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Monday, June 27, 2011

"Dead Flies in the Chanel" - (06/26/11)

“Dead Flies in the Chanel”
Ecclesiastes 10 (Message #10 in Series)
June 26, 2011

            Solomon is best known for his wise sayings, his proverbs.  He apparently had a lot of wise one-liners that he used to use.  Many of these were collected to form the Book of Proverbs.  We don’t know if Solomon actually penned Proverbs with his own hand or if someone else collected his saying and put them all down on paper.  Either way, they came from him.
            Here in the Book of Ecclesiastes we have this latter portion of the book that sounds very much like the Book of Proverbs.  We have a whole bunch of wise sayings and observations with very little apparent connection in between them.  Sometimes it feels as though Solomon’s mind was just spinning off topic after topic, one after the other.  However, if we observe closely we discover that he had a plan, a point he wanted to make.  These are not just random thoughts.

            As we begin this morning you need to remember that the chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles were not a part of the original writing.  They were added later for our convenience in finding our way through the text.  This becomes obvious when you look back at how chapter nine ends: “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.”  In context, Solomon has been talking about the power of evil to destroy and contaminate things that are good.  We can all think of examples of how one bad person has brought down a good organization.     

            Throughout this chapter Solomon will be contrasting fools and wise people.  We see it here in this first section, verses 1-4, where Solomon is talking about the power of wisdom verses the power of foolishness.  But you need to remember what I told you about the biblical definition of fools and foolishness.  In the Bible a fool is not merely a silly person who acts goofy, and is always clowning around.  The “fool” of the Bible is a morally flawed person who is in rebellion against God and who flaunts the traditions of men as well.  Remember the verse in Psalm 14:1 that says, “The FOOL says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.”  From God’s perspective, only an evil person denies God’s existence.
Verses 1-4: 1Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.  2A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.  3Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool.  4If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.
  • In verse 1 Solomon talks about the destructive influence of even a little folly.  This is connected to what he said in 9:18 about how “…one sinner can destroy much good.”  He says that a fool can stink up the place in the same way that a dead fly can contaminate a batch of perfume.  Flies were one of the scourges of the East.  Though necessary to the ecosystem, flies are nasty creatures and they carry lots of bacteria.  To die and decompose in the vat of Chanel #5 would spoil the whole batch.  So a little evil, a little folly can degrade much wisdom and honor.  While it may seem insignificant, it can destroy all the good that wisdom has accomplished.  For example, a man may commit one sin, and this can end up destroying a lifetime of virtue.  We’ve seen plenty of high profile cases, such as Anthony Weiner, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, etc.
  • I’ve got to confess that I really like verse 2 because it confirms my beliefs about politics.  Read it again carefully.  Can anyone miss the clear meaning of this verse?  “A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.”  It seems perfectly clear to me J.  Of course there is another answer.  I’m pretty sure that this is not a divine endorsement of the conservative movement.
  • In the mind of the Jew (and of most other civilizations) the right hand symbolizes the place of strength, blessing and honor.  For example, Christ is “seated at the right hand of the Father.”  We salute with the right, shake hands with the right, Arabs always eat only with the right, etc.  The left hand symbolizes evil, cursing, and bad stuff.  In Latin the right hand is called the “dexter,” while the left hand is called the “sinister,” which give us the English word, “sinister” meaning evil, ominous, unlucky.  With all that in mind, go back and look at verse 2 again.
  • In verse 3 Solomon tells us that a fool is pretty easy to spot if you’ll just be observant of him.  He doesn’t need to go around with a placard saying, “I’m a fool.”  Both his words and has actions give him away every time, and sometimes he doesn’t even have to open his mouth.  That’s because a fool’s folly extends to his whole character.

            In verses 5-7 Solomon discusses the anomaly of an unworthy fool being elevated to a position of power, authority, and prestige while a more-deserving and better qualified person is frozen out.  We’ve all seen this happen in elections.
Verses 5-7: 5There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth from the ruler— 6folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places.  7I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land.    
  • In verse 5 he says that on occasion fools rule and princes serve.  One of the evils of life is human judgment, which can appoint a fool to a place of authority, and ignore those who should rule.  This can even happen on a large scale when a nation chooses a wicked ruler, like Hitler in Germany.  That’s because the elevating forces of this world are not always those of wisdom.
  • Look at verse 6: “Folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places.”  One of the things that has happened in our day is that sin and immorality have been given a place of dignity and honor.  Talk shows will interview madams and strippers, immoral actors, and every sort of loser.  They are given places of honor on shows like Jay Leno’s Tonight Show where people act like these people are wonderful and fascinating.  It just shows how morally bankrupt we have become.

            Here we have a series of proverbs that are just general observations on the dangers of various activities, and therefore on the need for prudence.  The good news is the folly will inevitably be defeated.
Verses 8-11: 8He who digs a pit [i.e. for others] may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a fence or a [stone] wall.  9He who removes [landmark] stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs [presumably a neighbor’s] may be endangered by them.  10If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength.  Wisdom has the advantage of giving success11If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer. 
  • In verses 8-9 Solomon observes that actions have consequences, often unforeseen.  Moreover, if you set out to do harm to someone else, it may backfire on you.  The Jews have traditionally interpreted these verses in this light.  For example, in verse 8, if you dig a pit for others you’ll end up being your own victim.  If you break into someone else’s property or through their wall something bad may happen to you.  If you dig up the neighbor’s boundary markers to enlarge your own property you are running a bit risk, and so on.  God has a way of repaying us for our evil intentions.  No one gets away with sin indefinitely: “Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”
  • In verse 10 the fool expends himself trying to work with dull tools because he is too lazy and stupid to sharpen them; the wise person, on the other hand, conserves time and energy by sharpening his tools.  This business comes down to very practical terms.  When I was a boy my dad taught me about a “lazy man’s load.”  For example, you are hauling sand in a wheelbarrow.  Wanting to make less trips you overload the wheelbarrow and end up loosing control of it, spilling sand everywhere, which all has to be cleaned up, thus wasting time.  A wise man will make a few more trips and avoid the mess and waste of time.  The fool will always opt for a lazy man’s load.
  • In verse 11 Solomon reminds us that success in life comes by knowing when to exercise wisdom.  His example: when you come across a snake call for a charmer immediately.  If a charm is to work, it must be used before the serpent bites, not afterward.  If the snake has already bitten you what’s the point in calling for a snake-charmer?  It’s too late.  By the way, the word “charmer” literally means “lord of the tongue.”  It reminds me of certain politicians or tele-evangelists.

            In this next section, in verses 12-15, Solomon points out the foolishness of worldliness.
Verses 12-15: 12Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; 13the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness.  14Yet the fool multiplies words.  No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?  15 The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city. 
  • Verses 12-13 say that a fool eventually devours himself.  There is a Brazilian maxim that says: “O peixe morre pela boca.”  It means, “The fish dies by means of his mouth.”  So it is with a fool.
  • Verse 14 reminds us that a fool is also often known by his verbosity, his use of many words.  In other words, he likes to hear himself speak.  He is enamored with the sound of his own voice.
  • The humor in Solomon’s last statement in verse 15 is that the fool doesn’t even know how to get to town.  It’s like the old expression, “He’s so stupid he doesn’t know enough to come in out of the rain.”  Also, apparently being a fool is hard work and all of his talking tires him out.

            In these last five verses of the chapter Solomon discusses the prudence of enduring even foolish leaders.  On the surface this seems contrary to all he has just been saying, but just listen to his logic.
Verses 16-17: 16Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning.  17Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time—for strength and not for drunkenness.
  • What is Solomon saying in verse 16?  “Woe” is the opposite of “blessed”.  It speaks of anguish, sadness, despair, and wretchedness.  He says that a nation who has a yahoo teenager for a leader who starts partying with his yahoo friends at 10 AM when he first wakes up is a nation in serious trouble.  Feasting is not for the morning hours.  That’s the time for work.  He’s saying that an immature leader who is influenced by foolish and unscrupulous advisers is a curse to a land.
  • On the other hand, he says that a nation is blessed if it has wise leaders of noble character who do their own thinking and know the right time and place for everything, and who are not ruled by their appetites.
            A foolish leader looks only to the present, not to the future.  He doesn’t “take care of business” and as a result buildings are ruined and money is squandered.
Verses 18-19: 18Through indolence [laziness] the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks.  19Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything.
  • Have you ever had a lousy landlord who wouldn’t be bothered to fix anything?  Before long his house or apartment was in a state of disrepair and collapse because of his laziness.  The same could be said of a homeowner who just lets everything slide.
  • Verse 19 is not the truth but it is the belief of the lazy, foolish king that Solomon is describing.  He thinks that life is just about pleasure, and wine, and money.  Not so.

            But in the last verse, verse 20, Solomon warns us to beware of cursing even a foolish leader, because the worse they are the more paranoid they are about anyone who speaks critically of them.  There are lots of examples in history of lousy leaders who were very savvy about how to keep themselves in office or in power.  Even if the king is a fool, don’t underestimate his power to complicate your life if you tick him off.  Solomon also touched on this subject up in verse 4.
Verse 20: 20Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known. 
  • You’ve heard the old expression, “…a little bird told me…”?  I’m pretty sure that it came from this verse.  Solomon says we should be careful of cursing or criticizing the king or other powerful men, even when we think we are in a place where no one can overhear us.  Things said in confidence or in secret have a way of getting out.  Many people’s lives, reputations, and careers have been destroyed through “loose lips”.
  • The poster child for this is former President Richard Nixon.  All those secret tapes—he never expected them to be made public; he never dreamed that his words spoken in private could end up as front page news.  They brought his whole administration tumbling down and have caused his name to be a symbol of shame.
            How can we tie all this together?  The more we listen to him the more sense Solomon starts to make.  There is much in this chapter that reminds me of the modern world we live in that has adopted and glorified the very vices and character flaws that he warns us about.
            As I see it, we are surrounded by fools, who are wise only in their own eyes.
  • To deny the existence and sovereignty of God makes a man a fool.
  • To value pleasure and possessions over virtue and nobility makes a man a fool.
  • To honor and elevate sinful behavior makes a man a fool.
  • To criticize righteousness makes a man a fool.
  • To tolerate and celebrate sinful people makes a man a fool.
  • To elect foolish leaders, ignoring their vices in favor of political expediency makes a man a fool.

            What do you think?  What does this text say to you this morning?

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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