Ecclesiastes: Day 23: Wisdom and foolishness contrasted

Day 23: Wisdom and foolishness contrasted

The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good” (9:17,18).

There is something else I saw, a good example of how wisdom is regarded in this world. There was a little town without many people in it. A powerful king attacked it. He surrounded it and prepared to break through the walls. Someone lived there who was poor, but so clever that he could have saved the town. But no one thought about him. I have always said that wisdom is better than strength, but no one thinks of the poor as wise or pays any attention to what they say. It is better to listen to the quiet words of someone wise than to the shouts of a ruler at a council of fools. Wisdom does more good than weapons, but one sinner can undo a lot of good.” (9:13-18 GNT.)

Throughout the Book of Proverbs, the same preacher who wrote Ecclesiastes had been contrasting the way of wisdom with that of foolishness, affirming with many examples why the former is the way to go and in general things will go a lot better for the wise than the foolish. In Ecclesiastes, his emphasis changes – it is mainly observations of life under the sun. Yet that same “Proverbs” consideration applies – in our verses today and in those in the next chapter. If there is a difference, it is the way of not wisdom is not necessarily foolishness – who can argue with anyone wanting to defend his community against the attack, for example? Then the rewards of wisdom (harking back to yesterday’s reflection) are not necessarily commensurate with what the wise person has achieved. Here we see a poor man saving his town from such an attack (we don’t know how) through his wisdom, proving (perhaps) the point: wisdom is better than strength, yet that poor man was not rightly rewarded. One of the reasons is no one thinks of the poor as wise or pays any attention to what they say. From the Preacher’s perspective, this is how wisdom is regarded in the world – the wise do not get their just desserts!

Yet this (presumably) now old man has not changed his mind from when he was (presumably) a lot younger and was setting out his many proverbs. Wisdom still is a good thing and is something worth pursuing. Firstly: “The quiet words of the wise are more effective than the ranting of a king of fools” (9:17 MSG). Secondly: “Wisdom is better than warheads, but one hothead can ruin the good earth” (9:18). If we are to contrast wisdom and foolishness, the advice given in all Solomon’s writings always holds strong – we need to follow the way of wisdom.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for this timely reminder that the way of wisdom is the one we need to follow and the way of foolishness is the one we ought to avoid.

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