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Wisdom is better

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20

1. Hard to convince

What does it take to convince you of something? What does it take to help you change your mind, to switch from one thing to another? Are you easy to persuade or do you dig your heels in? How hard is it, to get you to change what you are doing? For some of us convincing us to change our minds is almost impossible even when we know that whatever it is that someone is trying to convince us of might be better than what we are presently doing or what we have. We don’t want to change what we are doing no matter how much better the alternative might seem to be.

Switching to a Mac

Of course, there are times when we are just not convinced that something is better. Like me and my opinion about getting a Mac computer instead of PC. I don’t know how many times over the last thirty or so you years my friends and colleagues who have ended up switching to a Mac have tried to convince me that leaving my PC would be better. I remember my first PC that I bought in about 1985/6. I even made a special little desk for it built so that it could happily sit there in the corner of the room. It had two floppy disks so that you could leave the operating disk in while using the other. I eventually installed what I think was a 10-megabyte hard drive in it. After living with PC for so long it would be very difficult to get me to change.

The wisdom of fearing the Lord

Well friends that is how it can be with folly. Having lived so long with the foolishness of living our lives for ourselves (rather than for our creator) it is difficult to embrace the wisdom of fearing the Lord and listening to him (3:14, 5:1-7). But this is what the Teacher has been trying to convince us of in the book of Ecclesiastes and in the reading today he wants to convince us that wisdom is better than what he regards as the madness of folly. The teacher encourages us to heed the words of the wise by showing us that wisdom is better than the strength of the strong and powerful (9:13-17) and that sin and its partner folly are really the wrecking ball of life under the sun (9:18-10:20).

2. Wisdom is better

The teacher wants us to understand that wisdom is better than folly. It doesn’t matter who we are in this world, wisdom is an advantage for living life under the sun.

Wisdom is better than strength and power

In verses 13 to 15 the Teacher highlights the great value of wisdom by recounting his observation of how a poor man’s wisdom rescued a small, ill-equipped city. This city had a great king come up to it and build large siege work against it. The city had few men to fend off the enemy. In terms of military might and muscle this great king obviously had the advantage. But this city had been saved from destruction and ruin by a poor man’s wisdom. It hadn’t been saved through the strength of a king or ruler, or its people, but through the wisdom of just one poor man. But sadly, what also seemed to have happened was once that threat was gone, and the crisis was over everything went back to what it had been, and the poor man was ignored and forgotten, and his words of wisdom went unheeded.

The teacher draws his conclusion then in the verses which follow. He calls us to heed the words of the wise, but he is also aware that sin leads to folly. Let me read them out for you…

Ecclesiastes 9:16-18

16 And I said, “Wisdom is better than strength, but the wisdom of the poor man is despised, and his words are not heeded.” 17 The calm words of the wise are heeded more than the shouts of a ruler over fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner can destroy much good.[1]

The Teacher acknowledges that Wisdom is better than strength of the strong and more powerful or better than the weapons of war. But sadly, the Teacher also says that not everyone heeds the voice of wisdom. In the case of that small city, they quickly forgot the poor man and his words of wisdom.

Wisdom is to be heeded

But the teacher’s urges us to heed the words of the wise. For as the Teacher has been saying throughout the book wisdom has the advantage over folly like light has the advantage over darkness (Eccl 2:13). The Teacher also said that the wise person has eyes in his head while the fool walks in darkness (Eccl. 2:14). He said that wisdom is as good as an inheritance, and that it offers a degree of protection, and it preserves the life of its owner (Eccl 7:12-13).

Wisdom is what we need to navigate life well, so we don’t get ourselves in trouble and pierce ourselves with many griefs. What the Teacher has learnt is that while he can’t know everything about life the way God does, fearing the Lord and listening to him will help him to navigate life without running himself aground or smashing himself on the rocks.

Wisdom helps you to navigate life

Wisdom is like the channel markers that you see as you travel upstream an estuary. You might have seen them out on the water. They are either green or red. You keep the green ones on your right (starboard side) and the red ones on your left (port side) when you are travelling upstream. Without these you wouldn’t’ know the way to go. They help you navigate the river avoiding the things that you can’t see going on under the surface of the water. The channel markers or buoys keep you from running aground on a sand bar or avoiding some sort of underwater hazard so that you can make your way safely up the river.

It’s the same in life. We don’t see everything that is going on in this world. Only God does.  We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but God’s wisdom will help us to navigate our lives here under the sun.

Heed the voice of wisdom

We all need wisdom from God and that is what the teacher is encouraging us to do is to heed that wisdom. We are to fear the Lord and listen to him. I think the NIV translation of verse 17 makes this point more helpfully.

Ecclesiastes 9:17

The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools[2].

We are being encouraged to listen to the voice of the wise over the shouts of a ruler of fools. The quiet words of the wise are to be more valued and honoured than the shouting of a king who rules over a nation of fools.

We must be clear in life as to whose voice we are going to listen to. We might not have a shouting king of fools to contend with, but we have very loud culture that is shouting at us all the time through our TVs, on our phones, on social media passing off the brand of folly as wisdom. We need to be careful. We are to not be distracted by the shouts of those who seem to be the strong in this world or the powerful or the influential, but to listen and heed the voice of God for this is wisdom.

3. Folly spoils the good

But sin and folly are universal spoilers of all that is good. Although the poor man saved the city by his wisdom his words went unheeded. The Teacher seems to suggest that the reason for this was just one sinner. He wrote that one sinner can destroy much good. The teacher talks about sin and what comes with sin, folly in verse 18 of chapter 9 and verse 1 of chapter 10. Wherever sin goes folly will follow.

Ecclesiastes 9:18-10:2

18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner can destroy much good. 1Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil ferment and stink; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.

Sin has always been the wrecking ball of all that is good in this world. It was this way in the garden of Eden, and it is the way for those living under the sun. Even one sinner can destroy much that is good. It only takes a little folly to outweigh wisdom and honour. The choice that sinners are ultimately making is to ignore their Creator and follow their own heat’s sinful desires which lead them down the road of folly.

Ecclesiastes 10:2-3

A wise person’s heart goes to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left. Even when the fool walks along the road, his heart lacks sense, and he shows everyone he is a fool.

Wisdom isn’t treasured like it ought to be (see Prov 3:13-18) because of sin and the inclination of our hearts. The heart of the fool is inclined to the left and the heart of the wise person is inclined to the right. It is their hearts that lead them down the path of folly rather than the path of the wise. They go that way, and they don’t even know that it is folly. The fool lack sense, and everyone can see it as the walk down the road (4). However, they can’t.

The teacher had seen it and what he does in the remainder of chapter 10 is to highlight the how folly spoils life under the sun. A little bit of folly can do a great deal of harm. Without wisdom fools can harm themselves and those who rule can harm others. Fools make bad leaders.

Fools make bad leaders

The teacher has seen the mistakes that foolish leaders have made, and these are recounted in verses 4 to7 and then in verse 16 to 20. The teacher seems to have in mind the sort of ruler who is quick to grow angry and who surrounds themselves with fools for officials.

Ecclesiastes 10:4-7

If the ruler’s anger rises against you, don’t leave your post, for calmness puts great offenses to rest. 5 There is an evil I have seen under the sun, an error proceeding from the presence of the ruler: 6 The fool is appointed to great heights, but the rich remain in lowly positions. 7 I have seen slaves on horses, but princes walking on the ground like slaves.

Foolish rulers make all sorts of mistakes. They are not only quick to grow angry, but they also surround themselves with fools for officials.  They lack the right judgment that is needed to rule wisely, and they promote those who are not equipped to govern others and treat their princes or leaders like slaves and their slaves like nobles.

Rehoboam the son of King Solomon was such a fool. After his father died the people of Israel came to him to make him king but they had one condition. They asked him to lighten the heavy burden that his father had put on the people. Rehoboam asked for three days to think about it. He consulted the elders who had served his father and they told him that if he would be a servant to the people then the people would serve him all the days of his life. It was good advice, but unfortunately fools tend to listen to other fools and turn to them for advice. Instead of listening to their advice Rehoboam gathered all the young men who had grown up with him and followed their advice. He told the Israelites that compared to him his father had gone easy on them.

1 Kings 12:13-14

13 Then the king answered the people harshly. He rejected the advice the elders had given him 14 and spoke to them according to the young men’s advice: “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with barbed whips.”

It is not hard to guess how that went down with most of the people. Most of the tribes turned to Jeroboam and made him their king and the kingdom divided. Unfortunately, fools surround themselves with other fools and when its rulers who do this then whole land suffers. This is what we see in the example that the Teacher gives verse 16 to 20 where a young or immature king surrounds himself with princes or leaders who party to the point that the whole land suffers.

Ecclesiastes 10:16-19

16 Woe to you, land, when your king is a youth and your princes feast in the morning. 17 Blessed are you, land, when your king is a son of nobles and your princes feast at the proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness. 18 Because of laziness the roof caves in, and because of negligent hands the house leaks. 19 A feast is prepared for laughter, and wine makes life happy, and money is the answer for everything.

The teacher pities the land where its leaders are immature and lack wisdom and are lazy and only want to feast and drink to have fun and get drunk. The land that is blessed is the one where the king comes from noble family who has been taught wisdom[3]understands their responsibilities and the proper time to feast and drink and does their eating and drinking for strength rather than to get drunk. Good leaders who are wise are a blessing to a land but those who are immature and lack wisdom are a curse.

A little bit of folly can expose us to harm

But a lack of wisdom is not just a problem for a leader, it is a problem for all of us. We need wisdom to navigate life and little bit of folly can do a great deal of harm. In verses 8 to 9 of chapter 10 the Teacher has listed 4 everyday activities that seem to be making a very similar point. Without wisdom even our every day activities can be dangerous.

Ecclesiastes 10:8-11

The one who digs a pit may fall into it, and the one who breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake. The one who quarries stones may be hurt by them; the one who splits logs may be endangered by them. 10 If the axe is dull, and one does not sharpen its edge, then one must exert more strength; however, the advantage of wisdom is that it brings success. 11 If the snake bites before it is charmed, then there is no advantage for the charmer.

Wisdom preserves the life of the one who possess it. It protects. It shelters us. It helps us to navigate the everyday activities of life under the sun. Of course, we can’t avoid every trouble, but wisdom does help us avoid a lot of unnecessary ones. But in the case of those who embrace folly, even a fool’s tongue will end up causing them grief.

Ecclesiastes 10:12-14

12 The words from the mouth of a wise person are gracious, but the lips of a fool consume him. 13 The beginning of the words from his mouth is folly, but the end of his speaking is evil madness; 14 yet the fool multiplies words. No one knows what will happen, and who can tell anyone what will happen after him?

A fool is his or her own worst enemy. Fools multiply words to their own harm. The words begin with foolishness but in the end their speaking is an evil madness.

Folly is an evil madness

Folly in the end is an evil madness. It isn’t just madness. It isn’t just our minds that have become confused. It is a madness that that arises out of the evil in our heart. It arises out of own selfish desires.

This is what happens when people reject the wisdom that is the fearing the Lord and pleasing him. They become the centre of reality. They ignore God and the fact that they aren’t in control. They think that they have ability to make themselves happy and their thinking becomes futile and warped. They think that a feast is made for laughter and wine makes life merry and money is the answer for everything (10:19). They are this way because instead fearing the Lord and wanting to please him they live to please themselves. They don’t know how to conduct themselves because they are living to please the wrong person. Folly is an evil madness.

4. Turn from folly and embrace wisdom

The Teacher wants us to see the stupidity of folly so that we might turn from it and embrace the words of the wise. We are to fear the Lord and listen to him. If you have been living life as though you are in control of your own destiny, then it’s time to give up on that foolishness. Life was never meant to be all about us. God didn’t create us so that we could live for our own little kingdom that we rule. We don’t find satisfaction or profit that lasts in our labour, or joy and happiness in partying and money is the answer to everything. This is the madness of folly that infects our world.

Sadly, every human heart is inclined towards folly because of our natural inclination to be self-centred. Friends the only way to be cured of such madness is to turn to the one who is God’s wisdom for us and listen to him. The apostle Paul wrote that the Lord Jesus is “wisdom from God for us  – our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). He saves us from our sin, and he restores our wayward hearts. The apostle also said, “In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). He is all that we need to know to navigate life here under the sun.

We don’t need to know everything; we just need to know him and listen to him. The Lord Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt 7:21). It’s his words that guide us in life, that reveal the way to go, that keep us safe until our journey is over and we stand before him holy and righteous. So turn from any folly, don’t go down that road. Keep listening to Jesus and what he has said, what he has revealed in His Word about living life in this fallen world. Don’t listen to the shouting of fools for even a little folly will spoil life under the sun.


[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references are taken from the  Christian Standard Bible (2020). Holman Bible Publishers.

[2] New International Version 2011 Edition.

[3] An example of this sort of wise teaching from a noble parent can be found in Proverbs 31:2-9 where King Lemuel recounts what his mother taught him.