AS DEAD FLIES GIVE PERFUME A BAD SMELL, SO A LITTLE FOLLY
OUTWEIGHS WISDOM AND HONOR: The common understanding of this parable is
certainly true enough, and easy enough to grasp. But perhaps a more specialized
meaning is intended: "dead flies" = "flies of death" (KJV mg). At the last, the
corrupting worms of death (eg, Mar 9:44,46,48: the maggots that breed in and
feed upon decaying flesh) cause even the most carefully embalmed ("perfumed")
corpse to stink. Thus a "good name" (the Name of the LORD, called upon
believers) is far better than "fine perfume" (embalming spices) to save from
death. For this same general thought (which also gives another connection with
death, funerals, and embalming), cp Ecc 7:1-6.
Cp the way Judas responded to Mary anointing Jesus with oil
(Mat 26:8; Mar 14:4,5). While the odor of the ointment filled the house (John
12:3) Judas was behaving like the "dead flies" spoken of here, in complaining
about the cost. (Notice, as a corroboration of this interpretation, that this
anointing was, in Jesus words, "for burial": Mat 26:12; Mar 14:8; Joh
A LITTLE FOLLY OUTWEIGHS WISDOM AND HONOR: "One single
act of sin may injure the character of a wise and honourable man, and greatly
expose him to shame and contempt, and cause him to stink in the nostrils of men,
Gen 34:30; and to be reproached by men, and religion and government to be
reproached for his sake. Thus the affair of Bathsheba and Uriah, what a slur did
it bring on the character of David, so famous for wisdom and honour, for
religion and piety?" (Gill).
Folly is associated with wickedness (Ecc 7:17), and is the
opposite of wisdom (Ecc 2:19). Elsewhere the wicked are said to be skilled in
doing evil (Jer 4:22), and to be characterized by moral insensitivity (Jer
5:21). As has been pointed out before, folly is a moral rather than an
THE HEART OF THE WISE INCLINES TO THE RIGHT, BUT THE HEART
OF THE FOOL TO THE LEFT: 'Choose what you will enjoy doing. Make it "second
nature". Make sure that your wisdom supports your better impulses, and is not
used to justify your worse ones. And at every opportunity, when you have a
reasonable choice, choose that alternative which is spiritually upbuilding and
worthwhile.' This parable probably gave rise to the common saying: "to have
one's heart in the right place".
"For the heart to be at the right hand means that all our
affections and emotions shall be well placed, helping and supporting us in the
work of life. For the heart to be at the left hand means that feelings are
wrongly placed, entangling and hindering, preventing good work and possibly even
dragging down to destruction. Emotions which are quite good in themselves may be
a hindrance if they are not properly guided. They may run counter to our life's
work, they may throw us out of balance just when a sober poise is most urgently
needed, they may warp our judgment or vitiate our reasoning. They may even lead
us to forsake the path of duty altogether. In all such faults whether the evil
influence is great or small, the heart is at the left hand" (PrPr 220).
"How thankful we should be that the weekly memorial meeting is
an opportunity to examine the heart and analyse our inward motives to see if we
are truly demonstrating a love for God -- or is ours simply a desire to impress
others? In this unusual expression [Ecc 10:2] (because, in fact, the heart is
positioned slightly to the left in the human body) is demonstrated that the
heart, emotion and intellect of a spiritually-minded individual has an
'unnatural' inclination! It is centrally positioned with harmonious desire to
give pleasure to Yahweh, rather than at a left-handed inclination to please
self. Let us have the courage to thoroughly examine our true motives so that our
service to Yahweh may not be 'rite' by 'right'!" (SJ Mansfield).
RIGHT: For the symbolic use of the right hand, see Psa
16:8,9,11; 48:10; 20:6; 21:8; Gen 35:18; Exo 15:6.
LEFT: Since the right hand is associated with all that
is good and righteous, the left hand of necessity must sometimes symbolize the
reverse (cp Mat 25:33,41).
EVEN AS HE WALKS ALONG THE ROAD: That is, in his daily
life, in the public view.
THE FOOL LACKS SENSE AND SHOWS EVERYONE HOW STUPID HE
IS: His most ordinary words and behavior, since he lacks discretion, may
proclaim him to be a fool. In Ecclesiastes alone, the fool is said to love rowdy
songs (Ecc 7:5) and noisy, shallow laughter (Ecc 7:6); he is lazy (Ecc 4:5),
talkative (Ecc 5:3; 10:12). As the old adage goes, "It is much better to keep
silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt!"
Furthermore, the fool is irritable (Ecc 7:9), and impervious to advice (Ecc
9:17): neither gentle persuasion (Pro 23:9) nor stern rebuke (Pro 17:10) affects
IF A RULER'S ANGER RISES AGAINST YOU, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR
POST; CALMNESS CAN LAY GREAT ERRORS TO REST: If the anger of a king (or a
master) is directed against you, do not leave his service (cp Ecc 8:3), but
accept his rebuke in meekness. This has the effect of pacifying him. See Pro
14:29; 15:1; 19:11; Heb 12:5-17. Storming out in an emotional fit will not
improve your standing. "Rulers are looking for men who can remain composed and
An example of this is Gideon's calm answer to the angry
criticism of the Ephraimite leaders (Jdg 8:1-3).
DO NOT LEAVE YOUR POST: This phrase in the Hebrew has a
military connotation: 'do not desert your post', 'do not resign your
THERE IS AN EVIL I HAVE SEEN UNDER THE SUN, THE SORT OF
ERROR THAT ARISES FROM A RULER: Vv 5-7 describe favoritism, and even perhaps
nepotism. Rulers and others in authority may be blinded by friendship and
family. And so they often make the error of appointing their incompetent
friends, or incompetent relatives, to high office. In short, they put the wrong
people in the wrong places. People who have no ability are exalted and put in
high places, while those with great ability are passed over and given no
opportunity. Henry comments: "Men of shattered brains, and broken fortunes, are
put in places of power and trust, while the rich men of good sense and good
estates, whose interest would oblige them to be true to the public, and whose
abundance would be likely to set them above temptations to bribery and
extortion, yet sit in low places, and can get no preferment; either the ruler
knows not how to value them or the terms of preferment are such as they cannot
in conscience comply with. It is ill with a people when vicious men are advanced
and men of worth are kept under hatches."
FOOLS ARE PUT IN MANY HIGH POSITIONS: This sort of
thing was lamented in the Proverbs: "It is not fitting for a fool to live in
luxury -- how much worse for a slave to rule over princes!" (Pro 19:10). "When
the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding" (Pro 28:12). Such men were the
teachers of the law and the Pharisees in Christ's day, and so he assails them:
"Woe to you... you shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do
not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to" (Mat
WHILE THE RICH OCCUPY THE LOW ONES: "The Hebrew suggest
a man of ancestral wealth and good character... who normally would be the friend
and associate of kings and princes" (Krygger).
What is being described is a revolution of sorts, in which the
whole social order turned upside down, in which those who have no background nor
education nor proper training take over positions of authority, and those who do
have such credentials are turned out, and reviled, and ignored. In the NT, Jesus
is the man born to be king, but who becomes the stone rejected by the builders
of Israel, reduced to the lowest level, reviled and finally murdered by the
Jewish "fools" in "high positions".
I HAVE SEEN SLAVES ON HORSEBACK, WHILE PRINCES GO ON FOOT
LIKE SLAVES: Horses being associated with royalty and rulership (eg, Deu
17:16; Jer 17:25; Est 6:8). The writer continues to ponder this tremendous
reversal of the social order. Cp "a servant who becomes king" in Pro 30:21,22
(as well as Pro 19:10). (Does this describe the base men, like Ahaz, who
succeeded Uzziah after his leprosy set in? Or the foolish counselors of
Hezekiah, who took over the reins of government when their king was laid
PRINCES GO ON FOOT LIKE SLAVES: A vivid example of this
is David, when he fled from Absalom: "David continued up the Mount of Olives,
weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people
with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up" (2Sa
Leupold sees in this verse a sort of prophecy, on a national
scale -- of Israel, destined by God's grace for the highest of positions amongst
the nations, yet through its folly and disobedience being brought low -- while
those peoples who should have been the "servants" of Israel lord it over her: cp
Gen 49:10; Exo 19:6; Deu 33:29; Isa 44:5; 45:14; Deu 28:13-43; Isa 61:5; Dan
7:27. But of course, there will yet be one more gigantic reversal: when, through
her faith at the last, Israel will be elevated to the position for which Yahweh
always intended her!
"Upstarts frequently usurp the highest places, while the truly
great pine in obscurity. This is a riddle in providence whose solution will one
day gladden the hearts of the upright; but it is so common a fact, that none of
us should murmur if it should fall to our own lot. When our Lord was upon earth,
although he is the Prince of the kings of the earth, yet he walked the footpath
of weariness and service as the Servant of servants: what wonder is it if his
followers, who are princes of the blood, should also be looked down upon as
inferior and contemptible persons? The world is upside down, and therefore, the
first are last and the last first. See how the servile sons of evil lord it in
the earth! What a high horse they ride! How they lift up their horn on high!
Haman is in the court, while Mordecai sits in the gate; David wanders on the
mountains, while Saul reigns in state; Elijah is complaining in the cave while
Jezebel is boasting in the palace; yet who would wish to take the places of the
proud rebels? and who, on the other hand, might not envy the despised saints?
When the wheel turns, those who are lowest rise, and the highest sink. Patience,
then, believer, eternity will right the wrongs of time" (CHS).
Vv 8-11: Some of the benefits of prudence and caution, and the
consequences of folly, described in metaphorical language.
WHOEVER DIGS A PIT MAY FALL INTO IT: The man who plots
and sets a trap for his enemy may accidentally fall and be caught in it himself.
This is a common picture in OT "wisdom" literature: Psa 7:15,16; 9:15; 35:7,8;
57:6; Pro 1:11-17; 5:22; 26:24-28; 28:10; cp Num 32:23; Jer 18:18-22. The mental
picture is of a malevolent and secretive adversary working furiously to excavate
a deep hole for the righteous servant of the Lord to fall into. Instead, what
may happen is that the enormous mound of earth which he has thrown up slides
back on top of him. Thus he digs his own grave, and buries himself! In addition,
of course, to Saul, in his desperation to destroy his "rival" David", compare
also (a) Haman, hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai (Est
7:9,10), (b) Absalom, who destroyed himself in his eagerness to wrest the throne
from his father, (c) Balaam, who sought to entrap the men of Israel but brought
about his own destruction, and of course (d) Judas, who plotted the arrest of
his Master, but found in the end his own suicide (Mat 27:3-10; Acts 1:15-20).
WHOEVER BREAKS THROUGH A WALL: Thoughtlessly disturbing
something already well-established, so as to do harm to one's neighbor. Cp Gen
BITTEN BY A SNAKE: This parable makes sense naturally:
for, in dry climes especially, snakes often nest in loose stone walls, or old
fences, or rotten hedges. Cp, generally, Acts 28:3; also, cp Amo 5:19: "It will
be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered
his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him."
"The reference is to one who has made a conquest and then
proceeds utterly to destroy what was conquered. How often conquering nations did
this to discourage those conquered or to destroy their last stronghold! Such a
course on the part of the conquerors is not without danger, for, as out of the
crannies in the hedging wall around a vineyard a viper may suddenly strike him
that disturbs her as he destroys the wall, so the undue severity of the
conqueror may rouse the conquered to a fury of opposition" (Leupold).
But to pursue the spiritual lesson: of course, the man who
seeks to harm someone else may actually harm himself. "Wisdom understands that
when you try to break down some wall of obstruction that keeps you from getting
at someone or something, you are in danger, for hidden in that wall is a serpent
that will bite you. Many a person has discovered that in heavy-handedly trying
to break down somebody's resistance he has triggered a serpent within himself
that flashes up in anger and leads to hurtful, dangerous things. He himself has
been bitten" (RS).
Parabolically, Adam and Eve sought to "break through a wall"
-- ie, to break down the barrier erected by God between them and Himself, to
become "like the Elohim" (Gen 3:5). In seeking to do this, Eve first and then
Adam heeded the advice of the serpent (Gen 3:6), but that advice proved to be a
fatal bite (Gen 3:16-19)!
Under the title "Walls and Serpents", the old preacher
Alexander MacLaren has this to say: "The first thing that the child learns is,
that it must not do what it likes. The last lesson that the old man has to learn
is, you must do what you ought. And between these two extremes of life we are
always making attempts to treat the world as an open common, on which we may
wander at our will. And before we have gone many steps, some sort of keeper or
other meets us and says to us, 'Trespassers, back again to the road!' Life is
rigidly hedged in and limited. To live as you like is the prerogative of a
brute. To live as you ought, by obeying the laws and limitations stamped upon
our very nature and enjoined by our circumstances, is the freedom and the glory
of a man. There are limitations, I say -- fences on all sides. Men put up their
fences... in regard to these conventional limitations and regulations, which own
no higher authority or lawgiver than society and custom, you must make up your
mind even more certainly than in regard of loftier laws, that if you meddle with
them, there will be plenty of serpents coming out to hiss and bite. No man [can
defy] the narrow maxims and petty restrictions of conventional ways, and set at
nought the opinions of the people round about him, [without making] up his mind
for backbiting and slander and opposition of all sorts. It is the price that we
pay for obeying at first hand the laws of God and caring nothing for the
conventionalities of men.
"But apart from that altogether, let me just remind you of the
various limitations or fences which hedge up our lives on every side. There are
the obligations which we owe, and the relations in which we stand, to the outer
world, the laws of physical life, and all that touches the external and the
material. There are the relations in which we stand, and the obligations which
we owe, to ourselves. And God has so made us as that obviously large tracts of
every man's nature are given to him on purpose to be restrained, curbed,
coerced, and sometimes utterly crushed and extirpated. God gives us our impulses
under lock and key. All our animal desires, all our natural tendencies, are held
on condition that we exercise control over them, and keep them well within the
rigidly marked limits which He has laid down, and which we can easily find out.
There are, further, the relations in which we stand, and the obligations and
limitations, therefore, under which we come, to the people round about us. High
above them all, and in some sense including them all, but loftier than these,
there is the all-comprehending relation in which we stand to God, who is the
fountain of all obligations, the source and aim of all duty, who encompasses us
on every side, and whose will makes the boundary walls within which alone it is
safe for a man to live.
"We sometimes foolishly feel that a life thus hedged up,
limited by these high boundaries on either side, must be uninteresting,
monotonous, or unfree. It is not so. The walls are blessings, like the parapet
on a mountain road, that keeps the travellers from toppling over the face of the
cliff. They are training-walls, as our hydrographical engineers talk about,
which, built in the bed of a river, wholesomely confine its waters and make a
good [cleansing flow] which gives life, instead of letting them vaguely wander
and stagnate across great fields of mud. Freedom consists in keeping willingly
within the limits which God has traced, and anything else is not freedom but
licence and rebellion, and at bottom servitude of the most abject
WHOEVER QUARRIES STONES MAY BE INJURED BY THEM; WHOEVER
SPLITS LOGS MAY BE ENDANGERED BY THEM:
Possibly this verse is really continuing the thought of v 8,
by a sort of parallelism: thus, "digs a pit" // "quarries stones", and "breaks
through a wall" // "splits logs". Likewise, the "ax" of v 10 might connect with
both "wall" and "logs", and the "snake" of v 11 could refer back to the "snake"
of v 8. Or... each verse -- even though somewhat related to what went before --
might of course be read as its own, self-contained, parable.
One result of the sin and the curse in the garden of Eden was
that a sort of enmity would exist between man and his environment, the "thorns
and thistles" which would plague man as he went about his work (Gen 3:17-19). So
this verse could refer to such occupation hazards, generally. And so the
practical lesson is: take reasonable and sensible precautions in all things that
you do (cp Deu 19:5,6).
Also, there may be spiritual hazards in every ordinary daily
task. "The battle between man and his environment, whether it be nations, rocks,
forests, or people, is all indicative of the unsettled state of continual
conflict which can only be resolved when the earth is full of the glory of
Or... "Oppressors may get their will of poor and needy men as
easily as they can split logs of wood, but they had better mind, for it is a
dangerous business, and a splinter from a tree has often killed the woodman.
Jesus is persecuted in every injured saint, and He is mighty to avenge His
beloved ones. Success in treading down the poor and needy is a thing to be
trembled at: if there be no danger to persecutors here there will be great
danger hereafter" (CHS).
QUARRIES: That is, "removes". Typically, those who
sought to remove the chief cornerstone: Psa 118:22; Mat 21:42-44.
IF THE AX IS DULL AND ITS EDGE UNSHARPENED, MORE STRENGTH
IS NEEDED: The need for wisdom and foresight: sharpen the ax!
"The lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, the pride of
life: the desire to have something, to enjoy something, to be something:
possession, gratification, accomplishment. We all have these lusts. Adam and Eve
had them in their innocency. In themselves, they are not wrong: they are 'very
good': they are the creation and blessing of God. It is their misdirection that
is evil. 'Thou shalt not covet' (Rom 7:7) is exactly the same word in the
original as 'with desire I have desired to eat this passover with you' (Luk
22:15). Desire and affection are of themselves neutral, and potentially good, as
the gifts of God. It is where we set them that makes the difference between sin
and sainthood, between sorrow and salvation, tragedy and triumph. Wisdom
perceives this, and directs all its desires in the way of wholesomeness,
godliness, spiritual productiveness, eternal worthwhileness. Folly does not.
Folly lets desire run its natural blind animal course which -- since Adam's
transgression and sentence -- has been downward and corrupt and abominably
UNSHARPENED: The verb "qalal" means "to sharpen; to
make a blade sharp" (HAL). This verb is derived from a root which means "smooth;
shiny" (referring to bronze; Eze 1:7; Dan 10:6). Sharpening the blade or head of
a bronze ax will make it smooth and shiny.
BUT SKILL WILL BRING SUCCESS: "But wisdom is profitable
to direct" (AV). This is much better than the NIV. In Ecclesiastes, 'chokmah" is
the word usually translated "wisdom", and "yithron" is the word usually
translated "profit". It is not "skill" which is needed, as though one could by
one's own ingenuity, or even dexterity or brute force, overcome every obstacle
-- including sin. Rather, it is "wisdom": preparing beforehand, seeing that the
right tools are available, and in working order -- or in spiritual terms, having
the sword of the Spirit sharpened and the armor polished, and above all
carefully seeking the help of God in prayer.
IF A SNAKE BITES BEFORE IT IS CHARMED, THERE IS NO PROFIT
FOR THE CHARMER: The KJV has "Surely the serpent will bite without
enchantment; and a babbler is no better." The first half is misleading (the NIV
is much better), and the second half is totally confused (the NIV is vastly
better: "babbler" should be "charmer"! -- lit "master of the tongue", and
relating back to the "charming" of the first phrase).
Therefore, to carry on the thought from the previous verses,
the "charmer" should be wise and careful, and do his work as soon as expedient.
Wisdom or skill is rendered no better than ignorance and ineptitude if it is not
put to use in a timely manner. If the charmer is slack or neglectful in doing
what he should do, then the snake may bite -- and all his wisdom and skill will
have been to no avail.
Of course, in Scripture, the snake symbolizes sin, sinners
(Psa 58:1-5; Mat 23:33; Num 21:6; Jer 8:17; Pro 23:32), and especially the sins
of the tongue (Psa 55:21; 59:7; 64:3; 140:1-3). So the spiritual lesson is: do
not treat sin lightly, or ignore its deadly sting, but use every means at your
disposal to keep it under control. This is done first in regard to one's own
tongue (cp Jam 3:6-10). But there may be advice and warning here, as regards the
tongues of others: be careful and prudent, when possible, to avoid the "hissing"
or the whispered slanders of human "snakes".
There is a fascinating play on words, or ideas, in this verse.
Just as the serpent "hisses", so the "charmer" mimics the sound of the serpent
with his own "whispers" ("charmed" is the Heb "lachash" = to whisper, hiss, or
mumble); these sounds keep the serpent's attention and make it less likely to
strike. And so, in the spiritual realm, prayer -- which could easily appear, to
an observer, as whispering and mumbling -- becomes the preferred means of
"charming" the serpent of sin!
WORDS FROM A WISE MAN'S MOUTH ARE GRACIOUS: The English
versions are divided: should it be: (a) the wise man's words "are gracious" (as
KJV, ASV, NASB, NIV), or (b) the wise man's words "win him favor" (NEB, RSV,
Moffatt)? Both ideas are equally true. In the end, therefore, it makes little
GRACIOUS: Lit, "grace" -- embodying all that is
gracious and kind (cp Psa 45:2). The primary example of such words is the
Saviour: "All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came
from his lips" (Luk 4:22). Gracious words are appropriate (Pro 15:23; 25:11),
helpful (Eph 4:29; ct Col 3:8), and likeable (Pro 25:12,13). The wise man's
words have the ability to bring favor upon himself -- from both God and man (Pro
10:11,14,21; 15:23; 22:11). "The good man brings good things out of the good
stored up in him" (Mat 12:35). See Lesson, Prov and speech.
BUT A FOOL IS CONSUMED BY HIS OWN LIPS: "One of those
grotesque verbal pictures which remind one of the Lord's description of a man
with a plank in his eye or a man swallowing a camel [compare the common saying,
'Opening his mouth and putting his foot in it.'] It has the pungent humour of a
scathing cartoon" (LGS).
This is the converse to the first half of the verse: "...the
evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him" (Mat 12:35,36)...
and FOR him! "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of
judgment for every careless word they have spoken" (Mat 12:36). "A fool's mouth
is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul" (Pro 18:7; cp Pro 10:8,21;
14:3). Adonijah foolishly spoke against his own life (1Ki 2:23). "Many a man has
been sunk by having his own tongue fall upon him, Psa 64:8" (Henry). "His master
replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant!' " (Luk
CONSUMED: Words may devour, or swallow up (Psa 52:4:
where "harmful words" is lit "devouring words"; cp Psa 5:9): they consume the
fool's reputation (Psa 52:3), his character (Jam 3:6), his opportunity to do
good (Eph 4:29), and finally the man himself (Mat 12:36,37).
AT THE BEGINNING HIS WORDS ARE FOLLY; AT THE END THEY ARE
WICKED MADNESS: "End" is "outcome", as in Ecc 7:8. Here is a progression in
folly: merely foolish talk deteriorates until it becomes irrational -- a madness
in behavior as well as speech. By this time, the folly IS the man; they have
become inseparable: "Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like
grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him" (Pro 27:22). Even
if you reduce the man to the smallest parts, you will never be able to separate
the folly from the man!
AND THE FOOL MULTIPLIES WORDS: And is made known by his
multiplicity of words (Pro 15:2). The fool speaks with "authority" of those
things about which he knows absolutely nothing, and he refuses good advice and
instruction -- for he feels that he knows best. The multiplication of arguments
that ignore the revelation of God in Jesus Christ can end only in foolishness
NO ONE KNOWS WHAT IS COMING -- WHO CAN TELL HIM WHAT WILL
HAPPEN AFTER HIM?: This echoes Ecc 3:22; 6:12; 7:14; 8:7. The uncertainty of
the future is a constant theme in Ecclesiastes. That which the fool knows
nothing about includes, especially, the future -- both of the world and of his
own life. He is like the rich fool in Christ's parable -- making grandiose plans
for a personal future that is not to be (Luk 12:18-20). To him James gives
warning also: "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or
that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do
not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that
appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it
is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast and
brag. All such boasting is evil" (Jam 4:13-16; cp Pro 27:1).
A FOOL'S WORK WEARIES HIM: He is probably weary from
talking, not from actually working (this is the point of v 14)! "Sloth (Ecc 4:5)
has already been set down as [a fool's] chief characteristic. Here it is again,
a moral and intellectual laziness which leads to a stumbling (Ecc 2:14),
fumbling (Ecc 10:2), crumbling (Ecc 10:18) life" (Eaton).
HE DOES NOT KNOW THE WAY TO TOWN: This is probably
proverbial, to Qoheleth, just as "He isn't smart enough to come in out of the
rain" might be to us! A fool has no sense of direction. He cannot even find and
follow the well-worn path. And in a spiritual sense, a fool -- since he does not
know, or refuses to heed, the simple lessons of the Bible -- has no sense of
spiritual direction in his life, no practical knowledge of the narrow way (Mat
7:14; cp Psa 107:7), the "way to the tree of life" (Gen 3:24; cp Mat 22:16; Joh
14:6). And so he will not walk in that way (cp Isa 35:8-10). He is a "blind" man
following the misguided lead of other "blind" men, and all alike will inevitably
fall into the ditch (Mat 15:14).
WOE TO YOU, O LAND WHOSE KING WAS A SERVANT: Or "a
child" (RSV; NIV mg); "a slave" (NEB), or "a lad" (JB). The Heb is "nahar" = a
boy, from the age of infancy to adolescence, with emphasis on moral and mental
immaturity, and possibly by implication a servant (Strong). Perhaps Ahaz,
Uzziah's grandson: cp with the denunciations of Isa 3:4-12; 5:11 -- during reign
of Ahaz -- while, apparently, Uzziah was still alive (cp Isa 6:1).
AND WHOSE PRINCES FEAST IN THE MORNING: Children, when
left on their own, and without proper instruction, are apt to indulge themselves
at a whimsy. And so it is here, with those who are spiritual "children". "Woe to
those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late
at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their
banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds
of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go
into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and
their masses will be parched with thirst" (Isa 5:11-13; cp Amo 6:4-6). "It is
not for kings, O Lemuel -- not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave
beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the
oppressed of their rights" (Pro 31:4,5).
Even an adult servant, who is foolish, will act like a child
if he thinks there is no effective supervision: "But suppose the servant says to
himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat
the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master
of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he
is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the
unbelievers" (Luk 12:45,46).
And he will act the same way if he has convinced himself that
there is even a shred of justification for doing so. Even those who are
nominally believers in Christ may, under certain circumstances, throw off all
restraint and embrace the worst of their own passions: "But these men blaspheme
in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of
instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will
perish. They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea
of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes,
reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you" (2Pe 2:12,13).
Such a sad picture will be wonderfully and completely reversed
when Christ rules in God's kingdom (Jer 32:39-42; 33:6; Isa 1:26; 9:6,7; Eze
34:26; 37:22-24; Psa 72; etc).
BLESSED ARE YOU, O LAND WHOSE KING IS OF NOBLE BIRTH:
The contrast with v 16 is not so much one of age, as of level of maturity. The
land is blessed when the king is governed by principles of honor, animated by a
noble spirit, which scorns to do any thing base and unbecoming, and concerned
for the public welfare before any private interests. Wisdom, virtue, the fear of
God, generosity, and a readiness to do good to all mankind ennoble the royal
AND WHOSE PRINCES EAT AT A PROPER TIME -- FOR STRENGTH AND
NOT FOR DRUNKENNESS: When the subordinate rulers are more concerned to
discharge their duties than to gratify their appetites (heeding the advice of
Pro 31:1-9); when they eat in due season (Psa 145:15), to strengthen their
bodies so as to serve God and people, and not for the indulgence of their
appetites. It is well with a people when their princes are examples of
temperance, when those that have most to spend upon themselves know how to deny
And it is the same with the elders in an ecclesia: "Now the
overseer [of the ecclesia] must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife,
temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to
drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He
must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper
respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take
care of God's church?)" (1Ti 3:2-5; cp 1Ti 3:8; Tit 1:6,7).
IF A MAN IS LAZY, THE RAFTERS SAG; IF HIS HANDS ARE IDLE,
THE HOUSE LEAKS: A warning to princes about the state of their realms: vv
16,17. Cp Pro 18:9; 21:25; 24:33,34. Contrast to Pro 9:1; 24:3. Cp and ct Pro
14:1. See LB 390. Cp the old saying: "A stitch in time saves nine."
Perhaps with special reference to Uzziah's day, when he would
have lived to see the temple fallen into disrepair in Ahaz's reign (2Ch 29:16).
Also, going along with the previous verse: the ecclesia is the
spiritual "house", or family; an ecclesial elder must know how to govern and
guide his own family, and the spiritual "house" of God (cp 1Ti 3:4,5).
A FEAST IS MADE FOR LAUGHTER, AND WINE MAKES LIFE MERRY,
BUT MONEY IS THE ANSWER FOR EVERYTHING: This answers very well to the times
of Hezekiah. At the time when the king was laid low by his fatal disease, and
before his recovery, the princes and counselors took over the reins of power.
During this time they indulged themselves shamelessly (Isa 5:22; 28:7,8;
56:10-12), while they thought that they might pay off their threatening enemies,
the Assyrians (2Ki 18:16), or alternatively "buy" protection from the Egyptians
(Isa 20:5,6; 28:15; 30:1-3; 31:1-3). Either way, they believed that "money was
the answer" to all their problems! What fools they were! (See WHez ch 8 as
DO NOT REVILE THE KING EVEN IN YOUR THOUGHTS, OR CURSE THE
RICH IN YOUR BEDROOM: Cp Exo 22:28 and Acts 23:5; Mat 10:26; Ecc 12:14. Even
as Hezekiah lay on his death-bed, his subordinates were keeping watch over him,
not in hopes of his recovery, but in anticipation of his death (Isa 22 seems esp
to deal with this period).
BECAUSE A BIRD OF THE AIR MAY CARRY YOUR WORDS, AND A BIRD
ON THE WING MAY REPORT WHAT YOU SAY: "The figure of speech expresses the
idea of private opinions being spread so easily and quickly that swift flying
birds might be the messengers. Everyone knows that such news is spread with
astonishing speed" (CEcc).
As if to say: 'The walls have ears.' This is probably the root
of the old saying, "A little bird told me!" Cp the idea, 2Ki 6:12.