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ECCLESIASTES: PART FOURTEEN

                                                PRESENTED ON 08-30-14

 

       Today we will continue exploring the writings of Solomon as recorded in Ecclesiastes.  Last time we were together we discussed the contents of chapter 9.  Today we will explore chapter 10.  

       You have all heard and probably used the idiomatic expression “there’s a fly in the ointment.”  This expression is used to say there is a problem with something that may not be readily apparent but will in some manner negatively affect the way something is suppose to work.  The task is then to identify the “fly in the ointment” and remove it.

       Chapter 10 begins with Solomon using an interesting form of expression.  It is largely believed our present day “fly in the ointment” expression has its roots in Ecclesiastes 10:1. 

       Ecclesiastes 10:1: As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor (NIV).

       One dead fly makes the perfumer’s ointment give off a rancid stench, so a little folly can outweigh much wisdom (NET).

       The point Solomon is making here is that just as a dead fly or flies in a container of good smelling perfume can ruin the perform, so a little folly engaged in by a well respected wise and honorable person can quickly tarnish that persons image and lead to their downfall.  Speaking idiomatically, no matter how good a person smells, that smell can turn sour very quickly due to behavior contrary to the image the person has established.

       We see this in all areas of life.  We see well respected and virtually idolized athletes fall from grace when it is discovered they acted foolishly in using illicit drugs or are found to be involved in domestic violence or cheating on their spouse.  The golfer Tiger Woods is a prime example of an athlete falling from grace due to sexual improprieties. Like a sailor having a girl in every port, Tiger apparently had a girl at every golf course and when his wife found about it, it ended his marriage and he also lost a lot of the prestige he once had in the world of golf.

       Look how many religious leaders have fallen from grace because of sex scandals or financial impropriates.  TV evangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart quickly come to mind.

       Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy Faye had a very successful TV ministry going for a number of years.  The couple had many admirers and where considered honorable ministers of the Christian faith.  During the 1970’s over twelve million people regularly viewed their weekly TV program. 

       By the early 1980s, the Bakker’s had built a theme park near Charlotte South Carolina.  Contributions for the theme park and their television ministry were estimated to exceed one million dollars a week.  From 1984 to 1987, Bakker and his associates sold $1,000 "lifetime memberships" to the theme park which entitled buyers to enjoy a three-night yearly stay at the theme park hotel for as long as they lived.  The only problem was that they sold tens of thousands of memberships but only one 500-room hotel was ever built.   To make a long story short, Jim Baker was convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison.  While he has since been released and has a new ministry, it is a shadow of his former glory. "As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor."

       Then there’s Jimmy Swaggart, a cousin to country music artist Mickey Gilley and rock and roller Jerry Lee Lewis.  After struggling for many years to make it as a Christian minister, Swaggart finally hit it big in televangelism and during the 1980’s his was one of the most viewed religious programs on television.  Then in 1988 Swaggart was found to have a relationship with a prostitute that resulted in the downfall of his ministry and his suspension and ultimate defrocking by the Assemblies of God domination. Three years later Swaggart was implicated in another scandal involving a prostitute.   While Swaggart has rebounded from these scandals, his ministry is a shadow of its former self.  "As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor."

       Many politicians who have worked hard to develop promising careers see it all come crashing down by marital infidelity or in some cases by simply making a “politically incorrect” statement about something.   While some are able to recover from their folly, most do not and they are quickly forgotten. 

       Look at the one time presidential candidate John Edwards.  Edwards got a law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and became a successful trial lawyer representing claimants against large corporations and insurance companies.  In 1998 he unseated a Republican incumbent to become a Democratic U.S. senator from North Carolina.

       As a senator, Edwards quickly climbed the latter and reportedly was considered a potential running mate for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. While he didn't make that ticket, he did end up becoming the Democratic running mate to Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.  The Kerry/Edwards ticket lost the election to George Bush and Edwards immediately set his sites on running for president in 2008.

       On December 28, 2006, Edwards launched his presidential campaign in New Orleans against the backdrop of a city trying to rebuild and revive itself after the devastating hurricane Katrina. He vowed to strengthen the middle class, progressively end poverty and tackle the longstanding Democratic health care platform.  Just as the campaign got off the ground, Edwards' wife Elizabeth announced she had breast cancer for the second time, and it was incurable.

       The Edwards' decided to continue with the campaign and in the weeks after Elizabeth’s announcement about her cancer, internal campaign polling showed Edwards surging ahead of rivals Clinton and Obama in Iowa.  There was developing an apparent sympathy vote for Edwards as he and his wife were being perceived as dedicated to the cause despite the personal setback of Elizabeth’s cancer.

       Edwards appeared to have made all the right and wise moves to put him in a position to be a serious contender for the Democratic nomination for president.  Edwards, like a good perfume, was smelling good.  But then folly entered the picture.   Edwards met a woman by the name of Rielle Hunter in early 2006 at a bar at the Regency Hotel in New York City.  Edwards hired her to produce a few videos that would present the politician in a more relaxed manner.  However, it soon became apparent to staffers that Edwards had developed a more than professional relationship with Hunter.  Hunter became pregnant and Edwards tried to cover it up using campaign money.

       Needless to say this marked the beginning of the end for Edwards presidential ambitions. He and Elizabeth separated and she later died.  Edwards has since been successfully prosecuted for misuse of campaign funds.  A successful man was quickly brought low because of folly.  "As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor."

       What we learn from this is that you can do a lot of things right and by doing just one thing wrong all the right you do is quickly forgotten.  While in some cases the right that is done may only be a pretence to gain advantage, wealth or glory, in other cases people start out with good intentions only to succumb to temptations that result in foolish behavior that leads to their ruin.  

       In reading the history of Jimmy Swaggart, it is apparent he really believed he was called by God to be a Christian minister even to the extent where, while he was struggling financially, he turned down a lucrative gospel singing recording contract telling Sun records that he believed God had called him to the ministry and that is were he should be.  Yet because of folly, his ministry has been greatly reduced in scope.

       The lesson here is to do ones best to avoid folly as it can diminish the best of ones intentions and accomplishments. 

       Ecclesiastes 10:2: The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.

       Some may see in this declaration by Solomon a political statement.  Some may read this as the heart of the wise inclining to the right meaning the wise are conservative Republicans while the heart of the fool that inclines to the left must be talking about liberal Democrats. I don’t think this is what Solomon intended here.

       A wise person’s good sense protects him,but a fool’s lack of sense leaves him vulnerable (NET).

       The NET translators point out that the Hebrew in this passage speaks of the “right hand” and is a Hebrew idiom for the place of protection.  In ancient warfare, the shield of the warrior on one’s right-hand side protected one’s right hand.  Solomon’s point is that wisdom provides protection while acting foolishly removes protection and leaves one vulnerable to negative consequences.

       I would say this is a pretty obvious observation.  Acting foolishly more often than not puts oneself and/or others at risk.  We saw this in the real life experiences I gave relative to verse one of chapter 10.  I think verse two pretty much speaks for itself.

       Ecclesiastes 10:3: Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is.

       As the footnote to this verse in the NET Bible points out, a fool’s lack of wisdom is obvious to everyone, even when he is engaged in the simple, ordinary actions of life such as walking along the road.  Now there are a number of dynamics associated with being a fool.  Arrogance is one of those dynamics and arrogance often reveals itself in the way a person walks. 

       When I graduated from, college back in 1965 my first job was with the city of Milwaukee was as a health and housing inspector.  Our job as inspectors was to enforce the city housing and sanitation codes.  When violations were not corrected after repeated attempts to have them corrected, we would take people to court to seek a court order to have violations corrected.  Sometimes the violator would be represented by an attorney. 

        There was in Milwaukee at this time a particular attorney, a member of a very well known father and son law firm, who was very aggressive and demanding. Several times this particular attorney was reprimanded by the court for his arrogance.  The thing we inspectors all noticed and commented on among ourselves was the way this attorney entered the court room.  When this attorney came into court, he would swagger down the isle to the front of the court.  You could tell by his walk that he was a very arrogant man.

       Now some may conclude that such behavior is simply an expression of confidence.  There is, however, a difference between being confident and being arrogant.   To be confident is to have an inner faith that you have the ability to do a certain thing and then simply doing it.  Arrogance is flaunting your ability to do something.  Arrogance is the attempt to make someone else ill at ease by behaving in a manner that is designed to intimidate them. 

       The attorney I spoke of behaved in a manner designed to frighten, threaten and bully others. His mannerisms spoke volumes about his intentions.  Of course in the long run, his actions brought him down.  His actions were the actions of a fool.  In the end he showed everyone how stupid he was.  As I mentioned, he was reprimanded by the court several times and if I recall correctly he eventually was disbarred.  He lost his attorney’s license.  "Truly: Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is." 

       Ecclesiastes 10:4: If a ruler's anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest.

       If the anger of the ruler flares up against you, do not resign from your position, a calm response can undo great offenses (NET).

       The NET translators footnote this verse to say that the Hebrew word translated “calm” means to keep keeping one’s composure with a peaceful heart.  It is used in reference to keeping one’s composure in an emotionally charged situation.

       When the boss expresses anger over something you do or fail to do, the tendency is to react in anger and thus create an adversarial situation.  People have walked off their jobs on the spot over a confrontation with someone having authority over them.  Solomon is instructing that we react to the anger of a ruler in a calm, cool and collected manner.  Not to do so will generally result in a negative outcome including the possible loss of ones job.

       Ecclesiastes 10:5-7: I have seen another misfortune on the earth: It is an error a ruler makes. Fools are placed in many positions of authority, while wealthy men sit in lowly positions. I have seen slaves on horseback and princes walking on foot like slaves (NET).

     Solomon appears to be decrying the fact that rulers at times place unqualified, undisciplined stupid people into position of power and authority while overlooking others who are much better qualified and able to make much more intelligent decisions. 

       We see this in government all the time.  When someone is elected to office it becomes payback time for political donors and operatives who helped get the person elected.  Such people are given positions of power and authority not because they are the best choice for the job but because they helped get their candidate elected and now expect something in return.  Some government agencies are notorious for such political cronyism.

       I remember back in my college days reading a book entitled Boss.  It was a book detailing the abuses of the Mayor Daily political machine in Chicago where political activists were routinely rewarded with government jobs for bringing in the vote for Mayor Daily.  The level of corruption revealed in the book was astonishing.  Many of these political activists were little more than low grade criminals who would strong arm businesses and the general public into contributing to the Daily reelection campaigns.  These were the kind of individuals who were then awarded government jobs while more qualified individuals were shut out. 

       To my knowledge this sort of thing continues to go on in Chicago as I speak and I am sure it goes on in many other cities across this nation to say nothing of what goes on at the state and federal levels of government.  As Solomon pointed out, fools are placed in positions of authority while others are left out.

         Ecclesiastes 10:8-11:  Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake. Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them. If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success.   If a snake bites before it is charmed, there is no profit for the charmer. 

       Here Solomon appears to be making general observations about the dynamics of life.  The things we do in life always carry a certain level of risk.  That is just the way life is. As Solomon indicated in other statements in Ecclesiastes, much of life is fortuitous. Time and chance happen to us all.  However, through the exercise of wisdom we can avoid many pitfalls in life.  This is a constant theme in Solomon’s writings whether here in Ecclesiastes or in the Proverbs.  

       Ecclesiastes 10:12-15:  Words from a wise man's mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips. At the beginning his words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness-- and the fool multiplies words. No one knows what is coming-- who can tell him what will happen after him?  A fool's work wearies him; he does not know the way to town (NIV).

       The words of a wise person win him favor, but the words of a fool are self-destructive.  At the beginning his words are foolish and at the end his talk is wicked madness, yet a fool keeps on babbling. No one knows what will happen; who can tell him what will happen in the future? The toil of a stupid fool wears him out, because he does not even know the way to the city (NET).

       This is another passage of Solomon’s writings that pretty much speaks for itself. When we here words of wisdom being provided by a speaker or writer, we generally react in a favorable manner to such person.  This is not generally the case with the words of a fool.  Now same may argue that what is perceived as words of wisdom by some people may be perceived as the words of a fool by others and what may be perceived as the words of a fool by some may be perceived as words of wisdom by others.  In other words, how words are perceived all depends on ones frame of reference.

       There certainly is a measure of truth in such observation.  However, if one is willing to lay aside preconceived ideas and paradigms and seek to identify objective truth, it is fairly easy to identify words of wisdom from the words of a fool.  Where such identification cannot be made immediately, the passage of time usually will reveal who had words of wisdom and who had the words of a fool.  The fruit of ones words will reveal whether such words were words of wisdom or words of a fool.

       As Solomon said, “the words of a fool are self-destructive.”  The words of a fool generally lead to destructive behavior.  Look at all the words that have historically been spoken that have led to nothing but violence and death.  When I look at Solomon saying, “At the beginning his words are foolish and at the end his talk is wicked madness, yet a fool keeps on babbling,” I immediately think of despots such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin who would babble on for hours with the result being wicked madness. 

       It is important we take Solomon’s instruction seriously and measure our words so that what we say is perceived as words of wisdom and that the fruit of our words gives evidence to our words being wise rather than foolish.

       Ecclesiastes 10:16-17:  Woe to you, O land, when your king is childish, and your princes feast in the morning! Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobility, and your princes feast at the proper time – with self-control and not in drunkenness (NET).

       Here Solomon is simply making the observation that when the governing authority of a nation is self serving and the general leadership is more concerned with self aggrandizement and satisfying themselves at the expense of those they are governing, it is a pathway to national destruction.  How many times has this scenarios played out in human history and continues to play out to this very day. Leaders are often more pre-occupied with satisfying themselves rather then meeting the needs of those they govern.

       Ecclesiastes 10:18: If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks.

       Here is another statement that speaks for itself. Things don’t fix themselves. It takes human ingenuity and human labor to correct a problem. Even though we now have computer programs that can fix things, someone still has to develop the programs by using the God given mind power that is needed.  

       Ecclesiastes 10:18: A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything.

       Did Solomon really say “money is the answer for everything”?  I checked multiple translations and they all pretty much say the same thing.  The translators of the NET Bible footnote this saying by suggesting that it could mean “and [they think that] money is the answer for everything.”  This appears, however to be a reflection of the translators unwillingness to believe Solomon could have said “money is the answer for everything.” 

       I personally believe Solomon could easily have said “money is the answer for everything.”  Solomon was a very rich man.  He could buy anything he wanted. There was nothing he couldn’t buy.  For Solomon money was the answer for everything.  Solomon was probably only referring to the material things of this life.  As we covered in past sermons, Solomon was primarily dealing with what takes place under the sun, the physical world and all it contains. 

       Ecclesiastes 10:20: Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.

       In other words, be careful what you say even in secret.  Words have a way of getting out.  Someone may be listening.  In this day and age with the level of eves dropping electronic equipment that is available, there may come a time when no words are secret and when even ones thoughts could be recorded.

       More importantly, God can hear all our words and know our thoughts.  If we remain cognizant of this it can go a long way to our being careful as to what we say and even think. 

PART FIFTEEN