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A Little Foolishness Wisdom Superior to Folly
A Series of Observations Thought on Wisdom and Foolishness
Wisdom and Folly
10:1-4 10:1-4
      10:4 10:4
10:5-7 10:5-7
10:5-7 10:5-7
10:8-20 10:8-10

10:8-14a 10:8-9
    (12-15)   10:12-14
      10:15 10:15
(16-20) 10:16-17 10:16-17
      10:18 10:18
      10:19 10:19
  10:20 10:20

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph, etc.


A. It is obvious that a new context starts in Eccl. 9:13 (cf. NKJV, TEV, NJB) and runs through Eccl. 10:20 (NJB takes it to Eccl. 11:6).


B. Much of it is poetry (NKJV, NRSV).


C. The theme is the contrast between the wise person and the foolish person (cf. Eccl. 9:2).



 1Dead flies make a perfumer's oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor. 2A wise man's heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man's heart directs him toward the left. 3Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool. 4If the ruler's temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.

10:1 This verse and Eccl. 9:18 are related by contrast. One something can ruin everything! We might say:

  1. one bad apple spoils the bushel
  2. one bad egg spoils the omelet

Foolishness, like leaven, can permeate and affect the whole!

▣ "stink" This translates two Hebrew parallel phrases:

  1. "cause to stink," BDB 92, KB 107, Hiphil imperfect, cf. Pro. 13:5; Exod. 5:21; 16:24; 1 Sam. 27:12
  2. "cause to bubble" (i.e., ferment), BDB 615, KB 665, Hiphil imperfect, cf. Ps. 59:7; 94:4; Pro. 15:2,28
NASB   "weightier"
NKJV, NJB, JPSOA, Peshitta   "outweighs"
TEV   "cancels"
REV   "lose its worth"
LXX   "more precious"

This term (BDB 429) is from the same root as "precious," "prized." It is a play on the Hebrew (i.e., Aramaic) concept of that which is heavier (i.e., metals) is more valuable.

▣ "wisdom and honor" These are parallel:

  1. "wisdom," BDB 315, so common in Ecclesiastes
  2. "honor," BDB 458 II, also a word play on "heavy" (BDB 458, e.g., Eccl. 6:2; Ps. 62:7; 84:11; Pro. 3:16,35; 22:4; 25:2). This term is often translated "glory," e.g., Ps. 3:3; 4:2; 19:1; 24:7, 8,9,10 (twice)

10:2 "the right" This term (BDB 411) originally referred to the right hand, which is normally the stronger (i.e., right handed people are more common). This hand is also the one raised in an oath (religious and civil) or the one that held the shield in battle.

Since directions were noted by facing east, it refers to the south.

▣ "the left" This term (BDB 969) in Arabic means "unlucky" (cf. JPSOA). It denotes the north.

These two terms are often used in the metaphorical sense of deviating from the standard of God. God's truth or Torah was seen as a well-worn, clearly marked path (e.g., Ps. 119:105). Deviation from the path (in any direction) meant sin and rebellion (e.g., Deut. 9:12,16; 31:29). It became a cultural idiom (cf. 2 Sam. 2:21).

10:3 One's actions reveal one's character (cf. Pro. 12:23; 13:16; 18:2). We would say, "give a person enough rope and he will hang himself."

It is interesting that the phrase "his sense is lacking" is literally, "the fool has no heart" (i.e., he cannot think clearly, he lacks judgment, cf. Pro. 6:32; 7:7; 9:4,16; 10:13,21; 11:12; 24:30).

10:4 This is advice for those who serve the king (or other leaders). It links up with Eccl. 8:1-4 and 10:16-17,20.

NASB, NJB   "composure"
NKJV   "conciliation"
NRSV   "calmness"
TEV   "keep calm"
JPSOA   "pardoned"
REB   "amends"
Peshitta   "healing"

This term (BDB 951) means "healing," "cure," or "health" (cf. Eccl. 12:18; 13:17; 16:24). Here it refers metaphorically to a sound mind, a calm spirit (cf. Prov. 14:30), which denotes a person not guilty of the charges or anger of the ruler.

 5There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth from the ruler—6folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places. 7I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land.

10:5-7 This literary unit also speaks to rulers and the wealthy. As so often in Wisdom Literature, a role reversal occurs (cf. Eccl. 9:13-18; Pro. 29:2).

10:5 "I have seen" This is a recurrent verb (BDB 906, KB 1157, used 47 times), which highlights Qoheheth's method of personal observation. He focuses on wisdom as practical and observable in daily life. He primarily (not exclusively) uses natural revelation (i.e., Ps. 19:1-6) instead of special revelation (i.e., Scripture, Ps. 15:7-14) to make his points.

▣ "error" This term (BDB 993) implies an inadvertent action or word (e.g., Lev. 4:2,22,27).

 8He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. 9He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs may be endangered by them. 10If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success. 11If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer. 12Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; 13the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness. 14Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him? 15The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city. 16Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning. 17Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time—for strength and not for drunkenness. 18Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks. 19Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything. 20Furthermore, 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.

10:8 This relates two "unexpected consequences" to one's actions:

  1. A person who digs a pit to capture an animal (or person) will be captured by it (cf. Pro. 26:27).
  2. A person breaks through a wall to escape, but in doing so is bitten by a snake hiding there (cf. Amos 5:19).

It must be admitted that the above interpretation assumes a negative attitude on the part of the worker, which is not easily demonstrated from the text itself. It is possible, however, that the results described are merely accidental and unexpected (cf. Eccl. 10:9).

10:9 Human actions and words have unexpected consequences (cf. Pro. 26:27).

10:10-11 Humans can take actions (i.e., gain wisdom) that will help them live their lives easier and better!

The term "advantage" (BDB 452) carries significant theological weight, often referring to a lasting or eternal advantage (cf. Eccl. 1:3; 2:11; 3:9; 5:16). Here the focus is on this life.

10:12 There is a play on the term "mouth," "lips," and "swallow" (i.e., "consume"). What we say does make a difference (e.g., Eccl. 10:13,14; Pro. 10:32; 13:3; 18:21; Matt. 12:37).


10:13 "the end of it is wicked madness" The NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 1040, asserts that this refers to an attitude of life that recognizes no moral law operating in the world. Therefore, this would be taking the metaphor "under the sun" as a life's motto. In our culture it is the idiom, "you only go around once in life, so get all the gusto you can." Ecclesiastes addresses this very attitude (cf. Eccl. 3:17; 9:11; 12:14).

10:14 "No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him" This is a recurrent theme (cf. Eccl. 3:22; 6:12; 7:14; 8:7; 10:14). The future is hidden, even from wisdom! Wisdom is far better than foolishness (cf. Eccl. 10:15), but it is limited in this fallen period of human history!

10:15 There are several ways to view this verse:

  1. work makes a fool tired (i.e., instead of happy)
  2. fools do not like work (i.e., they are lazy)
  3. fools cannot find the path to the city (i.e., God's wisdom, cf. Eccl. 10:2-3)

10:16-17 "Woe" This interjection (BDB 33 III), often translated "alas," is found only twice in the OT, both in Ecclesiastes (cf. Eccl. 4:10; 10:16), but often in rabbinical literature.

There are two reasons for the woe:

  1. a young, inexperienced ruler
  2. drunken, worldly-minded leadership

It is surprising that "young" (BDB 654, lit. "child") is contrasted with "noble" (BDB 359). Possibly this is related to Eccl. 10:7 (i.e., slave acting like a prince) or to 4:13-16, a seeming historical example.

NASB, NKJV, LXX, Peshitta   "blessed"
NRSV, NJB, REB, JPSOA   "happy"
TEV   "fortunate"

This term (BDB 80, e.g., Ps. 32:2; 84:5,12; 119:1; Pro. 3:13; 8:34; 28:14) is the literary opposite of "woe," (Eccl. 10:16). In Psalms it denotes the blessing of being the covenant people of YHWH.

▣ "At the appropriate time" This concept of a divinely appropriate time was first introduced in Eccl. 3:1-11,17; 7:17; 8:5,6,9; 9:8,11,12(twice); 10:17 (esp. Eccl. 3:11).

▣ "for strength" Food is for activity, not for inactivity (drunkenness, see Special Topic: Wine and Strong Drink). We eat to live; we do not live to eat!! One who controls the base appetite to eat probably can control other areas where self takes control. Self discipline is crucial in a leader!

10:18 This seems to be an unrelated saying (cf. TEV. NJB), which chastises inactivity (cf. Pro. 24:30-34). It may be related to characteristics of leaders (cf. NKJV, NRSV). The words are rare (i.e., "rafters," BDB 900) and point toward a cultural proverb.

10:19 This verse, like Eccl. 10:20, seems to relate to Eccl. 10:16-17 (cf. NRSV).

NASB  "money is the answer to everything"
NKJV  "money answers every thing"
NRSV, REB, JPSOA  "money meets every need"
TEV  "you can't have either without money"
NJB  "money has an answer for everything"
Peshitta  "money brings one low and causes him to go astray in all things"
LXX  "but to money all things will humbly yield obedience"

Ths phrase is not meant to be a negative attack on money. Food (i.e., "bread") and drink (i.e., "wine") are seen as gifts from God, so too, the means to buy them. It is possible that the verb (BDB 772 I, KB 851, Qal imperfect) is meant to be understood as in Eccl. 5:20 ("the other use of this verb in Ecclesiastes), "keep him occupied." In this sense money allows "feasts," "parties," "social occasions" for all to keep their minds off

  1. the vanity of all things
  2. the mysteries of God's activities

Special Topic: Wealth

10:20 The verb "curse" (BDB 886, KB 1103, used twice) is a Piel imperfect used in a jussive sense.

It is hard to keep reckless words a secret (cf. Luke 12:3)! Those who hear these outbursts often use them for self interest (i.e., tell the king in order to gain favor).

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