As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,(Eccl. 10:1-4 NIV)
so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honour.
The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
but the heart of the fool to the left.
Even as fools walk along the road,
they lack sense
and show everyone how stupid they are.
If a ruler’s anger rises against you,
do not leave your post;
calmness can lay great offences to rest.
As we saw at the end of the previous chapter, folly is often more highly regarded than wisdom and honour. So much more weight is given to folly than to wisdom that folly has an excessive impact in our lives. We give two major significant qualities such as wisdom and honour less value than a little folly.
The point is graphically made by the opening image, ‘As dead flies give perfume a bad smell’. We may not be so familiar with flies in ointment or perfume, but we are well aware of the pungent smell of flies in a decomposing animal that has died at the side of the road. The memory of such an unpleasant smell helps make the point that a small amount of folly can pollute the impact of wisdom and honour. What is meant to smell beautiful is being made to smell bad by the infiltration of a small foreign body. This is the pervasive effect of folly in our lives or in our nation. Think of how the massive amount of wisdom is contained in the Scriptures that guides us in a wise way to live, but a decision to rule God out of our lives spreads into lifestyles and the laws of our land.
It may be tempting to attempt to squeeze a political comment in here about right leaning and left leaning politicians. The Preacher is saying here that right is good and left is bad. However, attempting to apply that politically would be extracting a meaning from Scripture that is not there, and it would also misrepresent reality as there would appear to be good and bad examples of politicians on both sides of the political divide. There are sinners making up both sides.
The main point describes those who are inclined to right and those who are inclined to wrong. This is typical of wisdom literature in its emphasis of two ways to live, the wise way and the foolish way.
The people of Nineveh have been so polluted in their thinking by sin that they have lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong.
And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left– and also many animals?”(Jon. 4:11 NIV)
This would appear to describe our nation in the 21st century. So much virtue signalling is associated in identifying oneself with what the bible clearly describes as sinful behaviour. Yet the one who puts forward the biblical view is vilified as the purveyor of bigotry and ignorance.
Wisdom and folly have a profound impact on how our heart is inclined. The fact that the people of God have a heart that is inclined to the wisdom of the Bible is entirely due to the work of God in our lives. God has written His law upon our hearts and caused us to want to do things His way. When we have a sense of outrage (as we should have) about the state of our nation we need to humbly remember the ‘pit’ out of which we were taken.
The condition of the heart decides the road along which we choose to travel. The fool advertises his folly by his lifestyle. It is impossible for the fool to hide or disguise his folly. Folly is a deficiency of the heart, it lacks sense. The human heart is not whole without the fear of the Lord. Yet society and sadly many within the church represent this folly as progressive development, as keeping in touch with society. John Stott teaches us in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount that Christianity is counter cultural and that we should have a prophetic role in society.
The folly of today’s foolish society is compounded by the fact that they decry the wise as being foolish.
Verse four seems like a sudden digression but there is a link with the first three verses. The foolish are vocal about their lifestyle choices and opinions. When that foolish person is in a position of authority and rails against the wise, then it can in extremis threaten the life of the person. The Preacher’s advice is that they should not flee the scene because the wisdom of composure is appropriate to cause the ruler’s anger to abate.
Lord help us to have our hearts inclined to obey Your word. Forgive us when the impulsive desires of our hearts are inclined towards that which is wrong or that which is inspired by our own sense of self. Help us to discern the difference between right and wrong. When we are presenting the wisdom of Your word, help us to do that with the wisdom of composure for Christ our Saviour’s sake. Amen.