“Appearance is everything,” or so the saying goes. In an image-driven culture, this statement reflects a belief that holds sway among the shapers of culture. Style, so often, is more important than substance. As long as the appearance is convincing, what is actually underneath is less significant. We see this all the time in politics, where gifted communication teams carefully craft a message about a candidate and his history that may or may not be true to his background and beliefs. The same is true with non-political celebrities, who often pay millions of dollars for help in crafting a public persona or for assistance in getting back into people’s good graces after a scandal.
Certainly, appearance is an important consideration. How we present ourselves often says something about who we are on the inside. Yet in God’s kingdom, appearance is not everything and first impressions are often deceiving. As our Creator told the prophet Samuel, “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). To the best of our abilities, knowing that we cannot see the heart of a person, we are to examine the characters of others as revealed in their outward actions.
As we do that, we may find ourselves perplexed by what we see, as the Preacher who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes often was when he observed the world. Today’s passage reflects his study of the people around him and his recognition that things tend in many cases to be upside down. “Folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place” (Eccl. 10:6). In other words, we often see the most foolish of individuals achieve high office, while those whose wisdom and skill would seem to make them the most fit for office do not reach such heights. Similarly, the Preacher observed “slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves” (v. 7). In the ancient world, horses were associated with royalty (see 1 Kings 4:26), so the meaning of the Preacher’s image is that some who do not really have what it takes to be king are in that place while others who have the knowledge and discernment to reign end up as mere slaves.
Obviously, the Preacher’s statements are not absolute. Many fine men and women reach positions of authority because of their wisdom, skill, and ability to treat people well. But when this does not happen, we recognize that things are not right side up. For God’s original design for creation was for godly, wise people to rule (Prov. 8:12–16).