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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
Title:The Right Way Up In An Upside Down World
Text:Ecclesiastes 10:5-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


(Reading: Ecclesiastes 10:1-20)


The Right Way Up In An Upside Down World



Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ…

     This tenth chapter of Ecclesiastes is often seen as an ‘Interlude’. So here Solomon pulls back from the overarching themes of futility and wisdom. He takes a break from the to-ing and fro-ing between the unbelieving and the believing perspectives on life.

     He takes the time to sit back a bit. He is in a reflective spirit here, taking a calm look at life, and doing it through sampling various sayings at random. So he picks out certain quotes that he has collected and helps us to see what’s behind them.

     In doing this he challenges us to keep our own standards high, without being too surprised at the oddities of others. And he would certainly not want us to be caught off our guard in our dealings with the powerful.

     In other words, this is nothing less than Modern Politics 101. Here he looks right into the heart of those ruling over us – whether in his day or here right now. And who better than Solomon to do this? In the words of our first aspect … NOTE WHO IS WRITING THIS.


     You see, even before we get into the nitty-gritty of these three verses the overall sense is clear. Here is a man who speaks from the coalface of government. If anyone knows about running a country it’s this man!

     I mean, Solomon is a king. And not just any old Middle Eastern king – he is a king of kings – an Emperor! For what is an Emperor but the sovereign of an extensive group of States or countries. Many of the nations around Israel had been defeated by him and now owed tribute to him.

     Added to this is the fact his father had also been an Emperor, though of a lesser empire. This meant Solomon had been brought up in politics – he was permeated through with knowing about dealing with different situations and a wide array of people! He also had access to his father’s advisers and others he picked out because they were particularly gifted.

     And we know that he knows about all this because no one less than God himself has gifted him to be able to do this. It was when he was at the tabernacle at Gibeon the Lord came to him and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.”

     What an invitation! Solomon could have asked for possessions, wealth, honour, the death of those opposing him, and long life. Instead he simply asks for wisdom. He kindly requests the Lord to give him the knowledge to properly rule over God’s people (2 Chronicles 1:7-13).

     The Lord gives exactly that to him. And as well he gives him all those other things, because Solomon asked for the very right thing.

     Congregation, it is the man who was the wisest man ever on this earth – bar the Lord Jesus – who lays before us the words of our text. It is of this man that 1st Kings 4:29 says, “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.”

     And then the verses 32 till 34 there demonstrate this. It says, “He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.”

     He it is who says to us in verse 5, “There is an evil that I have seen under the sun…” And, believe me, when he says it this way you better believe it! He so definitely knows about this!

     And what he’s commenting about here is something which of all subjects he would know much about. You see, it concerns that which comes from a ruler. The ESV says next, very awkwardly, “as it were an error proceeding from the ruler.” Whereas the NIV is clearer, “the sort of error that arises from a ruler…”

     Solomon knows! The way he’s describing this shows he knows the bitter experience of fickle and reckless power. Whether it was in those he defeated and subjugated, or those under him, he spots it. He sees misgovernment for what it is.

     Because it is Solomon speaking here we also know how much this is an affront to God himself. He who is the maker of the order that we live under won’t be pleased that his pattern is being distorted in this way. It could even be that in a Christian nation or church of Christ this is taken to reflect badly against the Lord himself. What kind of God allows such corruption and abuse to occur?

     But there is no “error” with God as those who love him know. Still, that doesn’t help things when such a state of affairs occurs.


     This is why we move now to a second aspect in our text. Having considered who is writing this we move on to ... NOTE WHY HE IS WRITING THIS. Here we come into the verses 6 and 7.

     “Folly is set in many high places…” it begins. And let’s not think this is a particular attitude or characteristic. This is a type of person – no one less than ‘the fool’ found throughout the book of Proverbs.

     While Solomon might be taking an interlude from the major themes of Ecclesiastes, even in a random thought you cannot get away from where people stand in this world. You see, this “folly”, or these “fools”, as other versions say, are those set against God. And when they get to the top of the tree we should be under no disillusion as to what they will do.

     But note that it was the one at the top who has opened this way. It proceeds from the ruler, as verse 5 says. He ought to have placed the most responsible and suitable person in that high position.

     This is why we pray that our rulers would be motivated by the common good and not out of selfish interest. They are to do nothing out of partiality or prejudice. They must be above board.

     But suddenly you find that the one who is in such a position has a different agenda at work. Quickly decisions and actions are made that were not known before.

     And yet they were. Because those rulers are true to their natural nature. And they are very faithful to the one who is their true leader – the devil.

     As someone said once, ‘These men are not statesmen – they are politicians.” And the lifestyles they openly promote are the low-lifes which we’ve always been told to stay away from. But there they are. They have become set over us.

     The prophet described such a situation when the nation had left the right way. In Isaiah 3:12 he says, “Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. O my people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path.”

     And see now – in this same verse, verse 6 - who are dismissed. “The rich sit in a low place,” it next says.

     And who are these rich? Are they the billionaires so well versed in benefiting from the system?

     Not at all! Rather, these are those rich in knowledge and wisdom and experience. These are those most qualified for high office. They are the ones appreciated in verse 2 before our text as those inclining to the right.

     But they’ve been marginalised. They have been cancelled – to use a contemporary term. And so they sit in a low place.

     Congregation, let’s not be misled here. The so-called ‘fools’ described here in high offices aren’t stupid. They are working to a very precise plan. But don’t think, for a moment, that it is for the common good.

     Proverbs 28:3 describes what happens in their wake. It says: “A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.”

     To those who truly understand it’s clear that this situation is no good. Despite all the propaganda such leaders serve up it’s not the Lord or what he’s given us in our Judeo-Christian background they are looking out for. Much as they pay lip-service to the rights of all - and even perhaps add a few more so-called ‘rights’ into the package – they are only looking out for themselves.

     You only need to reflect here of what King Xerxes did in honouring Haman, son of Hammedatha, the Agagite. In Esther 3:1 it tells of the king giving him a seat of honour higher than that of all the other nobles. And what horror didn’t he bring upon that place!

     He planned to not only do away with Mordecai, the uncle of Esther, but the whole Jewish race! And how much didn’t he manipulate the king to approve that plan!

     Verse 7 continues in a similar vein. “I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking along the ground like slaves.” Here the natural order is tipped upside down.

     This is what Solomon alluded to Proverbs 19:10. There he declares, “It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury – how much worse for a slave to rule over princes.”

     How much wasn’t this distortion of law and order shown with the revolutionary age in Europe? There the whole societal structure was tipped upside down as violence and anarchy took over nations. Much as they claimed to champion the cause of the common people, they soon had all the people living in the most abject fear.


     And so we come to a third aspect to the text. NOTE WHERE HE IS WRITING THIS.

     You see, these are words written in the Holy Book. They are not written first of all as an extensive tome of legal regulations, and arguments for them. These words are for God’s people and so they are here for our guidance in his ways.

     They are the words that declare to us the way to be saved through the doing and dying of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament looks forward to that, the Gospels tell us of it, and the New Testament letters look back on that.

     As part of his people, God lays down how we are to show who he is and what he has done in the Church we’re a part of. It’s vital that we see these words also as part of what we are to be in Christ’s Body. And these words were part of God’s guidance for his people of old.

     As part of wisdom literature these words expand upon the Law found in the books of Moses. They help to put those principles into practice. And they alert us to what happens when those principles weren’t in practice.

     So these were words for the Old Testament Church. And the Old Testament Church was wrapped up in the nation of Israel. They were God’s called out people then.

     That’s why when we note where Solomon is writing this, we are first of all saying he is declaring this to God’s covenant people. This is a warning against disorder in the Church. And how much damage hasn’t been done when those are ruling who ought not to be!


     Solomon’s own son, Rehoboam, is a prime example of folly set in high places within the Church. You might recall the story in 1st Kings 12. He had just succeeded his father as king.

     Now, part of his accession involved the northern Ten Tribes anointing him as their king also, in Shechem. There those leaders asked for relief from the heavy burden that Solomon had placed upon them. In response Rehoboam consulted first with the elders who had served his father during his lifetime.

     They advised him to give them a favourable answer. By lighting their load he would always have them as his servants.

     But Rehoboam wasn’t happy with this. Thinking of what suited him, he rejected that advice and turned to the young men who had grown up with him and who were serving him. Well, the rashness of youth came through from them.

     Rather than lighten their load, they told Rehoboam to increase their burden. And we know what happened when he responded that way. He quickly lost most of his father’s kingdom. How much didn’t that set into place the eventual destruction of God’s people of old?

     But we see the same today. Those younger within the churches are pushing their ideas for change which run rough-shod over everyone else. They take on the thinking and practices of the world.

     And, meanwhile, it is all about them. For what result, though? The arrogance and harm you see in many of those trendy churches? And how about those older and wiser who are pushed out altogether – or to that traditional service earlier on Sunday morning?

     Congregation, we need to do what the Lord requires of us. And what is that but what Micah 6:8 says? There the prophet exhorts us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

     It is in humility that we will find the way. That puts everything in God’s perspective. And so we are looking for godly leaders who will rule us God’s way.

     We must pray and work for the same for civil authorities too. We must be a salting salt and a shining light to all around as to the goodness and gracious of our God. We must love what he loves and do what he does.

     Isn’t this what the saints of the past have shown us? Men like Groen van Prinsterer opposed the radicals who were so bent on turning everything upside down. They raised the banner for God’s order to put things up the right way.

     Isn’t this the very pattern the King of kings himself gave us when amongst us as a servant? Christ Jesus did not seek to be served but to serve. And how much didn’t he perfectly fulfil his Father’s will?

     In Matthew 5 his words are crystal clear. In verse 17 there he declares, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”

     Now it is his Spirit in us which guides us. So let’s not quench that Spirit. Let’s put Christ in the picture – and cut ourselves out altogether!


     And this is where these verses really come home to us. Because now all those who are in the new covenant have the Spirit of Christ within them. We are all prophets, priests, and kings. This means we can rule over our lives and our families and our fellowships with wisdom set in the high places and as princes upon horses.

     But are we? How are other Christians and those unbelievers around us seeing Christ in us? Are you seeking to serve and not be served? Amen.





Let’s pray…


     Lord, in an age and in a place where things seem so topsy-turvy help us to stand upon your Rock. Yes, strengthen and stir us so that are depending completely upon our only Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ. May your Spirit work in and through us so that we are blessed and that others see you too.

     In the saving name of your dear Son, we pray. Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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