Click here to open the passage in a new window. Be sure to read the Bible text and not only my comment on it.
In our chapter today we have a diverse collection of proverbs with no single discernible unifying theme or structure. However, there are some overlapping ideas that keep cropping up: wisdom versus folly; relating to rulers; societal structures; work, laziness, and accidents. I will attempt to cover these topics thematically (rather than going verse by verse) over today and tomorrow.
10:1 relates back to what we just read in 9:18 (and actually belongs there better, instead of starting a new chapter). The idea is that a lot of what is good – perfume or wisdom and honor – can be destroyed by something small. We have seen that happen in the lives of individuals, churches and nations. Qohelet is not giving advice here, simply stating a reality.
He goes on to comparing the wise with fools (10:2). Although foolishness is easily observed (10:3), still a fool can be appointed to a high position (10:6). I have tried not to show overt political opinions in this blog but I can’t help thinking of a certain (ex-)world leader who demonstrates this sad truth, and also 10:12b-14. It is impossible for me not to think of him as I read about speech that begins with folly and ends with evil madness, multiplying words so that no one knows what’s coming or where it will end, which eventually consume him.
The same person comes quickly to mind when I read 10:4, although this is not the import of the verse. Here Qohelet is again giving advice to officials who work in the royal court (cf 8:2-4). When your boss gets angry with you (literally, ‘the spirit of the ruler rises up against you’), don’t leave. The second half of 10:4 literally says, ‘healing puts to rest great sins’. It is difficult to know exactly what Qohelet had in mind, but it seems to me that he is recommending conciliation in the face of offensive behavior by a ruler towards his subordinates. In other words, play cool in any aggravated situation; keep the peace rather than fighting back or quitting in the moment.
In the last verse (10:20), he instructs the reader – I think still keeping the court official in mind, but it could be more general – not to curse the king (or the wealthy), even in thinking or in private, in case the matter gets back to the ruler. This is a tough rebuke to me. I often find myself, in private, disparaging or despising leaders who affect my life, whether politically, or organizationally. Perhaps I am not literally cursing them, but a better attitude would be to pray for those in authority over me.
Prayer: Lord God, help me to take this advice to heart as I relate to those in authority over me. Give me patience and coolness, give me love and an understanding heart. Let not my foolish words or sinfulness destroy what good my community is trying to do.