Ecclesiastes 10
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
To the writer of this book it seemed that the great antithesis of human life, of human society, was pointed out by the distinction between wisdom and folly. As by wisdom he meant not merely speculative knowledge or profound statecraft, but, much rather, reflective habits, deliberate judgment, and decisive action, in the practical affairs of life; so by folly he intended exactly the opposite of such character and mental habits. A certain contemptuous and weary abhorrence of the foolish breathes through his language. His remarks are full of sagacity and justice.

I. FOLLY MAY FOR A TIME BE CONCEALED. A grave countenance, a staid demeanor, a reticent habit, may convey the impression of wisdom which does not exist. Men are disposed to take a favorable view of those occupying high station, and even of those possessing great estates. The casual acquaintances of men who are slow and serious in speech, or are exalted in rank, often credit them with wisdom, when there has been no proof of its existence.

II. FOLLY WILL CERTAINLY, SOONER OR LATER, BE REVEALED BY CIRCUMSTANCES. A little folly is the ill savor that vitiates the perfume. The understanding of the fool faileth him while he walketh by the way. The test is sure to be applied which will prove whether the coin is genuine or counterfeit. The hollow reputation must collapse. A critical time comes when counsel has to be given, when action has to be taken, and at such a time the folly of the pompous and pretentious fool is made manifest to all. Sounding phraseology may impose upon men for a season; but there are occasions when something more than words is needed, and such occasions reveal the emptiness and vanity of the foolish. Pedantry is not learning, profession is not religion, pretence is not reality; neither can the show be, for any length of time, taken for the substance.

III. FOLLY, THUS EXPOSED, DESTROYS A MAN'S REPUTATION AND INFLUENCE, The revulsion is sudden and complete, and may even go to unreasonable lengths. It is presumed that, because the highest expectations have been disappointed, not even the slightest respect or confidence is justifiable. A little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.

APPLICATION. The chief lesson of this passage is the value of sincerity, thoroughness, and genuineness of character. It is not every man who has the knowledge, the natural insight, the large experience of life, which go to make up wisdom. But no man need pretend to be what he is not; no man need proclaim himself a sage or a mentor; no man need claim for himself the deferential regard and homage of others. He who will order his way by such light as he can gain by reflection, by the study of the Scriptures, and by prayer, will not go far astray. Sincerity and modesty may not gain a temporary reputation for profundity of wisdom; but they will not expose their possessor to the humiliation and shame of him who, professing himself to be wise, becomes manifest to all men as a fool. - T.

So doth a little folly outweigh wisdom and honor (Revised Version). It is a fact well worth a wise man's thought, that the presence of even a very little evil is found to be enough to counterbalance or undo much that is good. We find this in circumstance, in action, in character. Our everyday life supplies many illustrations.

I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF A MAN. Not without reason does the moralist speak of the "one crumpled leaf" spoiling the worth of the "bed of roses." Ahab still makes himself miserable because he cannot have Naboth's vineyard in addition to all his property. It is not only true that "some murmur when their sky is clear" if one "small speck of dark appear" in their heavens; it is true that very many do. If we are depending on our surroundings for our satisfaction, we shall give one more illustration of "the dead fly in the ointment."

II. HUMAN ADVOCACY. A man may present an important case to his audience; he may have made diligent and ample preparation; he may deliver his address with much logical force, with much felicity of style, with much animation of spirit; and yet he may fail to convince, and he may lose his cause through one mistake. He may make use of one offensive expression, or he may produce one palpably weak argument, on which his opponents fasten; then all the good gained by his persuasiveness is lost by the harm done by his simple indiscretion. Much wisdom is outweighed by a little folly.

III. HUMAN CHARACTER, AND THE INFLUENCE IT EXERTS. We are always acting upon our kindred and our neighbors by our character, and by the conduct of which it is the source. And, as a rule, the good and wise man is thus helping to make others good and wise; but there may be the "dead fly in the ointment" here. Truthfulness, righteousness, purity, kindness, - these qualities are calculated to tell powerfully upon those who daily witness them; but if there be in the midst of these an admixture of severity, or of exaggeration, or of parsimoniousness, or of sarcasm, much if not most of the good influence may be lost; the virtues and the graces are forgotten, while the one blemish is remembered. The same thing, in much the same way, applies to -

IV. HUMAN REPUTATION. A man may be building up a most honorable reputation through many years of toilful and virtuous life; he may succeed in winning the regard of his fellow-citizens, and then by one serious indiscretion - pecuniary, social, domestic, political, ecclesiastical - he may have to step down from his high position. It may not be a crime or a sin, but a serious mistake, an act in which he was very ill advised, a proceeding in which his judgment was sadly at fault - but it is enough; it upsets the fabric which had been laboriously constructed, and but little honor will be accorded to him.

1. In our judgment of others we should distinguish between the superficial and the essential, between the exceptional and the common.

2. We should refuse to allow the one insignificant evil to disturb the harmony of our spirit, to spoil the brightness and excellency of our life.

3. We are bound to be devoutly careful lest we permit our influence over others to be materially weakened by a blemish in our character or an indiscretion in our conduct. - C.

Among the Jews oil rendered fragrant by being mixed with precious drugs was used for many different purposes. With it priests and kings were anointed when they entered upon their offices; guests at the tables of the rich were treated to it as a luxury. It was used medicinally for outward application to the bodies of the sick, and with it corpses and the clothes in which they were wrapped were besprinkled before burial. Very great care was needed in the preparation of the material used for such special purposes. Elaborately confected as the ointment was, it was easily spoiled and rendered worthless. It was, accordingly, necessary not only to take great pains in making it, but also in preserving it from contamination when made. If the vase or bottle in which it was put were accidentally or carelessly left open, its contents might soon be destroyed. A dead fly would soon corrupt the ointment, and turn it into a pestilent odor. So, says the Preacher, a noble and attractive character may be corrupted and destroyed by a little folly - an insignificant-looking fault or weakness may outweigh great gifts and attainments. It is not a case of the unthinking multitude taking advantage of a foible, or inconsistency, or little slip, to depreciate the character of one raised far above them in wisdom and honor, in order to bring it down to their level; of envy leading to an unjust and ungrateful sentence being pronounced upon an almost faultless character. But the warning is that deterioration may really set in, the precious ointment be actually changed into a disgusting odor, the wisdom and honor be outweighed by the little folly ("outweigh," Revised Version). The same teaching is given in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians St. Paul warns his readers that their toleration of a heinous sin in one of their members was poisoning the whole spiritual life of the Church (Ecclesiastes 5.). The fervor of their religious emotions, the hatred of sin and love of holiness which had led them to separate themselves from heathen society, the aspirations and endeavors after purity and righteousness which naturally follow upon an intelligent and earnest acceptance of Christian truth, were all being undermined by their omission of the duty that lay upon them, that of isolating the gross offender, and of expelling him from their community if he gave no signs of penitence and amendment. They might themselves be orthodox in belief and unblamable in conduct, but this sin would soon, if unchecked, lower the whole tone of the community, and nullify all the good that had been attained to. "Know ye not," he said, "that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" It was impossible to allow the fault to remain and to keep the evil influence it exerted within bounds; it would spread like infection, and be persistent until it had corrupted the whole community. And what is true of a society is true of an individual. The fault which shows itself in a character is not like a stain or flaw in a marble statue, which is confined to one spot, and is no worse after the lapse of years, but like a sore in a living body, which weakens and may destroy the whole organism. One cause why the evil influence spreads is that we are not on our guard against it, and it may grow to almost ungovernable strength before we are really convinced that there is any danger. We can recognize at once great errors and heinous vices, and the alarm and disgust they excite, prepare us to resist them; but little follies and weaknesses often fill us with an amused contempt for them, which blinds us to their great power for evil. The dead body of the fly in the vase of ointment is so insignificant a source of corruption, that it surprises us to discover that the fermentation it has produced has tainted the whole mass. Weight for weight, there is an enormous disproportion between the precious fluid and the wretched little object which has corrupted it; yet there is no ignoring of the fact that the mischief has been done. In like manner does a little folly outweigh wisdom and honor; an uncorrected fault spreads its influence throughout a whole character and life. How often has the lesson been brought home to us, both in our reading of histories and biographies and in our own experience, of the widespread mischief done by a small foible or weakness! -

"The little rift within the lute
That by-and-by will make the music mute." So numerous are the sources from which danger arises, that a long list might be made of the little sins by which the characters of many good men and women are often marred - indolence, selfishness, love of ease, procrastination, indecision, rudeness, irritability, over-sensitiveness to praise or blame, vanity, boastfulness, talkativeness, love of gossip, undue laxity, undue severity, want of sell-control over appetites and passions, obstinacy, parsimony. Such are some of the follies which outweigh wisdom and honor - which stamp the character of a man as unworthy of that respect which his gifts and graces would otherwise have secured for him. Numerous though these follies are, they may be reduced to two great classes - faults of weakness and faults of strength.

I. FAULTS OF WEAKNESS. This class is that of those which are largely negative, and consist principally in omission to give a definite and worthy direction to the nature; e.g. want of self-control, love of ease, indolence, procrastination, indecision, selfishness, heartlessness. That these are faults which create widespread mischief, and excite a general contempt for the characters of those in whom they appear, will scarcely be denied by any, and illustrations of them are only too abundant. Want of self-control over appetites and passions led David into the foulest crimes, which, though sincerely and passionately repented of, were most terribly avenged, and have for ever left a stain upon his name. Love of ease is the only fault which is implied in the description of the rich man in the parable (Luke 16:19), a desire to be comfortable and avoid all that was disagreeable, but it led him to such callous indifference to the miseries of his fellows as disqualified him for happiness in the world to come. A similar fault stained the character of that young ruler who came running to Christ and asked, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" From his youth up he had obeyed the commandments, and his ingenuous, sweet character and disposition attracted the love of the Savior. But his love of the world made him unwilling to practice the self-denial needed to make him perfect. He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mark 10:17-22). His cowardice that led him to make "the great refusal" was the dead fly that corrupted the precious ointment. A very striking illustration of the deterioration of a character through the sin of weakness and indecision is to be found in the life of Eli. He was a man possessed of many beautiful qualities of mind and spirit - gentle, unselfish, devoid of envy or jealousy, devout and humble; but was "a wavering, feeble, powerless man, with excellent intentions but an utter want of will." His parental indulgence led him to exercise no restraint over his children, and the consequence was that when they grew up their conduct was grossly scandalous and depraved. His authority and power as a ruler were not used to check the evils Which in his heart he loathed, and so his folly outweighed all the wisdom and honor he possessed. His good qualities have not preserved his memory from contempt. For contempt is the feeling instinctively excited in those who witness moral weakness and indecision. This is the sting of the rebuke addressed to the Church of Laodicea, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15, 16). In Dante's description of the lower world special infamy is attached to this class of offenders - that of those who have never really lived, who have never awakened to take any part either in good or evil, to care for anything but themselves. They are unfit for heaven, and hell scorns to receive them. "This miserable mode the dreary souls of those sustain who lived without blame and without praise. They were mixed with that caitiff choir of angels, who were not rebellious nor were faithful to God, but were for themselves. Heaven chased them forth to keep his beauty from impair; and the deep hell receives them not, for the wicked would have some glory over them. They are unknown to fame. Mercy and judgment disdain them. Let us not speak of them, but look and pass."

II. FAULTS OF STRENGTH. This class includes those faults which are of a positive character, and consist largely in an abuse of qualities which might have been virtues, For these are not open vices by which characters otherwise good are depraved, but insignificant, unsuspected sources of danger. The very strength of character by which men and women are distinguished may lead, by over-emphasis, into very offensive deterioration. Thus firmness may degenerate into obstinacy, frugality into parsimony, liberality into extravagance, lightheartedness into frivolity, candor into rudeness, and so on. And these are faults which disgust and repel, and cause us to overlook even very great merits in a character; and not only so, but, if unchecked, gradually nullify those merits. We may find in the character of Christ all the virtues which go to make up holiness so admirably balanced that no one is over-prominent, and, Therefore, no one pushed to that excess which so often mars human excellence. Over against the sterner and more masculine qualities of mind and spirit we find those that are gracious and tender, and both within such limits as render his a faultless and perfect example of goodness. His tender compassion for the sinful did not lead him to condone their faults or to lower the standard of holiness for their sake. His righteous indignation against sin did not show itself in impatience, censoriousness, or irritability, as he met it from day to day. "His tender tone was the keen edge of his reproofs, and his unquestionable love infused solemnity into every warning." Two practical lessons may be drawn from our text. The first is that all human excellence is exposed to risk. It is not sufficient to have attained to a certain measure of righteousness; there needs also to be care against declining from it. The ointment carefully distilled must be guarded against corruption. And the second is that the danger often springs from insignificant and unsuspected quarters. The dead fly, carried by some stray breeze into the unguarded vial, is the center of a fermentation which in a very short time will destroy the value of all its contents. - J.W.

Ecclesiastes 10:2-15. From the second verse of this chapter to the fifteenth we have a series of proverbs loosely strung together, but all bearing upon
in the varying circumstances of daily life. It would be waste of ingenuity to try to show any logical connection between the proverbs that are thus crowded together in a small space. And we must content ourselves with a few elucidatory remarks upon them in the order in which they come.

I. A DOUBLE PROVERB ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WISDOM AND FOLLY. (Vers. 2, 3.) "The wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's at his left;" better, "inclines towards his right, towards his left." The heart of the wise man leads him in the proper direction, that of the fool leads him astray. It would be absurd to speak of their hearts as differently situated. The ל is that of direction; and that which is at the right hand means the duty and work which belong to us, that at the left what concerns us less. The wise man recognizes the path of duty, the fool wanders aimlessly away from it. Others give a slightly different turn to the thought. "The one with his heart, i.e. his mind, ready, at his right side, as he walks along the track that images human life, ready to sustain and guide him; the other, the fool with his wits at the left side, not available when needed to lean upon" (Bradley). The fool proclaims his folly to all (ver. 3); every step he takes reveals his deficiency, but, so far from being ashamed of himself, he displays his absurdity as though it were something to be proud of

II. WISDOM A PROTECTION IN TRYING CIRCUMSTANCES. (Vers. 4-7.) The first picture (ver. 4) is that of the court of a despotic king, where an orificial has either deservedly or undeservedly incurred the anger of the sovereign ("spirit" equivalent to "anger," as in Judges 8:3; Proverbs 29:11). The natural feeling of indignation or resentment would prompt such a one to throw up the office entrusted to him, and by so doing probably draw down on himself a still greater storm of anger. The wise courtier will yield to the blast and not answer wrath with wrath, and either pacify the anger he has deservedly incurred, or, if he be innocent, by his patience under injury, avoid giving real cause for offence. We must remember that it is of an Eastern court our author is speaking, in which the Divine right of kings, and the duty of passive obedience on the part of subjects, are doctrines which it would be thought impious to deny. Similar advice is given in Proverbs 15:1. It is not to be supposed, however, that the Preacher regarded all existing governments as commanding respect, and taught only servile maxims. In vers. 5-7 he speaks of grievous inequalities in the state; faults of rulers, the frequent exaltation of the base and the depression of the worthy. His words are studiously cautious, but yet they describe the evil in sufficiently clear terms. It may often be prudent to bow to the wrath of rulers, but rulers are not always in the right. One class of evils he had seen arising from "something like an error" (so cautious is he of speaking evil of dignities), which proceedeth from the ruler - the selection of unworthy men for high positions in the state. "Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place. By the rich he means the nobles - those endowed with ample inheritances received from a line of ancestors who have had the leisure, and opportunities and means for training themselves for serving the state, and from whom a wise king would naturally choose counselors and magistrates. But in Oriental courts, where "the eunuch and the barber held the reins of power," men of no reputation or character had a chance of promotion. And even in Western courts and more modern times the same kind of evils has been only too common, as the history of the reigns of Edward II. and, James I. of England, and of Louis XI. and Henry III. of France, abundantly proves. The reason for making favorites of low-born and unprincipled adventurers is not far to seek; they have ever been ready tools for accomplishing the designs of unscrupulous princes, for doing services from which men who valued their station and reputation in society would shrink. "Regibus multi," says Grotius, "suspecti qui excellunt sire sapientia sire nobilitate aut opibus." Even the Preacher's self-control is insufficient to suppress the indignation and contempt which any generous mind must feel at such a state of matters, and he concentrates his scorn in the stinging sentence, "I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth" (ver. 7). Among the Persians only those of noble birth were permitted to ride on horseback. Thus one of the circumstances of the special honor bestowed on Mordecai was his riding on horseback through the streets of the city (Esther 5:8, 9). But this distinction the Preacher had seen set aside; his eyes had been offended by the spectacle of princes walking on foot like common people, and slaves mounted on horses and clothed with authority (Proverbs 19:10).

III. WISDOM SHOWN IN PROVIDING AGAINST POSSIBLE DANGERS. (Vers. 8, 9.) We need spend no time in the fruitless endeavor to connect vers. 8,-11 with those that have gone before. The writer seems to consider wisdom in another of its aspects. He has just spoken of it as prompting one who is under its influence to be patient and resigned in the presence of eradicable evils; he now speaks of it as giving foresight and caution in the accomplishment of difficult and perhaps even dangerous tasks. He mentions four undertakings in which there may be danger to life or limb. He that digs a pit may accidentally fall into it; he that removes a crumbling wall may be bitten by a serpent that has sheltered itself in one of its crannies; the quarryman may be crushed. by one of the stones he has dislodged; and the woodcutter may maim himself with his own axe. Whether underneath this imagery he refers to the risks attending all attempts to disturb the existing order of things and to overthrow the powers that be, one cannot say. "The sum of these four classes is certainly not merely that he who undertakes a dangerous matter exposes himself to danger; the author means to say in this series of proverbs which treat of the distinction between wisdom and folly, that the wise man is everywhere conscious of his danger, and guards against it Wisdom has just this value in providing against the manifold dangers and difficulties which every undertaking brings with it" (Delitzsch).

IV. THE WISDOM OF ADAPTING MEANS TO ENDS. (Ver. 10.) Such, we think, is the general meaning of the words, which are perhaps more difficult to interpret than any others in the whole Book of Ecclesiastes. "If the iron be blunt," if it will not readily tend itself to the work of felling a tree, more strength must be put forth, the stroke must be heavier to penetrate the wood. If there be little sagacity and preparation before entering on an enterprise, greater force will be needed to carry it out. The foresight which leads to sharpening the axe will make the labor in which it is used muck easier. "But wisdom is profitable to direct" (ver. 10b); it suggests means serviceable for the end in view. It will save a useless expenditure of time and strength.

V. THE FOLLY OF TAKING PRECAUTIONS AFTER THE EVIL HAS BEEN DONE. (Ver. 11,) "If the serpent bite before it be charmed, then is there no advantage in the charmer" (Revised Version). The picture is that of a serpent biting before the charmer has had time to make use of his skill in charming; and the point of the aphorism is that no skill or wisdom is of any avail if made use of too late. "It is too late to lock the stable door when the steed is stolen" (Wright).

VI. WISDOM AND FOLLY IN HUMAN SPEECH. The winning character of the wise man's words, the mischievous and tedious prating of fools (vers. 12-15). The tongue has just been spoken of (ver. 11) as the instrument used by the charmer for taming serpents, and there follows in these verses a reference to wisdom and folly displayed in the words of the wise man and of the fool. "The words of the wise man are gracious" (cf. Luke 4:22), they win favor for him; both the subject-matter and the manner of his speech gain for him the good will of those that hear him. The words of the fool are self-destructive; they ruin any chance he had of influencing those who were prepared to be persuaded by him, whom he meets for the first time, and who were therefore not biased against him by previous knowledge of his fatuity. He goes from bad to worse (ver. 13). "The words point with a profound insight into human nature to the progress from bad to worse in one who has the gift of speech without discretion. He begins with what is simply folly, unwise but harmless, but vires acquirit eundo, he is borne along on the swelling floods of his own declamatory fluency, and ends in what is 'mischievous madness'"(Plumptre). Especially is this the case when his talk is on subjects as to which even the wisest are forced to confess their ignorance (ver. 14) He speaks voluminously, as though he knew all things past and to come, as though all the mysteries of life and death were an open book to him. And he wearies out every one who hears him or has to do with him- His crass ignorance in all matters of common life forbids any trust being placed in his speculations and vaticinafions as to things that are more recondite. The well-known beaten road that leads to the city (ver. 15) he does not know. What kind of a guide would he be in less-frequented paths? In these various ways, therefore, the contrast is drawn between wisdom which leads men in the right way, which directs, their course through the difficulties and dangers that often beset them, and enables them to make the best use of their resources, and that folly which, if it is the ruling element in a character, no art or skill can conceal, which so often renders those in whom it appears both mischievous and offensive to all who have anything to do with them. - J.W.

The circumstances which suggested this admonition were special; we seem to be introduced to the court of a powerful and arbitrary Oriental sovereign. The caprice and injustice of the monarch arouses the indignation of the courtier, who is ready to rise in resentment anti anger. But the counsel is given, "Leave not thy place." Presentment fans the flame of wrath; submission assuages it. "Yielding allayeth great offences." Now, the circumstances apply only to a few, but the principle which they suggest is of wide and general application. A submissive and pacificatory spirit promotes harmony.

I. MEN MUST EXPECT TO ENCOUNTER ANGER AND ARROGANCE FROM THEIR FELLOW-MEN. Those who occupy positions of authority expect deference from their inferiors. Birth, rank, station, are apt to foster an arbitrary habit in their possessors. And whilst there are many and beautiful exceptions to this rule, especially owing to the influence of Christ's example and spirit, it is not to be questioned that arrogance is the special fault of the officially great.

II. ANGER AND ARROGANCE NATURALLY AROUSE RESENTMENT. We are so constituted that, apart from the controlling and restraining influence of reason and religious principles, we return blow for blow. Anger enkindles anger, as flint and steel enkindle fire. Hence words are spoken which may never be forgotten, and may ever be regretted; estrangements take place which may lead to bitter feuds; blows may follow, or duels, or war.

III. THE WISDOM AND THE DUTY OF SELF-CONTROL. The common proverb is, "It takes two to make a quarrel." Because offence is given, offence need not be taken; because injury and insult are inflicted, it does not of necessity follow that they should be avenged. Several motives concur to restrain resentment.

1. Self-respect. The man who loses temper and self-command, upon subsequent reflection, feels himself so much less a man; he despises himself.

2. Prudence. This is the motive specially relied upon in this passage, h dealing with "the ruler," whose spirit rises up against him, the courtier is reminded of the ruler's power, and is admonished not to provoke him to the exercise of that power, for in that case all favor may lead to disgrace and denudation.

3. Religious principle. This is the motive which, in the case of the Christian, is most powerful. The example of the patient and meek Redeemer, who reviled not again, and who besought mercy for his murderers, is never absent from the mind of those who trust and love him. His love constrains, his precept controls, his example impels. And thus forbearance and forgiveness characterize Christ's disciples, in those circumstances in which otherwise resentment and revenge might animate the heart.

IV. THE PACIFYING POWER OF PATIENT SUBMISSION. "Yielding pacifieth [allayeth] great offences." It is not required that the injured party should approve the action of his injurer; or affirmed that no opportunity may occur of just and dignified rebuke. But silence, quietness of spirit, and control of natural impulse, will in many cases produce a good result. He who bears wrong patiently is the stronger and better for the discipline; and his demeanor may melt the wrongdoer to contrition, and will at all events lead him to reflection. Thus the threatened conflict may be avoided; a lesson may be administered to the hasty and arrogant, and the best interests of society may be promoted. Thus the Word of God is honored, and witness is given to the power which Christ possesses to subdue and govern the unruly nature of man. - T.

The evil which the writer of Ecclesiastes here condemns is one of which the history of every nation affords many examples. Princes' favorites have too often been chosen from amongst the worthless herd who seek their own elevation and advantage by ministering to the vices of the young, profligate, and powerful. How many a reign has been marred by this mischief! How many a king has been misled, to his own and his country's harm, by the folly of choosing companions and counselors not for wisdom, sincerity, and patriotism, but because those chosen are of congenial tastes and habits, or are flatterers and parasites!

I. THE ELEVATION OF FOOLISH FAVORITES TO POWER IS INJURIOUS TO THOSE SO PROMOTED, Men who might have been respectable and useful in a lowly station are corrupted and morally debased by their elevation to posts of undeserved dignity and emolument. Their heads are turned by the giddy height to which they are raised.

II. THE ELEVATION OF FOOLISH FAVORITES TO POWER IS INJURIOUS TO THE PRINCES WHOM THEY PROFESS TO SERVE. What kings and rulers need is to be told the truth. It is important that they should know the actual state and needs of the nation. And it is important that any weakness or wrong bias, natural or acquired, should be corrected. But the fools who are set in high places make it their one great rule of conduct never to utter unpalatable truth. They assume the faultlessness of their master; they paint the condition of his subjects in glowing colors, and give the ruler all the credit for national prosperity. Their insincerity and flattery are morally injurious to the prince, who by the companionship of the wise might have been morally benefited.

III. THE ELEVATION OF FOOLISH FAVORITES TO POWER IS INJURIOUS TO THE COMMUNITY. The example of injustice thus presented is discouraging to the upright and depressing to the reflecting. The throne becomes unpopular, and the people generally are demoralized. The evil is no doubt greater in despotic than in constitutional states, for these latter afford fewer opportunities for rapacity and oppression. Yet nothing more injuriously affects the community generally than the spectacle of a court which prefers folly to wisdom, fashion to experience, vice to virtue, frivolity to piety. - T.

Under these picturesque and impressive figures of speech, the Preacher appears to set forth the important moral lesson, that they who work harm and wrong to their fellow-men shall not themselves escape with impunity.

I. THE SIGNS AND THE SIN OF MALICE. The case is one of intentional, deliberate malevolence, working itself out in acts of mischief and wrong. Such a spirit so expressing itself may be characterized

(1) as a perversion of natural sentiment;

(2) as a wrong to our social nature, and a violation of the conditions of our social life; and

(3) as in flagrant contradiction to the commands of God, and the precepts of our gracious and compassionate Savior.

II. THE RETRIBUTION OF MALICE. The proverbial language of the text is paralleled by somewhat similar apophthegms in various languages, as, for example, in the Oriental proverb, "Curses, like chickens, come home to roost."

1. Such retribution is often wrought by the ordinary operation of natural laws. The story of the pirate-rover who was wrecked upon the crags of Aberbrothock, from which he himself had cut off the warning bell, is an instance familiar to our minds from childhood.

2. Retribution is sometimes effected by the action of the laws enforced in all civilized communities. The lex talionis, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," may be taken as an example of a principle the applications of which are discernible in all the various states of society existing among men.

3. Those who escape the penalties of nature and the indignation of their fellow-men cannot escape the righteous judgment of God; they shall not go unpunished. - T.

Ecclesiastes 10:8 (former part)
He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul (Proverbs 8:36); he that seeks to do injury to others brings trouble upon himself; with the measure and after the manner with which he deals will he himself be dealt with. Evil intents, as also good ones, recoil upon their author - in the one case in penalty, and in the other in blessing. As we observe, we see that -


1. Violence begets violence. "They that take the sword perish with the sword;" not, of course, with absolute and unfailing regularity, but generally; so commonly that the professional warrior and, still more, the uncontrollably passionate man may expect to come to a violent end. But, apart from fatal consequences, it is a constantly recurring fact that men give back blow for blow, litigation for litigation, hard measure for hard measure.

2. Cunning begets cunning. The crafty man is the likeliest of all to be caught with guile. Men have a peculiar pleasure and take especial pride in outwitting the neighbor who is trying to take advantage of them. So that he who is always laying traps for his fellows is in greatest danger of being himself entrapped.

3. Contempt begets aversion. There are those who from the pedestal of (often imaginary) superiority look down upon their companions with supercilious disregard; their attitude is one of haughtiness, their language and conduct that of condescension. These proud ones suffer as they deserve; they pay an appropriate penalty; their neighbors resent their assumption; they pass them by with aversion; they speak of them with condemnation; they leave them to loneliness and friendlessness.

4. Slander begets reproach. Men that are unscrupulously complaining of others, hastily or ill-naturedly ascribing to them mistakes or misdeeds, are the men whose own shortcoming is quickly detected and unsparingly condemned (see Matthew 7:1, 2). Thus sin (or folly) smites itself; it thinks to injure others, but it finds in the end that the stone which it threw up into the air comes down upon its own head. On the other hand, we see -


1. The man of peace is permitted to dwell in peace.

2. Frankness, sincerity, are met with reciprocated open-mindedness and honesty.

3. Honor rendered to worth and to our common manhood creates respect, and calls forth the best that is in men.

4. Generosity in judgment receives in return a kind and brotherly estimate of its own actions and character. While he that digs a pit for others fails into it himself, he that raises a ladder for others elevation himself rises upon its rungs. - C.

Ecclesiastes 10:8 (latter part)
There are many fences which we have constructed, or which the Lord of our life has erected, and we discover that if we break them we shall find ourselves attacked and bitten by the serpent which is within or upon the other side.

I. THE HEDGE OF SOCIAL REQUIREMENTS, There are certain understood enactments of society which must be regarded by us. They may have no claim to be moral laws; they may not have any place in the statutes of the land; still they are obligatory upon us. If we are so self-willed or self-sufficient, if we are so ignorant or so careless, as to violate these, we must pay the appropriate penalty of general disregard. Even though we be free from all vice and all crime, we shall be numbered among transgressors of the unwritten law of society, and our position will be lowered, our influence will be lessened, our reputation will be reduced, our usefulness will be impaired.

II. THE HEDGE OF HUMAN LAW. Human law requires of us that we shall pay the debts we owe, that we shall make our contribution to the protection of the society of which we are members, that we shall respect the rights of our neighbors. Breaking this hedge, we pay the penalty which the law inflicts; this "serpent" may be only a small fine, or it may be loss of liberty or even life.

III. THE HEDGE OF DIVINE LIMITATION. God has set a limit to our faculties, and thus to our enjoyment, our activity, our achievement; and if we heedlessly or ambitiously pass this limit, we are bitten and we suffer. If we break the hedge of:

1. Physical appropriation, or exercise, we suffer in bodily sickness, in nervous prostration, in premature decline.

2. Mental activity. If we think, study, strive, labor on at our desk, beyond the limit of our powers, we pay the penalty in irritability, in softening of the brain, in insanity.

3. Spiritual faculty. If we attempt to enter regions that are beyond our God-given powers, we end either in a skepticism which robs us of our highest heritage, or in a mysticism which fascinates and misleads us.

IV. THE HEDGE OF CONSCIENCE. Conscience commands us, with imperative voice, to keep well within the line of purity, of sobriety, of truthfulness, of reverence. If we go beyond that line, we suffer. We suffer:

1. The condemnation of God.

2. The disapproval of the wise and good.

3. The reproach of our own soul.

4. The loss of self-respect and the consequent enfeeblement of our character; and of all losses this is, perhaps, the worst, for it is one of a series of downward steps at the foot of which is death.

1. Be right at heart with God; you will then have within you a force of spiritual rectitude which wilt keep you in the path of wisdom and virtue.

2. Be vigilant; ever watching character and conduct, so that you are not betrayed unawares into error and transgression.

3. Be docile; always ready to receive the counsel and heed the warning of true and faithful friends.

4. Seek daily the guidance and guardianship of God. - C.

This much-debated passage may suggest to us some lessons which may not have been in the mind of the Preacher, but which are appropriate to our time and our circumstances. The question of how much work a man can do is one that depends on two things - on his own strength and skill, and on the quality of the tools he is using. A weak and untried man with poor tools will not do half as much as a strong experienced man with good ones in his hand.

I. THE FIELD OF WORK. This is very broad; it includes not only:

1. All manual labor, to which the passage more immediately applies; but:

2. All business transactions, all household activities, all matters of government in which men are often "the tools" with which work is done. And it includes that to which our attention may be especially directed:

3. All Christian work. This is a great field of its own, with a vast amount of work demanding to be done. Here is work

(1) of vast magnitude;

(2) of great delicacy;

(3) of extreme difficulty,

for it means nothing less than that change of condition which results from a change of heart and life. In view of this particular field we regard -


1. Good tools. Of these tools are:

(1) Divine truth; and to be really good for the great purpose we have at heart we need to hold and to utter this truth in

(a) its integrity, not presenting or exaggerating one or two aspects only, but offering it in its fullness and symmetry;

(b) its purity, uncorrupted by the imaginations and accretions of our own mind;

(c) its adaptation to the special spiritual needs of those to whom we minister.

(2) An elastic organization; not such as will not admit of suiting the necessities of men as they arise, but one that is flexible, and that will lend itself to the ever-varying conditions, spiritual and temporal, in which men are found, and in which they have to be helped and healed.

2. Good workmen. Those that have:

(1) Wisdom "profitable to direct," that have tools, skill, discretion, a sound judgment, a comprehensive view.

(2) Strength; those who can use bad tools if good ones are not at hand, who can work on with sustained energy, who can "bear the burden and heat of the day," who can stand criticism and censoriousness, who will not be daunted by apparent failure or by occasional desertion, who can wait "with long patience" for the day of harvest.

1. Seek to be supplied with the most perfect tools in Christian work; for not only will good tools do much more work than poor ones, but bad tools will result in mischief to the workman. "He that cleaveth... is endangered." Half-truths, or truth unbalanced by its complement, or a badly constructed organization, may do real and serious harm to those who preach the one or work through the other.

2. Put your whole strength - physical, mental, spiritual - into the work of the Lord. With the very best tools we can wield, we shall wish we had done more than we shall have accomplished, when our last blow has been struck for the Master and for mankind. - C.

The homely adage in the first part of this verse prepares for the broad general statement by which it is followed.

I. IN MECHANICAL UNDERTAKINGS THE SUPERIORITY OF SKILL TO BRUTE FORCE IS MOST APPARENT. This is obvious in the superiority of the workmanship of the civilized and cultured to that of the barbarian.

II. WISDOM HAS A VAST ADVANTAGE IN THE ORDINARY AFFAIRS OF HUMAN LIFE. The old fairy stories usually represented the muscular giant as a simpleton easily outwitted by the youth or the dwarf; the lesson being that mere strength avails but little for those ends which men most seek and prize. It is wisdom which is profitable to direct - a truth which applies not merely to mechanics, but to the various arts which men cultivate. What vocation is there in which thought, investigation, the adaptation of means to ends, a calm deliberate judgment, are not serviceable? It is the wise who reap the harvest of life, who sway the realm of humanity.

III. WISDOM IS PRE-EMINENTLY OF SERVICE IN ALL TRUE RELIGIOUS LIFE AND ENTERPRISE. It is true that human wisdom is depreciated in some passages of Holy Writ. But careful attention will show that it is only the lower type of wisdom which inspiration disparages. They who have only "the wisdom of this world," who are "wise in their own conceit," are indeed condemned. But, on the other hand, they are approved who receive the wisdom of God in Christ, and who are wise unto salvation. It is the enlightening influence of God's Holy Spirit that leads to an appreciation of the gospel itself, and that directs those whose endeavor and aim it is to bring their fellow-men into the enjoyment of those blessings which that gospel secures. - T.

Although some of the language employed in this passage is unquestionably obscure, the general tenor of it is clear enough. The contrast which is drawn between wisdom and folly is what we meet with, under other forms, in other portions of the book, and the exposure and censure of the thoughts and the ways of the fool are fitted to warn the young against forsaking the rough but safe paths of true wisdom.

I. FOLLY IS SHOWN IN THE UNNECESSARY MULTIPLICATION OF WORDS. Fools speak when there is no occasion, when they have nothing to say, or when they have already said all that was needful.

II. FOLLY REVEALS ITSELF, THOUGH WITHOUT PROVOCATION. It cannot be concealed; it is obtrusive and glaring. The fool is his own enemy: "his lips will swallow up himself."

III. FOLLY IS DISPLAYED IN DOGMATIC UTTERANCES UPON MATTERS WHICH ARE BEYOND HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. There are many subjects upon which modesty and reticence are required by wisdom. Especially is this the case with regard to the future. But it is presumed in this passage that the fool will not restrain himself from pronouncing upon what is beyond human knowledge or human prescience.


V. FOLLY IS MANIFESTED IN INCOMPETENCY FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, The fool "knoweth not how to go to the city," i.e. how to transact public business, and to give advice regarding civic action.

VI. FOLLY IS SURE TO ISSUE IN MISCHIEF AND DISASTER. It is sometimes represented that fools can do no harm; that real mischief is wrought by malice, by criminal designs and actions. But a careful inquiry into the facts would show that very much of the evil that afflicts society is brought to pass by mere folly. The Hebrews and the Greeks were agreed in representing wisdom as a cardinal virtue. It is men's duty to cultivate wisdom. If they neglect to do so, it matters not that they have no criminal intentions; the absence of wisdom must needs lead to conduct which will involve themselves and others in much suffering, and even in terrible calamities. - T.

It is sometimes assumed that moral qualities are unimportant in relation to political affairs. If a king be brave in his warlike expeditions, splendid in his court, and affable in his demeanor; if a statesman be sagacious in counsel and determined in action, it is too generally assumed that nothing further is wanting to secure national greatness and prosperity. The writer of Ecclesiastes looked far deeper, and saw the necessity of a self-denying and laborious character in order to true kingly and statesmanlike service.

I. INCOMPETENCE AND SELF-INDULGENCE IN THOSE WHO OCCUPY HIGH PLACES ARE A CURSE TO A NATION. Men who are flung into power by the wave of royal favoritism, or by popular caprice and applause, are apt to use their exalted station as a means to personal enjoyment and to the gratification of vanity. Statesmen who pass their time in luxury and social ostentation will certainly neglect the public interests. They account their power and rank as their possession, and not as a sacred trust. Their example tends to debase the national morals, and to lower the standard of public life. They surround themselves with flatterers, and they neglect their proper duty, until they awake to find their country plunged into calamity or threatened with enslavement.

II. SELF-DENIAL, EXPERIENCE, AND DILIGENCE ARE QUALITIES WHICH ENSURE TRUE STATESMANSHIP. In despotic governments it is obvious that the national prosperity depends very largely upon the patriotism and justice, the assiduity and unwearied devotion to duty, of those in high station. The conditions of national life under a constitutional government are different. Yet there is no political community in which unselfishness, temperance, and diligent application to the public service are not valuable qualities on the part of these who deliberate and decide upon great public questions, and of those who administer a nation's affairs.

APPLICATION. In modern states, where the representative principle so largely obtains, great power is placed in the hands of the citizens and subjects. With them accordingly rests much of the responsibility for the righteous government and the true prosperity of the nation. It behooves Christian men to beware of being misled by party spirit, and so of overlooking the grave moral faults of those who solicit their confidence. It is in the power of the people to raise to positions of eminence and authority men whose aim is not personal aggrandizement and enjoyment, but the public good. If this power be wisely and firmly exercised, vice and crime will be repressed, order and liberty will be maintained, and the nation will maintain a high position and exercise a noble influence among the nations of the earth. Then the spectator will be inspired to utter the exclamation, "Happy art thou, O land!" - T.

Some of the evils of life arise from errors and follies which may be corrected by diligence and prudence, and among them are the caprices of unworthy princes, the vices of courtiers, and the disloyalty of subjects. Both kings and those over whom they rule have duties towards each other, the violation of which bring many mischiefs; both need to have before their minds the ideal of righteousness belonging to their respective stations.

I. THE EVILS OF MISGOVERNMENT. The land is miserable whose king is a child in years or in heedlessness, whose princes begin the days with revels instead of attending to the management of affairs of state and the administration of justice. The incapacity of the prince leads to the appointment of unworthy ministers, and prevents a proper check being put upon their profligacy and neglect. The result is soon seen in the disorders of the state. "Through the slothfulness of rulers," he goes on to hint, "the fabric of thy state decays; the neglected roof lets the water through. And meantime there is high revelry within the palace walls; and gold and silver supply all their needs" (vers. 18, 19). Illustrations of such an unhappy state of matters recur only too readily to the student of history. We may see it exemplified in the condition, shall we say, of some native state within our Indian frontier? or some Eastern empire tottering to its fall nearer home? or a European monarchy at the close of the last century, with luxury and state in the palace, and a hungry people outside its door, and the shadow of the guillotine, and head-crowned pikes and September massacres in the background?" (Bradley).

II. THE BLESSINGS OF A. WELL-ORDERED GOVERNMENT. That land is happy, governed by a king of undisputed title (ver. 17), who sets an example of integrity, and not by some upstart adventurer. He derives his title from his noble descent, but he may establish his power on a firmer foundation if the excellences of his ancestors are reproduced in him; he will secure a large measure of prosperity for his people if he choose for his officers men of simple tastes, who think more of discharging their duties than of self-indulgence.

III. THE DUTY OF LOYALTY ON THE PART OF SUBJECTS. (Ver. 20.) Even if the sovereign is personally unworthy of respect, the office he holds should be honored; he is still the servant of God, even if he is grossly neglectful of his duties. There is a worse evil than misgovernment, and that is anarchy. "Curse not the king" - he may not deserve it; there may be reasons of state to explain what seems to be capricious or unjust in his conduct; yield him reverence for conscience sake, because it is right to do so. And even if he be in the wrong, it is prudent to abstain from words of blame, since he has the power to punish those that speak against him, and may hear in unexpected ways what has been said about him in secrecy. Such counsels are of a kindred character with those which the apostles have given (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). At first it might seem as if they commended the cultivation of a slavish spirit on the part of subjects towards their rulers, and it is well known that many have deduced from them the preposterous doctrine of "passive obedience." But it must be kept in mind that while these portions of Scripture prescribe the duties of subjects, they prescribe also the duties of kings; and that it is no slavish doctrine to hold that those who rule in equity have an absolute right to the devotion and loyalty of their subjects. When they depart from equity their claim to implicit obedience is proportionately diminished. The prudential maxim of ver. 20 warns men to count the cost before they assail the power of even a bad king - to beware of provoking his wrath by heedless conduct - but does not command passive obedience to him. Misgovernment may reach such a pitch as to make it a duty for subjects to brave the wrath of kings, and to attempt to put a check upon their folly. We have not here a mean-spirited and time-serving piece of advice, suitable only for those who languish under the tyranny of Eastern despots, but a warning against rashness which is not inapplicable to the most public-spirited citizen of the freest state. The examples of Isaiah under Ahaz, of Jeremiah under Zedekiah, and of St, Paul under Nero, show that it is possible to have a love of righteousness and hatred of iniquity, and yet not be wanting in respect to a bad king. - J.W.

A material "ruin" may be a very picturesque and even pleasant sight, when that which has answered its end loses its form and does well to disappear. But otherwise a ruin is a pitiable spectacle.


1. Health. When a man should be in his prime, with all his physical and mental forces at their best; when he should be able to work effectively and continuously, and should be the stay of his home and a strength to his Church and to his friends; and when, instead of this, he is worn, feeble, incapable, obviously declining, and clearly drawing towards the end, - we have a melancholy ruin.

2. Circumstance. The once wealthy merchant, or the once powerful family, or the once strong and influential state, is brought down to poverty, helplessness, and general disregard; this also is a pitiful sight. But the worst of all is that which relates to:

3. Character. When a man once upright, pure, godly, respecting himself and living in the enjoyment of general esteem, is brought down to moral ruin and becomes a human wreck, then we see the saddest sight beneath the sun. What was once the fairest and noblest thing in the world - a sound, strong, beautiful human character - has lost all its excellency and become foul and ugly. How does this happen? Here are -


1. Self-indulgence. To "eat for strength and not for revelry" (drunkenness) is the right and the becoming thing; "to eat (feast) in the, morning," when the precious hours should be given to duty, - this is a shameful and a fatal thing. Self-indulgence, which constantly tends to become greater and grosser, leads down fast to feebleness, to poverty, to demoralization, to shame, to death.

2. Idleness, or carelessness.

(1) The man who does not think it worth his while to study the laws of health, and to take pains to keep them, need not wonder if he becomes weak and sickly, if his life is threatened.

(2) The man who pursues his pleasure when he should be doing his work will certainly find his business "decaying," his credit falling, his prospects of success "dropping through." So also the housewife, the student, the minister, the secretary, the statesman.

(3) The man who treats his own spirit as something of secondary importance, who does not read that he may be enlightened, who does not worship that he may be edified, who does not pray that he may be guarded and sustained, who does not seek the companionship of the good and fellowship with Christ, who leaves his spiritual nature at the mercy of all the adverse forces that are circling round him and acting on him, may expect that his soul will be impaired, that his character will decay, that the most precious "house" which man can build will fall, and great and sad will be the fall of it (Matthew 7:27). - C.

Religious teachers are sometimes unwilling to touch upon common faults, such as are noticeable by every observer as prevailing too generally in the everyday life of their fellow-men. The Scriptures give no countenance to such negligence, but, on the contrary, deal faithfully with those errors and evil habits which are alien from the Christian character, and which are injurious to: human society. Slothfulness was peculiarly hateful to the writer of this book, who inculcated diligence as a religious duty, and exhibited in homely but effective ways the results of its prevalence.

I. TEMPTATIONS TO SLOTH ARE MANY. Work must be done, some will admit; but it may be left to others, or it may be put off to a more convenient season. Work need not be done, others will declare; much may be left undone which some people think of importance, but which is not really so. Upon the plea of ill health, or mental inability, or preoccupation, multitudes, in this world where there is so much to be done, sink into slothful, indolent habits and a useless life,


1. The slothful man is his own enemy. Had he exerted himself and exercised his powers, he would have grown an abler and a better man. Who does not know persons with undeniable gifts who have "wrapped their talent in a napkin," and who have morally deteriorated, until they have become worthless members of society?

2. The slothful man wrongs society. Every man is born into this world to do a work for the general good. To live in idleness and comfort upon the produce of others' toil is to inflict a positive injury. Others have to labor in order that the idle may be fed. Work is left undone for which the indolent possess, it may be, some peculiar gift. For the life of the slothful the world is none the better.

III. THE SIN OF SLOTH IS CONDEMNED BY THE WORD OF GOD. The Book of Proverbs contains some very striking reflections and statements upon this point. And for the Christian it is enough to consider the example of the Lord Jesus, who with all his consecrated energy devoted himself to his Father's will and work. How alien from the Master's spirit is the habit of the indolent! We cannot lose sight of the fact that, in the last judgment, the "wicked and slothful servant" must hear words of condemnation.


1. Prayer prompts to watchfulness and toil.

2. Attention to the counsels and admonitions of God's Word cannot fail to be serviceable in delivering us from temptations to slothfulness.

3. Meditation upon the example of our Savior and Lord will stimulate to diligence and zeal. They who by the indwelling of his Spirit are one with him will share his devotion to the Father's will, his consecration to the welfare of mankind. - T.

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