A Wise Person is Careful With His Words in Response to Bad Government: Ecclesiastes 10:12-15 & 20
In this section, Solomon discusses how to get on with bad government. This section seems particularly apt for those people coming after Solomon, who were to suffer under diminished stature and poor government.
The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness. A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him? The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city. . . . Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter. (Ecclesiastes 10:12-15 & 20)
In words, when inferiors use discontented, contumelious threatening, and seditious speeches, of or to their rulers. This fault of perverse and harsh words uttered against a prince is set down with its opposite virtues of mild and gentle speech, and both expressed:
In a similitude, wherein the wise persuasion and gentle language which a discreet man will use to a vicious governor, are compared to a charm or enchantment used over a serpent that keeps him from biting and poisoning. But a fool in the lawless liberty of his tongue in rash, unseasonable and furious reproofs and reproaches of ]the[ governor’s faults, is like him that handles a serpent and uses no art to charm him, by which means he is sure to be bitten and stung, Surely the serpent will bit without enchantment, and a babbler, a tongue-master, a great talker, and fault finder in state matters, is no better, verse 11.
The Difference Between the Speech of the Wise and the Foolish
Plainly in certain sentences clearly expressing the difference between a wise man and a fool in this matter of speech.
In the event and fruit, The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious, wine favor and acceptance with his prince and others, appease displeasure and procure reconciliation with them. But the lies of a fool swallow up himself, by perverse speeches he brings himself in danger of life and limb, incurs the prince’s displeasure and falls into his powerful revenge. He undoes himself, not only in part but utterly, his words swallow him up, verse 12.
In the nature of it. The words of a foolish man are
Evil: Bad in the first entrance and beginning of his talk. The beginning . . .is foolishness, his tongue runs before counsel, advice and reason send it. Stark naught in the end and conclusion, The end of his take is mischievous madness. He grows unto rage, choler and threatening, and outrageous speeches, which drive him further to mischievous practices and resolutions. Ex contra, a wise man’s words are good in the beginning, and best in the upshot, verse 13.
Many: A fool is full of words, he is talkative, and uses many word to defend the possibility and likelihood of his foolish and witless enterprises: Which custom of his is expressed, in his vain tautologies. A man cannot tell what shall be: and, again, And what shall be after him, who can tell? You know not how things may fall out, it may chance thus, and why not so, hope well, put it to the venture, verse 14.
The Fool’s Conduct
After the foolish man’s attempts both in deed and word, thus severally described, Solomon sets down jointly the issue of both together, which is much ado to no purpose, the labor of the foolish wearieth one of them, his enterprises and discourse prove labor in vain to him and others that heed and follow them. The general reason of all, which is, because he knoweth not how to go to the city, i.e., he is utterly ignorant of how to behave himself wisely in matter of policy and civil government, verse 15.
In thought or words secretly, curse not the king, wish not evil to his life & state, no not in thy thought, in thy conscience, secretly when no man knows but thyself, and curse not the rich, nobles and men of high place and government, in thy bedchamber, privily in secret, the reason is advanced form the certain degree of discovery:
(a) By the unlikely means that we dream not of, The bird of the air shall carry thy voice.
(b) Speedily and swiftly, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter, verse 20.