In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia finishes looking at Solomon’s instruction regarding foolishness in Ecclesiastes 10:1-20. In part 2, Pastor Dave examines Solomon’s final two of four self-destructive characteristics of foolishness, especially in government, so that you will guard against folly and pursue wisdom instead. Pastor Dave also considers Solomon’s brief concluding bit of practical advice.
Introduction: Wisdom Delivers, Folly Destroys (vv. 1-4)
1. Folly Promotes Unqualified People (vv. 5-7)
2. Folly Fails to Prepare (vv. 8-11)
3. Folly Is Full of Wrong Words (vv. 12-15)
4. Folly Neglects Work for Pleasure (vv. 16-19)
Addendum: Do Not Gossip! (v. 20)
Let’s pray together. Heavenly sovereign exalted God, thank You for another day of Your grace. Thank you for sparing us in the storm and in the flood. Help us to pay attention to Your word now. Help me to speak it, O Lord. And Spirit, please help us to apply it. In Jesus name, amen.
As I was preparing for our passage this week, I found myself thinking about a certain kind of precarious situation that many kingdoms and empires have found themselves in throughout history. And that situation is when a teenager suddenly inherits the throne. Could you imagine what it would be like if a teenager was put in charge of our country? This kind of thing has happened in humanity’s past, and the results are not great. It turns out that having a 14 year old or even an 18 year year old suddenly in charge of your country is a generally bad development, despite what nearly every Disney movie would lead you to believe. I like to read a lot about Roman history, and it’s notable that three of the worst emperors that Rome ever saw all became rulers in their teens – Nero at age 16, Commodus at age 18, and Elagabalus at age 14.
Now, I’m not trying to pick on the teens here. Actually, I sympathize with the position because it’s not too hard to imagine why teenage rule often doesn’t go. The odds are really stacked against them. Consider just four unique challenges that a young ruler faces. Number one, a young ruler is generally not prepared with the necessary skills or experience to govern. He simply hasn’t lived long enough to observe, to learn, and to practice how to rule. And yet he must make decisions that affect hundreds or thousands or millions of people. Number two and consequent to number one, a young ruler often commits his kingdom to various projects without adequate foresight or preparation. He easily finds himself spending the kingdom’s money unsustainably, or he makes rash decisions that undercut the kingdom’s stability and even provoke rebellion. Number three, a young ruler is particularly vulnerable to bad counsel. Again, a teenager often doesn’t have the acquired knowledge or how to distinguish between a good and trustworthy advisor and a useless and deceitful one. And when certain counselors promise a young ruler to quickly and easily solve all the problems and stroke the king’s ego, well he becomes vulnerable to their unhelpful counsel. And then number four, a young ruler is often tempted to neglect his duties to pursue worldly pleasures. After all, with a new position of power and wealth suddenly given to him, you can imagine a young ruler wants to and is able to seek whatever pleasures he wants as much as he wants. And who’s going to tell him no? Who’s going to say to the king – you can’t do that.
Really, what I just shared with you is an explanation for how young rulers are especially vulnerable to foolishness, to the allure of foolishness, for acting naively, stupidly, recklessly. And they’re not the only ones who are vulnerable to that temptation. Young people are in general, and old people too. Really, all of us are. Being vulnerable to foolishness is a serious problem because as we began to see together last time, foolishness has a fatal attraction, though initially and temporarily seductive. Just a little foolishness possesses an oversized ability to destroy. By foolishness we can quickly ruin ourselves, others, and even entire nations.
There is a way of escape from foolishness’ destructive capacity, and that way is the wisdom of God. That’s what we’ve been investigating in the book of Ecclesiastes. This great Old Testament book of the Bible, our author king Solomon, wise king Solomon of Israel, he’s been showing us how to live life well in a world that has been fundamentally broken and made foolish and frustrating by man’s rebellious fall. Last week in Ecclesiastes 10 specifically, we saw how Solomon begins to warn us about four self-destructive characteristics of folly at work in the world. And these four characteristics are actually the same four I just mentioned to you as being unique temptations for young rulers. They ruin young rulers and they will ruin us as well, unless we prepare, unless we guard against them and pursue wisdom instead.
So let’s take our Bibles again and open to Ecclesiastes chapter 10 verses 1 to 20. And this is the destructive power of a little foolishness, part 2. The destructive power of a little foolishness, part 2. Let’s reread the whole passage and then I’ll briefly review what we’ve seen so far.
Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor. A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left. Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool. If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.
There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth from the ruler – folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places. I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land.
He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. He who quarries may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs may be endangered by them. If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success. If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer. Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; the beginning of his talking his folly and the end of it is wicked madness. Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him? The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city. Woe to you, O land, whose king of nobility and whose princes feast in the morning. Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time – for strength and not for drunkenness. Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks. Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything. Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known.
As I pointed out to you last time, our first impression of this passage may be that this is just a hodgepodge of sayings about foolishness, but this is not so. Rather, Solomon presents to us a purposely arranged admonition about folly, especially in government, especially among authorities. Verses one to four functions as an introduction to the rest of the passage. We looked at this. In these verses, Solomon emphasizes a fundamental contrast between wisdom and folly. Wisdom delivers. Folly destroys. Just like a few dead flies that spoil an expensive perfume, so a little foolishness, it spoils much good, much hard-earned good. Wisdom and foolishness is really going opposite directions, and foolishness always takes the worst way. The fruit of folly is often evident in the lives of those who are inclined towards it. And they’re on the path to ruin. So Solomon prompts us to ask ourselves – which path are we going to follow? Where is our heart going to turn? Is it toward the path of folly, the folly that can ruin a whole life of wisdom and honor? Or is it the path of wisdom that can rescue a whole life that has been trapped in folly and sin?
After the introductory section, we reach the main body of Solomon’s teaching in the rest of the chapter. The mean idea, I presented to you last time, is in Ecclesiastes 10:5-20. Solomon reveals four self destructive characteristics of foolishness, especially in government, so that you will guard against folly and pursue wisdom instead. We saw the first two self-destructive characteristics last time. In verses 5 to 7, we saw number one – what does folly do in a way that destroys itself? It promotes unqualified people. Folly promotes the unqualified. Whether it’s because he wants to help family and friends or benefit from bribes or simply fill positions as quickly as possible so he can get back to what he really wants to do, a ruler commits a great and foolish error when he puts the unqualified in charge. He puts into important places those whose lives have not demonstrated the fruit of wisdom, whereas he leaves derelict and dishonored those who actually have. This is a self-destructive habit, and we must beware lest we make the same great error in elevating the undeserving to important positions in our lives – companions, counselors, leaders.
The second self-destructive characteristic of folly that we saw is in verses 8 to 11. Number two – folly fails to prepare. Folly fails to prepare. Solomon admits to us in these verses that life is fundamentally uncertain. Even well-meaning and wisely conceived efforts can go terribly awry. Don’t just look at the result and say they must have been foolish and sinful. Not necessary. Life’s uncertain. Nevertheless, even though no task can have a guaranteed good outcome, our work will generally go better if we take some time to sharpen the axe beforehand and prepare. But folly is too self-confident, too hasty, too pleasure oriented to heed this wisdom. Instead, like someone who uselessly looks for a snake charmer only after being bit, folly looks for help only after experiencing the great damage from lack of preparation. Here again, we see why we need to beware folly and actually pursue wisdom instead. Seek it out. Learn it. Put it into practice. Do the extra work in the beginning to save yourself from even more work and pain in the end. So these are the self-destructive characteristics of folly that we’ve already seen, but now let’s look at the rest of the passage where we encounter the third and fourth characteristics of folly.
The third self-destructive characteristic, especially in government, appears in verses 12 to 15. Number 3 – folly is full of wrong words. Folly is full of wrong words. We’ll start with just verse 12.
Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him.
Here Solomon provides us with another fundamental contrast between wisdom and folly as he transitions to a new subtopic – speech, how we talk. To be more specific, Solomon shows the great difference between what wise words and what foolish words produce for a person. You see the word gracious in the first half of verse 12. Literally, the Hebrew word means grace or favor. So the line is – words from the mouth of a wise man are favored. What kind of favor? Well gracious is an acceptable English translation. The idea would be that a wise man’s mouth grants or shows grace and favor to others. His mouth dispenses favor. However, I think Solomon’s sense here is actually more tightly paralleled with the second half of the verse. So rather than granting favors others, a wise man’s mouth actually grant him favor. It’s favor producing. A wise man’s mouth wins favor from others. Let’s actually the way the ESV translates this verse, and it is a truth presented multiple times in the book of Proverbs. I’ll just give you a couple of examples, Proverbs 12:14,
A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, and the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him.
Or Proverbs 18:21,
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
See, there’s this divinely designed connection between the person who dispenses grace or favor with his mouth and others showing him grace and favor in return. Really, the words of the wise man are both favor giving and favor producing. That’s just part of the way that God made the world.
But what about the words of the fool? Notice the second half of verse 12. Solomon says the lips of a fool consume him. Now notice the figurative language here. Solomon refers to the fool’s words indirectly by only speaking about the fool’s lips. He’s talking about speech, but he mentions lips. But think about lips – what do lips normally do?Besides facilitating speech, lips are part of the opening and closing mechanism of eating, of capturing, consuming, and swallowing food. Solomon is drawing our attention to that function of lips because notice what he says, the lips of the fool consume himself. He consumes himself. He’s chomping on himself. How? By his foolish words. An exact opposite way of the wise man, the fool’s ungracious and destructive word not only harm others, but they harm and destroy the fool himself. This is something we need to realize and avoid. And again, this is a truth evidence in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 18:6,
A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth calls for blows.
Or the next verse, Proverbs 18:7,
A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul.
Truly, the words of our mouths are another example of this overriding principle we’re seeing in Ecclesiastes 9 and 10. Just a little wisdom can deliver; just a little folly can destroy. Just a few wise words can grant great favor, but just a few foolish words can destroy your life. Does that remind you of any New Testament words that say the same thing? James chapter 3 – A tongue is a small member but it boasts great things. See how great a forrest is set on fire by a little spark. So the tongue is also a fire. It can set on fire the course of your life and it is set on fire by hell.
But how exactly does this happen? How do foolish word come back to hurt a person? we’ll consider some examples of foolish speech. This is not exhaustive – false words, flattering words, harsh words, impulsive word, ignorant words, gossiping word, boastful words. These can be temporarily helpful. It can be funny, clever, win you the favor of certain people. And the fool seems to get away with saying such things sometimes without any consequence. But what is the general outcome of these words over time? Well, these words become exposed for what they really are – evil and stupid. They get seen through, they get found out. They come back to bite the foolish speaker with a great loss of favor. The fool, by his words, he finds relational, professional, and sometimes even physical consequences for his speech. He loses friends and reputation. He lose his position. He’s physically beaten up. Or even if he upsets someone powerful enough, vengeful enough, the fool can get himself killed by his words. All this over words. All this from little foolish words. The fool indeed devours himself by his own lips.
But what about you? Have you ever experienced a self-destructive consequences of foolish words? Ever wish you could take back something evil and stupid that you said? There are no take backs in life. Thank the Lord, there is forgiveness and healing and repentance and humbling yourself and repenting. Better to guard against saying foolish words at all than to say them and try to undo their harm later, harm against others, harm against yourself. Now, a few foolish words are damaging enough. We’ve all experienced the pain of that. Hopefully we learn. But the situation for the fool and his speech is much worse, because look at verse 13,
the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness.
Notice here Solomon here speaks about the beginning and end of the fool’s speech. The beginning is folly, the end is wicked madness. We might infer a sense of progression here. What starts out as mere folly ends as something worse, wicked madness. But Solomon is likely using the terms folly and madness as basically synonyms here because that’s the way he uses it in other parts of Ecclesiastes – Ecclesiases 1:17, 2:12, 7:25. So rather than describing a progression here, though foolish talk often does get worse over time. It does often degenerate. Solomon is describing just how thoroughly the fool’s speech is marked by wrong words. From beginning to end, he is spouting folly, evil, insanity. He constantly speak like someone who doesn’t think straightly, someone who loves what is wrong. You see, for the fool, wrong words are not mere momentary stumbles. They are a way of life. They are his characteristic, his habit that he just can’t get rid of. Yep, there he goes again, speaking more angry insulting words. Yep, there she goes again, gossiping and complaining like she always does. Proverbs 26:11 describes I think the situation well. A fool returns again and again to his wrong words, like a dog returns to vomit. It’s like he just can’t help himself.
Of course, again, the question we’re meant to ask ourselves is – what about my mouth? Is my life characterized by wrong words? Do I characteristically speak foolishly? Because if so, the Lord through Solomon is showing you that you must turn from such words now. Turn from the foolish heart that is behind those words before you do more harm to yourself and to others. Now, what’s often behind foolish words is a proud heart. And this same heart, it prompts a certain kind of arrogant speech from fools, which Solomon further describes in verse 14,
Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?
This is actually the fourth time in Ecclesiastes that Solomon highlights the folly associated with many words. Many words think foolishness. Now understand that in it of itself, speaking many words is not bad. It’s not evil. Because if it were, well, Jesus, the apostles, all preachers today, they would be some of the worst offenders. They would be fools and sinners, just for speaking many words. That’s not really what Solomon is talking about. Rather when Solomon refers to the foolishness, the folly of many words, he’s talking about unrestrained lips. They just feel like they have to talk because they figured out everything. They’re so smart. They’re so wise. They figured everything out and they’ve just got to tell you about it.
Proverbs talks plenty about this aspect of folly. Again i’ll just give you a few examples. Proverbs 10:19, a kind of famous Proverb,
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.
Or Proverbs 18:2,
A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.
He doesn’t really want to learn. He just wants to tell you all his thoughts. Have you noticed this? Fools love to talk. They love to give and promote their own opinions. They love to engage in quarrels and debates. They love to critique and complain about people who do things differently than they would. They love to make disciples of their own way of thinking. They love to boast about their accomplishments. And they love to give excuses and explanations for their failures. Why do they do this? It’s not really to edify others, not really for the glory of God, but to edify and glorify themselves. They’ve such a lofty view of themselves in their own mind, and they feel like others should admire them for how brilliant they are. They also want the tangible marks of favor that come from others for being so smart. So they puff themselves up with all kinds of words. Yet in reality, there is nothing admirable about these kinds of people at all. They have no substance. They are windbags. They are full of hot air. They don’t even know what they’re talking about, what they spend so much time talking about.
Look at the second sentence in verse 14. Solomon says in two different ways here that no one can say for certain what will happen in the future. And no one can guarantee a desired outcome, tell you how to make that happen. Why does Solomon bring up that idea all of a sudden? Because the fool says the opposite. This is exactly what the fool is offering. The fool thinks he’s cracked the code. He’s figured out the world. He can tell you all about life in the future. I’ve done the study. I’ve done the analysis. I can tell you what’s going to happen. I can tell you what’s going to happen in your life. I can tell you what’s going to happen in the church. I can tell you what’s going to happen in Afghanistan, with the Coronavirus, with the world climate, with American democracy. Just listen to me and my wisdom and my advice, everything will turn out well. You’ll be enlightened. You’ll be prosperous. You and yours will be totally safe.
Now it’s true, we can learn many helpful things about our world. We can even prepare and guard against certain calamities. Wisdom is some protection after all – Ecclesiastes 7:12. But one of the most fundamental truths that we’ve learned in Ecclesiastes, if you’ve been with us, is that there is a humbling limit to how much we can really know in the world and how much that knowledge can actually help us change things. After all, as Solomon says repeatedly right at the beginning of the book of Ecclesiastes, life is a vapor of vapors. It is mysterious. It is confusing. It’s hard to grasp. Just when you think you’ve got it, it eludes you. Men cannot discover all that has taken place under the sun – Ecclesiastes 8:17. Nor can men straighten what God has made crooked – Ecclesiastes 7:13. We can make educated guesses. We can act in a certain degree of wisdom. But really, none of us can say for certain even what will happen tomorrow. So don’t pay attention to the know-it-all. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t really know. He’s an overblown fool. And it’s only a matter of time before his own lips consumed him.
Now, this section here on foolish speech, it ends with a curious statement in verse 15. Let’s read that now,
The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city.
Perhaps you’re wondering why this here doesn’t seem to have anything to do with speech. I think this verse has been placed in an actually very poignant position. Because consider in verses 12 to 14, what is the only toil or hard work that the fool has been doing? Talking. He just talks and talks and talks and talks for so long that he finally gets weary of his toil. Now talking is not really toil, not exactly toil, but it is for the fool who generally shies away from any real work. So exhausted from all his empty talking, it finally comes time for the fool to do something very basic and practical – go to the city. You need to go walk to a city. Now many errands might take a person to a city in the ancient world. Maybe he needs to buy something there or find lodging there or hire someone to do a job. It could be anything. But Solomon tells us that the fool is not able to do this. He’s not able to do even this simple thing. Not only because he’s tired, but because he doesn’t know how. He cannot figure it out.
Yet how hard is it for a person to find his way to a city? Today, you can just fire up Google maps, follow street signs, ask someone for directions, and you’ll find a city before too long. It wasn’t that much harder in the ancient world – just follow the roads. There aren’t that many. Just look at the horizon, you can see a city right over there. Ask a passerby. They’re going to the city. They know how to get there. They can tell you. Look, here’s a map. You can get to the city with this. It’s supposed to be a no-brainer. And amazingly the know-it-all fool can’t do it. He still manages to get lost and never finds the city. And who is hurt by this in the end? The fool is, and anyone who relied on him.
Here then, Solomon is testifying of a truth that is also evident in Proverbs. The fool tends to neglect what is basic and practical and necessary for the sake of endless useless talk. He is so busy talking, he never has time to actually do what matters. Proverbs 14:23,
In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.
You know, one of my sad experiences as a Christian and as a pastor is to see this kind of prattling foolishness in the church. Over the years, some of the people that I have met have been those who were so eager to talk about the Bible, talk about theology, talk about how to live the Christian life. They wanted to talk about it all the time. They wanted to tell you what they’ve learned and what they know. But at the very same time, they are persons who least apply the truths of the Bible in their own lives. They want to be teachers and leaders in the church, even while their lives are thrashed with foolishness and sin. They’re so caught up and babbling about the Bible that they never find time to do it.
My friends, Solomon is right to warn us about how folly is so self-destructive by its multitude of wrong words, this endless speaking wrong useless words. Foolish words will destroy both those who speak them and those who listen to them. Whether king or counselor, whether elder or deacon or layman cannot afford to speak foolish words. If you’re one who when you look at it, or when others look at it, you find out you’re given a foolish speech, the time to humble yourself and repent is now. Do not risk doing more damage to your life and do not risk the judgment of God because you know what He says. The Lord Himself says in the New Testament, I tell you, you will be brought to account for every careless word that you have spoken. By your words will be acquitted and by your word you will be condemned. What would God’s judgment be about your words? Turn from foolish speech. Turn from the proud foolish heart that wants to speak that kind of speech. Humble yourself before the Lord. Fear him. Put Him in a high and exalted place in your mind, not yourself. And then walk according to His wisdom and diligently seek the wisdom of Christ.
Fourth and final self-destructive characteristic of folly appears in verses 16 to 19. Number 4 – folly neglects work for pleasure. Folly neglects work for pleasure. You can just tell from that title that that’s foolish, right? Let’s see how Solomon explains it. Start with just verses 16 to 17,
Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning. Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time – for strength and not for drunkenness.
The beginning of this last subsection features another clear contrast, this time between two types of kingdoms, probably theoretical though they do exist in the world. A foolish kingdom in verse 16, and a wise kingdom in verse 17. Notice that the first word that Solomon pronounce is on this foolish kingdom is woe. that word is an expression of great warning and lament. Woe to you, alas distress is coming upon you. Ruin is at hand. Why? Well, just look at the kingdom’s leadership. First we’re told that the king is only a lad. The Hebrew word here could refer to a boy or unmarried young man, or alternatively to a servant. Now you’ve already heard me share in the introduction why it is precarious to have a young ruler, even a teenager, over your land. But if servant is the intended idea here, then that means that in this first kingdom, someone who is not of the royal line, someone who actually served the king previously, he has risen up, killed the king and taking his place. He is a usurper. I’m not sure which is worse, a usurper or a teenager on the throne. Either way, the kingdom is at the very top unprepared and unqualified in its rule.
But second, notice we’re told that the princes or leaders of the same kingdom are feasting in the morning. Now you might ask, well what’s wrong with a nice brunch? There’s nothing wrong with a brunch. That’s not the idea here, as verse 17 clarifies. These leaders, when they eat in the morning, it’s a drunken riotous gorging kind of feast, in the morning. And you can guess how much work is going to get done the rest of the day when you start that way. So this first kingdom then is indeed justly under a sentence of woe. This kingdom is right for calamity because the leaders are unprepared and too busy partying to do the necessary work of rule. This kingdom is in trouble.
Contrast this with the second kingdom. The description of the second kingdom begins with an opposite word to the first – blessed, or we could even translate that as happy. Happy are you, O land, when you have a different kind of situation at the top of your country. Your king is of nobility, that is someone who is qualified both by lineage and by training rules. Moreover, your princes eat at the proper time. No, it’s not the enjoyment of a fine meal that is the problem. feasting is not wrong. But it is the manner and the goal of the feasting that matters. The princes of the wise kingdom, they feast after their work is done. And they come away strengthened from their feast. Whereas the princes of the foolish kingdom, they stuff and inebriate themselves before doing any work, meaning that the work remains undone and the kingdom is weakened.
From just these first few verses, we can already see the foolishly self-destructive nature of seeking pleasure over necessary work. There’s a time to enjoy pleasure, but there’s sometimes work that has to be done first. You can’t neglect it. If you do, you’re only hurting yourself. Well you are actually hurting others too. This kind of foolishness, it can destroy whole kingdoms and certainly it can destroy what’s going on in our lives. And work will always be necessary, even if it’s just to maintain the good and wise accomplishments of those who came before. Look at verse 18 now,
Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks.
Here’s a proverb, a poignant proverb about the spoiling effect of laziness. Imagine receiving a great house, either from your parents or you are able to buy this nice house yourself. And you move in and the house is beautiful. It’s clean. It’s got new paint, all new appliances. Should you enjoy living at this house? You should. It is a gift from God. You should enjoy those nice things. But understand at the same time, if you do not work to maintain this good gift you have received, it will soon be ruined, and you and others will suffer for it.
Solomon says through indolence. Now indolence is not a word we use very commonly. It just means laziness, but the word in Hebrew is actually more intense. We could say through extreme laziness, the beams that hold up your house will bow and sag. You don’t have to do anything for your house to start falling apart. That will happen all by itself. But if you stand by and do nothing as it happens, not only will your house look worse over time, not only will it develop more problems over time, but eventually it will collapse, maybe even right on top of you. If you neglect work for pleasure, you will pay for it with the loss of what good you still have.
Now the saying in the second half of the verse is similar, but I think a little humorous. Literally it says slackness there, but the term is literally through the sinking or the laying low of hands. Through this laying low of hands, the house leaks. And you can just picture it, right? Someone who’s so lazy, can’t even lift his arms up, just sitting there with his hands dangling at his side. Meanwhile, water drips down in various places all over his house. It’s kind of a pathetic picture, isn’t it? We want to get the attention of this guy and say, do you really want to live like this? You could be dry and comfortable. You could have people over at your house. You could have a good time if you just do a little bit of work. If you didn’t just spend so much time lazing about, your house wouldn’t look like this. This is the self-destructive path of the fool, and this is the path that we must flee for the path of wisdom.
Now consider this situation. What if the sluggard actually justifies his behavior to you by saying, but I’m just trying to enjoy life. Life is uncertain. Death is certain. Shouldn’t I enjoy God’s gifts while I can? Why should I bother myself with so much painful work? Now, I raise this theoretical retort to you because of verse 19. Let’s look at verse 19 now,
Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything.
This is a puzzling verse. And primarily because it’s not immediately clear whose perspective this is supposed to be. On the one hand, this whole chapter has been about foolishness. And most recently in verses 16 to 18, it is about people who foolishly neglect work for pleasure. Verse nineteen is talking about pleasure, material pleasures. So surely verse 19 represent the perspective of the fool. This is what the fool says. That argument makes sense. But there’s one problem. By this point in the book, our author king Solomon has repeatedly commended the very pleasures in this verse. He has urged us to enjoy food, enjoy drink, even enjoy and use your wealth while you can because it is a gift from God. If we just consider Ecclesiastes as a whole, there’s a strong argument that verse 19 is actually Solomon’s perspective. This is the commended view. This is God’s wisdom. So which is it? Is verse 19 the voice of folly or the voice of wisdom? That is a difficult question, but you know what I think the best answer is? It’s both. You see, if you fear God and if you value the goods of the world with a proper valuation, then verse 19 is good counsel. You should take time to enjoy and even be married with good food and good drink. You should also work hard to make money so that you can deal with the unexpected and frequent problems of life. As Solomon says in another place in Ecclesiastes, wisdom is protection as money is protection. Money does answer. It seems to answer almost everything.
However, fools love to take what is right and wise and twist it out of its proper proportion. After all, just look at the book of Corinthians. How did the Corinthians in different ways justify foolish and sinful living? All things are lawful for me in Christ. Didn’t you teach us that, Paul? They took a true statement from God and used it to justify wrong living. I think that’s why verse 19 appears the way that it does here. Lazy self-destructive fools who pursue pleasure over necessary work can easily justify doing so by appealing to God’s own word. And because Solomon gives no explicit commentary on verse 19, he forces us to think about, to ponder what the difference is between wise and reverend enjoyment of God’s good gifts and foolish and sinful worship of earth’s passing treasures. There is a difference. How do you know the difference? What is the difference? He leaves us to think about that.
Now surely part of how you can tell the difference is informed by the context. You can tell the difference between someone who is really reverently enjoying God’s good gifts and someone who’s just acting like a fool and whether they neglect necessary work. Don’t tell me you’re trying to just enjoy God’s good creation if you’re not doing the work that you clearly should do right in front of you. And if worshipful enjoyment is really the goal of a lazy fool, then he would not stay on this path because one, he would realize that work itself is part of the enjoyable portion that we have in this life. We’ve already heard that from Solomon. Work is part of your reward. And two, if one does the necessary work, then he has greater enjoyment. If you don’t do the work, your enjoyment is going to be less and it’s going to disappear quickly. It’ll fall apart just like a house does.
In other words, there is a similar principle evident in verses 16 to 19 here as in verses 8 to 11. Just a little work in the beginning saves much work later. You should take the time to prepare. In the same way, a little work in the beginning yields greater enjoyment later. Do you really want to enjoy life? Then do the necessary work. Don’t be lazy. And this is not just a good word for rulers. It’s a good word for all of us. Whether we are leaders or not, whether we are young or whether we are old.
In verse 19 then, we reach the end of Solomon’s main section of teaching about these four self-destructive characteristics of foolishness that so often appear even in government and levels of authority. Solomon shows these to us that we will guard against folly and seek God’s wisdom instead. You have to choose and pursue a different path. To review those self-destructive characteristics of foolishness, we saw number one – folly promotes the unqualified. Number two – folly fails to prepare. Number 3 – folly is full of wrong words. And number four – folly neglects work for pleasure. It’s a stupid path. It’s a self-harming path. And if these characteristics are part of your life and the part of the way that you lead your family or lead in a ministry in the church or run your business, it’s time to change. A little foolishness can destroy so much. Don’t risk it. It will happen.
Your gracious God is speaking to you from Ecclesiastes today. He wants what is good for you. It’s why he gives you His wisdom. You can benefit from it if you will, as I said before, humble yourself before God. That’s what Solomon is all about in this book. You need to humble yourself. Realize you’re not God. He’s God. Humble yourself. Realize the treasures of the world for what they are. They’re good, but they’re limited. They’re not the way to ultimate gain. Stop treating them as if they are. They are vapor in the end. Stop clinging to the treasures of the world and instead take God as your treasure. Take Christ as your treasure. Take Him as your portion in your passing days. And as you do, as part of your doing that, live each day in thankful enjoyment of what God does provide for you and then the wisdom that He leads you in.
We should see by now just how valuable, how critical really God’s wisdom is for life. I think everyone here would say yep, yep, I need God’s wisdom. I need God’s wisdom. But let me ask you. What are you doing to grow in God’s wisdom. How are you actually pursuing it? It’s not just going to be beamed down to you from above. God uses means. He’s told us about those means in His word. You grow in wisdom by subjecting yourself to the Word, actually reading it, by praying to God, by fellowshipping with the saints, by taking part of the one another in ministry that Ephesians four was talking about. So what priority do those things have in your life? You say, yep, yep, I want wisdom. I need wisdom. Does your life show that you’re actually pursuing it? What practical steps are you taking to grow in wisdom? Because if you’re not really doing anything, then don’t kid yourself. You’re not pursuing wisdom. You don’t think it’s important. It’s like you’ve heard this passage and yet you haven’t, like you totally are ignoring what God says to you through Solomon.
Wisdom is precious. God’s wisdom is a gift to us. Do you treat it that way? You need to pursue it. You need to pursue it the way that Proverbs and other places in the Scripture urge you to do so, with all your heart like it’s treasure that you’re willing to go deep underground to find. Do that for your own good, and let’s do that together as a church. You’ll benefit. We’ll all benefit. And God will be glorified. This is His design. Let’s seek wisdom.
But before we close, you may have noticed I haven’t talked about verse 20 yet. Let’s read that verse now.
Furthermore, in your bedchamber, do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known.
Huh? What’s this random bit of concluding advice? Actually, I don’t think it’s random. It’s similar to the advice that we saw back in verse 4. I mentioned to you last time that bookending Solomon’s examination of the self-destructive foolish characteristics, there are two pieces of very practical advice when it comes to dealing with authorities and foolishness. Back in verse four, Solomon admonished us to respond to angry authorities with common wise words, knowing that if you do so, you can generally placate rulers who have foolishly enraged themselves and you can also rescued yourself if you have acted foolishly. So that was good practical advice, and we’re getting more at the very end here in verse 20. Solomon gives some new advice regarding rulers, and we could summarize the advice this way – do not gossip. Do not gossip about authorities. Do not gossip even when people are being foolish.
Notice the word curse here in verse 20, used twice. The word literally means to treat as lightweight, so don’t get the idea that this is calling down some sort of imprecation or using curse words about someone. It doesn’t have to be that. Rather, it’s just speaking about somebody in an unkind way, in a malicious way, in a disrespectful way. Solomon says, don’t do that. You’re acting like a fool that you do that. Even if your authorities are being foolish, don’t gossip about them. Why? Because chances are your words will be found out, even if you’re speaking in your most private space, even just whispering your thoughts out loud. It’s like the walls have ears. Some little bird is listening to what you’re saying, and it’s going to end up tattling on you. Before you know it, you’re going to be summoned by that authority that you thought you maligned in secret and you will have to answer for your words.
You say, hey this sounds like a totalitarian country. Is this 1984? Certainly this is very applicable in those settings, but it doesn’t have to be there. This is generally true in all places and times. We can sit here in our own very free democratic tolerate nation. Consider how many times we have seen important people embarrassed or even ruin themselves with what they said into a microphone when they didn’t think it was on. Do yourself a favor, rescue yourself from your own foolish mouth. Don’t complain or speak disrespectfully about anyone ever, especially if they are in authority. Don’t do it in your home. Don’t do it at school. Don’t do it in the church, and don’t do it online. Because if you do, your words will come back to bite you. If not now, then later, and certainly when God’s judgement comes. If you dispense grace with your mouth, you will find grace. If you dispense harm with your mouth, you will find harm. Which do you want?
Let’s close in prayer. Heavenly Father, thank You for your word. Thank You for Your gracious wisdom. You gave this to us because You are loving God. You are a merciful God. You show favor to those who have not earned it, but are in desperate need of it and all according to Your own sovereign will. We have been fools. We have been rebels for much of our lives, and yet You show us the way to be rescued from it. Lord, I pray that Your people would heed it. I pray that I would. I pray that everyone listening today would, so that we can actually benefit just as You intended us to do. We can benefit others and we can glorify Your name. And it is in Your name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.