There is an evil I have seen under the sun,
the sort of error that arises from a ruler:
fools are put in many high positions,
while the rich occupy the low ones.
I have seen slaves on horseback,
while princes go on foot like slaves.
Whoever digs a pit may fall into it;
whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.
Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them;
whoever splits logs may be endangered by them.
If the axe is dull
and its edge unsharpened,
more strength is needed,
but skill will bring success.
If a snake bites before it is charmed,
the charmer receives no fee.
Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious,
but fools are consumed by their own lips.
At the beginning their words are folly;
at the end they are wicked madness –
and fools multiply words.
No one knows what is coming –
who can tell someone else what will happen after them?
The toil of fools wearies them;
they do not know the way to town.
Woe to the land whose king was a servant
and whose princes feast in the morning.
Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth
and whose princes eat at a proper time –
for strength and not for drunkenness.
Through laziness, the rafters sag;
because of idle hands, the house leaks.
A feast is made for laughter,
wine makes life merry,
and money is the answer for everything.
Do not revile the king even in your thoughts,(Eccl. 10:5-20 NIV)
or curse the rich in your bedroom,
because a bird in the sky may carry your words,
and a bird on the wing may report what you say.
The Preacher observes that there is an evil in society seen when rulers appoint fools to positions of authority. Those who have wisely proved themselves by acquiring wealth are ignored and given lowly places. Owning horses and riding horses was an indication of status and wealth. But the world was turned upside down as slaves rode the horses and princes walked. This kind of thing is evident in our society. Sports people and movie stars acquire incredible wealth and reputation. Sport or entertainment is their area of expertise, but they are often pressed into the role of contributing to moral and ethical debates, areas where they have not demonstrated any expertise. They use the platform of their award ceremonies (like the Baftas) to make moral and political statements and become influencers in our society. This is a dangerous precedence which substitutes showbiz rhetoric for sound judgement and wisdom.
When fools are appointed to positions of authority and influence, the folly that they plan will eventually backfire on them. The pit that they dig for others, they will fall into themselves. We saw this idea quite often in our consideration of the Psalms. Not only will what they construct (the pit) be their downfall, but also their attempts to pull down what is already there (the wall) will bite them, in this case the snake.
But this the Preacher warns us is not a universal law. An uncontrollable accident can shatter the outcome of what traditional wisdom might expect. The skill of the lumberjack or the snake charmer does not always guarantee a safe and healthy outcome. Wisdom is always better, but it has its limits.
Better to appoint the wise person to a position of authority, as their wise words bring grace. But the fool espouses his stupidity and evil and is eventually consumed by his own words. But sadly, before the foolish destroy themselves, they wreak havoc and bring destruction on others. Even while surrounded by destruction they don’t learn to stop. Everyone recognises the folly, but no one knows when it is going to end. The fool himself does not know the end. His efforts frustrate him because he works and toils but gets nowhere. The ultimate folly is that he doesn’t even have the common knowledge of the way to the city. The wisdom of years of experience is overturned and ignored. Of course the fool doesn’t see it that way. Everyone else notes that their years of experience has all been bad experience.
In v16-20 the Preacher reflects further on leadership. Woe to that country where inexperienced leaders are elevated to a position of power. These leaders benefit themselves and feast in the daytime when they should be working for the benefit of those they are supposed to serve. It is a blessing to have leaders who are servant leaders, who work not just to satisfy themselves but to serve the people.
The proverb in v18 warns of the dangers of lazy rulers.
Though we may have foolish leaders it is not wise to absence ourselves from engaging in society or in employment. We still must earn a living so that we can eat bread and enjoy the gifts that God has given us. The foolish leaders try to solve their problems by throwing money at it.
However dissatisfied we are with the direction the rulers are taking, we should remain loyal and supportive and not be unwise in our criticism. This is the wisdom the Preacher would have us learn.
Lord God we would long that righteous men and women would be appointed to positions of authority that they might seek to rule with the wisdom that comes from the fear of the Lord. Lord we pray for our government that they will have wisdom to lead this nation. We pray that the enormity of the crisis we face today will cause our rulers to turn to You in prayer and seek Your help. Our greatest Pandemic is sin and the only cure is Christ’s death on the cross. Lord bless our land with salvation because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.