“Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left. Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he says to everyone that he is a fool.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1-3)
A small shortcut in measuring will cause a big problem when building a piece of furniture, and an unfamiliar shortcut has been known to add hours to a road trip. The description in verse 1 is quite specific, referring to the putrid smell of dead flies that have gotten into and wholly altered lovely perfume. Solomon is, of course, referring to actual sins and not the superficial mishaps I’ve mentioned. A little sin corrupts the heart, mind, and being, as yeast in dough spreads quickly to allow it to rise. The flies in the perfume makes the yeast analogy seem tame. Dead flies not only smell horrible but carry disease and will utterly spoil the perfume, which may refer to the holy oil used for temple worship. A little foolishness will corrupt the development or expression of wisdom and honor.
The world treats lies as if they are harmless, but God condemns lying in the Ten Commandments. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife, bringing embarrassment and shame to himself and God (Genesis 12:10-20). Ananias & Sapphira were guilty of lying by withholding the truth (Acts 5:1-11). Christians who follow these practices destroy their witness for Christ, their wisdom, and their honor. Satan’s name Beelzebub (Hebrew—Baʽal zĕbhūbh) carries the meaning of “lord of the flies,” a Philistine god.* Might we then surmise that these dead flies are analogous to syncretism—the worship of a dead god (or the world) mixed in with the worship of the only real, living God of Israel?
In his commentary on the passage, John Gill refers to an evil concupiscence (strong desire) in the heart that can lead to foolish acts. Finding myself in the dictionary once again, I am given this example for the use of concupiscence: “The Puritans did not condemn concupiscence but rather the satisfaction of it in ways they deemed illicit.”Here is some wisdom for us today: strong desires are not all detrimental, but those that require unlawful acts for satisfaction are entirely wrong. It is not wrong to desire enough money to live comfortably unless the means for satisfying the desire is thievery, bribery, or other sinful means for accumulating wealth. We are foolish when we allow our hearts to lean toward the left, which carries the biblical meaning of moving away from God and spiritual strength. Instead, we are to incline our hearts toward righteousness, and our bodies or conduct will follow. Desiring to walk with the Lord results in steadiness, consistency of character, and reliability. However, giving into foolish desires without checking them will be revealed to everyone.
Today will you join me in seeking to keep pure and honorable your witness for Jesus Christ, knowing that we cannot do so entirely but will have the help of the Holy Spirit to do it at all? Let’s continue the work of sanctification for wisdom starting in our hearts on the “little, foolish” things.
* See the Merriam Webster online dictionary definition of Beelzebub.