If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct. Ecclesiastes 10:10
Sharpen Your Ax
Ecclesiastes 10-12, Summary
Ecclesiastes continues its exploration of ethics. The writer has called on his readers to shape life in view of the certainty of death. Now he continues to outline his defensive ethics, intended to protect the individual not only from the perils of this life but also from too much speculation on life’s meaninglessness. Qoheleth calls for prudence, pessimism, suspicion, responsibility, and kindness. One should not try to understand life but work diligently and enjoy life.
Solomon’s last chapter (12) has been taken as a conversion, a grand return to faith. It is not. It is rather another statement of the fact that man grows old and dies.
Even reason suggests that man’s only hope is some attachment to the eternal and the hope that man’s spirit “returns to God who gave it.” Whatever expectation a man has must lie beyond this world, so man’s best hope is fear God and keep His commandments.
Personal application. Rejoice that you know the Lord and are certain of everlasting blessing.
Don’t expect justice, and you won’t be disappointed (10:5-9). The teacher continues his exposition of defensive ethics. Life may be meaningless, but we still need guidelines to help us make the most of it. Here are some of the things that he advises.
On diligence (10:18). Your accomplishments won’t make life meaningful. But if you work hard shingling your roof, at least your bed won’t be wet at night.
On wealth (10:19). No, money won’t buy happiness, but it will buy most other things. You’re much better off with it. After all, you may as well enjoyr your misery!
On talk (10:20). What you don’t say can’t hurt you. What you do say, might. So keep your thoughts to yourself.
10:2 In ancient thought, the right hand was the place of honor and favor, while the left hand was the reverse.
2 A wise man’s heart is at his right hand, But a fool’s heart at his left.
10:10 The wise person will sharpen the ax. A person of limited training will have to work harder, as though with a dull ax, than someone wiser whose tools are in order.
10 If the ax is dull, And one does not sharpen the edge, Then he must use more strength; But wisdom brings success (wisdom is profitable to direct KJV).
10:11 a serpent may bite: Along with the preceding verses, the point made here is that an unused skill is wasted.
11 A serpent may bite when it is not charmed; The babbler is no different.
10:12, 13 It is the inability of the fool to choose his words carefully that will bring about his own destruction.
10:15 go to the city: If fools are so untrustworthy in ordinary affairs, how can they be trusted when they express their opinion about hereafter?
15 The labor of fools wearies them, For they do not even know how to go to the city!
** Solomon is no fool. So we may perhaps be able to glean some practical life tips from reading this chapter. But when we know the Way, we become wise without putting in so much efforts. We can draw it from God Himself.
But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12:31
10 1 Dead flies putrefy the perfumer’s ointment, And cause it to give off a foul odor; So does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor. 2 A wise man’s heart is at his right hand, But a fool’s heart at his left. 3 Even when a fool walks along the way, He lacks wisdom, And he shows everyone that he is a fool.
4 If the spirit of the ruler rises against you, Do not leave your post; For conciliation pacifies great offenses. 5 There is an evil I have seen under the sun, As an error proceeding from the ruler: 6 Folly is set in great dignity, While the rich sit in a lowly place. 7 I have seen servants on horses, While princes walk on the ground like servants. 8 He who digs a pit will fall into it, And whoever breaks through a wall will be bitten by a serpent. 9 He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, And he who splits wood may be endangered by it. 10 If the ax is dull, And one does not sharpen the edge, Then he must use more strength; But wisdom brings success. 11 A serpent may bite when it is not charmed; The babbler is no different.
12 The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious, But the lips of a fool shall swallow him up; 13 The words of his mouth begin with foolishness, And the end of his talk is raving madness. 14 A fool also multiplies words. No man knows what is to be; Who can tell him what will be after him? 15 The labor of fools wearies them, For they do not even know how to go to the city!
16 Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, And your princes feast in the morning! 17 Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles, And your princes feast at the proper time– For strength and not for drunkenness! 18 Because of laziness the building decays, And through idleness of hands the house leaks. 19 A feast is made for laughter, And wine makes merry; But money answers everything. 20 Do not curse the king, even in your thought; Do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; For a bird of the air may carry your voice, And a bird in flight may tell the matter.