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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 8

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? a man's wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.

Who is the wise men? Praise of true wisdom continued, (Ecclesiastes 7:11, etc.) "Who" is to be accounted "equal to the wise man?"

Knoweth the interpretation - of God's providences (e.g., Ecclesiastes 7:8; Ecclesiastes 7:13-14), and God's word (e.g., Ecclesiastes 7:29, note; Proverbs 1:6).

Face to shine - (Ecclesiastes 7:14; Stephen, Acts 6:15.) A sunny countenance, the reflection of a tranquil conscience and serene mind. Communion with God gives it (so Moses, Exodus 34:29-30).

And the boldness - austerity.

Changed - into a benign expression by true wisdom (religion) (James 3:17). Or as margin, strength (Ecclesiastes 7:19; Isaiah 40:31; 2 Corinthians 3:18). The Hebrew for "boldness" [ `oz (H5797)], though often used in a good sense, is found in a bad one in Daniel 8:23; Deuteronomy 28:50.

Verse 2

I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.

The king's commandment - Yahweh, peculiarly the King of Israel in the theocracy: Ecclesiastes 8:3-4, prove it is not the earthly king who is meant (Ecclesiastes 5:8).

In regard of the oath of God - i:e., on account of the obligation imposed upon thee by the covenant which God made with Abraham and renewed with David; Solomon remembered Psalms 89:35, "I have sworn," etc. (Eccl. 8:36 ), and the penalties if David's children should forsake it (Eccl. 8:30-32 ), inflicted on Solomon himself; yet God not "utterly" forsaking him, (Eccl. 8:33-34; Deuteronomy 29:12-15, etc.)

Verse 3

Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.

Be not hasty. The Hebrew (Niphal voice: tibaaheel (H926)) means literally, 'Be not terror-struck, so as to go out of His sight.' The Piel tebaheel, which some copies read, is more commonly used as 'Be hasty.' To be slavishly 'terror-struck' is characteristic of the sinner's feeling toward God: he vainly tries, like Jonah (Jonah 1:3), in hasty panic, to flee out of His sight (Psalms 139:7); opposed to the 'shining face' of filial confidence (Ecclesiastes 8:1; John 8:33-36; Romans 8:2; 1 John 4:18).

Stand not in an evil thing - persist not in it. Hengstenberg explains as in Psalms 1:1, "nor standeth in the way of sinners:" allow not thyself to be seduced by suffering into the paths of sin, into despair of God, and endeavours to work out thy deliverance in thine own strength and way (Psalms 37:8). Sin is an evil spot on which we should not take our post. The reason follows: It is fatal by our impatience to make the Omnipotent One our enemy.

Whatsoever pleaseth him. God inflicts what punishment He pleases on persisting sinners (Job 23:13; Psalms 115:3). True of none except God.

Verse 4

Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou? Where the word of a (the) king (is, there is) power. God's very "Word" is "power." So the Gospel Word (Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12). Maurer translates (Baasher), 'Because that the word of the King is powerful.'

Who may say unto him - none is of higher authority, so as to call him to account (Job 9:12; Isaiah 45:9; Daniel 4:32; Jonah 1:14). Scripture does not ascribe such arbitrary power to earthly kings.

Verse 5

Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment.

Shall feel (experience) no evil thing - really and lastingly hurting him. Present trials shall prove everlasting blessings (Romans 8:28).

A wise man's heart discerneth both time (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 ) and judgment. God's future "judgment" is connected with the "time for every purpose," in Ecclesiastes 3:17. The punishment of persisting or impatient sinners (Ecclesiastes 8:3) suggests it. The wise man realizes the fact, that as there is a fit "time" for every purpose, so for the "judgment." This thought cheers him in adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14; Ecclesiastes 8:1).

Verse 6

Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.

Because to every purpose (Hebrew, cheepets (H2656 ): desire) there is time and judgment - because the foolish sinner does not think of the right "times" and the "judgment." But the repetition of the same words as in Ecclesiastes 8:5 shows the connection of this verse with it. The wise discern the coming time of God's judgment and take courage; 'because to every desire' of the saint for the establishment of the kingdom of God and the downfall of the present state of sin and sorrow, there is the coming time of the just retribution; 'inasmuch as'-`because (not "therefore," as the English version; the same Hebrew, Ki, as before) man's misery is great upon him;' and without the hope of such a time of retribution to come, the godly would have nothing to sustain them in present sufferings. The second "because" introduces the reason why there should be such a need for God's righteous judgment in His own good time, namely: man's great misery, in which the saint is a chief sufferer.

Verse 7

For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?

For (Hebrew, kiy (H3588 ), as before: because) he knoweth - an exemplification of man's "great misery" (Ecclesiastes 8:6). The sinner, by neglecting times (e.g., "the accepted time, and the day of salvation" 2 Corinthians 6:2), is taken by surprise by the judgment (Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 9:12). The godly wise observe the due times of things (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and so, looking for the judgment, are not taken by surprise, though not knowing the precise "when" (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4); they "know the time" to all saving purposes (Romans 13:11).

Verse 8

There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.

No man ... hath power over the spirit - breath of life (Ecclesiastes 3:19), as the words following require. This verse naturally follows the subject of "time" and "judgment" (Ecclesiastes 8:6-7).

No discharge - alluding to the liability to military service of all above twenty years old (Numbers 1:3); yet many were exempted (Deuteronomy 20:5-8). But in that war (death) there is no exemption.

Neither shall wickedness deliver ... - literally, its patrons or master. Wickedness can get money for the sinner, but cannot deliver him from the death temporal and eternal which is its penalty (Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 28:18). The thought of the short-lived power of wicked oppressors, and the universality of death, which ends all oppression-a consideration terrible to the wicked-is the comfort of the saint in affliction.

Verse 9

All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.

(There is) a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt. The tyrannical 'ruler hurts' not merely his subjects, but himself; so Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:1-33): but the "time" of "hurt" chiefly refers to eternal ruin, incurred by "wickedness," at "the day of death" (Ecclesiastes 8:8), and the "time" of "judgment" (Ecclesiastes 8:6; Proverbs 8:36). Hengstenberg explains, 'to the hurt of the ruled' (Proverbs 28:15-16). The oppression which the godly suffer would be a stumbling-block to faith (Ecclesiastes 7:15) if looked at superficially. But Solomon says, "I applied my heart (understanding)," i:e., looked deeply into the matter.

Verse 10

And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity.

And so (or, then) I saw the wicked - (Ezekiel 32:23-24; Ezekiel 39:11; Luke 16:22.) The grave puts an end to the temporary oppression exercised by the wicked.

Who had come - to the grave.

And gone from the place of the holy - from the place of judicature, where they sat as God's representatives (Psalms 82:1-6). Joab, by Solomon's command, was sent to the grave from the "holy place" in the temple, which was not a sanctuary to murderers (Exodus 21:14; 1 Kings 2:28; 1 Kings 2:31). The very word "bury" is used there. So the "wicked rulers" (Ecclesiastes 8:9) and high priests, who condemned Jesus, in God's time of judgment had to "go from the place of the holy," the temple, to the grave. "The place of the holy" (the place of judicature, and the temple, and the holy city and congregation) was not the rightful place of the wicked. Therefore in God's due time they must go from it forever (cf. Isaiah 4:3; Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 49:17).

They were forgotten - (Proverbs 10:7; Psalms 73:19-20.)

This (is) also vanity. This rule of man over man, to the hurt of the ruled; because it soon ends, and the righteous are delivered forever.

Verse 11

Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

Because sentence against an evil work ... The reason why the wicked persevere in sin: God's delay in judgment (Matthew 24:48-51; 2 Peter 3:8-9). 'They see not the smoke of the pit, therefore they dread not the fire' (South). (Psalms 55:19.) Joab's escape from the punishment of his murder of Abner, so far from "leading him to repentance," as it ought (Romans 2:4), led him to the additional murder of Amasa. Hengstenberg, on account of the Hebrew accents, translates, 'Because a sentence is not pronounced, the work of wickedness hasteneth.' But the balance of the two parts of the verse is much better in the English version, which is, moreover, supported by the ancient versions-the Chaldaic, Septuagint, Vulgate, Arabic, and Syriac. Even the professing servants of God are tempted by the long impunity and prosperity, seemingly, of the wicked, to apostatize from God, and to seek prosperity by the same evil ways.

Verse 12

Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him:

Though a sinner do evil an hundred times ... He says this, lest the sinner should abuse the statement (Ecclesiastes 7:15), "A wicked man prolongeth his life."

Which fear before him - literally, at His presence; reverently serve Him, realizing His continual presence.

Verse 13

But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.

Neither shall he prolong - not a contradiction to Ecclesiastes 8:12. The 'prolonging' of his days there is only seeming, not real. Taking into account his eternal existence, his present days, however seemingly long, are really short. God's delay (Ecclesiastes 8:11) exists only in man's short-sighted view. It gives scope to the sinner to repent, or else to fill up his full measure of guilt; and so, in either case, tends to the final vindication of God's ways. It gives exercise to the faith, patience, and perseverance of saints.

Which are as a shadow - (Ecclesiastes 6:12; Job 8:9.)

Verse 14

There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.

There be just (men) ... An objection is here started (entertained by Solomon in his apostasy), as in Ecclesiastes 3:16; Ecclesiastes 7:15, to the truth of retributive justice, from the fact of the just and the wicked not now receiving always according to their respective deserts; a cavil which would seem the more weighty to men living under the Mosaic covenant of temporal sanctions. The objector adds, as Solomon had said, that the worldling's pursuits are "vanity" (Ecclesiastes 8:10), "I say (not 'said') this also is vanity. Then I commend mirth." etc. (Holden.) Ecclesiastes 8:14-15, however, ought rather to be explained as teaching a cheerful, thankful use of God's gifts "under the sun" - i:e., not making them the chief good, as sensualists do, which Ecclesiastes 2:2; Ecclesiastes 7:2, forbid; but in "the fear of God," as Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 7:18; Ecclesiastes 9:7, opposed to the abstinence of the self-righteous ascetic (Ecclesiastes 7:16), and of the miser (Ecclesiastes 5:17).

This also is vanity. God has intended such vanity or imperfection and misery to inhere in things of this fallen earth, in order that the godly may be disciplined to walk by faith, serving God in spite of many trials, not for the sake of earthly reward, as Satan accused Job of (Job 1:9), but for love to Him who is their final reward. Even they have much of sin, and must therefore take their share of the general misery of this vain life, with this difference, as compared with the ungodly, that even trials work together for their final good.

Verse 15

Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.

Than to eat, and to drink. There is no "better thing," as regards the things of this life, for the "just" man, whose chief good is religion, than that he should cheerfully enjoy the present gifts of God.

For that shall abide with him - "abide" - Hebrew, adhere; not for ever, but it is the only sure good to be enjoyed from earthly labours (equivalent to "of his labour the days of his life"). Still, the language resembles the sceptical precept (1 Corinthians 15:32), introduced only to be refuted. But the "mirth" commended is more probably that of the cheerful saint, who, instead of fretting himself about seeming anomalies (Ecclesiastes 8:14), and discontentedly complaining in self-righteousness, as if he were treated unjustly, makes the best of present mercies. This is the only abiding good from earthly toils (1 Timothy 6:6).

Verses 16-17

When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:)

When I applied mine heart to know wisdom ... - When I applied myself to observe man's toils after happiness (some of them so incessant as not to allow sufficient time for "sleep;" cf. Genesis 31:40; Proverbs 6:4; Psalms 132:4), then (Ecclesiastes 8:17, the apodosis) I saw that "man" cannot find out (the reason of) God's inscrutable dealings with the "just" and with the "wicked" here (Ecclesiastes 8:14; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Job 5:9; Romans 11:33); his duty is to acquiesce in them as good, because they are God's, though he sees not all the reasons for them (Psalms 73:16). It is enough to know 'the righteous are in God's hand' (Ecclesiastes 9:1).

Though a wise (man) think to know (it) ... Compare "neither make thyself overwise" (Ecclesiastes 7:16), speculating above what is written. God has His wise and just reasons for all that is done or permitted here, but they are secret to us. 'If the works of Solomon so struck with admiration the queen of Sheba that "there was no more spirit in her" (1 Kings 10:5), much more the works of God, which exceed all our, intelligence, ought to fill us with admiration' (Cartwright).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/ecclesiastes-8.html. 1871-8.
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