FOLLY ON THE PART OF RULERS PUTS A NATION IN JEOPARDY AND REQUIRES A RESPONSE OF WISDOM – YET WISDOM IS PRECARIOUS AT BEST
Most people would find no structure in these proverbs – similar to chap. 7 –
Those that try to group the verses in some type of pattern don’t agree as to the main topics …
Whybray: This section consists of short apparently independent pieces, of which the majority are similar in form to the sayings in the Book of Proverbs (cf. Eccles. 7:1-14). Although some of them appear to have been arranged roughly according to theme, it is not possible, despite various attempts which have been made, to find any overall structure in the section as a whole.
But I think there is a common theme running through these verses dealing with the relationship between rulers and their subjects. Certainly Solomon was qualified to speak on this subject as the great and wise king of the nation of Israel. He starts out with some more general observations comparing wisdom and folly; but then makes the more specific application to the realm of civil government. These same principles would apply to other realms as well: leadership and submission in the home; in the church; at work; etc.
I. (:1-3) FOLLY LEADS TO RUIN
A. (:1) Ruining That Which Otherwise Would Be Good —
One Rotten Apple Spoils the Barrel
“Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.”
Kidner: It takes far less to ruin something than to create it. . . it is easier to make a stink than to create sweetness.
B. (:2) Ruining the Fool’s Course of Life by Consistently Making Bad Choices —
Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide – If You Have a Good Conscience
(Divine Guidance for Political Campaigns)
“A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.”
Longman: Wisdom and folly go in two different directions
Leupold: Since we believe that the author is writing coherent discourse and has logical sequence of thought we shall expect the thought of the first verse to remain in the forefront, vis., how low the now esteemed Persian monarchy shall be brought by its folly, which is already operative. We have, therefore, not only general observations that contrast folly and wisdom but thoughts which bear very distinctly upon the historical situation. The emphasis is, therefore, not chiefly on the “wise man” and his tendencies. He is brought in only as a foil to the “fool.” The thought, by way of contrast, runs about as follows: Had the ruling people been wise they would have turned to the right, for the heart of wise men is thus inclined; but being fools, they have directed their attention toward that which is not right.
C. (:3) Ruining the Fool’s Own Reputation and Legacy —
A Fool is Easy to Spot
“Even when the fool walks along the road his sense is lacking, and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool.”
Eaton: the fool cannot conceal himself. Thus the fool’s inner deficiency comes out in the open for all to see.
We are going to see that when he opens his mouth, it is obvious he is a fool . . . but even as he just moves through life .. he does not live wisely
II. (:4-7) FOLLY ON THE PART OF RULERS CAN FRUSTRATE THE WISE WHO ARE IN A POSITION OF SUBMISSION
A. (:4) Tempted to Run Away From Your Circumstances —
Keep Your Cool / Hold Your Water
“If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.”
Don’t have a knee jerk reaction; “I’ll just quit” is the easy way out
What about the need for endurance?? In your job; your church; your family
The “I want to move to Kansas” mentality – what am I going to accomplish for the Lord in Kansas?
Eaton: The same vocabulary (“anger . . . soothed”) occurs in Judges 8:3 which illustrates the point.
B. (:5-7) Tempted to Resent Inequities —
The Prince and the Pauper – Incompetence Exalted over Competence
“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.”
“Smarter people than I are making the decisions here . . .”
Often the right people are not promoted to the right jobs … inequities; not our job to try to right every wrong; cf. Peter Principle – someone eventually promoted to one level higher than their level of competence
Wiersbe: Solomon’s son Rehoboam was proud and unyielding, and this led to the division of the kingdom (1 Kings 12:1-24). Instead of following the advice of the wise counselors, he listened to his youthful friends. He made the elders walk and he put the young men on the horses. On the other hand, more than one king in Jewish history has been so pliable that he turned out to be nothing but a figurehead. The best rulers (and leaders) are men and women who are tough-minded but tenderhearted, who put the best people on the horses and don’t apologize for it.
Leupold: sees God ultimately as the “Ruler” here
III. (:8-11) WISDOM IS SUPERIOR BUT PRECARIOUS
A. (:8-9) Wisdom Understands the Dangers and Uncertainties of Life —
Accidents Happen – They are Unavoidable – Fine line between production and catastrophe – No Guarantees of Success in this life; God’s Sovereignty and Providence governs all circumstances; the Fool is not in control
(Cf. Haman in Book of Esther 7:10)
Sometimes: What goes around, comes around
1. Digging a Pit
“He who digs a pit may fall into it,”
2. Breaking through a wall
“and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. “
3. Gathering Stones
“He who quarries stones may be hurt by them,”
4. Splitting Logs
“and he who splits logs may be endangered by them.”
You can be your own worst enemy
Longman: The thought, though not the motivation, is similar to Psalm 7:15: He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The context of the Psalm is clearly one of just retribution. The enemy tries unjustly to trap an innocent person, but ends up in his own trap. Qohelet’s use of this image is the opposite. Here an innocent person is simply engaged in his occupation, and he is accidentally injured. This is the first of four illustrations of people who are simply doing their jobs and who fall prey to the dangers that are inherent in their occupations. Their injuries are simply accidental. They are not punishments for bad behavior, and they are not mentioned so that the wise person can avoid them; they are unavoidable accidents. No matter how careful people are they may fall into the pit they dug, and they might be surprised by a snake on the other side of the wall they are demolishing.
Wiersbe: Solomon was describing people who attempted to do their work and suffered because they were foolish.
B. (:10) Wisdom Must be Applied Skillfully — Work Smart / Use the Right Tools
“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.”
C. (:11) Wisdom Must Be Applied at the Right Time — Timing is Everything
“If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer.”
Wiersbe: Snake charmers were common as entertainers in that day (v. 11, and see Ps. 58:4-5 and Jer. 8:17). Snakes have no external ears; they pick up sound waves primarily through the bone structure of the head. More than the music played by the charmer, it is the man’s disciplined actions (swaying and staring) that hold the snake’s attention and keep the serpent under control. It is indeed an art.
IV. (:12-15) FOLLY LEADS TO RUIN
A. (:12-14a) The Folly of Speaking Stupidly
“Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; the beginning of his talking is folly, and the end of it is wicked madness. Yet the fool multiplies words.”
1. Destructive words – James 3:1-12
2. Wacko words – they don’t even make any sense
3. Multiplication of words – Prov. 10:19
B. (:14b) The Folly of Thinking Stupidly – Presumptuous Boasting
“No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?”
C. (:15) The Folly of Working Stupidly
“The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city.”
Eaton: Any form of toil the fool finds wearisome. The result is incompetence. The second half of the verse specifies his “utter ignorance of the things easily come-at-able and familiar to everybody” (Ginsburg).
Whybray: The fool’s efforts are bound to come to nothing: he remains as before one who cannot even find his way home. The second half of the verse is probably a popular saying about people who “do not know enough to come in out of the rain” (Gordis).
V. (:16-20) FOLLY ON THE PART OF RULERS CAN FRUSTRATE THE WISE WHO MUST BITE THEIR TONGUE AND EXERCISE DISCRETION
A. (:16-17) Contrast Between Foolish and Wise Leadership –
The Quality of Leadership Makes All the Difference
1. Foolish Leadership – Cursing on the Land
“Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning.”
2. Wise Leadership – Blessing on the Land
“Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time– for strength, and not for drunkenness.”
Cf. Is. 5:11-13; 21:5
Eaton: Another criterion of national wisdom is self-control. Drinking in the early hours of the day marked a dissolute, slothful approach to life, with emphasis on luxury and personal indulgence. As we have frequently seen personal enjoyment had a place for the Preacher and the antithesis to indulgence here is not asceticism, but self-control. The mark of such pleasure is that it is to be enjoyed in a state of strength, not in a state of drunkenness. The enjoyment of life’s pleasures as the outworking of a position of wisdom-strength is a mark of national bliss; the pseudo-enjoyment of self-centered indulgence is a mark of national danger.
B. (:18) Laziness on the Part of Leaders Leads to Ruin
“Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks.”
You could debate whether vs. 18 applies to the leaders or just to everyone in general
How the Wise can avoid Frustration?
C. (:19) Response: Enjoy Your Life as Best as Possible (or applied sarcastically to rulers? Just raise taxes to try to fix everything)
“Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything.”
D. (:20) Response: Bite Your Tongue — Discretion is the Better Part of Valor
“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.”
“Furthermore” connects vs. 19 and 20 – speaking to the same group of people
Wiersbe: Even if we can’t respect the person in the office, we must respect the office (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people” (Ex. 22:28).