Daily Proverbial, from Ecclesiastes, 9 November 2012

As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. Ecclesiastes 10, verse 1.

Doesn’t this one just light up your senses? Dead flies…I think of dead flies stuck in cobwebs or dust bunnies underneath the furniture; nasty. Dead flies in perfume. Now, I don’t know what that smells like but I bet it smells bad. A swarm of dead flies in your Boucheron? Maybe it doesn’t smell as bad as I think. A lot of perfume contains alcohol, or some kind of astringent base. Then again, think of how perfume used to be made (or how the most expensive perfume is still made). Animal fats or natural oils are used. They are scented with flowers, other musks, natural scents or scented water. That takes time and expensive effort; no wonder it costs so much. There is a section of the New Testament that talks about the woman pouring a whole bottle of nard over Jesus’ head, to anoint and prepare him for burial. Wanting to pocket some extra cash, Judas Isacariot has a cow over this because nard was extremely expensive even back then. That’ because nard perfume is painstakingly extracted from thousands of Valerian flowers. It was tricky, time-consuming stuff to make, and it was all organic. If you think about it, if a few flies got into your bottle of that, after those flies decomposed the liquid might just smell pretty foul. All that expensive oil would be ruined.

That’s the comparison of how a few foolish mistakes taint your wisdom or your honor. It’s like something really bad got into something really good. Flies spread bacteria and disease. It’s like we let something healthy and vibrant become diseased and necrotic. The worst part about it is that we don’t have to let it happen. How do you keep the flies out? Simple: cover up the perfume. Value it; protect it; take care of it; keep it pure. Done that much lately in everything you do? Yeah, me neither. Sounds like you and I haven’t taken care of some of the valuable things in our lives, like we haven’t wisely tended to them or treated them with honor. Don’t believe me?

Think about it. You’re an honor student or a school athlete and you’re caught cheating on a test. It’s the first time you’ve ever done something like that but you gave into temptation and did it. How do you think your teachers, or the other people on your team, or the people around you will look at you? I bet you smell bad.

Or maybe you cheat on your spouse. Things have been rough around the house, you’re tired of fighting and you just want someone to care about you. Trust me: there are always people out there who will ‘care’ for you. After the deed is done, how do you feel? If you have no conscience, maybe it doesn’t bother you so much. If you have any kind of conscience at all, though, you’re in trouble. You KNOW you’ve destroyed your honor, that your wisdom is worthless. And if someone finds out? Trust me (again): all hell breaks loose. At this point, you DO smell bad.

And what if you compromise your honor in some other way? A white lie, an extra day of per diem on your expense report, just a few miles over the speed limit, perhaps a little gossip about your best friend, even procrastinating on things you have to do or worry about things you don’t: how does that feel? I hope you’re bothered by such things. I am. Either I worry too much about small things, or even those small things compromise our honor. If you think about it, honor is a concept in which our current society is lacking. A society that glamorizes Honey Boo Boo, Jay Z rapping racial epithets in front of the president, and tabloid TV substituting for something of value has big problems with honor. So do you and I when we ingest that. If you compromise your honor, you smell like dead flies rotting in animal fat.


Time for a little wordplay, then, to see where the verse is implying we might go. “As perfume gives a sweet smell, so a little wisdom and honor outweighs folly.” Just substituting a word and switching around a few gives a different perspective, don’t you think? That perspective matters because the message matters. Our actions matter to God. Our actions don’t save us; there is nothing you or I can do to earn His grace or His salvation. He gives it to matter what we do. But our actions still matter to him as evidence in knowing whether or not our hearts are really involved. What we think, say and do matters because He wants us to love Him because we choose to, because we love to, not because we have to or as some demand/response/action/reward cycle.

A little folly outweighs wisdom and honor and when that happens, it stinks to high heaven. That little bit of foolishness – that bit of sin – tarnishes the knowing wisdom and honoring love that God shares with us. He wants better for us and He set the example for how to be better. Then He loves us anyway even when we are like dead flies in a jar of nard.


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