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Ecc 10:1 Dead flies cause the oil of the perfumer to send forth an evil odour; so does a little folly outweigh wisdom and honour-
Solomon knew and warned that a little folly can destroy the man who is in reputation for wisdom and honour (Ecc. 10:1 AV). Solomon had “honour” [s.w.] to an unprecedented extent (1 Kings 3:13). But in the same book he admits that he, the man famed world-wide for wisdom, gave himself to folly (Ecc. 2:3). He knew so well the error and folly of his ways, but he could only preach the lesson but not heed it. He “saw that wisdom exceedeth folly” (2:13)- but so what... He therefore has himself in view here; just as in the preceding verse he seems to understand himself as the sinner who had undone so much good.

Ecclesiastes contains many allusions to Solomon's personal state; it is largely autobiographical. Yet in  those  passages,  he  seems to express no personal regret or desire  for  repentance. Instead he is quite content to just lament his  own sad spiritual collapse, and rest content behind the  excuse that nothing really matters. To describe his apostacy as only a "little folly" indicates the death of Solomon's conscience, and his fantastic ability to minimalize his own errors.  


Ecc 10:2 A wise man’s heart is at his right hand, but a fool’s heart at his left-
I have suggested on :1 and :3 that Solomon has himself in view, dissecting his own spiritual collapse as he does in the preceding verses of Ecc. 9. So I suggest this too is him stating that he was not really the true "wise man" but the fool, because wisdom had been "far from me" (Ecc. 7:23). Here he puts it another way, in saying that a truly wise man has his heart at his right hand, under his control, with his wisdom in his heart. Whereas Solomon sees himself as the fool whose heart was not under his control, spiritual mindedness and psychological self discipline had not been practiced by him at all. And despite realizing that, he still doesn't repent. 

The Old Testament frequently speaks of man as having two "sides" to his character; one that wished to serve God, and the other which was rebellious. Ecc. 10:2 shows how that the spiritual man is not only aware of this, but he consciously acts to control these two sides: "A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left". This kind of self-knowledge is sadly lacking in most human beings, and Solomon is admitting it had been lacking in himself. Proverbs 7,8 likewise has the picture of two women, personifying the flesh and spirit (Prov. 7:12 cp. 8:2,3). Against this Old Testament background, there developed a strong Jewish tradition that the right hand side of a man was his spiritual side, and the left hand side was the equivalent of the New Testament 'devil'. The Lord Jesus referred to this understanding when He warned: "Let not your left hand know what your right hand does" (Mt. 6:3)- implying that the good deeds of the spiritual man would be misused by the 'devil', e.g. in using them as grounds for spiritual pride.

“The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left” (Ecc. 10:2 NIV) has been understood as referring not so much to right and wrong, good and evil, as to the highest good and lesser good (cp. how the left hand can stand for simply lesser blessing rather than outright evil, e.g. Gen. 48:13-20). The fool inclines to lower commitment. The wise will always incline to the maximum, wholehearted level. And Solomon realizes that this is how he has been.


Ecc 10:3 Yes also, when the fool walks by the way, his understanding fails him, and he says to everyone that he is a fool-
See on :1,5. The fool whose wisdom fails him in practice [when he "walks by the way"] clearly refers to Solomon. He is proclaiming through this writing we now know as the book of Ecclesiastes that he is a fool. For he has abrogated his previous Divine wisdom, and turned from Yahweh to idols. His self analysis is profoundly accurate, but it is a feature of human nature that we can self analyze correctly, but still do nothing about it. Repentance can be hid from our eyes. Solomon is such a powerful lesson to us all who have known God's wisdom.


Ecc 10:4 If the spirit of the ruler rises up against you, don’t leave your place; for gentleness lays great offenses to rest-
The reference may be to David soothing Saul, and Solomon seems to twist this to mean that he as the ruler should be placated by any he happens to be angry with: "If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for soothing will put an end to great offences" (LXX). He is recognizing [as explained on :1-3] that he is as foolish as Saul whom God rejected, although he had himself turned away from God at this time. 


Ecc 10:5 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, the sort of error which proceeds from the ruler-
Again, Solomon's self analysis is spot on. He is the ruler from whom error proceeds. He knew that a little folly outweighs all the wisdom a man may have (Ecc. 10:1), and yet he gave himself to folly, whilst holding on to wisdom (Ecc. 1:17). A true fool is one whose wisdom fails him in practice (“when he walks by the way”, 10:3); and especially is this acute when this “error… proceeds from the ruler” (10:5). It’s all about Solomon himself. The same word for "error" is used by Solomon in Ecc. 5:6, where I suggested he has in view his "error" [as he now sees it] of building a temple for Yahweh, the God from whom he had now turned away. The word is usually translated "ignorance"; but even for sins of ignorance there were sacrifices prescribed. But he has no interest in repentance or putting things right. And he is blasphemously considering all his previous Divinely granted wisdom as ignorance.


Ecc 10:6 Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in a low place-
This again demonstrates to Solomon the pointless nature of wisdom, because fools get great dignity and respect whereas the wise don't. And for Solomon, it was all about image and externalities. He had experienced "great dignity" such as no ruler had experienced. But he realized that he had been a fool at the same time. He had not allowed wisdom to have any place in his life or personal walk (see on :1-3). And so he considered himself the parade example of how folly got great dignity, and not wisdom.   


Ecc 10:7 I have seen servants on horses, and princes walking like servants on the earth-
This indicates Solomon didn't think Prov. 19:10 was  true in practice: “Delight is not seemly for a fool; much less for a servant to have rule over princes”. He was abrogating his former wisdom. He thought that in reality, servants do rule over princes. And he likely has in view the rebellion and future success which he foresaw of his servant Jeroboam.


Ecc 10:8 He who digs a pit may fall into it; and whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake-
It is a common theme that the wicked snare themselves, falling into their own pit, judged by their own words, rather than God specifically snaring them (e.g. Ps. 7:15; 9:15; 57:6; Prov. 26:27; 28:10; Ecc. 10:8). But Solomon appears to be using this global truth to the specific end of demonstrating that "time and chance", random bad luck, happen to people no matter how hard they work. Throughout Proverbs he had glorified hard work. But he now abrogates that wisdom by saying that even the wise, hard working citizen can hit unexpected calamity. And so, he is reasoning, wisdom and hard work are not at all what he had made them out to be; see on :10. 


Ecc 10:9 Whoever carves out stones may be injured by them. Whoever splits wood may be endangered thereby-
These are more examples of the theme explained on :8; that even the wise, hard working citizen can hit unexpected calamity. And so, he is reasoning, wisdom and hard work are not at all what he had made them out to be; see on :10. The reference to the man who is endangered by splitting wood may be to how the same phrase is used of the men of Bethshemesh in 1 Sam. 6:14. They split wood and sacrificed with joy that the ark had returned to them; but then they looked inside the ark and were slain. And so, Solomon reasons, wisdom and Yahweh worship are pointless. But of course the point was that they were disobedient. The ark was indeed a blessing, but they abused it through harnessing its return to their own self interest and love of wealth, just as Solomon did.   


Ecc 10:10 If the axe is blunt, and one doesn’t sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but skill brings success-
See on :8. LXX "If the axe-head should fall off, then the man troubles his countenance, and he must put forth more strength: and in that case skill is of no advantage to a man". This argues that wisdom or skill is all the same limited if there isn't the right material to apply the wisdom to. And that was so true with Solomon. This theme of the limitation of wisdom continues in :11,12. AV "wisdom is profitable to direct". "Direct" is the word translated "prosper" in Ecc. 11:6, where  Solomon concludes that finally we have no way to "prosper", so the advantage of wisdom is minimal.


Ecc 10:11 If the snake bites before it is charmed, then is there no profit for the charmer’s tongue-
As noted on :9,10, Solomon is saying this to prove that the words of the wise, like those of the charmer's tongue, are not really that effective. Because a snake can bite you before it hears the charmer, and so there is no profit in the charmer. Just as Solomon now saw no "profit" in wisdom. The snake bite of death will come to all men, he reasoned, whether wise or foolish, and whether or not they hear the words of wisdom.

But we can note the AV: Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler [same word translated ‘tongue’] is no better” (Ecc. 10:11). A man’s words are counted as who he is; for this is the significance of our words:

“You are taken up in the lips of talkers [s.w. tongue]” (Is. 59:3)

“Let not an evil speaker [s.w. tongue] be established” (Ps. 140:11)

“You are taken up in the lips of talkers [s.w. tongues]” (Ez. 36:3).


Ecc 10:12 The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but a fool is swallowed by his own lips-
The LXX would continue the theme of the limited power of wisdom: "The words of a wise mouth are gracious: but the lips of a fool will swallow him up", referring to the wise being swallowed by the foolish. Solomon presses this to prove to himself that there is no advantage of wisdom over folly in this life. And he may well have himself in view, as he so often does- swallowed up, a figure of condemnation, by his own lips. Perhaps the Lord is alluding here when He taught that by our words we are condemned (Mt. 12:37).


Ecc 10:13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness; and the end of his talk is mischievous madness-
And yet Solomon the wise man had himself turned to "folly", despite knowing it ended up with sin and mischief. And it is still true that "They start out with silly talk and end up with pure madness" (GNB). But Solomon has himself in view. He considers that the words of Divine wisdom he had taught at "the beginning" were foolishness, and now he feels that they had ended up as madness. His blasphemy is extreme. See on :14. 


Ecc 10:14 A fool also multiplies words-
See on :13. The criticism of "many words" in Ecc. 5:7 seems a reference to his own writing down of the wisdom God had given him, codifying it into books such as the compilation we have in the book of Proverbs (Ecc. 12:10,12). He associates the "many words" with "dreams", perhaps an intensive plural for "a great dream". It was as a result of the dream of 1 Kings 3:5 that he was given the "many words" of wisdom which he now considered unhelpful and irrelevant because death meant that there was no particular ultimate advantage of wisdom over folly; wisdom was at best profitable in this life in some short term sense. And he therefore associates "many words" with folly (Ecc. 10:14). He considers he had been foolish by preaching and believing those many words of Divine wisdom. Now, for him, the true wisdom was in idolatry and not Yahweh worship in His temple.

Man doesn’t know what will be; and that which will be after him, who can tell him?-
This is a frequent lament by Solomon, that he doesn't know the future. He wrote this at the end of his life, and the future in view was death. And yet the promises to David and Abraham clearly offered the resurrection of the body and future eternal inheritance of the earth. Even throughout Proverbs, Solomon sees wisdom as largely just good for this life. He has no eternal, Kingdom perspective, nor does he strongly factor in the final day of judgment. He considered himself the Messianic king, and his kingdom to be God's promised Kingdom. And now he was himself facing death, he realizes that the future is a fearful unknown. See on :15.  Even at Solomon's time, the hope of resurrection from the dead and final judgment and reward in God's Kingdom upon the earth was well established. David so clearly believed it. But Solomon willfully refuses to.


Ecc 10:15 The labour of fools wearies every one of them; for he doesn’t know how to go to the city-
Here and in :14, Solomon may have himself in view, as the one who had laboured to find wisdom (Ecc. 2:2) and had written down many words of wisdom in his Proverbs. He is considering himself to have been foolish in his love of wisdom. Perhaps GNB describes his anger with himself: "Only someone too stupid to find his way home would wear himself out with work".


Ecc 10:16 Woe to you, land, when your king is a servant, and your princes eat in the morning!-
GNB and LXX "Woe to thee, O city, whose king is young, and thy princes eat in the morning!". Ecclesiastes begins with mention of the city of Jerusalem. Perhaps Solomon thinks he had been too young when he became king, and had therefore foolishly followed Divine wisdom. Or perhaps he saw clearly that his young son Rehoboam would not be a wise king, and his princely advisors would be unwise; just as indeed happened (1 Kings 12:11). Solomon saw precisely the nature of his own failures, and the fruit this would bear in the reign of his son. And his bitter references to his servant would suggest he likewise foresaw Jeroboam's rebellion. His sensitivity and understanding were impressive; but he utterly failed to personalize any of it.


Ecc 10:17 Blessed are you, land, when your king is the son of nobles, and your princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!-
Perhaps Solomon continues his lament that he had not been the great king he might have been (see on :16). Maybe he considers that a true king must be the son of nobles; whereas he had been the son of a mere shepherd boy. He had indulged in over eating and alcohol, as he admits in Ecc. 2. Having been so obsessed with "my father David", using the phrase hundreds of times and always throughout Proverbs alluding to historical incidents which glorified David... now he was no longer living out parental expectation. I explained on Ecc. 5:1-4 that he considered his father's vow to build the temple to have been foolish. So perhaps now he is again digging back at his once beloved father David.

Or we can read this another way. Solomon was so confident that he was or would be the Messiah that he seems to have felt that he was beyond the possibility of sinning; real self-examination and the sense of the possibility of failure just didn’t exist for him. He says that the land of Israel is “blessed” because her king is the son of a noble, and she will be cursed if her ruler is a servant (Ecc. 10:16,17 RVmg.). Solomon proudly presented himself as the son of King David- and he makes a clear swipe at Jeroboam, the pretender to the throne who was a servant (1 Kings 11:26). By reasoning like this, Solomon sets himself in direct opposition to the spirit of Jesus, who declared that the servant is to be the King of all. Thus Solomon’s self-justification, his self-defensiveness, his lack of focus on the future Messiah, led him to miss totally the spirit of Christ. And further, it made him into some kind of anti-Christ. The record in 1 Kings 11:31-40 brings this out clearly- God assures Solomon that he and his line will reign on the throne for ever if he is obedient. But he then straight away seeks to kill Jeroboam who was pretending to the throne- because he didn’t pay attention to the import of God’s conditional promise to him. And we too can so focus on present realities that we forget the sure promise of the Kingdom, and think that the conditional hope which we too have can only be ensured by our own politics, rather than faith and obedience. 


Ecc 10:18 By slothfulness the roof sinks in; and through idleness of the hands the house leaks-
As noted on :16, it appears Solomon foresees the breakdown of his kingdom after his death; and he implies his son will be lazy, even though :15 GNB concludes that hard work is vain. Solomon may even have in view the decline of the temple, his major building project. For he had forsaken it and instead worshipped the idols in the temples he had built for them nearby to it.


Ecc 10:19 A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes the life glad; and money is the answer for all things-
According to Ecc. 2, these were the things Solomon had enjoyed to the ultimate degree; laughter ["mirth"], feasts, wine and money. But even wealth was not the answer for all things, as he is regretting throughout Ecclesiastes. So we can take this as him quoting secular wisdom and showing that his own miserable life proves it untrue.

Solomon had seen wisdom as the way to wealth and "pleasure" in this life [s.w. "laughter" here] , and that is the basis for his appeal to men to be wise and accept his wisdom (Prov. 10:23). But David uses the word only of the "pleasure" of the future, restored Kingdom of God on earth (Ps. 126:2); whereas Solomon wanted it all now, just as the 'prosperity gospel' likewise does. And yet as he got older, Solomon realized that such "pleasure" from material things is not in fact pleasure, and he uses the word several times in Ecclesiastes of how pleasure in this life is vain (Ecc. 2:2; 7:3; 10:19). This approach is in fact a contradiction of his seeking after "pleasure" in Proverbs. He came to this nihilistic position because he failed to perceive that the true "pleasure" is not now, but in the future Kingdom.  


Ecc 10:20 Don’t curse the king, no, not in your thoughts; and don’t curse the rich in your bedroom: for a bird of the sky may carry your voice, and that which has wings may tell the matter
-
Having here publically advertised his own folly and bad rulership of his people, he now warns solemnly against cursing him or even thinking bad of him in the heart. Even in old age, he was desperate to cling on to his power.