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2. The future of the wise on earth 9:11-10:11
Solomon’s emphasis in Ecclesiastes 9:2-10 was on the fact that a righteous person could not be more certain of his or her earthly future than the wicked. In Ecclesiastes 9:11 to Ecclesiastes 10:11, his point was that the wise cannot be more sure of his or her earthly future than the fool.
Just a little folly can decrease the value of wisdom. For example, a wise person can end his opportunity to provide wisdom to others by giving foolish advice just once. This, too, is unfortunate, but it is a fact of life. The theme expressed in Ecclesiastes 9:17-18 is elaborated in Ecclesiastes 10:1-20. [Note: See Graham S. Ogden, "Qoheleth IX 17-X 20: Variations on the Theme of Wisdom’s Strength and Vulnerability," Vetus Testamentum 30 (1980):27-37, reprinted in Zuck, ed., Reflecting with . . ., pp. 331-40.]
"A man may commit one sin, and this can destroy a lifetime of virtue." [Note: Laurin, p. 592.]
A wise person may also lose his opportunity to give counsel through the error of someone else, for example, one of the rulers he has been advising. "The right" and "the left" (Ecclesiastes 10:2) are not the political right and left, conservatism and liberalism. They are the place of protection and the place of danger, or, to put in another way: the correct way and the incorrect way (cf. Psalms 16:8; Psalms 110:5; Psalms 121:5). [Note: Cf. Delitzsch, p. 373.] The "road" (Ecclesiastes 10:3) is not a literal highway but the fool’s metaphorical way of life. The wise man does not quit his job when his boss gets angry with him. He maintains his composure and so gives the impression, rightly or wrongly, that his boss did not need to be angry.
"The lesson is that the self-controlled person who has less rank is really more powerful than the out-of-control supposed superior." [Note: Hubbard, p. 213.]
Unfortunately, one’s good work does not always receive the praise it deserves. Sometimes the promotion goes to the less qualified person because of the supervisor’s caprice or folly. Consequently, the ruler’s illogical decision nullifies the better worker’s wisdom (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7).
Improper timing can also nullify wisdom. Four different situations illustrate the fact that though wisdom is valuable in a variety of everyday tasks (Ecclesiastes 10:8-10), one can lose its advantage if the timing is not right (Ecclesiastes 10:11).
"The sum of these four clauses [in Ecclesiastes 10:8-9] is certainly not merely that he who undertakes a dangerous matter exposes himself to danger; the author means to say, in this series of proverbs which treat of the distinction between wisdom and folly, that the wise man is everywhere conscious of his danger, and guards against it." [Note: Delitzsch, p. 379.]
These proverbs deal with the wise and unwise use of the tongue. Generally, wise people speak graciously, but fools destroy themselves by the way they speak. The fool continues to talk even though neither he nor anyone else can tell what the future holds. The picture here seems to be of the fool making dogmatic statements about the future. The fool also does not even perceive what is most obvious. He is so shortsighted that he sees no value in his work (Ecclesiastes 10:15 a). "How to go to a city" is a figure of speech such as "when to come in out of the rain" (Ecclesiastes 10:15 b). The point is that the fool is a jerk.
3. The folly of criticism in view of the uncertain future 10:12-20
Since we do not know what our earthly future holds (Ecclesiastes 10:12-15): even though governmental officials may prove reprehensible (Ecclesiastes 10:16-19), it is not wise to criticize them (Ecclesiastes 10:20).
These proverbs show what bad effects can come from unqualified, irresponsible leadership (cf. Isaiah 5:11; Acts 2:15). Ecclesiastes 10:19 reflects the bad attitudes of the profligate leaders.
". . . the point is not that every man has his price but that every gift has its use-and silver, in the form of money, is the most versatile of all." [Note: Kidner, p. 95.]
In spite of such bad leadership, Solomon urged restraint. If you complain, those in authority may eliminate you. Corrupt officials often have supporters in the most private places who take the names and words of complainers back to their masters. As the old saying goes, "Walls have ears."
Was Solomon saying that people should submit to governmental corruption and oppression without ever speaking out? The practices of Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles cast doubt on this interpretation. Probably Solomon had conditions in view in which there was no possibility that speaking out would produce any change for the better. In this section he was addressing the fact that wise people may lose their influence because of the actions of others (Ecclesiastes 10:12-20). His point was, do not endanger your future unnecessarily. He was not speaking about how to effect change in a crooked government (cf. Isaiah 5:11-12; Amos 6:4-6; 2 Peter 2:13-19).
"Everything that has been said about wisdom and folly points again to the main lesson of Ecclesiastes: the need to face life as it really is, and take our life day by day from the hand of a sovereign God." [Note: Eaton, p. 138.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20