Ecclesiastes 10:1–20: The Destructiveness of Folly
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In the second half of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher has been building a positive vision for life under the sun. He has insisted that wisdom has great value (Eccl. 7:15–29), that wisdom teaches us how to live when we are not in control (Eccl. 8:1–17), and that wisdom is better than control as it readies us for eternity (Eccl. 9:1–18). In Ecclesiastes 10, the Preacher approaches this issue from the opposite perspective: What is so bad about folly? Here, the Preacher insists that foolishness is damaging, especially for the fool. Most of all, the foolishness of a king is tremendously dangerous to the kingdom. The Preacher gives a somber warning in Ecclesiastes 10 that leaky wisdom sinks a kingdom.
1) Why does the Preacher think that a little bit of folly has a disproportionate effect to “outweigh wisdom and honor” (v. 1)? What does “right” and “left” mean in v. 2? How does wisdom lead us to strength and prosperity, and foolishness in the opposite direction? How exactly do people see the foolishness of the fool when he is walking down the road? Why is it such a dangerous thing for folly to invert justice (v. 5–7)? On the whole, why does the Preacher find folly so dangerous?
2) What negative consequences do fools experience as a result of their own folly (v. 8)? Still, how does the Preacher remind us that there is no way to guarantee good outcomes simply by avoiding folly (v. 9)? What negative consequences may await those whose folly is malicious (v. 10)? What all does the Preacher warn about the words of the fools (v. 11–14)? What does it mean when the Preacher writes that the fool “does not know the way to the city” (v. 15)?
3) What does the Preacher warn against when he describes a king who is a “child” (v. 16a)? Why is it such a dangerous thing for princes to “feast in the morning” (v. 16b)? Do you think v. 18 connects with the warnings about the king from vv. 16–17? Why or why not? Do you think v. 19 connects with the warnings about the kings from vv. 16–17? Why or why not? After all this, why is it still dangerous to curse the king (v. 20)?
4) If the Preacher has already commended wisdom, why is it so important for him also to warn us against folly? If we live in a world filled with vanity, how can we really avoid folly? Where do you see your own tendencies toward folly? Which warnings from the Preacher resonate with you? What could be the consequences of your folly? What is the alternative to that particular kind of folly? How might the Preacher urge you toward greater wisdom?