Much has been written in Ecclesiastes about the desirability and benefits of wisdom. The other side of wisdom is the needless pain and cost of foolishness. The Preacher gives Chapter 10 to be a stark warning against living the life of a fool. Read Chapter 10 together with your group and discuss the pitfalls of foolishness and how to avoid them.

Ecclesiastes 10

Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. 

A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left. 

Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he says to everyone that he is a fool. 

If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for calmnesswill lay great offenses to rest. 

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. 

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. 

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.

Preaching about Folly

The Preacher makes 7 observations about foolishness in Ecclesiastes 10. 

  1. A little foolishness contaminates a lot of wisdom (v. 1)
  2. Foolishness leads you in the opposite direction of wisdom (v. 2)
  3. Foolishness is proud of itself (v. 3)
  4. Don’t let foolishness in government surprise you or cause you to do something rash (vv. 4-7)
  5. The way words are used marks a key difference between foolishness and wisdom (vv. 8-14)
  6. The leadership of fools is burden on everyone (vv. 15-19)
  7. The failure of foolishness begins with wrong thinking (v. 20)

While we cannot do much about the foolishness of others, we should clear eyed about the potential for foolishness in our own lives. Those of us in leadership of any form should be wary of allowing foolish thinking or actions to taint the trust that we are given with the livelihoods of other people.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever seen a small amount of folly overwhelm a seemingly larger amount of wisdom?
  • Why do you think the folly is remembered longer than the wise course of action?
  • Do you think a person who is generally seeking after wisdom will be as tempted to folly as someone who is ignoring wisdom?
  • Explain how wisdom and foolishness are “learned traits” that grow with practice?
  • Why does government become such a bastion of foolishness (or why are fools drawn to government)?
  • How can we honor God by practicing patience in the face of government fools?
  • What can be done to encourage wisdom in government?
  • Does or matter more what you say or how you say it?
  • Why is it wise or advantageous to be precise and strategic in your use of words (vv.8-10)?
  • What strategies do you use in your own life to be careful with your words? (Author’s aside: one reason I love theology is that it is one discipline that demands a careful consideration of words. Learning to speak in the terms of theology has been one of the greatest disciplines in learning to appreciate the use of words. For example, the Arian controversy of the early church hinged on whether to use the Greek word homoousian or homoiousian to describe Jesus’ relationship to the Father. This single letter has had HUGE implications for our faith in Jesus.)
  • Why are foolish words such a big struggle for so many of us?
  • How do you feel the weight of leadership in your life?
  • What are your strategies to arrest foolishness “in your mind” before it takes over your life?