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Lesson 11: Dead Flies and Snake Charmers: More Life Under the Sun *

Introduction: Last week, we ended our study with the story of the man who saved the city against a great military power. The people of the city forgot the man because he was poor. His wisdom was not valued by them. This week, Solomon continues to urge us to consider the importance of wisdom in our words and in our work. Let's wisely dive into our study!

  1. Dead Flies and Democrats

    1. Read Ecclesiastes 10:1. Picture dead flies in an open jar of perfume. Would you pick the flies out and use the perfume?

      1. If you say "no," wouldn't the stink of the flies be gone once you scooped them out of the perfume?

      2. Wouldn't it be the "green" thing to do to save all that perfume? (You put perfume on your body. The idea of rubbing dead fly juice on you is just revolting. Besides, someone might be able to smell just a hint of "dead fly" on you.)

      3. Now that you have focused on this problem, how careful will you be in the future to keep the top on your jar of perfume?

      4. How careful should you be to avoid a little folly in your life? (You have all of this good perfume in the jar and you have all of these good and honorable things in your life. It seems irrational to waste all the perfume because of a few dead flies, but the sad fact is that you can ruin your life by a few (maybe even one) foolish deed.)

    2. Read Ecclesiastes 10:2. Just when you thought Solomon was writing for another time and place, American Republicans realize his words are for our time, right?

      1. Seriously, Solomon has just told us how much a little foolishness can ruin our life. How do you understand his advice to avoid foolishness? How do we get our hearts to lean right? Should we literally bend to the right? (The commentary, Be Satisfied, explains "in the ancient world the right hand was the place of power and honor, while the left hand represented weakness and rejection." If you are wise, your mind is set on what is morally right and that will tend towards power and honor. If you are foolish, you will gravitate towards what is wrong and that will get you in trouble.)

    3. Read Ecclesiastes 10:3. Are foolish people obvious? (Solomon tells us that even in simple tasks - like driving the car - you can tell if a person lacks wisdom.)

  1. Practical Advice for Would Be Fools

    1. Read Ecclesiastes 10:4. Have you ever seen someone stomp out of a meeting in anger? Have you ever seen someone quit their job in a huff? (I know a fellow who quit a job he otherwise liked because he became angry in a moment. The next day he changed his mind and his boss told him he had already quit. My impression is that his working life was never again as good. Solomon says "When your boss gets angry, stay calm, keep working, explain your position and you can clear up your boss's misconceptions.")

    2. Read Ecclesiastes 10:5-7. Can you depend on your boss not to be a fool? (No. Rulers make mistakes and promote fools to positions of authority. When that happens, take it calmly and do your best in your work.)

    3. Read Ecclesiastes 10:8-9. If you work hard and smart, is there any guarantee that you will succeed?(Solomon's message is that being wise and hard-working, being inclined to do what is right, is not a sure-fire method for success. Because of poor judgment, some fools may have authority over you. Sometimes, your hard work ends up injuring you. Life here on earth is not absolutely predictable.)

    4. Read Ecclesiastes 10:10. What should you do if you are working under the authority of a fool? Does a dull ax have anything to do with this?(Solomon says that even if you have to work under poor conditions (working with a dull ax), if you work hard and skillfully, you can overcome the difficult conditions. The message seems to be that life is unpredictable, life presents challenges, but in general terms being wise and skillful will bring success.)

    5. Read Ecclesiastes 10:11. What if you are doing what Solomon suggests in Ecclesiastes 10:10, and your "dull ax" boss bites you before you have been able to show the results of your hard, skillful work? (In that case, you are not going to profit from your hard work.)

      1. Would being "bitten" by your boss be your fault? After all, in this story you are the "snake charmer." Has the snake charmer failed in being "charming?" (Compare Proverbs 22:11.)

      2. Is there some other point that you think Solomon is making here? (Solomon seems quite worried about snakes. He mentions being bitten in this verse and in Ecclesiastes 10:8. Snake charming on its face is a dangerous profession. His point may be that if you engage in high risk work or high risk investments, you may get bitten.)

    6. Read Ecclesiastes 10:12. What is a gracious word? (Read Proverbs 25:11. I like this mental picture. You appreciate gracious words. You are uplifted by gracious words. I remember a diligent church worker who created all sorts of problems with her words. She knew that her words offended, but that did not change her behavior. I remember her (often) saying, "I'm going to be direct, because that is just the way I am." Then she would rip off your ears with her "direct" criticism. We are by nature sinners, but that is no justification to continue sinning! Consider your words!)

      1. Another interesting mental picture is found in Ecclesiastes 10:12: a fool is consumed by his own lips. Imagine your lips eating you! What does this mean? (Your words destroy the quality of your life. See, Proverbs 10:21.)

    7. Read Ecclesiastes 10:13-14. How is folly different from madness? Why would a fool start out with words which are folly and end up with words which are madness? (All of us can remember times when we foolishly said something. If you are wise, you will learn from this and not repeat it. However, if you are a fool, you learn nothing and you continue to pour out nonsense, expecting a different result. A contemporary saying is that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result.)

      1. Why does this text end with a comment about the future? What do foolish words have to do with predicting the future? (Read Proverbs 27:1. We want to boast about our hopes and dreams. But, this, too, is foolish for we do not know the future. The future is in God's hands.)

    8. Read Ecclesiastes 10:15. Why would a fool get more tired from his work than a wise person? (The fool is talking so much, he is not paying attention to what is going on. That requires him to waste time doing unnecessary things. The commentary, Be Satisfied, had the interesting comment that the fool is talking so much he misses the sign pointing out the way to the town. I must confess that I've been talking while driving and missed the sign marking the exit to my destination.)

      1. "He can't find his way to the courthouse," is an old saying about incompetent lawyers. Since I always seem to be litigating in a new court, I'm often trying to find the courthouse. Would this expression apply to me? (What Solomon and this expression tell us is that if you cannot find the place where you are supposed to be working, you obviously cannot do the work. If work is in town, and you cannot find the way to town, you are in trouble.)

      2. Would it be fair to understand "the town" (city) to refer to the New Jerusalem?

    9. Let's skip down and read Ecclesiastes 10:18. Yesterday, I was contemplating my life and I saw what I thought was a deficiency. Nothing around my house gets fixed unless I fix it. The guys at my office don't know how to do the "practical" things I do, so they pay other people to do those things. Does the fact that I am working while others are paying to have things fixed disprove what Solomon says? (Others work to earn money to pay workers to do what they cannot do. In one way or another, the guys at my office "work" to keep the roof from leaking or the rafters from sagging. The goal, which I am missing, is to employ other workers to make money for you!)

    10. Read Ecclesiastes 10:19. Do you agree? If so, how is this true? (Since Solomon was just writing about laziness, he may be suggesting that bribes are the "answer" when you are a foolish, lazy ruler.)

    11. Read Ecclesiastes 10:20. What is a "bird of the air?" If you are an employee, do you follow this wise advice? (You remember all of the discussion about foolish, "dull-ax," bosses? If you think you have one, you should keep that to yourself. Even thinking about your complaints about your boss does you no good.)

      1. In what situations other than employment would this advice apply?

    12. Friend, life here on earth is not entirely predictable. If you want to improve the odds of success, Solomon counsels to focus on what is right, pay attention to your words, and show wisdom in everything you do.

  2. Next week: The Way of the Wind.

* Copr. 2007, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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