Scripture reading – Ecclesiastes 9; Ecclesiastes 10

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As we near the conclusion of our study in the Book of Ecclesiastes, we find Solomon’s observations, though penned nearly 3,000 years ago, apply to our day. Despite our modern technology and 21st-century sophistication, when it comes to humanity, as Solomon so aptly wrote, there is “no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Ecclesiastes 9

The Universal Reality Common to Good and Evil Men (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3)

Seeing life from a human, earthly vantage, Solomon observed that good and evil men come to the same fate. The elderly king wrote, “All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked” (Ecclesiastes 9:2). What is the one thing good and evil men have in common? Death: “They go to the dead” (Ecclesiastes 9:3).

It is Better to be Living Than Dead. (Ecclesiastes 9:4-6)

That caption is a statement of the obvious, poetically stated by the king in Ecclesiastes 9:4-6. Where there is life, there is hope; however, death is the end of life and hope.

One application of that truth was another “better than” proverb that stated, “A living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4b). Though the lion is the perennial king of the jungle, its roar and reign end when it dies; therefore, “a living dog is better than a dead lion.”

Death is inevitable, and although we may try to fill our lives with hopes and dreams, “the living know that they shall die” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Death eventually comes knocking on every soul (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Sadly, when a man or woman dies, the “memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). All that we love, hate and envy will perish with us (Ecclesiastes 9:6). Live therefore and hope!

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

1) Seize the day and be happy (Ecclesiastes 9:7). The carnal suggests, “Seize the moment.” Solomon takes up a similar theme regarding life and encourages the righteous that God accepts their labor (Ecclesiastes 9:7).

2) Set your heart and be joyful (Ecclesiastes 9:8). I think the white garments and the ointment (i.e., oil, a symbol of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures) in verse 8 allude to the anointing of priests and kings. When ministering in the Tabernacle and the Temple, the priests wore unstained, white garments to represent walking in righteousness. Like the priests in Solomon’s day, believers should walk in holiness, having their hearts and thoughts saturated with the ointment of the Word of God (Proverbs 2:20; Romans 8:4).


3) Make your marriage a priority (Ecclesiastes 9:9).  How different would our lives, families, and congregations be if we followed Solomon’s exhortation concerning marriage?  The king wrote, “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life” (Ecclesiastes 9:9). A happy marriage makes one’s labor and sacrifices meaningful.

4) Make the most of your labor (Ecclesiastes 9:10). An old gospel song titled “Work for the Night is Coming” captured the sentiment of verse 10. Parents should teach Solomon’s advice regarding labor when he wrote, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).

Whether in the workplace, home, school, or another arena of life, believers should always give their 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). After all, the night is coming when men and women will work no more.

Ecclesiastes 10

Ecclesiastes 10:1 draws an analogy that is foreign to our day. Yet, we can comprehend the verse’s truth when we keep it in context. Remembering the original manuscript of the Scriptures did not have numbered verses or chapter breaks, let us consider Ecclesiastes 10:1 by drawing on the previous verse, Ecclesiastes 9:18.

The Folly of “Little Sins” (9:18; 10:1)

There we read, “Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good” (Ecclesiastes 9:18). Knowing the immediate context was a reference to “one sinner” who can 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).

We understand that flies can pollute and destroy an uncovered dish, so what is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 10:1? In context with the verse before Ecclesiastes 10:1, I suggest we consider the “dead flies” to be “little sins” (at least from a human perspective).

The application is that in the same way “dead flies” pollute a perfume and cause it to become rotten and rancid, so “little sins” (i.e., “a little folly”) can discredit a wise man and ruin his reputation (10:1).

The Words and Counsel of Crazy Fools (Ecclesiastes 10:12-15)

Ecclesiastes 10:12-15 contrasts the counsel and words of wise men and fools. A wise man is known for “gracious” words (10:12), but “the lips of a fool” will consume him and any that heed his counsel (10:12).

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

Wise men tend to be men of few words; however, the fool “is full of words” (10:14a) and wise in his own eyes.  And what can a fool be taught? Nothing, absolutely nothing! (10:14b) Another sad trait of a fool is that 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 either incapable or unwilling to follow simple directions.

The Character of a Nation’s Leaders is Either a Curse or a Blessing (10:16-17)

Ecclesiastes 10:16 was a warning to a nation and people ruled by narcissistic leaders whose moral character was portrayed as “a child” and a “prince” ruled by his appetite (i.e., “eat in the morning”). In contrast, while a country governed by foolish leaders is cursed, a land ruled by noble leaders with disciplined, restrained desires is blessed (10:17).

Closing thoughts –

Today’s world is guilty of promoting personality and political ideologies over moral character and abilities. Moral character, self-discipline, and proven success have been sacrificed for race, gender, and political quotas. Woe to the nation, corporation, institution, or ministry that prefers immaturity, inexperience, and self-indulgence over godly wisdom and unwavering convictions (10:16).

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith 

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