This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me. — Ecclesiastes 9:13
Several years ago, when I was visiting my elderly father, I mentioned that our upcoming Sunday school lesson was on wisdom, and asked if he had any “words of wisdom” to share with me. Over the years, I had come to value my father’s sound reasoning, but I naturally did not expect a deep philosophical response to such a casual inquiry. My dad smiled a little and simply said, “Keep your powder dry.” We laughed at the old expression, and then our conversation turned to other topics.
Later, as I was contemplating the lesson on wisdom again, I reflected on Dad’s comment. Obviously, the warning he quoted had a specific application many years ago, when a person’s food supply or personal safety may have depended upon a usable supply of gunpowder. The origin of the phrase is not certain, but it may have been early in the English civil war of 1642, when Oliver Cromwell admonished his troops, “Put your trust in God, my boys, but mind to keep your powder dry.” Whoever first voiced the phrase, the concept would have been well understood for centuries. Damp gunpowder could imperil those who discovered its unusable condition at a moment when it was urgently needed.
Dad was always one to consider the spiritual application of sound basic principles, and I cannot help but wonder what he may have shared if we had continued that conversation in earnest. Just as a military officer reminded his men of the necessity for caution in a basic matter, there certainly are spiritual concepts that have been well known for centuries, but we must be reminded to observe them for our spiritual welfare or protection.
That is precisely what Solomon was doing in the Book of Ecclesiastes — he was reminding his hearers of practical principles which they needed to observe for their own spiritual welfare. In today’s text, he highlighted one of the themes woven throughout the book: the value of true wisdom. Our focus verse introduces a historical incident which “seemed great” to Solomon, in which a poor man who was unrecognized as a leader delivered a city through wisdom.
Like the maxim my father quoted, Solomon’s proverbs, allegories, and admonitions were often reflective of the society in which he lived. But we can all benefit by observing both the wise and foolish conduct of others, and learning by their actions. When we realize that God evaluates all we do, we see the necessity of living wisely, remembering that it is vital to obey His guidelines and follow His plan for mankind.
After deeming in chapter 9 that wisdom was greater than strength, the Preacher presented several contrasts in chapter 10 confirming the importance of being wise.
In verses 13-18 of chapter 9, the author cited a historical event, in which the counsel of a poor, wise man thwarted a powerful king from besieging a small city with few defenses. However, Solomon lamented that although wisdom was more effective than might, the poor man’s wisdom was no longer remembered. Still, he concluded that wisdom is better than strength, even if it goes unheeded by the masses.
The author used a common adage in verse 1 of chapter 10, pointing out that just as dead flies in the pharmacist’s ointment cause it to be useless, the honorable reputation of a wise man can be spoiled by one small character flaw or reckless deed. Some commentators think the right and left hands mentioned in verse 2 represent right and wrong courses. Others believe that the more expertly used right hand (if one were right-handed) symbolizes a wise man’s heart, while the clumsier left hand illustrates the fool’s heart. In verse 3, the author stressed that a fool is easily recognized by his actions and words.
Verse 4 brings out that one should not leave his post of duty just because the ruler offended him, for submission will bring calm to even the greatest offences. In Solomon’s day, riding horses denoted honor and prestige, and the writer used this as an analogy in verses 5-7 to point out that rulers often placed incompetent individuals in high positions, while the qualified were given a lower status.
Verses 8-10 teach that using wisdom when performing ordinary tasks can prevent one from being unnecessarily harmed. In verses 11-15, Solomon contrasted the words of the wise with those of the foolish. While the wise man’s words are gracious, the fool will ultimately be destroyed by his own words. Verse 15 is a proverb which may have been meant to denote that foolish behavior causes one to be ignorant of even the simplest things in life.
In verses 16-19, the author implied that when a ruler was immature or foolish, and allowed his princes to feast in the morning rather than labor, the kingdom would suffer. Laziness and idleness only result in decay and neglect, but hard work provides the resources with which to enjoy the pleasures of good living.
Verse 20 may have initiated the saying, “A little bird told me.” It cautions against speaking or thinking evil of those in authority, because someone could repeat it.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
III. The theme applied
B. Advice concerning wisdom
1. The exaltation of wisdom (9:13-18)
2. The conduct of wisdom (10:1-20)
a. Wisdom and foolishness contrasted (10:1-3)
b. Wisdom and social status (10:4-7)
c. Wisdom advocated (10:8-10)
d. Wisdom and words (10:11-15)
e. Wisdom and the king (10:16-20)
There are many nuggets of sagacious advice in Solomon’s proverbial statements. We want to pay attention to and learn from his observations and experiences.