This chapter is riddled with statements that differentiate wisdom and foolishness. There are descriptions of what wisdom and foolishness are, and what they look like when they are in action out in the world. I think that we can easily understand the truths presented, but I do not think that the average reader would come to many of these conclusions on their own. It is a reminder that the wisdom is from God, coming through a king that God has chosen to bless.
One who is wise will suffer greatly if they give themselves over to just a little foolishness. To one that is widely reputable, a small offense can tarnish all he has. Suddenly all of his good deeds are suspect in light of one small foolish mistake. This is a warning to those of us that spend any time in the spotlight.
Fools make it evident to the world through their actions.
We should comply when we are subject to the mercy of those in power, so as not to worsen whatever situation we find ourselves in. If we yield, we can pacify.
The world is not often as it seems, and things can appear upside down at times. The text tells us that the mighty can present themselves as lowly and the foolish can demand that others recognize their greatness. In the midst of such confusion, which is true? Solomon calls these inconsistencies evil.
The wise should be aware of the cause and effect of actions. Sometimes taking great action is required and will accomplish much, while other times it will only bring greater trouble. If we are wise enough to know how to use the tools at our disposal properly, they can help us greatly, but a tool used improperly can work against us. In the example of the dull axe, an improperly prepared or understood tool requires greater strength than is necessary.
The biting serpent is to demonstrate to us that if we do not know what we are doing with a task, we can hurt ourselves.
The speech of the wise and foolish are compared here. The words of the wise are giving and they offer strength, kindness and value to the hearer. But the words of the foolish are a doom unto himself, tying him into knots and painting him into corners. The key to this concept is intent. The fool probably intends to impress people with his many words about himself or his exploits, whereas the wise intends to assist and help others with his speech. The irony is that, more often than not, the fool actually turns people off with his unreliable speech and the wise attracts himself to others because of his thoughtfulness. This too, includes the component that the wise must act and speak with positive intent for their wisdom to be of optimal value.
A foolish man can work for an unclear or even an unknown purpose.
The state of a kingdom can flourish or falter based on its leadership. It is better for there to be a young and inexperienced king than a king that clouds his judgment with drink and impropriety. Guiding the young with proper advice, example and wisdom is a great blessing whether or not they turn out to have power.
We have to be diligent to take care of our valuable possessions. Those living in wealth and foolishness may spend their time carousing and partying while their possessions are squandered. Money is useful in that it can buy us the things we need, but money in and of itself is useless. The wealthy can exhibit folly when they say in their heart that money can fix all of their troubles.
One of the greatest nuggets of wisdom in this chapter us found in the last verse. We are instructed to speak ill of those in power even when we are in private. It is certain that any word we speak could get back to that one of which we have spoken ill. Also, it is not spiritually healthy to speak ill of those in power, especially in light of the guidance we have from chapter 8 that instructs us to submit to authority. Even more convincing to this point, and adding more to how we speak of not just kings but brothers and sisters in the faith can be found in Romans 14:8-13:
“For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”
Solomon’s treatise on wisdom under the sun continues in this chapter. In all of the statements made, Solomon is valuing wisdom over foolishness. It is interesting to read because the examples used to bear out how wisdom and foolishness manifest are engaging.