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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 8

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

Verse 1

8:1 "Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man's wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam".

"Who is like the wise man" -"Who is equal to him" (Keil/Del., p. 336), "Who really is a wise man" (Rhm); "Who is as the wise?" (YLT). "The chapter begins with a question and a statement that magnify the value of wisdom (1) and closes with an acknowledge of wisdom's limitations (17). Wisdom enables a wise man to avoid the king's wrath (2-9), but not even a wise man can figure out the enigmas in God's distribution of justice (10-17)" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 996).

"knows the interpretation of a matter?" -knows the true and clear meaning of things, "to understand things, to be able to analyze them and interpret them" (Tay). "The wise man knows how to explain difficult things, to unfold mysterious things; in short, he understands how to go to the foundation of things" (Keil/Del. p. 336).

"A man's wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam" -"When a man finds wisdom, his face lights up" (TWOT p. 26); "So the insight which wisdom affords a man makes his face to glow with inner joy and satisfaction" (Leupold p. 182).

Points To Note:

1 Wisdom, esp. godly wisdom (James 3:17-18), removes the harshness, ignorance, prejudice, frustration, pessimism, and rudeness which is so often caused by sin. "the word translated "boldness" (KJV), "stern face" (NASV), is best taken of the coarseness and impudence engendered by ignorance and want of culture" (P.P. Comm. p. 199). 2. Wisdom enables one to act graciously and avoid foolish and brash behavior which gets so many people into trouble (Proverbs 14:35). 3. Happiness generally results when one is working smarter instead of harder.

Verse 2

8:2 "I say, 'Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God'".

"Obey the king, for you swore him loyalty before God" (Mof). For such oaths, see (2 Kings 11:17; Deut. 17:15; 1 Samuel 26:11,16). The New Testament teaches the same principle, that loyalty to God is linked with loyalty to human leaders and the laws of the land (Matt. 22:21; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). The Bible also notes that we are free to resist those in authority when they command us to do something which would violate the will of God (Acts 5:29).

Verse 3

8:3 "'Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.'"

"in a hurry to leave him" -Which would include the need for proper decorum and respect while in his presence. But the phrase here seems to include more than merely rushing out of his presence or leaving before one is properly excused. The context of the verse seems to include the idea of deserting or quitting. "Rebel not rashly against him" (Mof).

"Do not join in an evil matter" -"Do not be stubborn when the cause is not a good one" (Kidner p. 75); "Do not stand firm in a bad cause" (AAT).

Point To Note:

These words are greatly needed to every generation, for it always seems that even among professed believers there is an element that resents every form of human authority. People who just can't wait to ridicule those in power, or look for an excuse to rebel. Christians need to be very careful about the instances of civil disobedience or rebellion which they endorse. The inference seems to be that legitimate occasions to defy the governing authorities in the land are few and far between. The wise man will never rashly support any movement. And wise men will also correct themselves when they realize that they are supporting an evil cause.

"he will do whatever he pleases" -Not that kings are given a divine right to sin, but the king will inflict whatever punishment he wishes on the evil-doer (Proverbs 20:2; Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:14).

Verse 4

8:4 "Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, 'What are you doing?'"

Of course this passage isn't teaching that the king can do anything he wants with God's approval. Rather, this statement is made in light of disobedient citizens and their appointed punishment. The king can back up what he says by force. "The wise man thus….. does not waste his influence on a lost cause" (Garrett p. 327). "Many passages in the Old Testament witness to the limits which loyalty to God must set on courtly tack and submissiveness; one has only to think of the outspoken prophets and, among the wise, of the indomitable Daniel and his companions. If such examples shame us out of conformism, the present verses keep the balance true by teaching due respect for government" (Kidner p. 75).

Verse 5

8:5 "He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure."

"keeps a royal command" -It is generally true that people who keep the laws of the land are not in trouble. The same general truth is taught in (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:14; 4:15). "And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?" (1 Peter 3:13).

"wise heart knows" -"the right time and method for action" (NEB). The wise man is patient and does not hastily rise up in rebellion, but knows that there will be a time when oppression will end and a judgment for the oppressors (3:17). Such knowledge enables the wise man to deal with the injustices he sees about him (4:1). See 2 Peter 3:9-10; James 5:7.

Verse 6

8:6 "For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, when a man's trouble is heavy upon him".

"proper time and procedure" -(Ecc. 3:1) "the wise man learns to recognize the truth and the moment of truth which may be seized or missed in any venture" (Kidner p. 76). "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity" (Colossians 4:5).

"delight" -every thing or every purpose. "Pursuit, ardor, affair, matter" (Gesenius p. 296).

"a man's trouble is heavy upon him" -"He maintains his patience, moreover, in spite of the moral burdens he carries that might otherwise cause him to act impetuously" (Garrett p. 327). The trouble under consideration here might be when the wise man is afflicted by unjust and evil rulers and must patiently wait for the season which will bring God's judgment. In addition, suffering doesn't give any man the right to act sinfully or rashly. Even when we are oppressed, there is a proper time for action and there is a proper way in which to respond.

Verse 7

8:7 "If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?"

Points To Note:

1 Once again we are confronted with the point that no human being can predict the future, or even the timing of events that we know the future holds. 2. This is one more reason why we need God and His wisdom, because this life is so unpredictable. 3. In addition, the sinner never knows actually when God's judgment will come upon him or her (Proverbs 24:22; 28:1; 1 Thess. 5:2-3; Luke 12:20-21). "the evil man's suffering is compounded because he knows neither when he will be punished nor what will be his punishment" (Kidwell p. 204).

Verse 8

8:8 "No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it."

"authority to restrain the wind" -"wind" here is translated "spirit" in the KJV. If we take the word here to mean spirit, then the verse is teaching that no one has power to retain the soul when God calls for it (12:7; Hebrews 9:28). The wind is uncontrollable (Prov. 27:16). The thought could be seeing that it is obvious that no man can restrain the wind, how much more is man helpless to hold his own soul captive. No amount of human cunning can prevent or cheat death. If this statement is talking about death, then here it is being asserted that no man can avoid death.

"or authority over the day of death" -not only is man incapable of avoiding death, man is also powerless to determine the day that he will die. Generally, for most people, the day of death is completely unexpected. Hence we see the folly of trying to "time" when we should repent, or try to squeeze as such sin in before it is too late to repent. "the day of his death he cannot determine" (Know). This verse also infers that suicide is the height of human arrogance, and exercising a decision that belongs exclusively to God. Here is also one more reason why worry and anxiety are so fruitless. Worrying about our health won't prolong our lives (Matthew 6:27). If anything, anxiety will shorten our life.

"no discharge in the time of war" -Human beings are not only helpless in face of death, but also they stand helpless before many purely physical situations. Once the battle begins, we can't merely opt out or refuse to participate any longer. Like death, war is something that once it starts you are "locked in" until the war is over. There is a great lesson here for all political and military leaders and every citizen. Getting into a war is easy, getting out is another thing. In some way or another the entire nation is going to feel the impact of any war. We are fooling ourselves if we think that war can be sanitized, in our day of technology we somehow think that we can conduct a neat and clean war, a war in which nobody on our side gets hurt.

"evil will not deliver those who practice it" -"Unfaithfulness strikes its own master" (Keil/Del p. 344) (Proverbs 11:19; 13:6). People often sin and compromise for they feel that such will deliver them from trouble. This is basically one of the assumptions behind situation ethics. That in certain tough situations, practices which the Bible labels as sin, actually can help us stay out of trouble. "The wicked could raise the question: 'Deliver from what?' The inference is strong regarding the necessity of escape. One will reap what he sows" (Kidwell p. 208). Sin not only fails to deliver, but is also condemns!

Verse 9

8:9 "All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt".

Solomon isn't presenting a theory, rather he is speaking from personal experience and observation. Once again we see that Solomon had given whole-hearted attention to the problems associated with life under the sun.

"to his hurt" -Nobody wins when one man is oppressing another or others. The oppressed suffer and the oppressor stores up for themselves divine judgment. "the wisdom of patient fidelity to duty, the perniciousness of revolutionary selfishness, and the suddenness which with the judgment comes, he has seen with his own eyes, at the time when man ruled over man" (Keil/Del. p. 345).

Verse 10

8:10 "So then, I have seen the wicked buried, those who used to go in and out from the holy place, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. This too is vanity."

"the wicked" -in the context this would include wicked people who oppress others, i.e. tyrants, corrupt governmental officials, those who are ruthless in business, in the courts, despots and dictators.

"from the holy place" -it appears that this verse is only talking about one group of people. Wicked people who pretended to be righteous, wicked people who frequented the temple and went through all the various worship practices.

"they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus" -The American Standard translators believed that two groups of people are in this verse. The wicked who receive a splendid burial, and the righteous who are quickly forgotten. The King James and New American Standard translators believed that only one group is under consideration in this verse, i.e. the wicked. What is forgotten about the wicked is their former wickedness! "From the standpoint of the righteous, one of the most perplexing problems is to observe the wicked go to their graves praised by the society whom they have maligned without any apparent retributive action to make the record straight" (Kidwell p. 212)

Points To Note:

1 This verse informs us that secular history isn't infallible. At times history has mistakenly labeled the wicked as righteous and visa versa. 2. "This shows that popular moral judgments can be totally astray, swayed by the evidence of success or failure, and construing heaven's patience as its approval. The dictator or corrupt tycoon may have bent the rules, it will be said; but after all, they got things done, they had flair, they lived in style " (Kidner p. 77). In our own culture we have idolized a good number of people who were very sinful. "And so I have seen wicked men carried to the tomb and praised from the holy place and lauded in the city where they had acted thus" (AAT). 3. "In spite of a notorious reputation, the wicked achieve prosperity and come to an end that is at least officially honorable. The fact that they achieved such success in life in spite of and indeed because of their oppression of others encourages people to follow in their path" (Garrett p. 329). 4. Note that the wicked had access to the holy place. Apparently, the Jewish priests weren't rebuking such individuals for their hypocrisy. But to this day we see religious leaders who give their support and endorsement to famous and powerful individuals who are very immoral. 5. This passage should make us realize that we should put very little confidence in any "poll". Neither should we be shocked that powerful people can do terrible things, and yet still have high approval ratings with the masses. 6. When was the last time you saw anyone buried in disgrace? How many corrupt politicians, ruthless tycoons, and immoral Hollywood actors or actresses are buried with full honors?

Verse 11

8:11 "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil."

"is not executed quickly" -Many people abuse God's mercy, kindness and long suffering (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Peter 3:20). Even in the O.T., God did not immediately punish the sinner, even the flagrant sinner (Acts 14:15-17; 17:30-31). Sudden retribution was the exception (Lev. 10:1-2; Numbers 12:10; 2 Samuel 6:6-7; Acts 12:22-23).

"given fully to do evil" -"Since men do not pay immediately for breaking God's laws, they are deceived into believing that such evil behavior need never be punished. They feel secure in their present state, "no evil will befall me", many misinterpret God's mercy and conclude that pay day for them will never come" (Kidwell p. 213).

Points To Note:

1 Our society questions whether or not punishment is a deterrent to evil behavior. God says that it is! 2. What this also means is that the only way that many people will ever learn, change, or grow up, is by means of some discipline or hardship. When someone gets into trouble, we need to let that person suffer, for a valuable lesson is being taught. 3. This should also teach us a lesson concerning parenting and church discipline. A lack of discipline and sound standards in the home and church will only lead to carelessness, slackness and sin (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1ff; Ephesians 6:4). 4. This verse also informs us that some people will never change until they face the full physical consequences of their actions. "the lack of a quick and clear punishment is enough to encourage wicked people to foster new evil plans" (Longman p. 219). 5. This verse also seems to imply that the selfish person can't be pampered into repenting, or hugged into obedience.

Verse 12

8:12 "Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly."

"and may lengthen his life" -"may sin repeatedly and thrive" (Mof); "He goes unchecked in his evil rampage" (Kidwell p. 214). Here is a man who boldly pursues a habitual course of evil and does so without check or punishment. In addition, to saying his own skin, his sin might cause him to financially prosper and thrive! Sadly, the world often looks at the life of such a sinner and concludes that serving God is vain, impractical and a hindrance to getting ahead (Psalm 73).

"still I know" -Note the conviction of Solomon. He doesn't say, "I hope or I think", rather, faith is absolute confidence in what God has said.

"it will be well for those who fear God, who fear him openly" -to fear God openly means that what you are publicly is what you are privately. "Implying that they are, in fact and life, what they profess to be" (P.P. Comm. p. 203). Those who fear God and who aren't embarrassed to share their faith with others (Romans 1:16).

Point To Note:

Faith isn't shaken by "appearances" and what "seems" like an injustice. Even though some very evil men survive and thrive precisely because of the evil they are doing, the man of faith isn't shaken by the temporary prosperity of the wicked. The man of faith realizes that even if such a man lives for 100 years, his prosperity is still very temporary and short-lived, compared to eternity. Neither is the man of faith shaken, when he isn't physically rewarded here for his faithfulness (Romans 8:18; 1 Peter 1:4).

Verse 13

8:13 "But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God."

"He will not lengthen his days" -"The image of the shadow is appropriate here because as the day ends the shadows gradually lengthen. Thus, the lives of the wicked will not grow longer as they approach the end of their days" (Longman p. 220). Solomon seems to present a paradox about the wicked---for in the same breath he tells of the villain both prolonging and failing to prolong his life (12-13). Solomon might be saying a couple of things: 1. While the wicked man lives long, he fails to really enjoy the life that he has. 2. The wicked often "seem" to be invincible, but often they unexpectedly and quickly come to an end. 3. When it is time for them to die, they can't prolong their life any longer. 4. They might physically prosper due to their sins, but they don't have eternal life (Luke 16:19ff). 5. While the evil man might gain temporary and very limited benefits, he has forfeited true and everlasting life. He has traded an eternity of happiness for a few years of sin. He may have gained a few more days or possessions on this earth, but he forfeited everlasting riches. Hence, he really didn't gain anything.

Verse 14

8:14 "There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility."

"futility which is done on the earth" -"Another kind of frustration, too, earth sees" (Knox). "on the earth"-i.e. from a purely earthly point of view. Here again we see the frustration of a life which doesn't include God! In this life there is no certainty that morality will pay any earthly dividends. There are righteous people who suffer (Lazarus, Job, John the Baptist, the prophets, Jesus, etc..). And there are evil men who abundantly prosper. "for there is no sure way of knowing when---let alone why life will rain down on us the next blow or the next windfall" (Kidner p. 78). Thus, without God, without heavenly realities, moral effort is futile. Here is God's answer to the person who doesn't believe in God or who doesn't serve Him, but who thinks that being moral is advantageous in this life anyway. Here is the folly of a morality divorced from spirituality. The type of person who thinks that living right is beneficial even though they have no intentions of every making a commitment to God. The world is filled with people in this category. People who think that godliness simply exists for physical gain. Such people are only setting themselves up for a huge disappoint----here and in the life to come.

God allows this life to be unpredictable: 1. Because man has a freewill, and we often suffer because of the wrong choices exercised by others. 2. So that people don't merely serve God for the physical benefits, which all too many people are prone to do (John 6:26).

Verse 15

8:15 "So I commend pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun."

"I commend pleasure" -i.e. enjoyment. Obviously Solomon isn't commending a life of sinful pleasure, for he has already noted that it won't be well for the sinner (8:13). In addition, this is the type of pleasure, enjoyment, feasting, drinking and happiness, which is in harmony with a life lived for God, "the days of his life which God has given him". Compare with 2:24; 3:12,22; 5:18 and 1 Kings 4:20. "this is not Epicurean hedonism based on despair but is a note of submission. Man cannot control or predict adversity or prosperity; however each day's joys should be received as gifts from God's hand and be savored as God permits (3:13; 5:19)" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 997). It is sad that many of us are so influenced by the world's thinking that we cannot look at the phrase "drink and to be merry" without thinking of the type of drinking or the type of drink that results in intoxication. It is sad that many people in the world believe that "merry" can't be experienced when one is sober.

"and this will stand by him in his toils" -This life will be filled with toils, hard work, troubles and trials, the best a man can do is have with him through it all an appreciation for what he does have-a cheerful and optimistic outlook. "and to keep this up as he goes toiling through the life God gives him" (Mof).

Point To Note:

Far from being a bleak and miserable existence, the life of the believer is to be optimistic and cheerful. In view of our eternal reward, we can make the best of our temporary hardships, and then God advises us to make the most of the good times, to relish and really enjoy the physical blessings which come our way. We should enjoy and appreciate good food, festive occasions, times of celebration and rejoicing. These are not moments to be squandered. In other words, God is saying, "Life is too short to spend all your time at the office". (Philippians 4:10-13).

Verse 16

8:16 "When I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task which has been done on the earth (even though one should never sleep day or night),"

Solomon's task was two fold: 1. To know what is and what isn't wisdom, "to gain the knowledge of that which is wisdom, and which is to be regarded as wisdom, solid knowledge regarding the essence, causes….of things" (Keil/Del. p. 352). 2. And to use such wisdom to understand the affairs of this life.

"even though one should never sleep" -Such a task demanded all of Solomon's time, he was forced to burn the midnight oil.

Verse 17

8:17 "and I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, 'I know', he cannot discover".

"man cannot discover" -Unaided by Divine revelation, man is completely unable to predict the future, solve all the problems of this life, or see exactly how God has accomplished His purposes in the past, or how He is accomplishing His purposes in the present…(Jeremiah 10:23; Deut. 29:29; Romans 11:33 "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" ). This is true, regardless of how much time and effort people put into trying to discover "the secret" of having this life all figured out. "I found that man is unable to grasp the truth of all that God is doing in this world" (Mof). Solomon had tried his best, and apart of Divine revelation, when and where God had not aid him, he had failed.

"though the wise man should say" -Which means that every human philosopher has never found the answer. "The world's long history of philosophies, each one in turn exposing the omissions of its predecessors, makes it all too clear" (Kidner p. 79). Here is how the obituary reads for all human philosophies (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Points To Note:

1. It is God's work that baffles us, hence life isn't a tale told by an idiot. "Yet what if it is told to an idiot?" (Kidner p. 79). 2. This verse helps us to properly evaluate every new self-help book or every new theory, esp., those concerning what is the key to happiness, what will make a marriage work and how to raise children. 3. With the Bible we see what is correct about the latest fad and what is wrong. And with the Bible we are always ahead of secular thinkers, denominational and unsound thinkers (Psalm 119:99). With the Bible I don't have to wait for another man to discover the truth for my generation or me. 4. Nothing has changed, to this day popular writers claim that they have found or discovered earth-shaking truths that will change all our lives forever, and they parade their latest book or ideas on the talk show circuit. "Although as earth-dwellers we see God's work in tantalizing flashes, the very fact that we can ask about the whole design and long to see it, is evidence that we are not entirely prisoners of our world (also evidence that we are created in the image of God). In more promising words, it is evidence of not only how but for Whom we have been made" (Kidner p. 79).

Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dun/ecclesiastes-8.html. 1999-2014.
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