Poetry – Ecclesiastes 9-10

So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.
As it is with the good,
    so with the sinful;
as it is with those who take oaths,
    so with those who are afraid to take them.
This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
For the living know that they will die,
    but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
    and even their name is forgotten.
Their love, their hate
    and their jealousy have long since vanished;
never again will they have a part
    in anything that happens under the sun.
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
    or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
    or wealth to the brilliant
    or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:
As fish are caught in a cruel net,
    or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
    that fall unexpectedly upon them.
I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.
The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded
    than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
    but one sinner destroys much good.

  • Ecclesiastes 9:1-18

As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,
    so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
    but the heart of the fool to the left.
Even as fools walk along the road,
    they lack sense
    and show everyone how stupid they are.
If a ruler’s anger rises against you,
    do not leave your post;
    calmness can lay great offenses to rest.
There is an evil I have seen under the sun,
    the sort of error that arises from a ruler:
Fools are put in many high positions,
    while the rich occupy the low ones.
I have seen slaves on horseback,
    while princes go on foot like slaves.
Whoever digs a pit may fall into it;
    whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.
Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them;
    whoever splits logs may be endangered by them.
If the ax is dull
    and its edge unsharpened,
more strength is needed,
    but skill will bring success.
If a snake bites before it is charmed,
    the charmer receives no fee.
Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious,
    but fools are consumed by their own lips.
At the beginning their words are folly;
    at the end they are wicked madness—
    and fools multiply words.
No one knows what is coming—
    who can tell someone else what will happen after them?
The toil of fools wearies them;
    they do not know the way to town.
Woe to the land whose king was a servant
    and whose princes feast in the morning.
Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth
    and whose princes eat at a proper time—
    for strength and not for drunkenness.
Through laziness, the rafters sag;
    because of idle hands, the house leaks.
A feast is made for laughter,
    wine makes life merry,
    and money is the answer for everything.
Do not revile the king even in your thoughts,
    or curse the rich in your bedroom,
because a bird in the sky may carry your words,
    and a bird on the wing may report what you say.

  • Ecclesiastes 10:1-20

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Ecclesiastes 9:1 ‘What awaits us?’: “Among the inescapable, inevitable realities, first and foremost there is the sovereign hand of God. Regardless of rank, status, color, creed, age, heritage, intelligence, or temperament, ‘the hand of God’ is upon us. The late philosopher-theologian Francis Schaeffer was absolutely correct: ‘God is there and He is not silent.’ What reassurance this brings! It tells us, among other things, that nothing is out of control. Nor are we useless, despairing robots stumbling awkwardly through time and space, facing a bleak fate at the end. But neither does this mean we are given periodic briefings about His strategy. Did you miss the last three words?  ‘… anything awaits him.’ And that means anything.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 9:1 ‘uncertainty of outcome’: “The concerns of the previous chapter are continued here. Having already denied consistent and predictable patterns of reward and retribution, Qoheleth again emphasizes the uncertainty of outcome. The righteous/wise themselves and their actions are in God’s hands (9:1), suggesting resignation more than trust. God is not controlled by human concepts of retribution. He is free to act, either to accept (love) or reject (hate). If the terms love and hate are to be applied to human action, then people do not know either their own future attitudes toward others or the future attitudes of others toward them. Applying these terms to the events and circumstances of life, people cannot know whether they will experience love or blessing. Qoheleth protests such a reality, being outraged that moral distinctions are not made.

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 9:2-3 ‘inevitable death’: “Death awaits us all. You can count on it. As Euripides, a Greek poet, once said, ‘Death is the debt we all must pay.’ This theme is repeated over and over again throughout Scripture: [Gen 3:19, Ps 89:48, Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 5:12, James 4:14, Revelation 20:11-12]

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 9:3 ‘the insanity’: “We’ve heard about the doctrine of depravity all our lives, but not much about the doctrine of insanity, right? Honestly, have you ever seen this in Scripture before? Lurking in the human heart is a permanent mixture of evil and insanity. It’s enough to make shivers run up one’s spine. Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser renders insanity ‘every conceivable madness.’ What an awful mixture—meanness and madness!
“Think about our day. How else can we explain the moral insanity? The sexual insanity? The homicidal insanity? The rationalization-the insane rationalization? The materialistic madness? The intellectual madness? The judicial madness of our times? It’s absolutely insane!”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 9:3-10 ‘death’: “Qoheleth now focuses on death. Life with all its frustrations is better than death (v.4). Life at its very worst is preferable to death; in life there is awareness, but in death there is no awareness, no further reward, no opportunity to alter one’s image or perpetuate one’s memory (v.3), and no emotions or feelings (v.6). The absence of these passions indicates the destructiveness of death.
“Given these stark truths about death, Qoheleth urges three responses. First, life is to be enjoyed. While food, wine, garments, and oil can be viewed as necessities of life (Hos 2:5), they are also suggestive of celebration. The certainty of death is not to prevent the enjoyment of life (9:7-8). Second, companionship and fidelity in marriage are urged (v.9). Last, he calls for thoroughness in our efforts (v.10). Whatever we do must be done with all our might. The certainty of death must not lead to inertia.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 9:4-6 ‘hope for the living’: “I’m so glad we have finally arrived at something positive and affirming-—hope for the living. There is nothing quite as encouraging as hope. When Solomon says that whoever is joined with the living will find hope, it turns the tide. It brings light into an otherwise dark chamber. Next he quotes an Arabic proverb familiar to him but not to us: ‘… a live dog is better than a dead lion.’ In our day, it doesn’t have the ring of truth that it had then. Today, our pets are pampered. They are treated like little luxuries. They are fluffed up, pedigreed, and respected like human beings—some are treated better than we treat humans. They sleep on our beds. Some of them actually eat at our tables.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 9:8 ‘white and oil?’: “We have to dress in white? Some dear souls take that literally, suggesting we wear white all the time. That’s not the point, anymore than we are expected to let oil keep running down our head. This is one of many symbolic statements in Scripture. White is usually a symbol of purity—a beautiful symbol of righteousness. And oil? It is commonly a symbol of the Spirit of God.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 9:10 ‘honor work’: “Heaven’s calendar has seven Sundays :1 week. God sanctifies each day. He conducts holy business at all hours and in all places. He uncommons the common by turning kitchen sinks into shrines, cafes into convents, and nine-to-five workdays into spiritual adventures.
“Workdays? Yes, workdays. He ordained your work as something good. Before he gave Adam a wife or a child, even before he gave Adam britches, God gave Adam a job. ‘The LORD God put the man in the garden of Eden to care for it and work it’ (Genesis 2:15). Innocence, not indolence, characterized the first family …
“God unilaterally calls all the physically able to till the gardens he gives. God honors work. So honor God in your work.”

  • Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life

Ecclesiastes 9:10 ‘Do God’s work while given the breath to do it’: ”It is possible that the royal preacher intended our text to be sarcasm, addressing those persons of an epicurean spirit who consider this world to be everything, and will not believe there is a world to come, but I do not think so. I think the common interpretation is the true one, and that would make it run parallel with the saying of our Lord, ‘We must do the works of him who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work’” (Jn 9:4). It is an address to people, commending to them promptness, determination, and practical earnestness. Inasmuch as they have but one life here on earth, they should give diligence to accomplish all the right purposes that they have formed for this world. Seeing that once dead they cannot return, nor in the grave can they carry out any of their resolves, they should do quickly what they mean to do. May God give us grace to make a right use of this exhortation!

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 ‘The race is not won by the swift…’: “Whenever I scope out the scene here in southern California where I live (which is usually spent literally ‘under the sun’), I observe a large number of people who are pursuing the so-called successful life. They would say the way to make it in this world—the way to succeed—is to increase speed, get stronger, be competitive, think more cleverly, plan longer, and have a visionary strategy—hire people with the skills that are needed and life will be successful. The race is on. Get up earlier. Go to bed later. Make work a top priority. Don’t get sentimental about stuff like children, marriage, home, and the family. All that will have to wait. Raising kids can come later. And religion? Leave that for the over-the-hill gang and preachers. Don’t get too involved in it because, after all, the race to success is for the swift, the strong, and the clever.
“See how easy it is to get sucked in and be seduced? It all sounds so logical, so appealing. But there is another side to be considered. Look again at verse 11:
“l again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, and the battle is not to the warriors. and neither is bread to the wise, nor wealth to the discerning, nor favor to the men of ability …”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 9:11 ‘time and chance’: “Wisdom cannot guarantee good outcomes because of what appear to be so many unpredictable contingencies.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 9:12 ‘his time’: “This refers to the time of man’s misfortune, especially death (cf. 11:8, ‘days of darkness’; 12:1, ‘difficult days’).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 9:13-16 ‘a poor man saves the city’: “Qoheleth now presents an anecdote of a poor man who saved a city through his wisdom (9:13, 16). Confronted by a powerful king, this man through an act of diplomacy managed to save the city. The story demonstrates the superior of wisdom over might, but this wisdom was not rewarded. The poor man was forgotten, not immortalized. Even wisdom is vulnerable to uncertainty and does not assure success.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 10:1-11 ‘symbolism of wisdom literature’: “Though it may seem simple with these earthy maxims and proverbs that hang loosely together, they appear to lack order and progression of thought. As best as I’m able to decipher this section, Solomon has several contrasts in mind, each one being an illustration of the contrast between wisdom and folly. Remember, now, this is wisdom literature. There are some truths God presents in Scripture that must not be forced into a tight and rigid mold. Rather, they must be treated as beautiful works of art. This is music. This is great poetry. This is to be read in the normal sense of the word, but it is to be seen as symbolic language, referring to something far more significant than flies in a jug of perfume! Solomon’s underlying concern is not with flies and ointment. Those are merely symbols in a chapter on wisdom. If I may repeat the word picture from the story told earlier in this chapter, it is the beauty of an eagle soaring over a world of drab and uncreative prairie chickens!”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 10:1-4 ‘assorted maxims’: “The role of this chapter in the book is difficult to determine. It is a collection of assorted maxims. These proverbs dealing with practical virtues have little organic connection but are the type of sayings expected from a traditional wisdom teacher.
“V.1, frequently attached to the previous chapter, indicates that it is easier to ruin something than it is to develop it. The thoughts of the wise will lead to the beneficial, while the thoughts of the fool will lead to the detrimental (v.2). Though the fool does not speak, he betrays himself by his general demeanor (v.3).
“A hurried resignation by the bureaucrat only intensifies the king’s anger (v.4). The inequities in the structure of society are traced to a ruler who makes decisions by whim.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 10:4-7 ‘the hot-headed boss’: “Right away, we are presented with another familiar situation. It’s a hot-headed boss. If you’ve ever worked for one, you will nod with understanding. But here Solomon tells us how to live wisely with an unwise boss. ‘If the ruler’s temper rises against you do not abandon your position. … That could mean, ‘Don’t change your style. Fight back with the same kind of temper.’ But it probably means, “Don’t quit your job in a fit of anger.’ We might paraphrase it this way:
“ ‘If your ruler becomes angry with you, do not hand in your resignation; serious wrongs may be pardoned if you keep calm’ (TEV).”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 10:8-11 ‘risks of human effort’: “Risks are associated with any human effort. People do not have total control over the events of life, but they frequently cause their own accidents (vv.8-9). The importance of both preparation and timing is seen in vv.10-11.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 10:10-20 ‘maxims for rulers’: “The final group of verses (vv.10-20) deals mostly with rulers. A land whose king acts childishly is in trouble (v.16), while a land whose king is disciplined is greatly benefited (v.17). The influence of the ruler has a way of filtering down into the citizenry (vv.18-19), but even if the leader is profligate, the critic must be careful in his disapproval (v.20).”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 10:12-20 ‘four demonstrations of foolishness’: “A close look at this journal entry reveals at least four ways a fool demonstrates his or her folly.
“Mouth and Words
“Notice that ‘the lips of a fool consume him.’ The word consume means ‘to swallow up.’ An old reliable German commentator named Leupold offers this translation: ‘The lips of a fool bring about his own undoing.’
“Who is it that suffers the most consequences in the life of a fool? The fool himself.
“Future and Predictability
“Does this sound familiar? If you have teenagers in your home, I’ll bet you’ve used some similar lines: ‘Honey, if you keep acting like that, there’s no telling where you’re gonna wind up.’ Or, ‘How many times do you have to learn the same lesson? Do you l<now that if you keep doing that, such and such might very well happen. I mean, who knows where you’ll be in two years, to say nothing of the end of your life?’
“Confusion and Stupidity
“There’s no diplomacy in this passage—nothing but straight talk. Fools don’t hear diplomacy. If they hear anything at all, they hear blunt, straight talk, the kind that would offend other people. …
The fool exhausts himself by his inefficient and unproductive lifestyle. He gets so confused, he doesn’t even know how to go to a city. Put a fool on an elevator and he’ll get lost. Put a fool on an airplane, and he can’t find the way out. l mean, the most obvious thing  in the world, from here to there, and the fool won’t walk it. He‘ll get lost en route, even if it requires a straight line. If Solomon were writing today, perhaps he would put it this way: ‘The person is out to lunch.’
“Procrastination and Poor Judgment
“Fools make all kinds of promises, but they don’t follow through. …
Up above there are sagging rafters and a leaky root. The house has been neglected because of procrastination. Even the courtroom of the king lacks fine appointments and disciplined servants because within the king’s life there is an endless routine of nothing but food, amusement, plenty of booze, and stupid comments about money. In this case, the fools are saying to themselves, ‘Money is the answer to everything.’ There’s wasted time; there’s a loss of priorities; there’s a careless lifestyle; there’s a lack of discipline toward unfinished tasks. Even though there are so many things to take care of, irresponsibility and verbosity abound.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 10:12-14 ‘’: “The next group of verses (vv.12-14) addresses a favorite subject of the sage—words. The words of the wise result in grace, while those of the fool result in destruction. Fools exercise no restraint in speech but multiply words concerning matters about which they are ignorant.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 10:15 ‘to go to the city’: “A proverb about ignorance with regard to the most ordinary matters, which extends even to spiritual realities. If a fool can’t find the town, how could he possibly locate God?”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)


My Thoughts

In a book by Philip Yancey, he wrote about the book of Job, among other things.  He said that after the first two very enlightening chapters, you have Job lamenting, naturally.  Job wants a face-to-face with God.  God eventually shows up, but the 30 something chapters in between is pop-theology.  I have written recently about how it is Satan’s deception that Christians will not suffer – trying to throw doubt and worry into our hearts.  The opening to Ecclesiastes 9 is more information that regardless of how righteous we might be and how wise we might be, we have no control over whether others will respond to us in love or in hate.

When it came to work, I have been given a double portion of the hate over the years and little love.  They kept me around, most of the time, because of my reputation of getting the job done and getting the job done efficiently.  So, maybe, the physical, mental, and emotional abuse was the hate and the not getting laid off was the love.  Sometimes, I wondered if getting laid off, at a younger age, would have been better, a relief from the abuse.  And for my next to last boss, the abuse was in the form of neglect, acting like I was not even there and that I did not exist – that is until work was needed and then ‘Where are you and why were you not working on this a month ago?!’

But then, the great equalizer is that we all pass away.

Then the old saying of “eat, drink, and be merry,” almost.  Solomon is not saying that.  As Rev. Swindoll says above about the wearing white and pouring oil, this is symbolism for us to get God’s work accomplished while we have breath to do it.  We need the food.  We need to drink (some form of fluids).  Be glad in the food and joyful in the drink, because God has approved the plan for our lives.  Yet, we must not procrastinate like the fool.  The “doing time” is now.

But then we go into a haphazard series of maxims that all seem to revolve around wisdom versus foolishness.  We have discussed this elsewhere that the fool is someone who does not believe there is a God.  Thus, wisdom, in a Biblical sense, is the opposite of that.  Yet, as our governments on earth are institutionally closing out any entreaty toward God, our society is becoming more and more insane (Rev. Swindoll’s discussion on Ecclesiastes 9:3, “madness” in the NIV above).

It is insane to think that killing an unborn child that has a heartbeat is simply a medical procedure and not murder.  And it is truly insane to ignore the Creator of the universe and the conscience that He instilled within us, although some have grown accustomed in ignoring it.

But in making statements in the previous paragraph that some may interpret as political, Ecclesiastes 10:2 is not about political leanings but about the predominant hand in most people.  I enjoy the joke, but it uses this Scripture out of context.

I had a great batting average in church-league softball, always a single.  I could “hit it where they ain’t” as Hall of Famer (in baseball) Wee Willie Keeler used to say.  I could hit from the left or the right, but I was right-handed.  I had more strength hitting right-handed and I could hit it where they ain’t better right-handed.  It got the opposing pitcher confused when I got on the wrong side of the plate, but that was not an adequate compensation to the lack of production.  Wisdom was in batting right-handed, in this example.

And just like the Proverbs, these wisdom maxims are good, understandable statements.  They are not guaranteed.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

Ecclesiastes 9 – A Common Destiny for all: 1. Do you feel you deserve a reward in life for your righteousness? Or would some kick-in-the-pants be more appropriate? What trophy, booby prize or punishment do you feel you deserve?
“2. In what ways do you feel you receive the benefits of faith in this life? Are there benefits that you have ignored or rejected? Why? What are they?
“3. Given the unexpected nature of life (vv.11-12), how do you prepare yourself for such disruptions? How can you best help others through them?
Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:14 – Wisdom over Folly: 1. How does someone‘s social position affect your respect for his opinions? In what ways could that person’s ‘wisdom’ help you?
“2. How ‘skilled’ are you in the various areas of life (family, friendships, work, ministry)? In which areas do you need to develop greater skills? How can this best be done? How can your small group help in this?
“3. How has something foolish you said affected others and yourself? To whom do you need to apologize because of it (no names)? What practical steps can you take to avoid such ‘foolish’ conversation?
Ecclesiastes 10:15-20 – continued folly: 1. As a leader, how conscientious are you? How generous?
“2. What is your duty to those over you? To those under you?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There is three sets of questions for these two chapters as noted.

The second question 1 might be rephrased.  Have you ever taken the word of an actor, or a member of the media, as being truthful simply because you like the way they perform?  Is there a politician that you think you can trust not to say falsehoods?  Do you simply agree with the pastor because he/she went to college to learn all this stuff?  Your answers to those question help answer the second half question, on how that “wisdom” helped you.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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