Today, we come to chapter 10. But what does this chapter have to do with what we've been talking about in chapters 1-9? Suddenly we get this unassociated list of parables and proverbs. What are we supposed to do with this? How does this fit with the flow of argument? This whole chapter, though it may seem like a rambling set of unconnected proverbs is actually a meditation on folly and is a development on the argument that he's been carrying on from chapter 1 to chapter 9, that the fool looks at life in the wrong way, and the wise man looks at life in the right way. The fool looks at life apart from the living God, and the wise man looks at life through the lenses of the living God. So, there's a reason that he pauses here and speaks about folly.

A little folly can do a lot of damage

"As dead flies make a perfumer's oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor." First, it reminds us that our character has a fragrance. In this passage the wise man's character, wisdom and honor, is compared to perfumer's oil. But, the fool's character is compared to dead flies. The point is, of course, that wisdom shows. Our character shows, or, to use the particular sense being emphasized here, you can literally smell character. For the wise man, it's a glorious fragrance. But for the foolish man, it's putrid, like dead flies. That's one of the messages of this proverb.

But the main message is this: a little folly can do a lot of damage. Don't underestimate folly. A small mistake can mess up a wonderful reputation. Dead flies make a perfumer's oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor. The point is, "Don't make light of folly. Folly can cause trouble." Yes, sometimes, folly goes un-judged in this life, and wisdom goes unrewarded in this life, but folly can cause big trouble, and it can ruin the reputation of wise men.

Seven Things about Folly

Solomon gives us an anatomy of foolishness in seven ways in verses 2-20. Firstly, in verses 2 and 3, he says folly is derived from a fault in the heart. The right (literally "right hand") is the place of honor, promotion, power, and privilege. And the wisdom of the heart leads the wise man to such a place but the fool away from it. The point is really about where your heart is leading you. Biblically, the heart is not simply the seat of our emotions, affections, and desires. It's our seat of thought and will. It is the mental, moral, and desire's source for our life. It's the inner man that Solomon is speaking about. And he's saying that the wise man's heart, (his inner man, including his mind, will, and affections) lead him to the place of honor, favor, and protection; whereas, the fool's heart is the thing that leads him astray.

Secondly, in verses 5-7, he makes his main point: you can find people in very powerful positions-even kings and leaders who are essentially foolish. Your position does not mean that you are wise.

Thirdly, he goes on back to his main point in verses 8-11 and says, "Yes, folly has consequences. Even though you may see folly in high places from time to time, don't think that just because some of the foolish do well that there is no fall-out to folly." In verse 8, he says, one thing that you can tell about a fool is that he's vindictive. But sometimes his own vindictiveness comes back to bite him. Here's a man who is digging a pit to trap somebody, and he ends up falling into it himself. Vindictiveness has its own inherent dangers and penalties.

Fourthly, in verse 9, Solomon speaks of the inherent dangers of even normal labor. It requires a person of wisdom and prudence to navigate these normal dangers in quarrying stones and splitting logs. And verses 10 and 11 indicate the way that fools are so quick to go about their work. They are so hasty in their work that they don't do adequate preparation for it; and so he mentions the fool chopping with a dull axe. What does the wise man do? He sharpens the axe before he begins to chop. The wise man is prepared. He's vigilant, and the fool is not.

Fifthly, in verses 12-14, he says that folly shows itself in our speaking. The character of one's speech is an acid test of wisdom. In James' epistle, Jesus often made that same point. Foolish talk, he says in verse 13, flows from inner character deficiency, and it results in an irrational morality. Nevertheless, the fool keeps on talking. His verbosity about things that he could not possibly know about are for all to see.

Sixthly, in verse 15, folly shows itself in laziness; laziness that eventually incapacitates. "The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city." He gets tired in his labor, so he stops going into the city to trade or to sell or to buy-to do business transactions; and so he forgets how to get there.

Finally, in verses 16-20, he comes back to speak again about folly in high places, and he says, "Yes, you see folly in high places, but let me tell you this, "Woe to the nation that has folly in high places."" It's a curse on the whole nation.

Words for Our Life

Why does he say all these things? First of all, he wants us to seek and cultivate wisdom. He wants us to seek after wisdom, to desire wisdom, and to see that folly is dangerous. Secondly, he wants us to cultivate discernment between wisdom and foolishness. He wants us to look at life from the vantage point of the wise, rather than from the vantage point of a fool, because he wants us to remember that ultimate folly is living life without God; it's the ultimate folly. And so he wants us to look at life from the vantage point of the wise so that we will not cultivate the ultimate folly by attempting to live this life without God.

The Preacher wants us to trust in God rather than our wisdom. You want wisdom and you want to live wisely, but don't trust in wisdom, trust in God. We must trust in God and not in our own wisdom; we must run to Christ who is our wisdom. Therefore, reject the so-called wisdom of the world and embrace the wisdom of God. What is the wisdom of God? Remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:21: "For since the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not come to know God. God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the word preached to save those who believe. For indeed, Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God." True wisdom begins, not with the trust of our wisdom, but in trusting God and His promises through Jesus Christ.