Folly Unfolded – Ecclesiastes 10:1-3


In creative writing classes, teachers tell their students to write about things which they know personally. There comes the time that we must research things and report on them. But for the sake of a good story, personal experience is the best source of information. It makes for a more entertainment, but beyond story-telling, personal experience is more insightful and therefore more practical.

And in that light have you noticed how often Solomon refers to “wisdom” and “folly”? Those are themes bouncing all over the book of Proverbs, like ping-pong ball. And if I counted correctly we find “wisdom versus folly” about two dozen times in this book as well. Solomon knows the subject well; he knows BOTH subjects very well. God gave him a special gift of wisdom in all its important forms – secular and spiritual. And yet his native depravity took him into foolishness and sin to a degree to which only a wealthy king could fall. Yes, he knew both wisdom and folly, and he could therefore address both of them well.

I read of a famous man, who was the guest speaker at a luncheon. His wife was with him – along with several important dignitaries – all at the head table. One of the men sitting next to the podium, happened to notice that on this socks was the monogram “TGIF.” His first thought was the phrase about the joy of coming to Friday and the end of the work week. But why was it on his socks? The man’s speech was brilliant and witty, with everyone having a very good time, except for the speaker’s wife, who apparently had a spat with her husband that morning. Anyway, the man who saw the monogram later asked the speaker’s wife what the initials meant. We don’t know if she answered in anger or in truth. But she said, “The TGIF on his socks stand for ‘Toes go in first.’” Like Solomon there are a lot of seemingly wise and/or smart people who mix those traits with folly.

I’d like to briefly notice three things about these three verses: Foolishness is self-slanderous, self-destructive and self-incriminating.

In verse one we are reminded that foolisheness is self-incriminating.

That is, sin has a habit of exposing itself. Remember that the Jews loved beautiful odors and ointments. Maybe it was because they didn’t often bathe. They had laws about ceremonial cleansing, but little about scrubbing with soap and water. So they detected a need for perfumes and scented ointments. Also when priests and kings were inducted into office, they were anointed, and sometimes drenched, in fragrant perfumes. Ointments were also important medicines, as they are still today.

An “apothecary” was a person who was skilled in knowing just what ingredients to mix together in an ointment – for whatever purpose was involved. We might call him a “druggist” today. Obviously those first apothecaries didn’t have the luxury of air-tight containers and shrink wrap. Maybe they tried to seal up their products, but they weren’t usually successful. From time to time contaminants got into their products, and eventually they were ruined. You might be able to ruin a carpet without creating a terrible odor. You might be able to ruin your dining room table without causing a stink, except before your wife. But that apothecary’s ointment is going to stink when it goes bad. It can change from being the very best smelling ointment to the very worst thing imaginable. And so is the introduction of even a little foolishness into a wise man’s life.

Think about the illustration of the flies. They are relatively insignificant, compared to the charge of a herd of bison or a bull in a china shop. We might be irritated to find a blue bottle fly in our house, but they are a fact of life when camping. Sometimes foolishness can appear in what seems to be the most insignificant ways or situations. And depending on the flies involved, they can be almost too small to even see. At times its almost as if you can get a dozen of them on the head of a nail – they seem so insignificant.

Those flies illustrate foolishness and remember that foolishness can take on many forms. There are hundreds if not thousands of different kinds of flying insects. Foolishness can come in the form of ideas and in methods of thinking. The apparently brilliant economist, physicist or even theologian who swallows the lies about evolution. It might be someone who has impressed us with wisdom, until we find that he’s considering Mormonism.

But more frequent than intellectual foolishness is the practical kind. Before it was all that common, I used to work with an accomplished computer programer. But she was also very close to being the world’s most sour person. There was probably something at home or elsewhere in her life, which pushed her in that direction. She might have been the smartest, the most competent computer expert in Coeur d’Alene, but at 8:30 a.m. nearly every morning she destroyed her reputation with the dead flies of grumpiness. There are thousands of varieties of flies. We all know people who are so completely self-centered that they drive others away. Do you know anyone who ruins his or her reputation by destroying other’s reputations with gossip? How about the dead flies of procrastination or slothfulness?

The Bible describes Christians as vessels – vases, bottles, pots – some kind of container. In several places the Lord talks about making pots of His own design and for His purpose. And when He has a vessel which doesn’t meet His high standards, He has the right, as the Potter, to destroy that vessel to make room for another. Ans so Paul exhorts the Christian “be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” And what must we do to become that vessel of usefulness? “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” To what “these” does he refer? Simply put – “foolishness.”

Let your mind sail through the Bible and notice illustrations of this proverb about the apothecary’s stinking pot. There is godly, good, and wise Eli, the High Priest. But he let in foolish flies in regard to his sons, and his reputation was ruined. And David, the man after God’s own heart, was tainted with just a few major dead flies. What about Peter? It took John Mark years to wash off the stinky perfume that he put on his face when he forsook the ministry of Paul. What of Noah? What of Jonah? And as I say, Solomon knew of what he was speaking.

Verse 1 points out that foolishness is self-incriminating. It doesn’t require big neon signs to point the way to the foolish person. Just follow the stink.

Verse 2 reminds us that folly is self-destructive.

Now for you folk who are left-handed, don’t go jumping to conclusions about this verse. The idea is not that south-paws are in any way inferior to north-paws. Just because the Roman word for left-handedness is “sinister” that isn’t to what Solomon refers. He didn’t know Latin. Rather remember the Biblical principle that sitting at someone’s right-hand was considered to be a place of high honor. And also if a person is right handed, then usually the left hand is weaker and less skilled.

What makes the wise man truly wise, is not so much the things he has stored in his head. Rather it is the godly content of his heart. I have read that if we could illustrate all the knowledge of man from the very beginning up to 1845 we could use a line about an inch long. I suppose that technically, the line should start sometime after the beginning – perhaps at the Tower of Babel or the flood. The accumulation of knowledge started at close to zero once again the flood. Anyway, the knowledge gained from 1845 to 1945 would be about a 3 inches in comparison to what was learned during the earlier two thousand years. But then from 1945 to 1975 we’d need a line about 600 feet long. And from 1975 to 1995 the increase of facts and technology doubled to over a thousand feet. But in the past 30 years we’d need a line about a mile long.

And yet the truth is – our ability to get along, our spiritual acumen and our social skills have decreased. Man has thrown his heart down from his right hand in order to pick up a thousand lesser things. One day as D.L. Moody got up to preach a note was handed to him. He assumed that it was some sort of announcement, but he didn’t get a chance to look at it. As he hushed the congregation he opened the note and found that it said only one thing: “Fool.” Then looking up he said, “I’ve gotten a lot of foolish notes and letters that were not signed. This is the first time that I ever got a note without a message – just the signature.” Foolishness is everywhere.

In Psalm 110 we read that God the Father told the Son to sit forever His right hand. The meaning as seen in the Psalm is that He was near and ever-ready to protect His Son. And I think we have the right to apply that same to us. The Lord is at the right hand of his saint to bless us. But the fool works towards his own destruction, by keeping his own sinful heart firmly planted in his own strong hand. For the average human being there is no room for the Lord in highest place of honor.

Junior Reynoso, was in prison, and his time was just about up; he was due to be released in 34 days. So he had been given more and more liberty, until he was working outside the prison in a road crew. But with a month left on his sentence he saw a chance to escape, and he grabbed it. He was caught a few days later, and in fact his mother was the one to report his whereabouts. Then because of his escape his sentence was extended 5 more years. He exchanged 34 days for 1826 days of prison time – he was a fool. Foolishness is self-destructive.

And it is self-slanderous as well.

“Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool.” If some people would stay at home then the world wouldn’t know how mean and difficult they were. And if others wouldn’t open their mouths, the world wouldn’t know how stupid they are.

I heard of an experiment involving a dozen honey bees, a dozen houseflies and a glass bottle. All the insects were put inside the bottle with the lid off. It was turned on its side and a bright light was placed at the bottom – at the closed end of the bottle. The bees tried with all their might to get to the light, but they couldn’t and eventually died in the jar. But the stupid houseflies just buzzed around the jar until all escaped.. I don’t know if that proves anything or not, but I thought that it was a nice illustration.

Does verse 3 imply we should all stay indoors and out of the rain, lest our foolishness seep through our makeup? No, its just stating a fact. The lesson is this – we need to discover our areas of our weakness and foolishness and destroy them or at least limit them.

As I have said several times, In the first chapters of Proverbs, wisdom is a synonym of the Lord Jesus . I leave you with the exhortation to study Christ and apply what you learn of Him to your life. “I need Jesus, my need I now confess. No friend like Him in times of deep distress; I need Jesus, the need I gladly own; Though some may bear their load alone, Yet I need Jesus.”