The Meaning of Life Studies in Ecclesiastes “A Little Foolishness”

In Ecclesiastes 9:18, Solomon writes: “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.” A little foolishness can wreak havoc on a lot of good. A slip of the tongue can cause serious damage to relationships. A quick burst of anger can do much harm. So, in 10:1, Solomon gives this proverb: “Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.” How important it is to recognize how fragile our reputations can be. Look back at 7:1: “A good name is better than a good ointment.”

Of course, our behavior is guided by our hearts: “A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left” (10:2). That’s why guarding our heart is so important. The fool, on the other hand, does not have any sense of direction (10:3).

Politics is one area where it is important not to “shoot off at the mouth.” Solomon warns his audience to be circumspect in the face of hot-headed politicians: “If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses” (10:4). Yes, even nuts find themselves in positions of power, sometimes: “folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places” (10:6).

Don’t be surprised (and thereby say the wrong thing) when you see the normal order of things turned upside down: “I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land” (10:7).

In verses 8-9, Solomon says life is full of uncertainties and things that you just don’t understand or expect. In Solomon’s words: “He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs may be endangered by them.”

But still, there is advantage to being wise: “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” (10:10). Wisdom will make life a little easier so wield your opportunities wisely to get the most out of what life has to teach.

Because you see, some times life deals you a lemon: “If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer” (10:11). What will you do when life deals you such a blow? Wisdom will guide the way.

Finally, Solomon gives us some words of wisdom that describe the words of fools. They are self-destructive (vs 12): “Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him.” They are stupid: “the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness” (vs 13). They are verbose: “Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?” (vs 14). Mark Twain said, “It is better for people to think you are a fool than to open your mouth and remove doubt.” My dad quoted Mark Twain frequently. Unfortunately, I did not listen as often.

Be wise in your words and your actions. One rotten apple can destroy the whole bushel.

–Paul Holland