8 He who digs a pit will fall into it,
and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall.
9 He who quarries stones is hurt by them,
and he who splits logs is endangered by them.
10 If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge,
he must use more strength,
but wisdom helps one to succeed.
11 If the serpent bites before it is charmed,
there is no advantage to the charmer.
12 The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor,
but the lips of a fool consume him.
13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness,
and the end of his talk is evil madness.
14 A fool multiplies words,
though no man knows what is to be,
and who can tell him what will be after him?
15 The toil of a fool wearies him,
for he does not know the way to the city.
16 Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,
and your princes feast in the morning!
17 Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility,
and your princes feast at the proper time,
for strength, and not for drunkenness!
18 Through sloth the roof sinks in,
and through indolence the house leaks.
19 Bread is made for laughter,
and wine gladdens life,
and money answers everything.
20 Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king,
nor in your bedroom curse the rich,
for a bird of the air will carry your voice,
or some winged creature tell the matter. – Ecclesiastes 10:8-20 ESV
Solomon continues his discussion about wisdom that began in the opening verses of this chapter, but now, he does so in a more proverbial form. In verses 8-10, he contrasts the positive influence of wisdom: it helps one to succeed. And he uses several scenarios where wisdom won’t necessarily prove to be an asset. It may help, but it cannot prevent the unforeseen or unexpected. In the process of digging a pit, there is always the risk that the one digging falls into the very hole he has created. A wise man will be cautious, but it is no guarantee that an accident still might happen. When doing demolition work on an old wall, and removing the rocks or bricks by hand, you might get bitten by a snake. Again, wisdom advises discernment and caution, but it can’t control the actions of a snake. Working in a quarry can be a profitable and potentially harmful occupation. The very stones you seek to gather can end up crushing you. And while the wise will work carefully and cautiously, they may still find themselves in harm’s way, because they can’t control nature. The same thing could be true for someone who splits logs. It’s a potentially dangerous occupation that can end up harming even the wisest of men. And if wisdom is not used in, and applied to, the everyday affairs of life, things can turn out even worse. Solomon gives us a for-instance, stating that a log-splitter who attempts to do his job with an unsharpened ax, will find himself having to expend more energy than necessary, creating undue exhaustion and, therefore, increasing his chances of harming himself. But wisdom, when applied properly to life, can help one succeed. It can also help protect against unnecessary risk. But it is not a cure-all or preventative to any and all dangers associated with life lived under the sun.
The sad reality is that there are situations and scenarios in life that cannot be prevented by wisdom. A snake charmer who gets bitten by a snake before he has had the opportunity to train it, is the victim of bad timing. His fate has little to do with his abilities as a snake charmer, but speaks volumes about the risk associated with his profession. Snake bites are a common hazard for snake charmers. It comes with the territory.
While verses 8-11 have dealt with wisdom as it pertains to man’s occupation or work life, verses 12-15 take on the tongue, or how wisdom can influence our speech. The wise man’s words win him favor. They positively impact his life because they leave a good impression on all those around him. But a foolish man tends to say things that do more harm than good. And he is the one who suffers the most, speaking self-destructive words that cause rejection and animosity from others. From the minute a thought comes into his head, to the moment he puts those thoughts into audible words, the fool’s fate is sealed. His speech is foolish because his thinking is foolish. And as Solomon wrote in one of his proverbs, the real issue is the heart.
23 Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.
24 Avoid all perverse talk;
stay away from corrupt speech. – Proverbs 4:23-24 NLT
And it was Jesus who said, “whatever is in your heart determines what you say” (Matthew 12:34 NLT). A foolish heart speaks foolish words. It’s unavoidable and inevitable. And fools tend to speak of things they don’t know, droning on and on about matters beyond their level of comprehension or regarding the future, of which they have no knowledge. They speak because they can, not because they should. And it’s ridiculous to listen to the words of someone predicting the future who can’t even find his way into town. Their so-called and self–professed wisdom is of no practical value. It can’t even prevent them from getting lost. But the sad truth is that our world is filled with foolish individuals who constantly spout their opinions and spew their foolish rhetoric for all to hear. And far too often, the world listens. We have rocks stars and celebrities who use their fame as a platform to share their words of wisdom on virtually any and every topic under the sun, and the world gathers around them like they’re the Oracle of Delphi. We treat them as if they’re sages or some kind of prescient diviners of all truth, when in reality they are nothing more than fools. And fools have a bad habit of attracting fools. As the old saying goes: Birds of a feather flock together. And because that statement is true, you end up with the sad scene that Jesus once described: The blind leading the blind. And the end result of that little parade will never be positive.
In verses 16-19, Solomon now turns his attention to wisdom as it relates to leadership. He starts out by describing a nation ruled by a child-king and a collection of princes who lack self-control. In Proverbs 22:15, Solomon makes the observation: “A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness.” Children make lousy leaders because they lack wisdom. And if you gather a group of children together, you multiply the foolishness exponentially. Young princes who love to feast in the morning will end up making bad decisions all day long. Of course, Solomon may be speaking of a king who simply acts like a child. We all know what that looks like. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul made a personal statement regarding his attitude toward maturity and spiritual growth: “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11 NLT). Adults are to act like adults. But sadly, far too many grownups still behave like children, lacking self-control and exhibiting simplistic thinking that can destroy marriages, families, cities and nations.
But when a leader approaches his responsibilities wisely and nobly, those under his leadership prosper. They find themselves joyful and at peace because they have someone leading them effectively and justly. Leaders who feast in order to gain strength are dramatically different than those who feast to get drunk. Wise leaders understand the seriousness of their role and do everything with forethought and careful consideration of how their actions will influence the well-being of those under their care. But foolish leaders end up making unwise decisions. In some cases, they put off making decisions at all, procrastinating or simply postponing their responsibilities. And Solomon compares this kind of leadership to the slothful individual who puts off fixing his roof, only to watch it leak and eventually cave in on him. You can put off your responsibilities, but not the consequences for doing so. Wisdom is what helps us make use of the gifts given to us by God. Bread is of great value and can produce much joy and laughter when used wisely. Wine is a wonderful gift from God and can make life more enjoyable, if used wisely. Money can be a powerful tool to solve all kinds of problem, if used wisely. But all of these things can be abused and misused. A fool can take what God has given and use it to self-destruct. He can over-indulge. He can drink to get drunk. And he can make money his god. And a fool, sitting in the privacy of his own home, may think it is safe for him to speak ill of the king, but what he doesn’t realize is that even words spoken in private have a way of going public. His foolish criticism of those in authority over him may become back to haunt him.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.