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 he began in the opening verses of this chapter, but now, he does so in a more proverbial form. In verses 8-10, he outlines the positive influence of wisdom. It helps one to succeed. Yet, he also describes several scenarios where wisdom won’t necessarily prove to be an asset. It may help, but it cannot prevent the unforeseen or unexpected.
For instance, if someone is in the process of digging a pit, they face the very real risk of falling into the hole they have dug. Wisdom can cause a man to be cautious, but it can’t completely eliminate an accident from occurring.
When doing demolition work on an old wall, and removing the rocks or bricks by hand, there’s always the chance 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.
But Solomon’s point seems to be that if wisdom is not used in and applied to the everyday affairs of life, things could turn out even worse. Solomon gives the example of a log-splitter who attempts to do his job with an unsharpened ax. He will find himself expending more energy than necessary, creating undue exhaustion, and increasing the 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 for any and all dangers associated with everyday 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 those who attempt to charm snakes. It comes with the territory.
While verses 8-11 deal 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.
Wise words bring approval,
but fools are destroyed by their own words. – Ecclesiastes 10:12 NLT
The words of a wise man can earn the favor of others. 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 because he speaks self-destructive words that elicit rejection and animosity from others. From the minute a thought comes into his head to the moment he expresses it, the fool’s fate is sealed.
Fools base their thoughts on foolish assumptions,
so their conclusions will be wicked madness;
they chatter on and on. – Ecclesiastes 10:13-14 NLT
Their speech is foolish because their thinking is foolish. And as Solomon wrote in one of his proverbs, the real issue is the heart.
Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.
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 produces 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.
No one really knows what is going to happen;
no one can predict the future. – Ecclesiastes 10:14 NLT
They speak because they can, not because they should. And Solomon reasons that it is silly to listen to the words of someone predicting the future who can’t even find his way into town. Their 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. Social media has provided a platform for fools to spout their opinions on anything and everything. Rock stars and celebrities use their fame as justification for sharing their thoughts on virtually any and every topic under the sun. And the world gathers around them like they’re listening to the Oracle of Delphi. We treat them as if they’re sages or some kind of prescient diviners of all truth. But in reality, they are nothing more than fools, and fools have a bad habit of attracting more of their own kind. 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 as the blind leading the blind. And the end result of that little parade is never 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.
What sorrow for the land ruled by a servant,
the land whose leaders feast in the morning. – Ecclesiastes 10:16 NLT
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, inexperienced 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.
Happy is the land whose king is a noble leader
and whose leaders feast at the proper time
to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk. – Ecclesiastes 10:17 NLT
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 as to how their actions will influence the well-being of those under their care. But young, 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 God has given to us. 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 but only when accompanied by wisdom. Money can be a powerful tool to solve all kinds of problems but it requires wisdom and discernment.
All of these gifts 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 excess. 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 will eventually come back to haunt him.
Wisdom really does work. When used appropriately, as God intended, it can have far-reaching benefits that bring added value to life. Wisdom is not a cure-all that guarantees a problem-free life. It is a God-given resource for making the most out of life – including the good and the bad. Wisdom provides discernment and self-discipline. It promotes diligence and discourages laziness. It produces a life of meaning and significance, marked by a reverence for God and a reliance upon His grace and goodness.
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.