A fly in the ointment

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Ecclesiastes 10:1-9

–  Doctor, Doctor, there’s a fly in the ointment!

–  Yes, he’s recovering from a nasty soup burn.


“A fly in the ointment” is a minor detail that causes major irritation.

The phrase has evolved from its biblical origins in Ecclesiastes:

“Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.”  (Ecclesiastes 10:1)

The King James Bible renders it “The ointment of the apothecary” as though this were the work of the pharmacist.  But in biblical terms, these words refer almost universally to the ointment of the priests.  This is the perfumed ointment you’d find in the temple: literally, the scented “oil” which is being ruined by the stench of death.

We’ve considered how kings, priests and prophets were anointed with oil in the Old Testament.  And how the oil of the High Priest was meant to flow down to bless others.

But in Ecclesiastes 10 there is a problem.  One who is meant to be wise and honourable, acts foolishly instead.  Usually it’s kings who are described as wise and honourable – but here is a priestly king whose rule is ruined by folly.  It might seem like only a little folly.  But then the fly in the ointment is only a little fly.  A small intruder ruins the oil of blessing.  Instead of life flowing down, it is death that spreads.

And so it was with Adam.  He was meant to rule in wisdom and honour.  But through his folly he spread death everywhere.  Far from slight, his eating of the forbidden fruit was the ultimate fly in the ultimate ointment.  Life should have flowed out from that garden but, through sin, it was death that spread from Adam.

Thank God for a true Ruler in wisdom and honour.  This King is also our High Priest.  And as Hebrews declares,

“such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” (Hebrews 7:26)

And so, through Christ, the undefiled oil of His Spirit flows out for the blessing of the world.

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