The land and its ruler (Eccl 10:16-10:17)

“Woe to you!

O land!

When your king is a child or servant,

Your princes feast in the morning!

Happy are you!

O land!

When your king is a noble man,

Your princes feast at the proper time!

They have strength!

They are not for drunkenness!”

The land was always important for the Israelites. Qoheleth said that it was better to have a king who was a nobleman and not a child or servant. The princes would then feast at the proper time, not in the morning. Instead of being a woeful land, it would be a happy land because they would have strength and not be drunk.

Words of the foolish (Eccl 10:12-10:15)

“Words spoken by the wise

Bring them favor.

But the lips of fools

Consume them.

The words of their mouth

Begin in foolishness.

Their talk

Ends in wicked madness.

Yet fools talk on and on.

No one knows what is to happen.

Who can tell anyone what the future holds?

The toil of fools wears them out.

They do not even know the way to town.”

Qoheleth warns us about fools. The wise know how to speak, so that they gain favors. However, the lips of the fools only consume them. Their words begin in foolishness and end in wicked madness. Fools talk on and on with many words. No one knows what is going to happen in the future. The work of fools wears them out. They are so tired and confused that they do not even know how to get to town.

Be careful in what you do (Eccl 10:8-10:11)

“Whoever digs a pit

Will fall into it.

Whoever breaks through a wall,

Will be bitten by a snake.

Whoever quarries stones

Will be hurt by them.

Whoever splits logs

Will be endangered by them.

If the iron is blunt,

If one does not whet the edge,

Then more strength must be exerted.

But wisdom helps one to succeed.

If the serpent bites before it is charmed,

There is no advantage in a charmer.”

Here Qoheleth offers more wise advice. If you dig a pit, you probably will fall into it. If you break through a wall, you might find a snake ready to bite you on the other side. If you dig out stones, you might be hurt by them. If you split logs, they could hurt you. If you have a blunt edge and you do not sharpen it, you will have to use more force. Wisdom can help you to succeed. What is the advantage of being a snake charmer if the snake bites you before you can charm it?

Upside down world (Eccl 10:4-10:7)

“If the anger of the ruler

Rises against you,

Do not leave your post.

Calmness will undo great offenses.

There is an evil

That I have seen

Under the sun.

It proceeded from the ruler.

Folly is set in many high places.

The rich sit in a low place.

I have seen

Slaves on horseback.

I have seen

Princes walking on foot

Like slaves.”

Even if the ruler is mad at you, do not leave your post. Calmness will set in so that the king will no longer be angry at you. One of the great evils that Qoheleth has seen is foolish rulers. They made the rich sit in low places. In fact, he has seen slaves riding on horses. At the same time, he has seen princes walking on foot as if they were slaves in this Topsy-Turvy world.

The fools (Eccl 10:1-10:3)

“Dead flies make

The perfumer’s ointment

Give off a foul odor.

So a little folly outweighs

Wisdom and honor.

The heart of the wise

Inclines to the right.

But the heart of a fool

Inclines to the left.

Even when the fools

Walk on the road,

They lack sense.

They show to everyone

That they are fools.”

Here are some more words of wisdom from Qoheleth. Dead flies can ruin an ointment by giving off a smelly odor. A little folly can outweigh wisdom and honor. The heart of the wise leans to the right, but the heart of a fool leans to the left. This illustrates the traditional view that left leaning people are foolish. Even when a fool is out walking, he still lacks good sense. Fools show to everyone that they really are fools.

Quiet wise words (Eccl 9:17-9:18)

“The quiet words of the wise

Are more to be heeded

Than the shouting of a ruler

Among fools.

Wisdom is better

Than weapons of war.

But one bungler

Destroys much good.”

Qoheleth believes that you should listen to the quiet words of the wise rather than the shouting of a ruler among fools. This is somewhat revolutionary saying that the wise are better than the rulers. This strong statement indicates that wisdom is better than war weapons. However, there is a caveat. One bungler can destroy much good.

Wisdom versus strength (Eccl 9:13-9:16)

“I have also seen this example of wisdom

Under the sun.

It seemed great to me.

There was a little city

With few men in it.

A great king came against it.

He besieged it.

He built great siege works against it.

Now there was found in it

A poor wise man.

He by his wisdom delivered the city.

Yet no one remembered that poor man.

So I said.

‘Wisdom is better than might.

Yet the poor man’s wisdom is despised.

His words are not heeded.’”

Qoheleth has an interesting story about a great king who went after a small city with a few people in it. He set up siege works against this town, but a poor wise man helped to save the city. The problem is that no one remembered the poor wise man. Thus Qoheleth proclaimed that wisdom was better than strength. However the poor wise person is now despised. No one listened to his words.

Life is a game of chance (Eccl 9:11-9:12)

“Again I saw that under the sun.

The race is not to the swift.

Nor is the battle to the strong.

Nor is bread to the wise.

Nor is riches to the intelligent.

Nor is favor to the skillful.

But time happens to them all.

Chance happens to them all.

No one can anticipate

The time of disaster.

Like fish taken in a cruel net,

Like birds caught in a snare,

So mortals are snared

At a time of calamity.

When it suddenly falls upon them.”

Qoheleth sees human life under the sun like a game of chance. The swiftest runner does not always win the race. The strongest do not always win the battle. The wise do not always have the best food. The intelligent are not always rich. The skillful do not always succeed. Time and chance play a role. No one can predict when disaster will come. Just as fish and birds get stuck in nets and snares, so too mortals get caught when calamity suddenly happens to them.

Enjoy life (Eccl 9:7-9:10)

“‘Go!

Eat your bread

With enjoyment!

Drink your wine

With a merry heart!

God has long ago approved what you do.

Let your garments always be white!

Do not let oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife

Whom you love!’

All the days of your vain life

Are given you

Under the sun.

That is your portion in life.

That is your toil at which you toil

Under the sun.

Whatever your hand finds to do,

Do it with your might.

There is no work in Sheol.

There is no thought in Sheol.

There is no knowledge in Sheol.

There is no wisdom in Sheol.

That is where you are going.”

Qoheleth wants you to enjoy life now. Eat your bread and drink your wine. Enjoy them with a merry heart. God has already approved of what you are doing. Wear white garments with oil in your hair. Enjoy your life with your beloved wife. All the days of your life are in vain. All your work is in vain. Just do the best that you can with all your might. Where you are going, there will be no work, thought, knowledge, or wisdom. You are all headed to Sheol, the shadowy underworld of death.