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Dead Flies and Perfume

By Dave Lescalleet

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

– Ecclesiastes 10:1


This little verse not only offers profound insight for living (wisdom vs. folly) but does so by giving the reader vivid imagery (dead flies and perfume).

The author begins by offering his reader a comparison in character between wisdom and folly. With the word “AS” in front of the first phrase to go along with the “SO” in front of the second phrase, we see that comparison:  AS dead flies give perfume a bad smell, SO a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. There are two things that this opening verse highlights with that simple comparison. The first is this: Character has a fragrance.

In this verse we are being told that the wise person’s character, when making wise choices, is as inviting as expensive perfume. But the fool’s character is as putrid as dead flies. The point should be obvious: We can smell character.

But there is more. The author is also warning us that even a little folly can do a LOT of damage. This is the more serious message. We are not to underestimate foolish choices. In other words, even a small mistake can mess up a wonderful reputation. Folly is often times saying this: I didn’t mean for that to happen. The reason being is that folly is usually shy at first and oh so patient. But when it finally speaks up, it can and will cause trouble. It can, according to Ecclesiastes, ruin the reputations of those who are wise. I think many of us (most of us?) can relate. Think back. Has there ever been a season in your life when you allowed one error in judgment or one foolish choice to take place, and as a result it overshadowed a record of wisdom and honor? That is the warning that the author is sounding. It is a reminder that character counts and that the choices we make (even small choices) carry consequences and will have ripple effects.

In closing, I leave you with this question: What is the fragrance of your character? For the one who practices wisdom, it will be a glorious perfume to others. But for the one who lives in foolishness — dead flies.

Dr. Dave Lescalleet

Dr. Dave Lescalleet serves as the Director of Chaplaincy for PruittHealth. He is a graduate of Knox Theological Seminary.

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