom of God. And pray for those in leadership over you so that they would act as good and wise leaders rather than foolish ones, which will make them easier for us to obey and respect.

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