1Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. 2 A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left. 3Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he says to everyone that he is a fool. 4If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for calmness will lay great offenses to rest. 5There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: 6folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. 7I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves.
(Ecclesiastes 10:1-7 ESV)
Continuing on from where he left off in chapter nine, King Solomon uses several proverbs in chapter 10 that tell us it doesn’t take much to undo wise plans or to undermine a reputation built on wisdom.
Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench. Flies are small. Yet when they fall into perfume, which is supposed to smell good, they cause it to small bad. Similarly just a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
The most wise plans are easily undermined by folly. And an honorable reputation is quickly erased by foolish behavior.
In ancient times the right and left hands were thought to be good and bad, respectively. This is probably because most people are right-handed. In fact, the Latin word for “left” is “sinister”.
Therefore, proverbially, a wise man inclines to the right – to good things – whereas a fool inclines to the left – to bad things. Notice in both cases that it is a person’s heart – their character – that leads them.
When we are inherently wise we will do and experience good things. Other people will take notice. The opposite is also true. A fool says to everyone that he is a fool. Just by observing his actions people can tell he lacks sense. It isn’t too difficult in life to tell who are the wise and who are the foolish.
One way we can exhibit wisdom is in our dealings with someone (perhaps a ruler – someone in authority) who shows anger against us. The best response is calmness because calmness indicates that such actions are inconsequential and are not worth getting upset over.
Such strength of character will put great offenses to rest much more than reacting to them ever will. It will also limit or prevent such future attacks if our adversary was purposely trying to rile us. Its wisest to just let such things roll off our backs.
In fact, those who demonstrate anger at their subordinates are the ones acting foolishly as folly is often set in high places. Just because someone is a leader doesn’t mean they are wise. There have been plenty of people in high places in history who were stupid and who demonstrated their stupidity by their actions.
There are people who are better suited for being followers (e.g. slaves) who are in leadership positions (e.g. riding on horses). And there are people who are meant to be leaders (e.g. princes) who are not.
We certainly see this in our society when it comes to political appointments. Elected officials often hand out jobs to those who got them elected regardless of their qualifications. We also see people in the entertainment industry (e.g. the Khardasians, Ellen, Oprah) setting the moral tone for the country when they clearly should not be.
This is part of the evil that happens on earth due to sin. It should not surprise us. When we have a society that lives as if there is no God (under the sun) this is what happens.
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