What have been the challenges of reading Ecclesiastes?
Read Ecclesiastes 10:5-11:10
The Teacher has concluded that all things we receive in life are a gift from God – not a result of our brilliance. We ought to live this life mindful of our end.
Wisdom is better than folly but the fools will live louder and we’ll be tempted to surrender to them.
- 10:5-19 Fools in charge
- 10:20-11:6 What little we know
- 11:7-10 Enjoy it while it lasts
10:5-19 Fools in charge
“There is an evil I have seen under the sun…” This phrase tends to lend itself to a section or thought change by the Teacher. We have used it often in attempting to break the book into sections – although it is difficult to do. This whole section has a theme and purpose to it but is presented as a series of little observations. It is a section full of proverbs.
“Fools are put in many high places…slaves on horseback…” This phrase makes sense when you compare it with Verses 16-17. The Teacher describes it as a type of evil when people of no knowledge are given a kingdom to rule. Proverbs 19:10.
“Whoever digs…breaks through a wall…quarries stones…splits logs…” These are all proactive events presumably done to achieve something but every action comes with risk of failure. It will take a wise and thoughtful person to avoid such things. Could a foolish, uneducated king be successful on the throne?
“If the ax is dull…” Verse 10 helps shape the theme of these proverbs. The dull ax may well be the king on the throne! He can get it all done with brute force but it is much better to have your tool sharpened and get the job done with ease.
“If a snake bites…” It is of little use to know about snake charming. But use this as a contribution in context and we may view the snake as an uneducated fool on the throne – or in some high position. If it doesn’t work out, don’t be surprised. Or we could take it at face value and say, ‘don’t pay the ferryman before he gets you to the other side.’
“Words from the mouth…” Compare the wise gracious words with the escalating words of a madman. Wisdom is slow to speak and quick to listen. Fools multiply their words and feed their own ignorance. They may get wiser and wiser in their own eyes and end up consuming themselves!
“No one knows what is coming…” In context, this may be a reflection on the kind of thing that a fool might say. They may claim to know the future and what you must do right now. But the wise are aware of their field of view. Ecc 9:1.
“The toil of fools…” Verses 15-19 seem to bring to conclusion where the Teacher has been leading us. They do not know what they are doing. Their labour is real, with their blunt ax and their crashing through walls (10:8-10) but the roof is sagging and their focus is on laughing and merriment and money solves everything. Verse 19 is an anti proverb – it is true but foolish.
Verse 20 is put into the next section because the Teacher moves from a description of foolish rulers to how the wise should respond.
10:20-11:6 What little we know
“Do not revile the king…” Exodus 22:28 tells us to respect the king of God no matter if they are a fool or wise.
“…because a bird…may report what you say.” Ever heard, “a little birdie told me!”? A good reminder though that an innocent shrug or sneer that you don’t know others can see or notice may carry a message you didn’t intend.
“Ship your grain…invest in seven ventures…” The Teacher turns his attention to taking action even though we don’t know the future. There is a sense of faith here but the emphasis is on our limitations rather than on good outcomes. “May receive a return…you do not know…” These phrases remind us that we cannot see the future. There is optimism in taking action rather than doing nothing but there is no guarantee of success.
“If clouds…” Recall the language of Chapter One when we noticed the world goes on without us. We can look at the clouds and predict what will come next but we don’t make the clouds nor the rain.
“…the place where it falls, there it will lie.” What happens is what happens.
“Whoever watches…” Procrastination is advised against.
“…you do not know the path…or how the body is formed…you cannot understand the work of God…” There is much outside of our understanding – ignorance. These statements are all familiar with Chapter 1. Verses 1-6 state that we cannot know what is going to happen so be proactive despite our limited knowledge.
11:7-10 Enjoy it while it lasts
“Light is sweet…” This section opens pleasantly but the sun is out of our hands – while it is here, it is wonderful.
“Everything to come is meaningless.” We’re almost at the end of the book and the Teacher is leaving us with a very empty outlook on life. Had we hoped that it would get better? We can’t stop the night and there is a nighttime coming called death which nobody can stop. Enjoy life while it lasts.
“…be happy while you are young…” The same message in Verses 7-8 are given in 9-10. Our life is short and when you can grab joy, grab it.
“Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see…” This is advice straight from the pages of human wisdom. Sin! Enjoy life! Do it all! Do whatever makes you happy!
“…but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” The Teacher trusts that justice to all is coming and we will have to give an account for everything that we’ve done – but his advice is horrible. The Teacher had set out to show us wisdom and understanding but his short vision has led us to this: go down partying.
“So then, banish anxiety from your heart…” One can be excused for thinking of Philippians 4:6 or 1 Peter 5:7 as parallels here but the Teacher is not calling on us to trust in God but to stop worrying – full stop! Akuna Matata – which is better translated as “who cares” rather than “no worries!” Live free! No regrets! Ecclesiastes 2:24 told us to eat and drink and enjoy life.
“…for youth and vigor are meaningless.” You can’t keep your youth – no amount of trying will keep you young. Vigor means the prime of your life.
Suggested questions for running this study.
Q1. Compare 10:5-7 with 10:16-17. What is the Teacher describing as a wrong in the world (or an evil)?
Q2. How are Verses 8-15 understood in this context?
Q3. Read 11:1-6. Would you consider these words optimistic, pessimistic or simply realistic? Explain why.
Q4. Read 11:7-10. Are these wise words or not?
Q5. Read James 4:13-5:6. Does James approve of the conclusions of the Teacher? How are we to rightly respond to our ‘mistiness’ (meaninglessness)?
It is frustrating to watch fools in charge – what a wasted position. It would be greater to see someone in charge who has knowledge, wisdom, understanding and training. It is also frustrating to never know what outcome you will get from planting or investing in this life. Everything that we do can be undone by the hand of God. It would be better if we knew of an investment that was a sure thing. And it is frustrating to know that youth does not last. The sun sets on all of us. The Teacher has observed all of these things correctly, but has failed to point us to trusting God and wisdom that points to an eternal future. As we reach the end of this book, we are left to wonder if this Teacher has any wisdom for us that is truly from God.
Challenge#1 Consider the true king
Ecclesiastes 10:5-20 describe a mad world where people in power have no idea what they are doing. Consider this being a word spoken against you (the reader) rather than about ‘them’. James 5:5 attacks the life of luxury and self-indulgence while the true king of the world is put to death. Let’s be sober minded about our state of living. Jesus said these words: ‘I have not come to be served but to serve and to lay down my life to save many. (Mark 10:45). Are we seeking to serve the true king? Or live lives pretending that the world was made for us to rule?
Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 challenges us to proceed with living even though there are no guarantees of success. The Teacher fails to teach us fully because he concludes that we cannot know what God has in store. But we have the Greater Teacher who has told us what is to come. If we know the future, how should it affect our investments? What does Jesus commend in
Matthew 10:37-38 Matthew 6:32-34? (on review the writer is not sure what the original reference was meant to be but Matt10:37-38 has been replaced with Matt6:32-34).
Challenge#3 Mid-life crisis? John 17:3?
Ecclesiastes 11:7-10 describes a bleak future for us all and a commendation to embrace life now while it lasts. This is not the wisdom of the Great Teacher. Read Matthew 16:24-27 on how foolish this is and then read John 17:3 for the secret of eternal youth.