Such Small Things

Ecclesiastes 10 helps us appreciate the importance, as well as the potential danger, of very small things. Whether it is a dead fly, the human heart, a small slip of the tongue, a momentary lapse in judgment, or anything else that normally seems insignificant, Solomon wants to impress upon his readers that small things can have disastrous effects on our lives.

In the New Testament, James similarly writes in James 3:3-6 that the tongue, though it is a very little part of the body, has great bearing on our course. A forest fire starts with an ember, a ship is directed by a rudder, and a powerful horse can be turned in any direction with a bit in his mouth.

“Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor” (10:1). “Perfumer” here could also mean “apothecary” or “confectioner,” a person who specialized in producing sweet smells, scented oils, lotions, balms, and even medicines (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. III, 766). In the dry, scorching heat of some parts of Palestine, and especially further south in places like Egypt, such oils were essential. Such perfumes were used for religious customs, hygiene, and as aphrodisiacs. Proverbs 27:9 states, “Oils and perfume make the heart glad.” But what a rotten sight it is to find a dead fly in a vile of oil! Such a discovery would soil the entire container and nullify its cleansing properties.

It is the same way today: if one was to find a dead fly in a bowl of soup, said soup would be rejected. This verse just shows how a very small thing can ruin everything around it. Thus is the way of foolishness; just a touch of it can soil and degrade even a normally righteous man (Ezekiel 3:20).

“A wise man’s heart directs him to the right” (10:2). The right is traditionally the side of favor and honor. Those who would direct themselves to the right would be choosing righteousness. “But the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.” Foolishness chooses the way of laziness, unrighteousness, waste, lust, and bad company. When given the choice between the high road and the low, easy road, fools choose the easy road. Notice also that both of these conditions come from within the heart. Nobody forces us to choose either way, for good or bad. Rather, it is up to each of us to make the right decision (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).

“Even when the fool walks along the road his sense is lacking, and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool” (10:3). Every time a fool steps out of his front door and begins to interact with the world, he exhibits his folly. No matter what he tries to do, he messes it up, bungles it, or breaks it. The fool is basically bumbling his way through life, and everybody can see it. The writer of Proverbs was able to pick out the man lacking sense quite easily, as he writes, “For at the window of my house I looked out through my lattice, and I saw among the naïve, I discerned among the youths, a young man lacking sense” (Proverbs 7:6-7).

What a small thing it is to listen to wisdom when given the opportunity! What a small thing it is to take a moment to think about our actions before we commit to them! Oh, how many lives have been ruined because of a small decision, a small compromise, a small bit of impatience! Beware the power of such small things.