For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4


Ecclesiastes 10

A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

10:1.  “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor.”


As dead flies will transmute the aroma of fragrant ointment into a stench, so can even one foolish act ruin a good reputation.


The J.F.B. Commentary makes the interesting comment that “Beelzebub means prince of flies.”


10:2.  “A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart is at his left.”


As noted above, the ancients believed the heart to be the seat of the intelligence, so that what is being said here is that the wise man’s brain will lead him to act wisely, while that of the fool will lead him in just the opposite direction, i.e., into folly.


10:3.  “Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool.”


“... walketh by the way” is a metaphor for the course of a man’s life.  The fool’s lifestyle advertises his lack of wisdom.


10:4.  “If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offenses.”


The advice given here is that even if your master should become angry with you, do not quit your job, but rather yield respectfully to his judgment, your deference being very likely to pacify his anger.        


10:5.  “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which prodeedeth from the ruler:”


In those days the power of the ruling prince was almost invariably absolute, so that when he exercised poor judgment it was likely to have far-reaching bad effects.


10:6.  “Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place.”


An example of such error on the part of a ruler was his having elevated foolish men to high positions, so that wiser and better men than they had to occupy inferior positions.


10:7.  “I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon earth.”


The horse represents strength, so that the servants riding upon them represent the power of rule vested in unqualified men.  The princes were the ones who should have been ruling, but as it was then, so is it still: many in high governmental positions, locally and nationally, are unscrupulous self-seekers, caring only about their own aggrandisement, while many honest and qualified men have to live under their dominion.


10:8.  “He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him.”


Though “... pit” may be also translated “well,” in the present context it seems to portray rather a pit dug for the injury of another.  The language is symbolic, and speaks of any plan hatched for the harm of another.  Such schemes may succeed here on earth, but man’s existence continues beyond earth: in eternity God will balance the scales, the good or bad done on earth having a corresponding measure of recompense in heaven or hell, depending on whether the man died as a believer or as an unbeliever.


The breaking of a hedge, which may include also the making of a hole in a wall, continues to speak of an attempt to harm another.  Obviously very few of those thus guilty will be bitten by a literal serpent and die, but the language goes far beyond the literal.  The serpent represents Satan who is described as “that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan,” Re 20:2.  The sin committed in response to his evil prompting is far more deadly than the bite of any literal serpent: it brings spiritual death.


10:9.  “Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.”


The first part of the verse refers to the quarrying of stones: those engaged in such work are in danger of being hurt by falling rock; while he who splits wood may be injured in the process.  (I knew of a man, who while splitting logs on a large band saw, died by having his jugular vein severed by a projected piece of wood).


I regret being unable to see the spiritual significance of this verse.


10:10.  “If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.”


It seems that the axe here is used figuratively of the intellect.  He who fails to sharpen or improve his mind by the wise use of it, makes himself the heir of more trouble than is necessary.  Wisdom on the other hand is essential for success in life.


10:11.  “Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.”


This is based on the premise that snakes are so charmed or soothed by music that they will not bite, the latter part of the verse seeming to imply that the words of a senseless talker can do as much harm as the venom of a viper, hence the adviseability of trying not to arouse the wrath of an over-talkative man.


10:12.  “The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.”


Everyone benefits by the speech of a wise man: his words win him the respect of his hearers, but the words of a fool ruin him, for his silence would have left his fooly undetected, but his speech declares his foolishness to all who hear him.


10:13.  “The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishnes: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.”


Taylor translates this verse, “Since he begins with a foolish premise, his conclusion is sheer madness.”


10:14.  “A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?”


Only a fool would attempt to predict the future, for only God knows what is yet to be.


10:15.  “The labor of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.”


All the efforts of a fool weary him, for knowing not the way to the city, he never gets there: all his attempts prove fruitless.  But beyond the literal lies the deeper truth that the fool, the unbeliever, knows not the way to heaven, and though he may busy himself with church activity, morality, good works, etc., he will never reach the hoped-for destination, for the way there is not a religious system, but a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ Who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me,” John 14:6.


10:16.  “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!”


Unfortunate is the land whose king is a mere child, and the princes who are his advisers carouse into the small hours of the morning.  Such a land will be brought to ruin.  The same is true of the land whose king, though a grown man, has no more wisdom than a foolish child.


The application to the Church is patent.  When she is governed by immature, unspiritual men obsessed by novelty and entertainment as the way to attract members, she is treading the path to ruin.


10:17.  “Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!”


In marked contrast with the land ruled by a child whose advisers revel all night, is that which is ruled by a wise king, whose counselors are abstemious.  And again, applying the synonym to the Church, the truth being declared is that when the congregation is composed of God-fearing believers, and the elders are mature spiritual men, there will be blessing.


10:18.  “By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.”


The deterioration of a local church is portrayed here under the figure of a decaying house.  By neglect the roof caves in, and from there the total destruction quickly follows.  The roof corresponds to the leadership, the elders.  When they become slothful the demise of the assembly is a foregone conclusion.


10:19.  “A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.”


A feast is an occasion for merriment, and wine, as it is written, gladdens the heart, “... wine that maketh glad the heart of man,” Ps 104:15; but money, from the viewpoint of the unconverted, is the answer to every problem.  One thing money can’t buy however, is happiness, as is confirmed by the general unhappiness of some of the very rich: nor can it buy one a place in heaven, or save one from hell.


10:20.  “Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry thy voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.”


The admonition against cursing the king or the rich, even in one’s thoughts, is based on the fact that simply by his demeanor a man may very easily disclose his attitude towards someone, so it is safer not even to think evil of anyone: there will then be no possibility of disclosure of what one is thinking.

[Ecclesiastes 11]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough