The Consequences of Folly
Passage: Ecclesiastes 10:12-20
I hope that you’ve enjoyed our study in Ecclesiastes. I know I sure have! After today, we have only three lessons left. If you miss a lesson, or if you just want to go back and review it, I’ve been posting these lessons on our website, so you can find them there. They aren’t all up there yet, because I just started posting them about a month ago, and I haven’t finished going back and putting up the old notes, but eventually, it will all be there. So please take advantage of that resource. Also, if you’d like a physical copy of any of these lessons, just let me know, and I can print that off for you.
We’re in a section of Ecclesiastes that deals with wisdom and foolishness, and today, we are going to take a look at the consequences of folly. Solomon is going to show us what happens when a person embraces foolishness. So this is a passage about the effects of sin. Sin has tragic effects. God told Adam and Eve that in the day that they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die. And sure enough, when they ate that fruit, they died spiritually, and from then on, life on earth has never been the same, because sin has horrible consequences.
It is healthy for us to meditate on the consequences of sin. Sometimes a parent will warn a child, “Don’t go out into the street; if you do, you could get hit by a car.” What is that parent doing? She’s waving the potential consequences of folly in front of the child’s face so that the child will be more likely to heed the warning. That’s what Solomon is doing in this passage.
Now, a word of caution before we proceed. It is very tempting when you or I hear a lesson like this, to think about the guy in the pew behind us, or the family member at home, or the politician at the capitol. Now, I’m not saying that’s completely illegitimate. After all, it’s helpful to know how to diagnose the struggles of others so that we can help them. However, oftentimes when I focus on how a message applies to someone else rather than how it applies to me, I’m just feeding my pride. I’m not helping others, and I’m robbing myself of the blessing God intended for my heart. Mark Twain said, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” And unfortunately, that’s often the way we view the world. We focus on everything everyone else is doing wrong and completely ignore the ways in which we ourselves are failing. The gospel frees us from that pattern of thought. Because when a person gets saved, the Holy Spirit removes the blinders from his eyes so that for the first time, he sees his sin for what it really is. That is wonderful and glorious, and we ought to praise God that we’ve been rescued from ourselves in that way! But the problem is that the blinding effect of sin continues to plague us even after we become believers! That’s why we need the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and fellow Christians to help us see the sin in our own lives so that we can confess it and forsake it. So that said, let this morning’s lesson be first and foremost about you and how you can grow, rather than focusing on somebody else’s sins.
So what are some consequences of the fool’s folly? #1: His arrogant verbosity destroys him (vv. 12-14).
The Fool's Arrogant Verbosity Destroys Him.
I want you to notice three things about the fool’s speech in vv. 12-14. First, his speech is harsh. One commentator says, “All biblical wisdom literature eventually gets around to the topic of speech,” and this is the case with Ecclesiastes, as well. One of the reasons that the biblical writers harp on speech so much is that there is a direct connection between a person’s tongue and his heart. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” How many of you have been in a situation in which your speech betrayed you? You said something that you didn’t intend to say, and it gave away what you were actually thinking! The reason that the wise man’s words are gracious is that he has been the recipient of grace. What’s the opposite of gracious speech? It’s harsh words–words that “cut” or “bite.” No one speaks as harshly as the proud fool, who has resisted God’s grace. I know that in my life, when I’m tempted to think and speak harshly is when I’ve got a self-righteous attitude. Maybe I feel like I got a lot done at work that day. As a result, I spend the whole ride home (all 6 minutes of it) thinking about how great I am. So when I walk in the door and the laundry isn’t folded for some reason, I’m tempted to be critical of my wife. You see, when I live as though I don’t need God’s grace, I naturally deny that grace to others, as well. How about you? Have your words to your spouse this past week been characterized by grace? What about your words to your children? What about your words about other people? Have you gossiped or spoken harshly about others?
The fool’s speech is not only harsh; it’s also dumb! In fact, it’s a strange mixture of sin and stupidity. Look at v. 13. The word translated “raving” in the NKJV is literally the Hebrew word for “evil.” The fool starts out speaking foolishness and ends up speaking “evil madness.” His speech goes from bad to worse. The reason that the fool’s speech makes no sense is because he’s self-deceived. He’s spiritually blind. For one thing, the entire way he views the world is off. But what is especially skewed is the fool’s perception of himself. The fool does not make use of mirrors. He’s like the emperor in the story who wasn’t wearing any clothes. Everyone else could see the problem. But because of his arrogance, the emperor was blind to his own nakedness. To the point that ultimately, it took a little boy crying out, “The emperor is naked!” in order for him to realize the problem. The fool is the same way. And so when he talks, his speech sounds like madness.
The last thing we see about the fool’s speech is that he talks a lot (v. 14). Do you know anyone who talks too much? Do you talk too much? You say, “I don’t know? How would I know?” I Googled “how to tell if I talk too much” and came up with some interesting results. You might want to try that. Or you could just take some time to evaluate your typical conversations. Who does most of the talking? Is the topic of conversation typically you or the person you are talking with? Or, you could just ask someone close to you, “Do I talk too much?” Then, don’t scold them when they give you an honest answer! Personally, I’ve found that it’s very tempting for me to insert myself into conversations and tell what I know. For instance, if you bring up the topic of North Korea, it’s really hard for me not to tell you about the book I just read about the girl who escaped North Korea. But it’s pretty humbling to step back and ask myself, “Why was I so keen to share that information?” More often than not, it’s because I wanted to look smart. This past week, I took the time on a few occasions to ask the question, “Have I told you this before?” And I was surprised to hear the answer come back, “Yes!” I had already said that! And if I hadn’t taken the time to ask, I would have just said it all over again!
One of the things the fool talks too much about is the future. Look at v. 14. What is the connection between the first and the second half of that verse? The best explanation that I read last week was this: the fool brags about what he will do in the future. Solomon rebuts this idea by reminding us that no one knows what is going to happen, because God is in control of the future. Verse 14 reminds me of James 4:13-15. It says this. “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that. But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” Pride assumes that I am in control of my own destiny, and brags about what I am going to do. Humility understands that God is in control, and refrains from talking too much.
What happens when we don’t use gracious words? We end up hanging by our own words. Look at what Solomon says in v. 12. The lips of the fool (in other words, the words that he speaks) end up swallowing him up. It’s like his speech takes on a life of its own, until this very thing that he created comes back to eat him. Sounds like a horror movie, doesn’t it? And that’s probably how it feels for the fool. It’s like he’s living in his own horror story. Have your words ever come back to bite you? For some of us, the most painful memories we have are of words we wish we could take back. But you can’t take them back, can you?
So #1: the fool’s arrogant verbosity destroys him. #2: The fool’s incompetence wears him out (v. 15).
The Fool’s Incompetence Wears Him Out.
This is a difficult verse. However, the point seems to be that the fool’s work wears him out because he is so incompetent. He doesn’t even know how to get to the city. It’s like you could make up blonde jokes about the fool. Have you ever heard a blonde joke before? What’s the classic one? “How do you drown a blonde? Put a scratch and sniff sticker at the bottom of the pool.” Now, those jokes aren’t really about blondes, are they? At least I never took them that way. They’re about make-believe behavior that is so absurd that it’s funny. You could make blonde jokes about the fool. He doesn’t even know how to get to the city!
I read an article this past week about the CEO of a major organization who decided that he was going to eliminate all bosses in his company. His ambition was to achieve organizational enlightenment and to create the perfect work environment in which everyone was self-motivated and nobody needed anyone else telling them what to do. We’re not talking about a mom-and-pop business; this is a multi-million-dollar organization! In case you’re wondering, the experiment failed. People left the company in droves. In addition, Forbes mockingly named that CEO the winner of the Leon Trotsky prize for reorganization, Trotsky being an infamous communist. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, isn’t it? This world is wearing itself out with incompetence! In some ways, many of us probably feel like we’re living in an incompetent STATE–the state of California. Why is that? Is it because everyone in California is a moron!? No, it’s because when a society says “no” to God and His Word, it commits a form of intellectual suicide that always results in some degree of incompetence.
But let’s not leave the discussion with “those people out there.” After all, the point of this verse is not to make us annoyed with incompetent people in our lives; it’s to remind us that if we embrace folly, we too will become incompetent! Is there an area in your life in which folly has made you incompetent? Have you been an incompetent husband? An incompetent parent? Incompetent at work? Incompetent with your finances? It’s time that we humbled ourselves and surrendered to God’s Word in order to enjoy true, biblical success in these areas.
Third, we see that the fool’s immaturity spells disaster for the nation (vv. 16-17).
The Fool’s Immaturity Spells Disaster for the Nation.
In these verses, we see two possible sets of circumstances for a nation. What’s the first set of circumstances? (The king is a child and the officials feast in the morning.) What’s the second set of circumstances? (The king is the son of a nobleman and the princes feast at the proper time.) Now, what’s wrong with feasting in the morning? Can’t I have a big breakfast? An old adage comes to mind: “work before play.” You see, in the first scenario, the primary concern of the king and his officials (the “princes”) is self-indulgence. They see power as a means to serve themselves. So they begin partying early in the morning, when they should be looking after the affairs of state. Of course, in that scenario, the nation is doomed. The people living in that country will suffer, if that is how their leaders behave. How does Solomon describe the king who rules in that manner? (It calls him “a child” or “a servant.”) That sort of king is immature. He’s untrained in the art of self-discipline. He hasn’t learned how to control his own appetite.
But Solomon also gives us a positive example in v. 17 (v. 17). The land is blessed when the king is the son of nobles. In other words, he’s been trained by those who are well-versed in the art of self-discipline. This verse reminds me of movies in which a good old king seeks to help his son understand what it takes to be a good king. You’ve got to follow certain protocol, you’ve got to be reserved, you’ve got to think of the people first and your own welfare last, etc. The land is blessed when the new king has received that kind of training. It’s also blessed when he feasts at the proper time, for strength and not for drunkenness. In other words, when the king is the type of man who is self-disciplined, not only in when he eats, but in what he eats. He isn’t gluttonous or a drunkard. Proverbs 31:4-5 says, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It isnot for kings to drink wine, Nor for princes intoxicating drink; Lest they drink and forget the law, And pervert the justice of all the afflicted.” So good kings forgo certain pleasures in order to rule well. And in the same way, good Christians (and especially good Christians leaders) forgo certain pleasures in order to live well and lead well.
So how are you when it comes to self-discipline? Let’s just take the example given in this verse: eating. Are you a glutton? Are you a drunk? Or have you learned to deny yourself in order to serve others? Christian leader, in what ways have you used your authority to serve yourself, instead of serving others?
I’d like to take this opportunity to say that all of us should be thankful for the self-disciplined, hard-working servant-leaders we have benefited from, whether that be our parents, godly leaders in our churches and schools, or public servants in our government and military. These men and women have sacrificed greatly in order to bless us. And not a day should go by in which we are not thankful.
In addition, we ought to use these verses as a gauge to test would-be candidates for political office. There are so many irrelevant or even destructive characteristics that our world values when choosing leadership. But as Christians, we should seek to elect men and women who are self-disciplined, and who have a history of using their authority to serve others.
The fourth consequence of folly is that the fool’s laziness leads to discomfort and dysfunctionality (vv. 18-19).
The Fool’s Laziness Leads to Discomfort and Dysfunctionality.
Verse 18 is pretty simple to understand. Have you ever come across a building that’s in total disrepair? (I’m sure all of us have.) How does that make you feel? Personally, I have a pretty adverse reaction to that–for instance if I come across a house on Outreach where the paint is all peeling off and the yard is filled with weeds, or I walk into a store that’s dirty and where lots of things are broken. That really turns me off. Why? Well, first of all, it doesn’t look good and it’s not functional. But on a deeper level, that kind of thing often speaks volumes about the kind of people living in that house or running that business. It’s often an indication that they’re lazy people, and you don’t usually want to do business with lazy people!
Verse 18 describes a building that is decaying, or a roof that is leaking. How does this type of situation usually come about? Does it usually happen overnight? It can, if there’s some type of tornado or earthquake or something, but that’s not what Solomon is talking about. He’s talking about the kind of decay that takes place little by little as a result of a thousand lazy choices and missed opportunities. “I should fix that door handle. Nah, I’ll just watch sitcoms instead.” “I should get out early and mow the lawn. Nah, it’s too hot out there.” “I should do something about these dishes. But I’m so tired. I’ll take care of it later.” The problem is that over time, if you fail to keep up with the little details in life, your house will fall into disrepair.
Who wants to live in a leaky, moldy house? Nobody! It’s unpleasant and dysfunctional! But that is the price that the fool pays for his laziness. He gets to avoid work and watch TV now, but later, he will regret it.
One of the areas in which many of us are probably tempted to be lazy is in the area of finances (v. 19). Some people say that we should read this verse as a quotation spoken by the lazy man. But I just don’t see that. To me, the best interpretation of this verse is that it means exactly what it seems to be saying: “feasting and wine are good and nice, but money answers everything.” Now of course, we have to read that within the context of what Solomon has already said about money. Remember, Solomon was very clear in chapters 1-6 that money WILL NOT SATISFY. It CANNOT satisfy. It never satisfies. And yet, when he turned the corner in chapter 7 and began talking about wisdom, Solomon admitted that money does have its benefits. He said in 7:11-12, “Wisdom is good with an inheritance, And profitable to those who see the sun. For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense, But the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it.” So in those verses, Solomon places money alongside wisdom and says that both are very handy to have! If you try to find meaning in life through money, you will utterly fail. But once you’ve got that settled, it’s a good thing to work hard and to save some money. Fast forward to 10:19. Solomon has just spoken out against laziness; now he goes on to remind us of the value of money, his point being (as far as I can tell) that we ought to work hard and save money! Don’t waste all your money going out to eat all the time!
So interestingly enough, vv. 16-19 touch on two of the areas in which people often have the greatest difficulty exercising self-discipline: food and finances. Let me ask you, how do you do in these areas? Are you disciplined with your spending, or do you often buy things on impulse? Do you have a budget? Do you save? Do you exercise restraint when it comes to what you eat?
But of course, there’s one other area in this passage in which Solomon encourages self-discipline. And if food and finances are two of the most difficult areas in which to exercise self-restraint, this one is right up there, as well. It’s actually the topic that we began with today; and so in coming back to it, Solomon has gone full-circle. It’s the area of the speech. One of the consequences of folly is that the fool’s insolence comes back to bite him (v. 20).
The Fool’s Insolence Comes Back to Bite Him.
There are a couple things that you’ve got to love about this verse. First is the way that Solomon uses what has become a common metaphor. Have you ever said “a little birdy told me”? That metaphor has been around since ancient times. We find it in extra biblical writings, as well. I don’t know if Solomon was the first to come up with it or not, I didn’t find that in my study last week. But regardless, here it is. What are we meaning to communicate when we say, “a little birdy told me?” For one, we are probably trying to keep our source anonymous. But we’re also saying something about the nature of communication, and that is that word gets around. Anyone who has spent ANY time on this earth knows that if you tell someone something, chances are it’s going to get around. Sometimes people are motivated by gossip or malicious intent, and sometimes it’s completely innocent–they just let something slip.
But that causes problems for the person who is in the habit of cursing the king! Now this is somewhat hard for us to fathom in today’s society. In our culture, almost anything goes when it comes to what you can say about the nation’s leaders, even in very public venues. People criticize one another viciously all the time. It’s tragic, but better that than live in a country in which the king controls what everyone can or can’t say. That was the reality in which Solomon’s audience was living. If you criticize or even curse Donald Trump, probably nothing is going to happen, as long as you don’t threaten his life, and even then, you might not get in trouble. But if you cursed an ancient near eastern king, it was “off with your head!”
So Solomon says, “Don’t do it!” Now that’s obvious advice. Like, “Duh, everybody knows that, Solomon.” “Ya, but does everybody know that you shouldn’t even do so in your bedchamber or in your thoughts?” And this is where the second thing that you’ve got to love about this passage comes in. Because Solomon recognizes that something as dangerous as cursing the king should not even be done in the privacy of one’s own home or in his thoughts! Why? The reason why you shouldn’t curse the king in your bedroom is pretty obvious: someone might overhear and rat you out. You think you’re among friends, but you can never be too careful.
But why not curse the king in your thoughts? After all, no one can read your mind, can they? The reason why Solomon says not to curse the king in your thoughts is that he knows, like Jesus said, that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. If you curse the king in your head long enough, one day, you’re going to do it out loud, and word will get back to the king, and you could lose your life. You see, there’s a progression to these things. And it all starts with what goes on between your ears–in your head, and in your heart. That is why Proverbs 4:23 says that we must guard out hearts with all diligence because out of it spring the issues of life. Do you remember the War in Iraq? Now, whether you agree with it or not, do you remember the reason given for fighting that war? It was that if we fight terrorism over there, we won’t have to deal with it over here. I’ve often thought about that as an illustration for why we should guard our hearts. Because if we fight sin there, chances are it will not come out nearly as often.
I should point out that the primary reason we should respect governing authorities is that God told us so and that doing so glorifies Him. Solomon certainly wouldn’t disagree with that. And yet, there’s also a practical side to why it is good to respect them–so that you don’t get your head lopped off!
There are two character qualities that are glaringly absent in the fool: humility and self-discipline. If the fool was humble, he wouldn’t talk so much. If he was submitted to God’s rule over Him, he wouldn’t feast and neglect the responsibilities of the state, etc. So the key to not being a fool is first of all to be humble and submit to God’s rule in your life, and then second, to do hard things. I don’t remember where I heard it, but I’ve been reminding myself this past week that one of the biggest keys to my happiness and success in life is learning to say no… to myself! Have you mastered the art of saying no to yourself? Do you regularly confess your sins to God and others–in other words, are you humble? Is your life currently submitted to God’s rule in every area? That is the way to avoid foolishness along with its disastrous consequences.
Finally, if you know some fools in your life, I hope this lesson motivates you not to be annoyed at them, but to pity them, because of the disastrous consequences that await them or perhaps that they are already facing. I pray that you will reach out in love to the fools in your life, just like God reached out in love to you.