Dead Flies and Little Birds
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Dead Flies and Little Birds

From Series: A Study in Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes 10:1-20  (ID: 2300)

Chapter 10 of Ecclesiastes introduces us to the foolish person. Like dumb sheep, we are susceptible to making foolish choices that can destroy a good reputation, and being careless with our choices in this life is evidence that we are not prepared for the next. Alistair Begg explains that a foolish person can only be transformed by the wisdom of the Cross.


Sermon Transcript: Print

We’re going to read from our Bibles in Ecclesiastes and the tenth chapter. And we’re going to read this chapter and then pray and then study it together. You may like just to keep it open before you as we pray.

As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,
 so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
 but the heart of the fool to the left.
Even as he walks along the road,
 the fool lacks sense
 and shows everyone how stupid he is.
If a ruler’s anger rises against you,
 do not leave your post;
 calmness can lay great errors to rest.

There is an evil I have seen under the sun,
 the sort of error that arises from a ruler:
Fools are put in many high positions,
 while the rich occupy the low ones.
I have seen slaves on horseback,
 while princes go on foot like slaves.

Whoever digs a pit may fall into it;
 whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.
Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them;
 whoever splits logs may be endangered by them.

If the ax is dull
 and its edge unsharpened,
more strength is needed
 but skill will bring success.

If a snake bites before it is charmed,
 there is no profit for the charmer.

Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious,
 but a fool is consumed by his own lips.
At the beginning his words are folly;
 at the end they are wicked madness—
 and the fool multiplies words.
No one knows what is coming—
 who can tell him what will happen after him?

A fool’s work wearies him;
 he does not know the way to town.

Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant
 and whose princes feast in the morning.
Blessed are you, O land whose king is of noble birth
 and whose princes eat at a proper time—
 for strength and not for drunkenness.

If a man is lazy, the rafters sag;
 if his hands are idle, the house leaks.

A feast is made for laughter,
 and wine makes life merry,
 but money is the answer for everything.

Do not revile the king even in your thoughts,
 or curse the rich in your bedroom,
because a bird of the air may carry your words,
 and a bird on the wing may report what you say.

Amen.

Father, as we study the Bible together, it is our earnest longing that you will take my words and speak through them, take our minds and help us to think through them, and take our hearts and transform them by the power of your truth. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

Well, the writer of these chapters is about to turn into the home straight and to answer some of the questions that he has left hanging. That will become apparent as we get to the eleventh and the twelfth chapter. But before doing so, he takes this tenth chapter and provides us with a series of proverbial statements much akin to what we find in the book of Proverbs itself. And throughout this chapter he is urging his readers to resist folly and to embrace wisdom. We could summarize it, actually, in just one hortatory statement: “Be sensible!” “Be sensible! Don’t go the way of the fool; instead, go the way of the wise man.”

Some of us have spoken before about visiting the town of Oban in the west of Scotland, a small seaside town where people go, often to take the ferry across to the Island of Mull. And if you’ve been there, you probably have bought an umbrella, if you didn’t carry one. And along with the rain, one of your memories may have been the Colosseum-like structure which towers over the small town and looks down over the bay.

And in your initial arrival in the place, you may have said to your traveling companions, “We must go up there and see what that is. It looks to be quite a magnificent thing.” But when you went up there, you discovered that it really was nothing at all. It was just a big, circular piece of real estate. There were no windows in it. There was no flooring in it, no ceiling on it. Nothing in it at all! And you said to yourself, “This is a rather interesting construction. I wonder who put it here.”

And then you would have read a little of the blurb, and you would have discovered that it was put there by a man, a gentleman by the name of Mr. McCaig, and it was known as McCaig’s Folly, because it was empty. It was a shell. It served no real function. It was practically useless. And in that respect, it was similar to structures that are found in other places in Europe, not least of all in France, and you may have seen them there. They are described as folies, standing there as a testimony to the foolish endeavors of Mr. McCaig.

Now, when you come to chapter 10, he provides us, if you like, not with a Colosseum-like structure but with the anatomy of foolishness. He provides us, if you like, with the identikit picture of folly. Here we see folly walking the streets, scaling the heights, propounding its notions. And what I want to do is simply track a line through it with you, identifying, first of all, in verses 1–4, folly as we find it on the street. Folly as we find it on the street, or folly, if you like, down at ground level.

Folly on the Street

The opening statement here is an illustration that would have been immediately understood by the writer’s readers: “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” And in the process of making perfume, often of a more ointment construction than some of the perfume that would be used today—more like a body oil than the squirts from those tiny little bottles—it would only take one small fly; although it is a tiny creature, it could spoil the whole fragrance very easily. And he said, “In the same way, it doesn’t take much folly to outweigh wisdom and honor.”

You could have built a reputation in your life for many years, over a period of twenty or thirty years. You could be known for being a wise and honorable citizen. And then, in a moment of foolishness, you can mar that reputation. A tiny amount of folly may destroy a family, ruin a reputation, bring heartache into a marriage.

What he is saying in the opening verse of chapter 10 is simply an illustration of the way in which he has concluded chapter 9: “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, … one sinner destroys much good.”[1] It takes far less to ruin something than it does to create it. In common parlance, it is easier to cause a stink than it is to create sweetness. In a foolish impulse, in a sudden lapse of judgment, something beautiful may be irreparably spoiled.

When what is natural and sensible and orderly is in place, wisdom will thrive.

Now, can I say just a word to our young people here this morning? In a foolish impulse or in a sudden lapse of judgment, something beautiful—namely, your virginity—may be irreparably spoiled. You don’t have to remain a virgin for all of your life; just for the next five minutes, and then for the five minutes after that, and particularly for the five minutes when all hell lets loose against you with a big smiling face and the leering grin of someone who says, “Everybody does this.” One lapse in judgment, one foolish encounter, and you remove from yourself that which is unique and precious to you.

Therefore, you have to set moral sentries. The same is true regarding any fall into sin. Watch out for the unguarded moment—the damage caused by the hasty word, by the irritable temper, by the rudeness of manner, by the occasional slip, by the supposedly harmless eccentricity. “Oh, you know, he does that with everybody. Don’t worry.” You know, “He puts his arm around everyone. You don’t have to worry about him.” Don’t be too quick to assume that that’s the case.

Verse 2 points out that when we err in this way, it is ultimately an issue of the heart. For those of you who are left-handed, don’t allow this verse to unsettle you. Let me retranslate it for you in a way that I think does justice to the emphasis that it brings: “The wise man’s heart leads him aright; the fool’s heart leads him astray.” That’s the point that he’s making.

The folly here is not primarily that of the mental deficiency but of moral perversity. The fool, he says, inclines to the less valuable. The fool inclines to what is wrong—to the extent, as he then points out in verse 3, that this kind of foolishness isn’t easily disguised. And he provides us with a comic picture, the kind of fool that you find portrayed constantly in Shakespeare’s plays: “Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and [he] shows every[body] how stupid he is.”

There’s something about the way a fool walks, the way a fool expresses himself. It is absolute foolishness to see these drunken people come down the streets. They think it’s so terrific, but they look foolish. In Scotland, in traffic jams, after imbibing vast amounts of alcohol at football matches—namely, soccer matches—it’s not uncommon for policemen to be chasing gentlemen who have decided that in order to beat the crush that is on the pavement, they will simply walk on the roofs and the hoods of cars. And so they walk on the cars, down and trying to get out of the parking lot, and you can see them coming. They don’t have to say anything. They’re just really foolish! They don’t have to open their mouths.

I can’t say anything unkind, again, this morning… Could I dare say anything about those dreadful masks that the people wear, with the dogs’ heads on them, and walk through the streets of Cleveland? What in the world is that about? It’s hard to convince other people across the country that this is a rarified atmosphere in which we live and it’s a fairly, you know, high-level town when the people are going around eating dog biscuits and barking and everything. They don’t have to do much, and the people say, “What a foolish bunch of people they are! Who are those people who do that?” Well, I don’t know who’s behind that. Some of you may be behind those masks, for all I know! Having got to know some of you, it wouldn’t surprise me a little bit.

Now, when you cross-reference this with what it says in the book of Proverbs, you will discover that when the fool is approaching, you will be able to sense it, because other people are leaving. As the fool approaches, people leave. That’s what he says in Proverbs [14:7]. Why is everybody backing off? Because they can see him coming!

The fool seldom listens to what he’s being told. He says, “Ah-ha, ah-ha,” and looks all around, but he doesn’t actually pay attention. And yet, at the same time, when he speaks voluminously, he anticipates that the individual will listen to everything he has to say. And the fool is not the person you should use to deliver your mail. You would be better to chop your feet off than to send an important message with a fool. So says Solomon, Proverbs 26:6.

In verse 4, the writer warns of the way foolishness can make us rush out of an opportunity for employment because we take the huff. I read verse 4 again and again until I figured out what it really meant, and I think this is what it means. “If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest.” And what he’s describing here is the foolish pride which quickly takes the huff and storms out. Says Kidner, “It may feel magnificent to ‘resign your post’ …, ostensibly on principle but actually in a fit of pride[;] it is in fact less impressive, [and] more immature, than it feels.”[2]

And some of us, tragically, can see our faces in this verse. We decided that because of this or that or the next thing, our pride being wounded, we weren’t going to put up with any more of this at all. Oh, no, no! We’re not going to allow this person, this boss, sitting up in room 43, to get angry with us just at the drop of a hat. No, no! We’re out! We’re gone! And so we began to pack our box and away we went down the stairs, or we slammed the boardroom door, and out we went. It felt so good for a moment. We got to the bottom of the stairs; we realized that we didn’t have that fountain pen that our wife gave us for our Christmas. And we had the horrible dilemma of having to go back up again, and everyone sitting around the room we had just stormed out in the huff. Now we have to go and say, “I left… I left my pen.” And the people just looked. They didn’t say anything. We went in, we took our pen, and we walked out. And as the door closed, we could hear it just went, “Fool, fool, fool, fool, fool, fool, fool, fool!”

Now, the interesting thing is, of course, that the anger of the ruler is often driven by the same kind of pride that the foolish person exercises in taking the huff. So, better to have only one person in the huff than two people in the huff. Better just leave your boss in the huff and have a calm answer for him than get two people in the huff! That’s intense, practical wisdom. For those of you who had something planned for tomorrow morning, something special along these lines, perhaps Ecclesiastes 10:4 will be an antidote to your foolishness. “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded”—Proverbs 25:15. “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded.” The fact is that patience and folly seldom hold hands walking down the street. Patience and folly usually don’t hold hands as they walk down the street.

Folly in High Places

Well, from folly on the street to folly in high places. That’s what he’s referring to in verse 5 and following, and also verses 16 and 17. Folly apparently knows no class distinctions. “I have seen … the sort of error that arises from a [certain kind of] ruler,” where “fools are put in … high positions.” Apparently, there have been fools in government consistently throughout history. And when you have the leadership that is described in verse 5, then the upheavals of 6 and 7 shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

Now, each of us reads these verses in light of our understanding of contemporary history as well. And what we need to recognize is that what he is saying here is that only when what is natural and sensible and orderly is in place will wisdom thrive. And when what is unnatural and not sensible and disorderly is in place, then it gives the opportunity for folly to expand. I recognize that the notion of princes raises the ire of the average American, and therefore, it would be difficult for me to convince you of the importance of the prince here. Of course, I don’t have to do so, because the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. And what he is saying is this: that when you have chaos in the realm of leadership, when you have folly making decisions, then it does not live in high places alone, but it bleeds down into the very structure of society. Therefore, it is imperative that we see, as we exercise our democratic privileges, to it that we do not put foolish leadership in place.

George III, one of the kings of Great Britain, was known for talking to the trees in Windsor Park. It just gives you cause for concern when you find your king, whom you’re supposed to bow down before, out talking to a gigantic oak tree before he has his morning coffee. Caligula, the Roman emperor, was so out of it that he proposed that his horse be elected a consul, and he kitted it out with a beautiful marble stall and purple blankets and suggested that members of the Roman population come and bow down before his horse.

Verse 7 provides an apt summary of revolution. It made me think immediately of the overthrow of the czar of Russia. I’ve no particular interest in upholding Czarist Russia, but I have observed the mayhem and the chaos that was part of the Russian Revolution, and every revolution since, where wrong people are placed in or assume for themselves leadership.

Now, we need to move on from here, but we should note in passing that when individuals are incapable of making right choices in their private lives, when they’re guilty of dreadful errors in judgment, then they ought not to be entrusted with the wider responsibilities of government and with the great influence that their position would give them. Surely that’s the import of verses 16 and 17, the contrast between them.

First of all, he pronounces a woe, and then he pronounces a blessing: “Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning.” First, a ruler without wisdom surrounded by decadence. In contemporary terms, “Woe to you, O America, when your president is a peon and when his administration is known for wild and crazy parties and for mayhem in the bedrooms. Blessed are you, O land, when your president is of noble birth, when princes eat at the proper time, and they do so for strength, and not so that they might get smashed and run around like crazy people.” There’s tremendous sense in this, isn’t there? You say, “It makes perfect sense.” It makes perfect sense in every generation.

Folly at Work

Folly on the street. Folly in high places. Thirdly, folly at work—verses 8–11 and verse 15. Folly at work: “Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.” He goes through these various things. And if chapter 10 may be summarized under the heading “Be Sensible!” then this little section may fall under the heading “Be Realistic!”

And the pit which traps its maker, you will find—if you read, for example, in the Psalms—that it is a picture of poetic justice. In Psalm 7:15, Psalm 9:15, Psalm 35:[8], you will find that this whole picture of digging a pit and then falling into it yourself is a picture of poetic justice. And the grabbing impact of an unnoticed serpent is the image in the Old Testament of a lurking retribution. You can go, for example, to Amos chapter 5 and read of this,[3] and you then can understand why it was that the people reacted as they did when the viper fastened on the hand of Paul in Acts chapter 28.[4] And they recoiled from the situation because their minds were so framed by the thinking of the Old Testament that somehow or another, in the advance of the snake or the serpent or the viper, it was an indication of a retribution which was falling upon the individual. And so they expected that Paul would die. Of course, he shook it off, and they were amazed.

Verse 10 provides us with a blinding glimpse of the obvious: “If the ax is dull and its edge [is] unsharpened,” you’re going to have to beat like crazy on the wood, and all you’re going to do is smash it and crash it and bump it. But if you would take the time to sharpen the ax before you begin—if you would bring skill rather than strength to bear upon it, if you would bring inspiration rather than perspiration—then, of course, your endeavor will be met with far greater success.

But the fool says, “I don’t want to take time to sharpen the ax. I don’t want to take time to make preparations. Let me just… Give me the thing, and let me get at it!” And so he flails away, makes a dreadful mess. And any sensible person, particularly his wife, can see that if only he would have taken a couple of minutes to have the thing sharpened, then all of the wood would have been chopped, and we would be ready to leave now. But instead, we’ve got wood all over the place, perspiration running down his back. A little more skill and a little more strength, and things would be so different.

Verse 11 takes us back to the comedic picture, doesn’t it? “If a snake bites before it[’s] charmed, there[’s] no profit for the charmer.” And so we picture the fool deciding that he’s going to take himself out into the bazaar and he’s going to do something bizarre—that is, he’s going to charm snakes. And so he puts the snake in the basket, and he sets it down, and he gets ready. He fiddles around looking for his flute, which, because he’s so silly, he probably has left somewhere. And while he’s just getting ready to charm the snake, the snake gets so tired of waiting in the basket that it pops its head out and bites Mrs. Jenkins, who was waiting for the event to begin. It’s going to be very difficult, then, for the snake charmer, having not done any charming, to do a little charging. Such a foolish venture! The snake bites before it’s charmed; no profit for the charmer.

Folly blusters ahead when it should wait. Folly delays unduly when it is time to proceed. The work of a fool, verse 15, is just an absolute weariness to him: “He does[n’t] know the way to town.” He makes things needlessly difficult for himself. He can get lost, as we say, in an elevator.

Folly in Words

Now, fourthly, I want you to notice folly in words. Verse 12: “Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips.” It’s quite a picture, isn’t it? Somebody being consumed by their own lips. In fact, it is a feat—an unimaginable feat! It makes me think of the early days of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and when they would go into the animation, and the things would do quite incredible things. And what you have here is the cannibal committing suicide the way he knows best. The fool consumes himself. “A fool’s lips,” says Solomon, may “bring him strife, … his mouth invites a beating”[5]—not that he’s dull but that he is wrong-headed. He refuses to begin with God. He refuses to begin with wisdom. Therefore, there’s no surprise when his words, having begun—verse 13—in “folly” end up as “wicked madness.”

Now, I flip through the channels same as you do. I have the basic whatever you can get so that I can minimize the impact of mayhem and craziness as it appeals to my sinful propensities and as it reaches in to try and grab my attention. I have minimized the risk as best as it is possible without taking the television and throwing it out into the back garden. But just in the course of the routine journey of the average male clicking through the thing, you are confronted routinely by madness and by wickedness. Just by madness and wickedness! And you find yourself saying, “Where in the world does all this wickedness and all this madness come from?”

Folly blusters ahead when it should wait. Folly delays unduly when it is time to proceed.

The answer is here: “At the beginning his words are folly,” and “at the end they are wicked madness.” “The fool [has said] in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”[6] Therefore, there is no one to whom we’re accountable. There is no one whom we have to serve. There is no one before whom we will one day stand and be facing judgment. Having removed the possibility of all of that, then it is just a continual slide into ever-deepening experiences of madness and wickedness. We ought not to be taken by surprise.

Verse 14: his words are multiplied. It doesn’t prevent him—the fact that his words are foolish—it doesn’t prevent him from keeping on and on and postulating. All of us know this. We all have foolish moments. But what is being described here is something far more essential, far more serious. It is a description of the ungodly, whose way of speaking reveals their condition and ultimately their destiny—that the way of speaking reveals their destiny.

Listen to Jesus in Matthew 12: “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil”—notice—“say anything good?”[7] One of the ways you will know that you have become a Christian is by the change in your language. The things that you praise will change. The songs that you sing will change. The profanity that you use will go. But the idea of hastening now towards January the first in order that I might get ahold of my tongue, in order that I might transform my circumstances, it is a forlorn hope!

“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil actually say anything good?” “Why do you say that, Jesus?” “Well, let me tell you,” he says: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”[8] “Your problem is not your tongue. Your problem is your heart.” “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give [an] account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” And then listen to this: “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”[9] What is he saying? He’s saying this: that the heart that is transformed by the wisdom of God will be revealed in the phraseology and the use of language. And the heart that remains unchanged and remains in its foolishness will equally be revealed by its language.

And those words, once spoken, according to verse 20, are beyond the ability of the fool to control them. “Do[n’t] revile the king even in your thoughts,” because if you think about it, you’ll probably say it. Don’t “curse the rich in your bedroom.” Don’t go up and have that little private tirade apparently with yourself, “because a [little] bird … may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.”

Isn’t it amazing how when you say good things, you can’t get them to where you want them to go, and when you say bad things, everybody hears them? You jam your fingers in the door, and you say something you shouldn’t say, and your children say, “Oh! I heard that! Why did you say that? I was down the stairs. I heard you!” But when you’re doing something different, it never seems to go there. It’s an interesting picture, isn’t it?—that we say to our children, you know, “Be very careful. A little bird… A little bird…” And that’s exactly what the wise men say: “You don’t have any control over your words.”

Folly in the End

Now, finally, just a thought. Folly on the street. Folly in high places. Folly at work. Folly in our words. And finally, folly in the end. Folly in the end.

Being a fool in this life means facing the next life totally unprepared. Being a fool in this life means facing the next life totally unprepared. If you don’t deal with the folly now, you’re not going to have a chance to deal with it after you die. Do you understand that? If you choose still to live in absolute folly, and you die, you will die in your foolishness, and there will be no opportunity of reparation or forgiveness or change.

The fool misses the feast. Verse 19: “A feast is made for laughter, … wine makes life merry, … money is the answer for everything.” What is he saying here? Well, remember his perspective, but don’t dismiss it too quickly. What he’s pointing out is that God’s wholesome gifts are good, and when used properly, they’re delightful, and they’re perfectly sufficient—that God is a God who gives us all things richly to enjoy.[10] The enjoyment of food, not the sin of gluttony. The enjoyment of fidelity within the framework of married sexuality, not immorality. The enjoyment of laying up with our resources treasures in heaven rather than just amassing things on earth. God has planned and purposed that in his wisdom, we may enter fully into that—that the Christian of all people ought to be able to enjoy life, ought to be able to enjoy a sunset more than anyone else, the joy of a fresh morning, the companionship of friends, a visit to the stores, the satisfaction of a good meal, the wonder of beautiful music from the orchestra, and so on. Nobody ought to get more out of it than the Christian.

But the fool doesn’t go. The fool misses it completely. And he’s so idle that he probably explains that money is a bad thing and should be resisted at all costs, and then he discovers here that “money is the answer for everything.” What does that mean? Where does he come up with these kind of statements? What is he saying? I think what he’s saying is simply this: that of all the gifts that we can be given, money is the most versatile of all those gifts. Money’s the most versatile of all the gifts. Remember Jesus makes this dramatic statement in Luke chapter 16, which we stumbled over when we studied it a long time ago now? “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yoursel[f], so that when it[’s] gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”[11] “Use your money wisely,” he said. “I gave you money. Make sure you use it wisely.” And money is the most versatile of all gifts.

God’s wholesome gifts are good, and when used properly, they’re delightful, and they’re perfectly sufficient.

Remember when you were married and you got all those presents? And you sat around, and you took another box with one of those dreadful flat trays on which you put who-knows-what? I mean, they come; they’re always about this size. You know them now by the box. And they have a little bit of scrolling or something on the end, or whatever it might be. You can put everything on it, but frankly, you don’t want it. Certainly, when you’ve got to the seventh or the eighth one, and they’re all laid out in a pile, your girlfriend—your wife, as she is now—looks across at you and says, “I wish they’d given us the money. I wish they’d given us the money.” Of course! So do I! Because I don’t have enough money to put stuff on all these plates that they bought for me! If they gave me six less plates and money in its place, then I would be able to buy something and put on the one plate that I wanted to keep. But I have seven plates and no money. If they gave me the money, then I have versatility!

It’s the point that he’s making: this is wonderful, that’s wonderful, and money is the most versatile of all the gifts. That’s why it’s the gravest responsibility to those who are entrusted with much of it. But you don’t have to run around frowning and groaning, as it were, and apologizing, because it is God who gives you the ability to make money. And given the versatility of your giftedness, you have the opportunity to spread it and to use it in multiple ways—in a way that someone else doesn’t, because their gifts are different.

But the fool, he’s not at the feast. No, look at the fool. Verse 18: he’s in his house, with the sagging rafters, dodging the leaks, moving the plastic pails around to catch the water to prevent the puddles from landing on his threadbare rugs. What is the problem with this man? Well, he skipped Wisdom 101. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”[12] He rejected that, and it all went from there.

From Folly to Truth

I have two minutes left in which to address you. Listen to me as carefully as you can—especially young people. I’ve observed something through my years: most people who turn aside from foolishness to embrace wisdom do so when they’re young, and those who remain foolish and repeat their foolishness and compound their foolishness often die as fools. Therefore, the indications would seem to be that when in your youthfulness, as you set up your life, as you make your plans, as you think these things out, it is imperative that you turn from folly to wisdom. For sin is folly. And it is folly because it is disobedience to and it is rebellion against the will of God, who has made you, who loves you, who sustains you, and who will finally assess you.

What could be more foolish in the minds of people this morning than the message of the gospel itself? That the death of Jesus, this baby born in Bethlehem, living a sinless life, keeping all of the works of the Father, doing all of the law in its exactitude, dies upon the cross a sinless man, and by his death and the shedding of his blood, he makes provision for our sins and enables us to be reconciled to God. “No,” says the wise person in the greater Cleveland area, “that sounds so foolish to me.”

Well, the Bible knows you’re going to say that. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it[’s] the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; [and] the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” Bring on the scholars!

Where is the wise man? … Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.[13]

“God was pleased,” through the foolishness of this crummy sermon from Ecclesiastes 10, to save all and any this morning who will believe—not because the sermon is good, not because the speaker is passionate, not because your inclinations are peculiarly towards God, for none of the above may be true; but simply to show that he is God, in all of his manifold wisdom, he deigns to use the voice of mere mortals and such circumstances as this to take a life and bring it to the great wisdom of the cross.

Are you there? Did you begin the day with folly? Will you end the day with wicked madness? Did you begin the day of your life with folly? Yes, you did! For all of us, “like sheep, have gone astray.”[14] We’re not in a morally neutral position whereby we may choose folly or embrace wisdom. We have already chosen folly. The very fact that we disregard God is indicative of that. And so he comes to us, and he says “Here.” What should you do?

Well, just cry out from your heart: “Lord Jesus Christ, I am so foolish. Give me your wisdom to see and follow your truth. Lord Jesus Christ, I am so foolish. I don’t listen to my parents. I don’t listen to my teachers. I just don’t listen to anybody. I’m foolish, Lord Jesus. Give me your grace, that I might see and follow your truth.” And the promise of the Bible is that the person who cries out in such a way from their hearts, he absolutely promises to grant that to you.

All in all, in a summary phrase: be sensible about these things.

Father God, for the Bible we thank you. For your Son, the Lord Jesus, in his atoning death we bless you. For the Holy Spirit, who convicts and convinces us and converts us, we praise your name.

And now, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, may your grace, mercy, and peace rest upon and remain with each one who believes, today and forevermore. Amen.


[1] Ecclesiastes 9:18 (NIV 1984).

[2] Derek Kidner, The Message of Ecclesiastes: A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1976), 89–90.

[3] See Amos 5:19.

[4] See Acts 28:3–6.

[5] Proverbs 18:6 (NIV 1984).

[6] Psalm 14:1 (NIV 1984).

[7] Matthew 12:34 (NIV 1984).

[8] Matthew 12:34 (NIV 1984).

[9] Matthew 12:35–37 (NIV 1984).

[10] See 1 Timothy 6:17.

[11] Luke 16:9 (NIV 1984).

[12] Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10 (NIV 1984).

[13] 1 Corinthians 1:18–21 (NIV 1984).

[14] Isaiah 53:6 (NIV 1984).

Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.