Welcome to Becomning Closer! 


Old Man's Wisdom

Ecclesiastes 10:1 - 11:8Lesson audio

In what must surely have been a series of late night thoughts for Solomon, we have in this section a collection of proverbs. There seems to be no particular order to them, but we shall take them as they come and gather such wisdom as we can.

Fools, Rulers and OSHA

Ecclesiastes 10:1-11 NASB (1) Dead flies make a perfumer's oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor. (2) A wise man's heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man's heart directs him toward the left. (3) Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool. (4) If the ruler's temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses. (5) There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth from the ruler-- (6) folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places. (7) I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land. (8) He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. (9) He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs may be endangered by them. (10) 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. (11) If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer.


In the first three verses, Solomon gives us the local version of things we know pretty well:

  • First, it only takes one mistake to wipe out the effect of a lot of good work (one “aw sh*t” = 1000 attaboys). People remember your mistakes and forget the good stuff. It takes a genuine leader to overcome this judgment.
  • You can spot the wise man by the way he does things. He’s dexterous, not sinister. He has a particular style in doing things – and that style works.
  • Fools, on the other hand, don’t seem to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, fools make themselves pretty obvious. Even after they get elected.

What do you do when the man in charge decides it’s time to “kick ass and take names?” You remain calm, that’s what you do. A wise man is first and foremost in control of himself. Such a demeanor often changes the behavior of the man in charge – who usually doesn’t realize what a fool he’s making of himself.

This point is particularly important when your leader is in fact completely unqualified for the job. Solomon calls it “an evil under the sun.” That’s his pet phrase for, “here’s a bad idea.” Local and political examples I leave to the reader. It’s tough trying to run the ship from a subordinate position.


Solomon then points out something rather obvious: work can be dangerous. Remember, safety laws didn’t exist in those days. But safety begins with the worker, not the manager. So watch what you’re doing! (Gee, a three thousand year old safety poster.)

But what he’s really talking about here is in the metaphor we still use today: sharpen the axe. It is a common mistake to assume that people will learn everything on the job that they need to know; that no additional training will ever be necessary; that once you’ve done, there’s nothing left to learn. Rather, sharpen the axe: seek out the training and experience you need to grow on.

In short, as IBM used to put it, “THINK.” As my ancestors put it, “Think. Because thinking saves work.”

That last is important. You’ve seen it yourself: someone works very hard, often for a long time, and at the end something goes wrong and they get nothing for it. There’s always someone around to tell you that you were stupid to do it that way.

Various Tests

Ecclesiastes 10:12-20 NASB (12) Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; (13) the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness. (14) Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him? (15) The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city. (16) Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning. (17) Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time--for strength and not for drunkenness. (18) Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks. (19) Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything. (20) 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.

Knowing a fool when you hear one

Let’s start with the obvious. You know the answer to this one. When a wise man opens his mouth, his speech is gracious. There is no sense of, “I’m so smart I must be right all the time.” But the real test is this: do your words come back to bite you? If that’s your common experience, maybe you ought to examine your words – and the thoughts behind them (if there are any.)

The fool is noted for one other thing. A wise man may shoot his mouth off – but once he sees what he’s done, he corrects it. A fool goes from bad to worse. If he’s contradicted he will simply shout louder. This despite the fact that we really don’t know what’s going to happen next – a little humility is in order. And the fool has darn little humility.

Rotten Rulers

Solomon pictures the problem as being one when a child becomes king, but we know the problem in other forms. Someone is appointed to a position of leadership for which he is not qualified – but “the system” says it must be done. In Solomon’s day, a child king. Is there a parallel in our time?

I submit there is: political correctness. For your edification, I suggest you look up the career of one Capt. Holly Graf, USN. Time magazine called her a “female Capt. Bligh.” At the end she was discovered to be incompetent to command – but this was after twenty-five years as a naval officer. Apparently she was never really qualified – but kept getting promoted, as she was a female Annapolis graduate, tagged as one who would someday become an admiral. Leaders should be well qualified.

Indeed, Solomon here gives us the difference between a true prince and a tyrant. The tyrant uses his authority for his own benefit; in this instance, to party all day and work as little as possible. Ever had a manager like that? Was he or she at all effective?

Enjoy, but …

OK, so it’s not OK for a ruler to enjoy himself once in a while? Not really true. It’s not forbidden. But do so moderately – and watch your mouth as you do.

More virtues

Ecclesiastes 11:1-7 NASB (1) Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days. (2) Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth. (3) If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies. (4) He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap. (5) Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. (6) Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good. (7) The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun.

The virtue of charity

There is a style of giving which marks the truly charitable. Some give ostentatiously, with a “look what a wonderful guy I am” attitude. But if you give with no expectation of return – as in, giving to the poor, or giving anonymously, it is God’s work to reward you for it.

The great Jewish sage of the Middle Ages, Maimonides, described his eight degrees of charity thusly, in ascending order:

He who gives grudgingly, reluctantly, or with regret.

He who gives less than he should, but gives graciously.

He who gives what he should, but only after he is asked.

He who gives before he is asked.

He who gives without knowing to whom he gives, although the recipient knows the identity of the donor.

He who gives without making his identity known.

He who gives without knowing to whom he gives, neither does the recipient know from whom he receives.

He who helps a fellowman to support himself by a gift, or a loan, or by finding employment for him, thus helping him to become self-supporting.

Such a man seeks his reward from the Lord – and the Lord is generous in such matters.

The “vision thing”

One of the best leaders I ever had often remarked, “Forecasting is very difficult – especially when it concerns the future.” There is a really good reason this is so: stuff happens. And it doesn’t always happen the way your risk analysis forecast that it would.

One response to this is to “do the vision thing.” You spend all your time visioning (if there really should be such a verb). Every time some doubt arises, you rearrange the plans to make sure that nothing could go wrong. In short, you spend all your time “visioning” – and no time doing. It’s a great way to avoid work – and results. 

Get out and work

As every stockbroker knows, the right answer to risk is to diversify – whether it’s your stock portfolio or your efforts. Don’t commit your efforts or your portfolio to one particular thing. But do commit; get out there and get the work done.

Previous     Home     Next