What Did the Wise Man Mean?
The Sad Plight of the Fool
Contrasting the effect of the wise one’s words with those of a fool, Solomon wrote: “The words of the mouth of the wise one mean favor, but the lips of the stupid one swallow him up.” (Eccl. 10:12) From the mouth of wise persons come forth words that impart what is good and favorable to the listener. (Compare Ephesians 4:29.) Their sayings also are more likely to receive a favorable response. But the speech of the stupid one exposes him to reproach and thus ruins him or ‘swallows him up.’
The “stupid one” utters foolishness from start to finish, often arguing from a wrong premise and winding up with false conclusions. Solomon describes this as follows: “The start of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end afterward of his mouth is calamitous madness. And the foolish one speaks many words. Man does not know what will come to be; and that which will come to be after him, who can tell him?” (Eccl. 10:13, 14) The fool thinks that he can do this.
Such a person makes life hard for himself also in other ways. Solomon continues: “The hard work of the stupid ones makes them weary, because not one has come to know how to go to the city.” (Eccl. 10:15) Persons who fail to use good judgment may toil endlessly, tiring themselves out, and yet accomplish virtually nothing truly worth while. They stubbornly ignore what common sense should teach them. They miss even what is obvious, things comparable to the easily recognizable public thoroughfare leading to a city.
When Foolishness Exists Among the Ruling Class
Foolishness is bad enough when exhibited by the ordinary citizen. But when rulers fail to use good sense and sound judgment, this is to the ruination of the government and the hurt of its subjects. “How will it be with you, O land,” asks Solomon, “when your king is a boy and your own princes keep eating even in the morning?” (Eccl. 10:16) It is indeed a sad situation when a ruler has the characteristics of an inexperienced youth and is surrounded by princes or counselors who have no interest in the affairs of state. If they spend their time eating in the morning when they should be attending to their duties, the kingdom will fall apart.
Contrasting the effect of good governmental administration, Solomon continues: “Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of noble ones [hence, himself a wise and noble ruler] and your own princes eat at the proper time for mightiness [to gain strength for their work], not for mere drinking [not giving themselves up to self-indulgence].” (Eccl. 10:17) Yes, wise rulers can contribute much toward the happiness of their subjects.
The proverbial saying that Solomon thereafter introduces illustrates that ruin and decay result whenever vital work is left undone. We read: “Through great laziness the beamwork sinks in, and through the letting down of the hands the house leaks.” (Eccl. 10:18) A house that is not kept in good repair will fall into a dilapidated condition. The roof will sag and leak. Likewise, ruination follows when the affairs of state are not cared for properly.
At this point Solomon presents another proverbial saying: “Bread is for the laughter of the workers, and wine itself makes life rejoice; but money is what meets a response in all things.” (Eccl. 10:19) Eating, along with pleasant conversation, can be most enjoyable. But bread cannot be obtained without money, and there is limited rejoicing from drinking wine when a person has very little for life’s necessities. In this present system, money is the means by which all material things can be obtained and, therefore, it “meets a response in all things.” The thought behind Solomon’s statement may be that through industriousness a man can get the money he needs for bread and wine, for the comforts that add to the enjoyment of life.
Next Solomon admonishes: “Even in your bedroom do not call down evil upon the king himself, and in the interior rooms where you lie down do not call down evil upon anyone rich; for a flying creature of the heavens will convey the sound and something owning wings will tell the matter.” (Eccl. 10:20) Should the affairs of state be neglected by the ruling class, the wise person still does not take needless risks. If it is not within his power to correct a situation, of what benefit would it be to grumble and complain in the remotest part of the house? A person may think that no one can hear him. But at times things come to light in the most unusual and unexpected ways. So why endanger one’s peace and security by making injudicious remarks about persons in authority? (Compare Matthew 12:36, 37; Romans 13:1; Titus 3:1, 2; 1 Peter 2:13-17.) How practical is Solomon’s counsel!