Today we commemorate Bartolomé de Las Casas, missionary to the Indies, who died 1566
A native of Spain, Las Casas first came to the Western hemisphere while serving in the military. Granted a large estate with indigenous slaves, he freed them after he was ordained a priest. He worked in the Caribbean and Central America to improve the lives of the native peoples.
Read Ecclesiastes 9:13–18
I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: 14 There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. 15 Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. 16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.
17 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.
“The chapter ends with two proverbs that underline the teaching of the anecdote that precedes them. Wisdom is better than folly; wisdom outstrips power. But in the end, even wisdom is no guarantee of success in life. Qoheleth expresses this thought using one of his favorite forms—the “better than” proverb (or “better-proverb”; cf. Ogden 1977). This form is well-suited to express relative value—that is, how one thing is superior to another. The first proverb (9:17) pits the words of a wise person over against a fool and judges the wise person’s words as superior. Note that, as in the anecdote, the equation seems stacked in favor of the fool. The fool is a king; the wise person is not. Further, the king speaks forcefully—that is, he shouts—whereas the wise person speaks in a quiet voice. Nonetheless, the implicit message is that the quiet words of the wise person are much more valuable to listen to than the shouts of the foolish king.
The second proverb has an interesting twist. The first part is a “better than” proverb once again, which promotes wisdom over power—here represented by weapons of war. This was concretely illustrated in the anecdote in 9:13–16. However, the second part of the verse takes the carpet out from under both proverbs—one sinner can destroy much that is good. We have a modern proverb that says essentially the same thing: “One bad apple spoils the whole barrel.” The implicit message achieved by placing this line at the end is that no matter how much good or benefit can be achieved by the wise, it can all be undone by the presence of just a pinch of sin.” Konkel, August H., and Tremper Longman III. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 6: Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006. Print.
- In what way has the advice of an obscure but wise person ever helped you?
- To what did Solomon compare the quiet words of the wise? (9:17)
- In what self-destructive behaviors do people in our society engage?
- What is one step you can take this week to cultivate wisdom over brute strength in your life?
Lord, as we ask for Your wisdom to carry us through life, teach us also to be patient with foolish people. Keep us mindful of the outcome You have prepared for us in Your Son’s death and resurrection. Amen.
Engelbrecht, Edward A. The Lutheran Study Bible. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009. Print.