The second half of Ecclesiastes picks up a different tone to the first. Having established that wisdom from God is the basis for a life of meaning under the sun, Solomon describes what wisdom looks like lived out.
For Solomon there is one way to differentiate between people: wise and foolish. And foolishness is a lot easier to come by than wisdom.
It may be known in heaven that wisdom is ‘more precious than jewels’ (Proverbs 3:15) but the scales tip the other way here on earth. That which gets resoundingly greeted in our day as ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ will not necessarily have anything to do with wisdom.
Wisdom is not just an intellectual matter. In the bible folly and sin are intertwined. People are foolish in their minds, yes, but in scripture the mind and heart are locked together. The fool says in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1). Wisdom, like folly, begins in the heart – and affects the whole person (Ecclesiastes 10:2).
This helps distinguish wisdom from information, and helps explain why books like Ecclesiastes and Proverbs talk about sin and stupidity as thought they were almost the same.
In the end the world is not suffering for a lack of information. To be sure, education and knowledge solve enormous problems all the time. But there are problems which further information has never solved and
The person who founds their life on Jesus is building a house of wisdom (Matthew 7:24-27), and since the majority don’t do that (Matthew 7:13), the world is a fairly stupid place. We shouldn’t be surprised. Neither should we flit to and fro from this King to that Prime Minister, as if any person or system is going to deliver us all from the folly (Ecclesiastes10:4). The human race, being inherently unwise, is pretty hit-and-miss when it comes to putting the right people in power anyway (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7).
So get wisdom. It’s more valuable than having the right man in the White House – or Downing Street. Though it’s a lot more costly…
There are a couple of opposing mistakes to avoid as we handle the challenges of our toil. We’re firstly warned about methods and principles – they are not to be confused for each other.
The tool we use to get a job done is not as important as the job itself (Ecclesiastes 10:10). How many times do we delay the progress of God’s work in our lives, our families, our church or our city simply because we don’t want to stop and question our methods?
Maybe in your life there is an area of real difficulty and exhaustion for you which could actually be solved by simple and wise changes to your methods, your time management, your diet, your exercise, your level of responsibility. Stop once in a while and ask yourself some questions.
The opposing danger is to flood our minds with training and understanding but take no action whatsoever – perhaps delaying action to some magic moment when our emotions will click into place and everyone will be exceedingly happy with our contribution to the task in hand (Ecclesiastes 10:11).
Solomon says wake up! The stakes are high, there’s a snake to be handled, do your thing now! Take action and implement the plan.
This is a frightening warning. It’s possible to fluff our biggest responsibilities because we a). Don’t ever consider our progress, preferring instead to slog away fruitlessly and thoughtlessly; or b) imagine that we will never have to fight a snake and the battle will go our way automatically.
This is stupid; and horribly serious.
How does this apply to your marriage, parenting, prayer life, finances, witnessing…?
In verse 12 Solomon goes on to distinguish between foolish and wise talk. Many people are simply not worth listening to – in fact they are trouble (Proverbs 17:12). To make things particularly vexing one of the traits of the fool is that he imagines he is wise – and so dispenses his ‘wisdom’ liberally (Ecclesiastes 10:14). He may even be stupid enough to mistake his idiot decisions (which have brought him and others nothing but misery) for qualifications to sprinkle the world with ‘what he has learned’.
Choose your mentors with care. For wisdom go to the wise. Go quickly, meekly and gratefully. And don’t talk much – just listen hard. Especially to the bits you don’t like. Ask yourself why you don’t like them.
If you want to sin you will find an ‘expert’ who agrees with your preference. But that has nothing to do with wisdom.
The goal of this is not self-improvement. God is happy to flood your life with benefits of his wisdom, but it is in the interests of a greater goal: his own glory in the land. There are many lives not yet exposed to his wisdom. We live in a city known for its ‘feasting’ (partying) – but it is not godly feasting ‘for strength’ but for ‘drunkenness’ (Ecclesiastes 10:16-17). For such a city Solomon has a word: ‘Woe to you…!’
We may be unimpressive in ourselves. Solomon himself was a child when he became King
(Ecclesiastes 10:16). But he recognised his deficiency and prayed – for wisdom. This should be the daily prayer of all in CCK. We need wisdom for the city.
The answer is the emergence of a Kingdom people who are princes with God (Ecclesiastes 10:17). Through the work of Jesus they have forsaken their folly and exchanged it for his wisdom.
The fact that great wisdom is often effectively undone by a little folly (Ecclesiastes 10:1) should teach us to put our trust in something even greater. Ultimately we must look to God.