Summary: Folly is useless thinking and action and comes from rejecting God’s wisdom. Solomon describes folly through a series of proverbs.
Overcoming Futility—a sermon series on Ecclesiastes
“Folly” &Ecclesiastes 10 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Jesus makes a strong statement in His Sermon on the Mount; He warns, “Anyone who calls someone a fool is in danger of the fire of hell” (5:22). This was, in our Lord’s day, an especially vile curse; today we use this “four-letter word” casually. Words can change meaning over time. In Jesus’ day, calling someone a “fool” meant that you were judging that person as wicked and unfit to live. Today we use the word to indicate someone who’s simple-minded or unwise.
Solomon devotes chapter 10 to a proverbial description of folly. The wickedness of folly comes from rejecting wisdom. If we reject God, we can fall for anything, and believe any popular lie. When we see the world through the lens of Scripture, we stop being gullible. We grow up and understand why we’re here.
Yesterday our family visited the Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston. On the side of a hill is a classical temple façade called “Folly”, defined as a “useless structure with no function other than to grab one’s attention.” The key word is “useless”. Folly is useless thoughts and actions.
I don’t have a clever outline for this chapter; instead, I’d like us to consider Solomon’s counsel, one topic at a time…
WORDS…According to verse one, costly perfume can be corrupted. It doesn’t take much foolishness to ruin a person; like a polluting fly in the ointment, folly mars our ability to see clearly and live rightly. This fly-metaphor refers to deceitful speech, the foul-smelling words of death. Here’s a good prayer: “Lord, please put Your arm around my shoulder and Your hand over my mouth.” We have to choose our words wisely because it’s hard to withdraw them once they’re spoken.
CHOICES…In verses 2-3, Solomon isn’t talking about political leanings, but I’m sure pundits could make much of this verse! He’s referring to the choices people make in life. There’s plenty of light for those who want to see, and enough darkness for those who desire darkness. Foolish people walk in a perilous direction; they exercise poor judgment, with little regard for the consequences of their faulty thinking. “The right” is a Jewish expression for the right hand, considered the hand of justice and protection. The “left” is the road to ruin. Jesus said that, “wisdom is vindicated by its deeds” (Mt 11:19). It’s not just what we say but how we walk that shows whether we’ve embraced wisdom.
REACTIONS…In verse 4 we learn that we’re not responsible for how those in authority treat us; we’re only responsible for how we react. We can’t let their lack of control justify an outburst on our part. We need to maintain our composure and remain dialogical. I know what it’s like to be chewed out by a Brigade Commander for no good reason, but that doesn’t justify hasty action. We don’t abandon our post or resign; we calmly appeal to those in authority and try to stay on good terms. This is true in marriage as well; sensible husbands and wives don’t “throw in the towel” over disagreements; they negotiate; they work toward resolution and reconciliation, keeping in mind that they’re both on the same team.
WORK…Have you known any “fools in high positions”? Verses 5-7 sounds like the “Peter Principle” which claims that employees rise to their level of incompetence. Some employees will deliberately leave room for improvement by starting out at less than peak effectiveness to keep expectations from being set too high, and only ramping up to full productivity later. Incompetent workers are eventually moved to where they can do the least amount of damage.
Why is the prince walking? Maybe he wanted exercise? Whatever the reason, life is full of irony. The issue here I think isn’t social class but competence. You want the prince leading the battle, not his servant or a foot soldier.
RISK…We see in verses 8-9 how life is full of risk. The wise take precautions; fools simply blunder forth. Progress involves risk; you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first. Wisdom marks the difference between success and failure. The Darwin Awards chronicle people who’ve been seriously injured or killed by foolish accidents. For example: On a winter day, a man dropped his cell phone while walking over a bridge onto a frozen lake. The phone didn’t break, so he went out onto the ice. The ice, however did break, since it was thin, and the man was much heavier than his cellphone.
PREVENTION…According to verse 10, when you’re chopping firewood with a dull blade, what do you do? Work harder, or smarter? Today we might say that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We need to think things through.