1Dead flies corrupt and spoil the perfumer’s oil;
more weighty than wisdom or wealth is a little folly!*
2The wise heart turns to the right;
the foolish heart to the left.*
3Even when walking in the street the fool, lacking understanding, calls everyone a fool.*
4Should the anger of a ruler burst upon you, do not yield your place; for calmness* abates great offenses.
5I have seen under the sun another evil, like a mistake that proceeds from a tyrant: 6a fool put in high position, while the great and the rich sit in lowly places. 7I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes* went on foot like slaves.
8Whoever digs a pit may fall into it,a
and whoever breaks through a wall, a snake may bite.
9Whoever quarries stones may be hurt by them,
and whoever chops wood* is in danger from it.
10If the ax becomes dull, and the blade is not sharpened, then effort must be increased. But the advantage of wisdom is success.
11If the snake bites before it is charmed,
then there is no advantage in a charmer.*
12Words from the mouth of the wise win favor,
but the lips of fools consume them.
13b The beginning of their words is folly,
and the end of their talk is utter madness;
14yet fools multiply words.
No one knows what is to come,
for who can tell anyone what will be?c
15The toil of fools wearies them,
so they do not know even the way to town.
No One Knows What Evil Will Come
16Woe to you, O land, whose king is a youth,*
and whose princes feast in the morning!
17Happy are you, O land, whose king is of noble birth,
and whose princes dine at the right time—
for vigor* and not in drinking bouts.
18Because of laziness, the rafters sag;
when hands are slack, the house leaks.
19A feast is made for merriment
and wine gives joy to the living,
but money answers* for everything.
20Even in your thoughts do not curse the king,
nor in the privacy of your bedroom curse the rich;
For the birds of the air may carry your voice,
a winged creature* may tell what you say.
* [10:1] Dead flies…a little folly: wisdom is vulnerable to even the smallest amount of folly. The collection of proverbs and sayings in chaps. 10 and 11 demonstrates the author’s sharp insight and strengthens his credentials as a sage. It thus adds weight to his critique of the wisdom tradition’s tendencies to self-assurance and naive optimism.
* [10:2] Right…left: the right hand is identified with power, moral goodness, favor; the left hand with ineptness and bad luck.
* [10:3] Calls everyone a fool: or, “tells everyone that he (himself) is a fool.”
* [10:4] Calmness: a frequent motif of wisdom; silence and reserve characterize the wise, while boisterousness and impetuosity identify the fool.
* [10:6–7] A fool…the rich…slaves…princes: another wisdom motif: astonishment at the reversal of the usual order in the world and in human affairs.
* [10:8–9] A pit…a wall…stones…wood: popular sayings reflecting the need for caution and alertness against the unexpected. Snakes could find a home in the stone walls of ancient Palestine; cf. Am 5:19.
* [10:10–11] Ax…success…snake…charmer: possession of the proper skill (a form of “wisdom”) can ensure success, as in the case of a sharpened ax; but one must use it before it is too late (v. 11). Cf. Sir 12:13.
* [10:16] A youth: thus too young and inexperienced to govern effectively. Feast in the morning: either concluding a whole night of revelry or beginning a new round of merrymaking.
* [10:17] For vigor: or, “with self-control, restraint.”
* [10:19] Money answers: a stark reminder that such a life requires money. It could also be an affirmation of the power of wealth: “Money conquers all.”
* [10:20] Birds of the air…winged creature: a common motif in ancient literature, and a vivid reminder of the need for caution in dealing with the rich and powerful.
a. [10:8] Prv 26:27; Ps 7:16; Sir 27:29.