Two Paths: One to Joy, the Other to Ruin (Ecclesiastes 9; Ecclesiastes 10)

Scripture reading – Ecclesiastes 9; Ecclesiastes 10

Nearing the conclusion of our study in the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon’s observations, though penned nearly 3,000 years ago, are applicable to our day. In spite of our 21st century sophistications, there continues to be, as Solomon so aptly penned, “no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Ecclesiastes 9

Seeing life from a human, earthly vantage, Solomon observes that good men and evil men come to the same fate. Solomon wrote, “all things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked.” What one thing do good and evil men have in common? Death (9:1-3).

Better to be living than dead (9:4-6), appears to be a statement of the obvious, but it is stated poetically by the king in Ecclesiastes 9:4-6. One proverb of that truth was, “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (9:4b). From two different spectrums, the lion was considered king, while the dog was looked upon with disgust (unlike our society that pampers dogs as pets). Solomon wisely used these two comparatives to help us visualize the great value of life (9:4).

Four Suggestions that Contribute to Joy (9:7-10)

1) Seize the day, and be happy. Live life, and enjoy the life that you live. God accepts your work, when your work is judged acceptable in His sight (9:7).

2) Set your heart to be joyful (9:8). Solomon draws a reference to the priesthood and to kings. The priests wore unstained, white garments, that represented walking in righteousness. Like the priests in Solomon’s day, we should also walk in righteousness.

3) Make your marriage a priority, and “live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life” (9:9). A happy marriage is the foundation of one’s companionship, friendship, pleasure, and joy.

4) Make the most of your labor: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (9:10a). Whether in the work place, the home, or any area of life, give your best! Paul, in his letter to believers in Colosse, wrote the same sentiment: “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23).

Ecclesiastes 10

Ecclesiastes 10:1 draws upon an analogy that is foreign to our day; however, by keeping the verse in context we can understand its truth. Recalling the original manuscript of the Scriptures would not have had verses, and chapter breaks, let us consider Ecclesiastes 10:1 by drawing upon the previous verse. We read, “Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good” (9:18). Knowing the immediate context was a reference to “one sinner” who is able to destroy “much good” we read:

Dead flies cause the ointment [oil; perfume] of the apothecary [a clay vessel containing ointment] to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly [silliness; foolishness] him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour” (10:1).

In context with the verse prior to Ecclesiastes 10:1, I suggest we consider the “dead flies” to be “little sins” (at least from a human perspective). In the same way “dead flies” pollute the perfume and cause it to become rotten and putrid, “little sins” (i.e., “a little folly”) can discredit a wise man, and ruin his reputation (10:1).

The Influence and Character of One’s Counselors (10:12-15)

Ecclesiastes 10:12-15 states a contrast between the words and counsel of wise men, and the counsel of fools. The counsel of a wise man is described as “gracious” (10:12), meaning his words are to be looked upon with favor. However, “the lips of a fool will swallow up himself,” and anyone foolish enough to heed his counsel (10:12).

Solomon continued his admonitions regarding a fool’s counsel, stating: “The beginning of the words [counsel] of his [the fool’s] mouth is foolishness [folly]: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.” From the outset, the words of a fool express what is in his heart—foolishness. And, where does the counsel of a fool lead? In the words of Solomon, “mischievous madness,” or sheer insanity! (10:13).

While wise men tend to be men of few words, the fool “is full of words” (10:14a), and is wise in his own eyes.  And what can you teach a fool? Nothing, absolutely nothing! (10:14b) Another sad trait of a fool is he not only refuses wise counsel, but he lacks the competence to find his way “to go to the city” (10:14). In other words, he is incapable of following simple directions.

Defining the moral character of a leader (king) as “a child” (10:16), Solomon observed:

Ecclesiastes 10:16 16Woe to thee, O land, when thy king [leader] is a child [unwise, inexperienced, lacks discernment], and thy princes [leadership] eat in the morning!

Closing thoughts – Today’s society is often guilty of promoting incompetency over qualification. Rather than promote persons based upon their skill or moral character and merit, governments, corporations, educational institutions, and yes, churches often fail to choose leaders whose lives are a testimony to wisdom, self-disciplines, and hard work.

Failing to seek the candidates with moral character, self-discipline, and proven success, leads to the downfall of any institution, government or nations (10:16). Woe to the nation, corporation, or ministry that prefers failure, immaturity, inexperience, and self-indulgence, over godly wisdom and unwavering convictions (10:16).

Copyright © 2021 – Travis D. Smith