We remember that Ecclesiastes belongs to what is called “The Wisdom Literature” and so we are not surprised to find these pithy proverbial sayings. The use and work of proverbs was to structure life and to give life boundaries and borders. Proverbs was intended to be generational wisdom that was true for all times and places. There is a remarkably covenantal aspect to proverbs in as much as the minding or taking serious of Proverbs is a way in which we honor our Fathers and Mothers. In the Proverbs we have stored wisdom that was to be used by every generation and we see that it was God’s intent that the covenant generations have a continuity in the fact that all the covenant generations would be guided and structured by heeding the proverbs.
Remember the reason that the Teacher has gone into this comparing and contrasting of the fool and the wise, of folly and wisdom is that he is giving an account of why it is the case that the world is topsy turvy. One reason it is topsy turvy is that the fool and his folly has been embraced.
As we come to Ecclesiastes 10:8-10 I take it to be a description of the way the fool operates. I do so because all of what we find here is a description of failure but it ends in vs. 10 with a contrast of “wisdom brings success.” The fool operates in an unprepared fashion that exemplifies a lack of caution.
Alternately, the Teacher could be emphasizing again as he did in 9:11-12 that God is sovereign over the affairs of men and matters don’t always turn out as we thought they might.
If, what we have in vs. 8-10 is description of the way the fool operates as contrasted with the wise who have success, with the point perhaps being that the wise take proper preparation so as to avoid the fool’s the disasters that arise from a fool’s lack of caution.
— He digs a pit and falls into it
— He breaks through a wall and is bitten by a serpent
— He is hurt by the stones he quarries
then in vs. 11-15 the point is to contrast not only the work of the fool and the wise but their words also. The conclusion of all this is that the fool is good for nothing because they can not accomplish the most mundane of all tasks (they do not even know how to go to the city).
So with that in mind we look at 11-14
If the serpent bites before it is charmed,
there is no advantage to the charmer.
In vs. 11 Maurer translates, “There is no gain to the enchanter” (Margin, “master of the tongue”) from his enchantments, because the serpent bites before he can use them; hence the need of continual caution. Again, in vs. 11, like 8-10 the fool is not someone who takes caution in acting — he is not prepared.
In Ec 10:11 and following verses, the emphasis then switches to caution in speaking and to the issue of finding advantage.
In vs. 12 we are explicitly told that the words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious. We find similar words in Proverbs 10:31-32
The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom,
but the perverse tongue will be cut off.
32 The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable,
but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.
The wise man speaks in a way that is favorable; kind; benevolent; merciful.
But of course we offer her that these favorable and kind words that the wise man speaks are not words that are intended to be manipulative or full of compromise. They are rather words that need to be spoken at the right time in the right way. Such gracious words, we learn elsewhere from Scripture are like are like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
So the gracious speaking of the wise is a speaking that is able to discern the proper time and place for the proper words, and it is as easy to lack graciousness in words by saying to little as by saying to much.
It is as easy to lack graciousness in words by being to soft as by being to hard.
As such I suppose nothing is more difficult for the wise than to speak graciously. There is always the danger to say to much or to little. There is always the danger of using the wrong tone or choosing the wrong word. There is always the reality that one doesn’t understand the mood of the audience and what they can or cannot hear at any given time. There is always the temptation to be intimidated by man and so swallow the gracious words that might be better spoken. There is always the temptation to be so puffed up that words are spoken that don’t need to be heard.
Very few of the Sons of Adam have the ability to speak words that are gracious and so show themselves wise.
Because of this we have to keep in prayer that God would give us wisdom … to know how to speak.
These words of graciousness from the Wise seeks to eliminate all needless offense and all unwarranted irritation. I say “needless” and “unwarranted” because there will be times when offense and irritation will result from the gracious words of the wise.
Tiny seemingly insignificant realities of words are monumentally important. With gracious words Abigail turned David’s hand away from bloodshed (I Sam. 25:23-33). With gracious words Moses interceded successfully with God in order to turn God’s wrath from the Hebrew children. With gracious words Jesus tongue lashed the enemies of God, and with gracious words St. Paul had startling counsel for those who would empty the Gospel.
The fool, unlike the wise is a flowing fountain of inane speech. It’s doubtful he ever considers what he says or the impact that his words will have.
The first impact the fool’s words is upon himself. He swallows himself up. The idea of “swallow up” here means “to destroy.” A fool is his own worse enemy and his words the weapons by which he lays himself low.
We have our own proverbs down this line. When someone says something unfitting we will say,
“He just shot himself in the foot.”
Our words, as everyone here knows, can bring be our undoing.
The Teacher informs us that when it comes to the fool his words are from beginning to end are idiotic. Vs. 13 may be giving us the idea of how the fool’s speech goes from bad to worse. He starts with words of foolishness and ends with raving madness.
We should interject here that the fact that we are a culture characterized by raving madness is seen in theories of literature that teach that there is no such thing as authorial intent in literature or that authorial intent if it does exist is inaccessible. This is the raving madness of fools because it cuts off the gracious words of the wise of generations gone by from this generation of fools. This is raving madness because it disallows any stable meaning in any of our literature and disallows fixity in law and ethics. This is raving madness because the fool seldom desire to apply the same standard of unreachable authorial intent to what he writes when he writes that we cannot reach authorial intent.
Of course all of this is ultimately contrasted with God’s own Word … our Lord Christ. Our Lord Christ is God’s wisdom to us. By God’s word the heavens were formed and the earth made. By God’s word all things consist. Because God’s Word … our Lord Christ is Wisdom … St. Paul can say all wisdom and treasure of knowledge is hid in that Word who is Christ.
So, as we consider all this … the words of the wise vs. the words of fools, we needs be reminded again that the only hope we have for gracious words is anchored in the reality that we are anchored in the Lord Christ who is wisdom from God. We have no hope of ever being enabled to use the gracious words of wisdom unless we find ourselves buried and risen with Christ. We have no hope of being sanctified in Wisdom so that our words become increasingly gracious as the years go by unless we are seated in the heavenlies with the Lord Christ. Would we avoid being fools with all their rash words and raving madness we would be a people who find ourselves nestled in Him who is God’s eternal Word of Wisdom.
In vs. 14 the Teacher presses on with the fool and his words
14 A fool multiplies words,
though no man knows what is to be,
and who can tell him what will be after him?
We have a proverb that parallels this idea somewhat in our own culture that says
“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
Another one we have that parallels this somewhat is,
“Silent waters run deep.”
According to the Teacher the fool is someone who always has something to say.
Now, this is not a admonition against people who are wordy. One can be wordy without being a fool. However it is a admonition against banal wordiness. Wordiness that has no meaning and intends to go nowhere.
When 14b is read in conjunction with 14a the idea seems to be that the fool is one who has an opinion on everything including those things that cannot be known. No man can know what is to be but a fool will tell you what is to be. No man can tell you what will happen in the long future and yet the fool, with his multitude of words, will tell you.
Charles Bridge offers an interesting insight into the fools words here,
“But to judge the waters flowing from a fools fountain; listen to Baal’s worshipers on Mt. Carmel as they cry out to their god incessantly, listen to Rabshakeh’s proud boasting about how Assyria was going to crush Israel during the time of Hezekiah or listen to the fretting murmurings of the people of God when they complained against God leading them out of Egypt.”
The Fool has the ability to always say just the wrong thing at just the right time.
Another matter we might speak of here is the fact that because the fool is so prolix he often immerses himself in contradiction. The fool has a mind that is as crooked as his words are and so he is full of contradiction. James hints at the idea that the fool is double-minded and so his words are full of contradictions that belie his double-mindedness. So, if you want to locate a fool, listen for contradiction in his plethora of words.
application — out of the abundance of the heart a man speaks
For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
In vs. 16-20 the Teacher ends with what I believe to be are words of application.
He has given us wise and fool in work and words. Now he locates the fool.
The people have a fool for King who is a child.
This is suggested by another Proverb from the book by that name,
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child (Prov. 22:15).
And the fact that foolishness is being spoken of here is confirmed in vs. 16b by describing a ruling class that is partying when it should be governing.
Foolishness of the governing elite is also seen in these verses when they speak of laziness, idleness, and the idea that money is a solution apart from Wisdom.
Governments run by such men cause everyone to suffer from their injustices, for they will use their powers to
extract from people what they would not otherwise be willing to give. Taxes can become an intolerable burden when
sinners are in command and lead a nation as fools that think money answers everything. Certainly from this description we can see that we are a people governed by fools. Our entitlement programs are maxed out while a President spends 100 million dollars to go to Africa.
vs. 17 gives us the contrast to fools who govern.
The King belongs where he is and the princes of the realm have discernment.
We end this morning where the Teacher gives counsel. Despite the fact that people may be ruled by fools they would be wise to avoid cursing the King or the Rich who despite being fools could make their lives hell.