Monday, November 19, 2012

Ecclesiastes 10 : A Meditation on the Nature of Foolishness

TEXT:       Ecclesiastes   10
THEME:  A Meditation on the Nature  of Foolishness
DATE:      18/11/2012  

No one  wants to be known as a fool. Even clowns  want to be taken seriously in their art of fooling around!   
A fool  is a fool  because    he  lacks,   or because he despises  wisdom  and  instruction. Worse still, he cannot  see  that  what he is doing is foolish. Why  is that ?
Solomon says in  his Proverbs  1:7  -  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools  despise wisdom and instruction.   At the heart of all foolish  behaviour is  basically  an absence of the fear of the LORD!  It is an unwillingness  to listen to His wise counsel  for life. Children are  by nature foolish: “Folly is bound  up in the heart of a child…” (Prov. 22:15), and so  their parents are called to  train them up in the way they should  go, in the knowledge  that  when they grow up  they will not depart from the way (Prov. 22:6).
The main focus of our text is however on  the adult person who  is a fool. This  is no joke! It is  an extremely serious spiritual  and moral condition , which if not addressed, will  not only lead  such a person to  do  harm to themselves  in this life, but  which  will also   cut them  off from eternal life. Their foolish lives  are a contradiction of the life  that God has  designed for them.

With that in mind  we  consider the 10th chapter of Ecclesiastes. We find  something here that we have already seen in Ch. 7:1- 13 -   a   set  of  seemingly  disconnected Proverbs!  Upon closer inspection there is, however, a common theme  running through  the chapter:  what it means to be a fool ! It is an  exposé  of  the  character of  the fool. This is, of course  no  new  theme in Solomon’s sermon. From the outset his purpose  has been to know and expose  the heart of wisdom and folly (1:17).  So here is what we learn…

1. A  little folly  may  cause a lot of problems!

V.1  Dead flies make the perfumer's ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.  In English  the Proverb  one bad apple ruins the  whole basket  has a similar  connotation. Would you eat   a soup  in which you find a dead fly? A small thing such   a dead fly  and  one  small apple  can spoil their environment. Solomon makes the application….” so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.”  A small mistake, small actions, a small omission  may  have   big consequences.   

You may have heard  this  Proverb  before:
“For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

We can add more stories illustrating the fact that big doors  do turn on small hinges!

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when   she broke apart  73 seconds into  flight, leading to the deaths of  her seven crew members. This happened  because  an  O- ring  seal in its right solid rocket booster  failed at liftoff.

On June 4, 1996 an unmanned Ariane 5 rocket launched by the European Space Agency exploded just forty seconds after its lift-off from Kourou, French Guiana. The rocket was on its first voyage, after a decade of development, costing $7 billion! The destroyed rocket and its cargo were valued at $500 million. A board of inquiry  found  that the cause of the failure was  software error!

World war  I  (in which over 40 million lives were lost)  began on  June 28, 1914  with the assassination of   Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand  who was assassinated by a Serbian named Gavrilo Princip.  As a result of this  killing   Austria declared war on Serbia. Because of Austria's alliance with Germany, Serbia try to get help from Russia. Russia gained support from France. Germany declared war on Russia on Aug. 1, 1914, in response to Russia’s mobilization. Two days later Germany declared war on France. The German Army swept into Belgium on its way to France. The invasion of Belgium caused Britain in turn  to declare war on Germany...
A horseshoe nail… led to  the loss of a kingdom ;  An O-ring …  a software error … led to the loss of lives ,  and rockets and billions of dollars ; One assassination  led to the loss of  over 40 million lives , and many more injured and devastated  people !
Everything mentioned  here started  as a comparatively small thing , but see what  huge  effects  it had! Not all our  follies   thankfully,  have such  far reaching consequences. But   the fact remains  that  big trouble  usually starts  with small folly.  Big doors turn on small hinges!  This is Solomon’s first point in this section. From  here  he continues  to work out  a pathology of folly.

2. Foolishness is a problem  of the heart ! 

V. 2  A wise man's heart inclines him to the right, but a fool's heart to the left. This Proverb is not intended to make  political judgments ! Nor does it  discriminate against people with a  left dominance!  It simply makes an observation  concerning  the tendencies of the heart. Wisdom leads us onto the right path  and foolishness  leads us on the wrong path.  This is a primary observation  and from this  follows, I believe  the rest   of his observations  on the nature of foolishness  in  Chapter 10 : 2-20, where  he says  at least  7 things  about the  nature of   foolishness:

(i) Both wisdom and foolishness begin in the heart of man.  Each heart has a direction:  a right direction or a wrong direction!  Where is your  heart is leading you?  Modern Christians  tend  to think  of  the  heart  as the  seat of our  emotions (feelings),  but  biblically speaking  the heart is  the seat of our  will. From the heart  are the issues of life.Therefore  you must guard your heart  (Prov. 4:23).  The wise man’s heart, (his will),  should  be guarded by  the Word of God. This will ensure  that he will be  led in the right way. The fool’s heart  is unprincipled. His will  is self- directed, and therefore  his heart  will ultimately  lead him astray.  In the NT the foolish man builds his house on sand (Matt  7:26); Foolish  virgins failed to provide oil for the lamps and so they missed the bridegroom’s coming (Matt 25:2ff); In the parable  of the rich fool (Lk 12:13-21)  Jesus illustrates  that   a man who was  trying to make himself believe in his heart (soul)  that  the amassing of riches  would bring him  peace and contentment, that he  was  going  in the wrong direction.  God’s direction for him said:   this night  your soul is required of you…’;   The Galatians were foolish for having abandoned the gospel (Gal  3:1ff). All these  are matters of the heart, and as you think in your heart , so your direction will be: death or life! 

(ii)   A fool’s character shows, even when he is walking  on  a road.Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he says to everyone that he is a fool.”  (v.3).  You can tell a fool by his actions. He lacks sense . You see it when a   foolish man  gets drunk and stands  in the middle of the road   to challenge  oncoming  trucks!

(iii) Foolishness is  found in high places.  There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves. (vv. 5-7) Foolishness is found at every level of society. And those who ought to be wise, are often  the worst of  fools.   Solomon says  that it  is a tragedy  when kings, presidents, leaders  in high places   and in very powerful positions ,  are  foolish, while you find people  in a country  who have resources and skills, who  are  wise and hard working , but no one is  listening to them. It is sad when  fools begin to rule  in high places .   It was a sad day when  a corporal with unrefined   and outright  dangerous idealism  became the Führer of Germany. It is sad when so many of our African countries are led by  people who had  never been carefully prepared to lead  their nations  with  wisdom.

(iv) Foolishness  has consequences-  therefore know what you are doing :   He who digs a pit will fall into it, and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall. He who quarries stones is hurt by them, and he who splits logs is endangered by them. If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed. If the serpent bites before it is charmed, there is no advantage to the charmer.”  (Vv. 8-11)  In this  section Solomon illustrates  a simple fact , namely that through lack of skills and forethought  you can injure yourself . He has  four examples  here  (a) digging a pit - He who digs a pit may fall into it,” (b) Breaking through a wall- and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. “ (c)  Quarrying stones - “He who quarries stones may be hurt by them” (d) Splitting Logs - and he who splits logs may be endangered by them.”  There are dangers inherent in each of these  occupations .  Recently   our newspapers reported how  a few men were  digging a  deep hole when  the  soil   collapsed and buried them alive . That was foolish of them, and they paid with their lives.  A fool , because of his unteachable nature  does  a job, but finds  that  he gets hurt in the process. He essentially  becomes his own worst  enemy.  Wisdom must  be applied skillfully. Work smart . Use the right  tools. If you are into snake charming , then you better know the snake that you are  playing with. I understand  that  snakes have no ears like we do . 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, and  you don’t mess with a cobra ! Fools  walk where angels fear to tread!

(v)   Foolishness  shows it  itself in our words.   The words of a wise man's mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness. A fool multiplies words, though no man knows what is to be, and who can tell him what will be after him? (Vv.  12-14) : The  fool  is  most easily  discerned in the way he speaks  . The epistle of James  (3:1-12) has a profound section on  the danger  of the uncontrolled use  of  the  tongue . The Proverbs of Solomon  make many references  to the  foolish abuse  of  our tongue.  ‘So our lips  can consume us’, says Solomon. Many , if not all of us had to swallow  our words  which we had hastily uttered ; or advice hastily  and foolishly given.    Foolish talk, he says in v. 14  is babbling – multiplying of words. Jesus warns against this (Matt 6:7).  It  flows from  an inner character deficiency. 

(vi) Foolishness  shows itself in  unproductive  ways of working ; The toil of a fool wearies him, for he does not know the way to the city.  V.15  Everybody knows how to get into the city, but the fool forgets how to get there, because of his unstructured  and haphazard thinking  he has spent all his energy  in  one area , and now he is  so exhausted  and incapacitated   that he doesn’t know how to get back home into the city. 

(vii)  Foolishness  and happiness in political  circles:  Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, and your princes feast in the morning! 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! Through sloth the roof sinks in,  and through indolence the house leaks. Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything. 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. Vv. 16-20. The quality of leadership makes all the difference Michael Eaton says:  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.”

Summary :
·   Be aware  that a little foolishness  may have large consequences.
· The difference between  wisdom and foolishness  lies in the direction our lives take .
·         Foolishness is senselessness.v.3
·      Do not expect  wisdom always in high places; expect fools  to sometimes be on the throne of your country (v.16); Conversely do not be a fool in the way you deal with the political rulers of your country  (10:4, 20)
·   Know how to use your tools  wisely! Only fools  play with  snakes!   (10 :8-11)
·         Watch your   tendency towards foolish words !(10:12-14)

The message of Ecclesiastes 10   is also  the message of Proverbs. You shall see it in conclusion  of  Solomon’s  sermon. True wisdom begins, not with  trusting in our own wisdom  (for that is foolishness)  but in trusting God and in His promises through Jesus Christ . Amen !

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