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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 8

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-5

Ecc 8:1-5

OBEDIENCE AN ESSENTIAL PART OF WISDOM

Ecclesiastes 8:1-5

"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 hardness of his face is changed. I counsel thee, Keep the king’s command, and that in regard of the oath of God. Be not hasty to go out of his presence; persist not in an evil thing: for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him. For the king’s word hath power; and who may say unto him, What doest thou? Whoso keepeth the commandment shall know no evil thing; and a wise man’s heart discerneth time and judgment."

A comparison of translations will reveal some uncertainties about what is actually said here. Cook’s opinion that obedience to the king is the subject appears to be correct; and we know that this would be exactly what a king like Solomon would advise. As a matter of fact, respect for all legitimate authority is the foundation of all law, civilization and social order. It begins with respect for the authority of parents and teachers and continues as mandatory for all authority, as Paul himself pointed out in Romans 13. Waddey agreed that, "The first five verses here admonish us to be submissive to governmental authority.”

"A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine" (Ecclesiastes 8:1). "The claim here is that wisdom gives insight and charm.” "A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to shine,” It is not exactly clear why this has anything to do with the paragraph. Cox’s comment was that, "Culture lends an air of refinement to the face, and that it improves the carriage, demeanor and personality of the possessor.” Delitzsch said, "This verse announces and verifies the incomparable superiority of the wise man.”

"Keep the king’s command ... in regard to the oath of God." (Ecclesiastes 8:2). "This is a religious duty, corresponding to Romans 13:5.”

"Be not hasty to go out of his presence" (Ecclesiastes 8:3). This might mean a number of things: "(1) do not desert the king in time of danger; (2) do not resign your office in haste when things go wrong; (3) don’t storm out of his presence in anger when you are not pleased; or, (4) don’t seek to flee the country as a defector.” The student may take his choice!

"For he doeth whatever pleaseth him" (Ecclesiastes 8:3). Delitzsch translated this: "The king executes anyone he pleases to execute.”

"Whoso keepeth the commandment shall know no evil thing" (Ecclesiastes 8:5). This should be understood in the light of many other Old Testament passages which place definite boundaries upon the obedience that any servant of God should give to the evil commandments of earthly rulers. The three Hebrew children refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, and Daniel continued to pray to Almighty God, in spite of the specific orders of the mightiest king of antiquity that forbade their actions. The strong suggestion in these verses to the effect that a `wise man’ might, through expediency, conform his views to that of some evil ruler cannot negate the truth. "If a man is really wise, he will know that the king’s action or commandment is liable to correction, if it is wrong, in God’s time and by God’s judgment.”

As noted in the outline, there are five distinct divisions in this section which relate to solving some of the problems of life. In each instance, wisdom is the guide which leads the reader to the correct solution. The first area of discussion calls attention to the authority in the land, suggesting that submission to the law will result in pleasant relationships between the king and his subjects. The heart of the discussion is summarized in the words, “He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble.”

Ecclesiastes 8:1 There is no man on earth who can compare with a wise man. Such a man excels them all. It is evident that Solomon continues to extol wisdom. His emphasis is noted by his declaration that only a wise man can explain the difficult, and drive to the very foundation of things. There is more to the wise man’s ability than that which equips him to be an interpreter of proverbs or an adequate manipulator of words. He can unfold the mysterious. He has the ability to draw back the veil and present a clear word picture of why things are.

This gift of understanding has a direct result on the wise man’s heart which manifests itself immediately in his face. His knowledge has brought an inner awareness that he knows and understands both God’s word and God’s providential activities. His face literally shows it. He has a cheerful soul and his face shines. His face is but a reflection of his heart.

His face was formally “stern.” This word is variously translated into “hardness,” “harshness,” “boldness,” and “fierce countenance” (Deuteronomy 28:50). His wisdom transforms his face and causes it to beam. The marginal reading in the NASB reads: “causes his stern face to change.” Examples of such changes of facial expressions are found in Exodus 34:29-30, Acts 6:15; Acts 7:14. Knowledge of the true God, and the awareness that one is keeping His commandments, results in both joy and happiness. Solomon’s father had expressed it simply: “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalms 19:8). Sin causes the “hardness of face,” while righteousness drives out sin and welcomes peace and contentment. Jesus aptly struck at the heart of the matter when He said, “Therefore every one who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man” (Matthew 7:24).

Ecclesiastes 8:2 Two problems arise from this verse: (1) Who is the king? Is this a reference to God or to an earthly king? (2) What oath was stated before God by the people in Solomon’s day? Authorities are divided on the first question but have generally agreed on the second. Let us consider the latter question first.

It is not so important that one determines the exact wording of the oath as this is not the point of Solomon’s argument. The point is that the oath was made “before God,” and it stands as a reminder that (1) it was made before the highest authority, and (2) it pertains to submission to the rule of the king. One such oath is recorded in 2 Kings 11:17 where “Jehoida made a covenant between the Lord and the king and the people, that they should be the Lord’s people, also between the king and the people.” To be “the Lord’s people” is tantamount to the submission to the rule or the authority of the Lord. It is further noted in this illustration that a distinction is made between the Lord and the king. Israel saw the king as God’s representative who was appointed to carry out His will on earth. Thus, the oath was made to the highest authority and also bound the Israelites to the authority of their king. Instructions concerning such oaths are given in Exodus 22:11; 1 Kings 2:43; 2 Samuel 21:7 and Ezekiel 17:18.

To whom does the term “king” refer? Many commentaries view the king as God and suggest that the entire context must be interpreted as to our submission to “the heavenly King.” However, the 2 Kings 11:17 passage makes a clear distinction between “the people,” the earthly “king,” and “the Lord.” It appears that such a distinction would also capture the spirit of this passage. Everything spoken of in reference to the king could apply without difficulty to an earthly king. In forcing the meaning of the term king to refer to God, seems to be demanding more than either Solomon or the context intended to convey. New Testament parallels are found in Matthew 12:21; Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17.

Ecclesiastes 8:3 To break the oath is equal to entering into an association with evil. Therefore, the subjects of the kingdom are admonished not only to keep the command of the king, but to refrain from joining in an evil matter. The “fear of the Lord” has previously been defined (Cf. Ecclesiastes 5:7, p. 117) as departing from evil and doing that which is good. Solomon isn’t introducing new material. He continues to pursue the characteristics of a wise man. In this instance, a wise man is one who recognizes the authority of the king and lives within the restrictions of the law.

“Do not be in a hurry to leave him.” The king is on the side of right; to depart from him would be to align oneself with evil. Cain is an example of one who because of his evil deed was forced to leave the companionship and security of the side of right. It is written of him, immediately after he had murdered his brother, that “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord” (Genesis 4:16). The relationship the kings of Israel enjoyed with God was unique in history. There was a much closer correlation between their laws and the law of God than has existed in any other period of time. However, the principle that authority is ordained of God is still true. On the whole, the admonition of this verse remains a valid one. Paul wrote: “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Romans 13:1-2).

“To do whatever he pleases” should be understood to mean that the king will inflict whatever punishment he wishes. It is the evil doer who draws the wrath of the king.

Ecclesiastes 8:4 The authority of the king has been established. On the basis of this conclusion, it must be admitted that none has the right to question the king’s decision or to question the punishment which he places upon the wicked. The verse is not to be taken as blanket approval for all the activities of the king. It is to be understood in the light of two things: (1) Disobedient citizens who depart from the presence of the king and stand in an evil matter deserve punishment; (2) the punishment appointed is the prerogative of the king—none has the right to question him on such a matter.

Ecclesiastes 8:5 For authority to be meaningful, there must be laws and subsequent punishment exacted upon those who break the laws. Who is the wise man? A partial answer is arrived at in this verse. A wise man is one “who keeps a royal command.” It is generally true that obedience to the law results in peace. This principle is valid whether the law is God’s law or man’s law.

Another characteristic of the wise man is that he recognizes that judgment and punishment will fall upon those who break the law. He knows there is a “proper time and procedure.” He practices patience and thus lives in peace. Sometimes such assurance is the only compensation for one who does right. Especially is this true when the authority is on the side of the oppressors (Ecclesiastes 4:1), or when the law-abiding poor have their wages withheld and on occasion are put to death (James 5:4-6). Even in the face of such extreme punishment they are encouraged to retain their wisdom: “you too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8). The lesson from Ecclesiastes, chapter three, had been that there is a time for everything under the sun. Now the Preacher is underlining his previous contention: “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man, for a time for every matter and every deed is there” (Ecclesiastes 3:17). Even God patiently waits until the sin has ripened fully on the vine. Man would like for punishment to fall swiftly as well as justly but life is not always this way. The wise heart recognizes that such judgment will come with certainty and thus tunes all of his thoughts and activities to this channel. It is at the fountain of patience and deep conviction in the justice of God that he drinks.

Verses 6-8

Ecc 8:6-8

Ecclesiastes 8:6-8

REGARDING THE PROBLEM OF ANXIETY

"For to every purpose there is a time and judgment; because the misery of man is great upon him; for he knoweth not that which shall be; for who can tell how it shall be? There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power over the day of death; and there is no discharge in war; neither shall wickedness deliver him that is given to it."

"The misery of man is great ... for he knoweth not that which shall be" (Ecclesiastes 8:6-7). The misery which is mentioned here is of a particular kind, derived from man’s ignorance of the future. This ignorance is summarized in Ecclesiastes 8:8, under four uncertainties. The literal Hebrew for the first clause is, "Man’s evil is great upon him." However, there is absolutely nothing in man’s ignorance of the future that causes him misery, unless he gives himself over to anxiety and worry because of it.

It is the glory of the New Testament revelation that men are relieved of all considerations that should result in their worrying and anxiety. (Matthew 6:25-34; 1 Peter 5:7). "But Solomon did not know God and did not know the hope that Christians have about the future.”

The Christian may face the future with confidence and hope. Oh, to be sure, we do not know what a day may bring forth; but we know Him who does know! Furthermore, whatever happens to my loved ones, or my property, or my body, or my country, or anything else, nothing can happen to me! Why? The Christ himself has promised, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world"! (Matthew 28:20).

I know not where his islands lift

Their fronded palms in air;

I only know I cannot drift

Beyond his loving care.

Ecclesiastes 8:6 b-7 here are rendered thus: "Although man is greatly troubled by ignorance of the future, who can tell him what it will bring"?

"There is no man that hath power, etc." (Ecclesiastes 8:8). Here are given the four uncertainties mentioned above, the verse means that, "Not even great wealth will enable the wealthy to defy these limitations.” No discharge in war regards the uncertainty that threatens one who may be drafted into a war by some absolute monarch. Of course, this is only one of a thousand evil things that might happen to any person. The mention of God in Ecclesiastes 8:13, below, supports the view of Eaton that, "Solomon eventually turns to a position of faith as the only remedy for all the uncertainty.

Ecclesiastes 8:6 The preposition “for” indicates that this is an extension of the line of reasoning established in verse five. The phrase restates the closing thought of the preceding verse. “A proper time and procedure for every delight” has been sufficiently demonstrated in chapter three. However, the statement, “when a man’s trouble is heavy upon him,” needs explanation. Who is the man who is under the burden of trouble? Is he the good, wise man or the sinner who has departed from the side of the king? If it is the good man, then evil men have afflicted him and he must learn to patiently wait until the time and seasons of God’s providence bring about God’s justice. It is considered a heavy trouble because he is required to bear it until the appropriate time. On the other hand, if it is indeed the sinner who is under consideration, then the heavy trouble is just and he anquishes beneath it because he knows it is of his own doing. He knows that the judgment of God will eventually fall upon him. He has broken all the rules and departed from the king’s cause; he finds himself standing in an evil matter. Now he must subscribe to punishment decreed by the king. This latter interpretation is most tenable as it fits best into the total context of the passage. Such an argument presses upon the mind of the one who would choose the road of wisdom that there are rewards indeed! Additional proof for this contention is found in the major premise of the passage: “He who keep the royal command experiences no trouble.”

Ecclesiastes 8:7 The evil man’s suffering is compounded because he knows neither when he will be punished nor what will be his punishment. He knows only that it is due him and will be forthcoming. Behind the law in the land stands the authority of God. Kings exact God’s punishment and are thus a terror to those who do evil. However, kings may be bribed or influenced to compromise or act unjustly. In such instances the justice of God overrides the injustices of men. If not immediately, in due season (Cf. Ecclesiastes 8:11). This awareness weighs heavily upon the mind of the evil doer. He lives in constant fear as he does not know when or how his punishment will come. Solomon is careful not to insert the conditional “if” in his declaration. He is pressing for the inescapable: judgment is coming!

Ecclesiastes 8:8 The preceding interpretation appears to be logical in view of the closing fourfold argument Solomon now presents. He has contended that a wise man will live in harmony with the law of the land; in doing so he will neither bring the wrath of the king nor the wrath of God upon him. He now offers the closing arguments to sustain his contention:

(1) “No man has the authority to restrain the wind with the wind.”

The term translated “wind” in this first statement is also commonly translated “spirit.” It is improbable that one can arrive at sufficient proof to ascertain one or the other. It is obvious that the NASB translated ruach as wind. There is a rather equal distribution of views in both translations and interpretations. The primary purpose of the verse is best served when the lesson of the verse is determined, not necessarily whether the term is translated wind or spirit. On this same subject Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going” (John 3:8). At least the truth taught in the two statements is the same: one cannot see or control the wind. But what is the intent of the observation? One conclusion is found in the fact that only God has control of the wind, man cannot hold back or control the wind even with the wind. The wind moves about according to an appointed order. Solomon described it as “Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns” (Ecclesiastes 1:6). Again he stated that “we do not know the path of the wind” (Ecclesiastes 11:5). The lesson seems to be that the evil man has no more control over his inevitable punishment which shall come upon him than he does over the wind. Both are in the hands of God. One is carried out through the laws of nature while the other is arranged on the basis of compensating for evil and is determined by the authority of the king. God is the author of both! This lesson—God is in control of the laws of ultimate justice just as He controls the wind and other laws of nature—is in harmony with the immediate and greater context of Ecclesiastes. It also justifies this emphasis that Solomon places on the uncontrollable nature of the wind.

If one feels compelled to interpret the term “spirit” as “breath of life,” rather than “wind,” as many authorities do (Cf. A. R. Fausset, E. W. Hengstenberg, J. P. Lange, H. C. Leupold, Et. Al.) then this phrase is a parallelism with the following part and simply restates the same thought. If this is the preferred interpretation, then the following discussion will explain the parallelism.

(2) “No man has the authority . . . over the day of death.”

What has been referred to in this discussion as the “ultimate justice of God” is the judgment facing every man when his spirit is finally released from his body. The Preacher knows that when this happens, the spirit will return to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7), At that time, the unequal judgments of this earth, the suffering of the innocent, the apparent escape of evil doers, will be brought to light. The crooked shall be made straight. The New Testament is also explicit on this matter: “inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Many would restrain the spirit in the face of death if it were possible. Fortunes would be exchanged for a little more time. The epilogue of men’s lives under such circumstances would see a rash of repentance and restitution. However, no man can decide to add a few days or years to his own life when death calls. It was true in Solomon’s time and it is still true today. Once again the Preacher is bringing into focus the distinction between the wise man and the fool. The wise man has no more control over his time of death than the fool does, but the wise man is prepared. He keeps “the command of the king . . . and experiences no trouble.”

It should be observed here for the Christian reader that Jesus teaches us to keep the command of the King and in so doing we shall find rest for our souls. (Cf. Jeremiah 6:16; Matthew 11:29).

(3) “There is no discharge in time of war.”

Just as one is bound by the rigors of death and must submit to its call, there is no escape from the demands of service placed upon one during the time of war. The analogy is made to illustrate once more that “a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure” (Ecclesiastes 8:5 b). The following excerpt from The Pulpit Commentary illustrates the principle Solomon refers to:

Thus we read that when Oeabazus, the father of three sons, petitioned Darius to leave one at home, the tyrant replied that he would leave him all three, and had them put to death. Again, Pythius, a Lydian, asking Xerxes to exempt his eldest son from accompanying the army of Greece, was reviled by the monarch in unmeasured terms, and was punished for his presumption by seeing his son slain before his eyes, the body divided into two pieces, and placed on either side of the road by which the army passed, that all might be warned of the fate awaiting any attempt to evade military service (Herod., IV, 84; vii, 38).

Although there were exemptions prior to the battle (Cf. Deuteronomy 20:5-8), none were made during the time of war. It is inappropriate to use this argument as evidence that Ecclesiastes had to be written late, during the Persian period, because Israel made some exceptions and there were none granted during the Persian rule. The point is not that every man had to be engaged in warfare, but once the battle is underway there is no escape or discharge. One is “locked in” as surely as he faces death and judgment. The lesson once again teaches that man should be on the side of “right” and refrain from joining in “an evil matter.”

(4) “Evil will not deliver those who practice it.”

The fourth and final reason stated in this verse has a parallel truth given in Ecclesiastes 8:13 where Solomon reminds his readers, “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.”

What wickedness or evil cannot do, wisdom can. Wisdom does deliver those who practice it.

The tragedy of practicing evil is not only its failure to deliver one from the judgment of the King or the Lord, but their own wickedness will stand against them in the face of that judgment. The rich oppressors mentioned by James are examples of the severity of casting one’s lot with the wicked. He writes, “Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the Last Days that you have stored up your treasure” (James 5:2-3)!

The wicked could raise the question: “Deliver from what?” The inference is strong regarding the necessity of escape. Once again the reader is reminded of the law of retribution that has been presented in this section as a major theme: One will reap what he sows. The severity of their evil demands severity of judgment. They shall not escape!

Verses 9-13

Ecc 8:9-13

Ecclesiastes 8:9-13

THE ANSWER TO UNCERTAINTY: LET PEOPLE ABIDE IN THE FEAR AND TRUST OF GOD

"All this have I seen and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time when one man hath power over another to his hurt. So I saw the wicked buried, and they came to the grave; and they that had done right went away from the holy place, and were forgotten in the city: this also is vanity. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is full set in them to do evil. Though a sinner do evil a hundred times, and prolong his days, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, that fear before him: 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."

"When one man hath power over another to his hurt" (Ecclesiastes 8:9). An alternate reading here from the margin (American Standard Version) reads the last two words here as his own hurt. Hendry, however, disagreed with this, "It means to the hurt of the ruled, not that of the ruler.” Loader also agreed that, "The people in power used their power to hurt others.” We should ignore the marginal reading.

"So I saw the wicked buried ... etc." (Ecclesiastes 8:10). "The precise meaning of this verse cannot now be recovered." One may find several pages of discussions in C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch’s Old Testament Commentaries regarding the various possible meanings; but the various translations indicate that no certainty exists. Here is an example:

"Then I saw wicked men borne to their tombs, and as men returned from the sacred place, they were praised in the very city where they had acted so. This too is futility." "Any restoration of Ecclesiastes 8:10 remains doubtful.”

Fleming’s comment on this was, "It is difficult to see any principle of justice operating in the world. The wicked remain unpunished; and even after they are dead and buried people still praise them in the very city where they did their evil.” We might add that, "This is par for the course; it goes on all the time."

"Because sentence is not executed against an evil work speedily ... the heart of men ... is set ... to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). This is an eternal principle of righteous government that wrongdoers should be punished quickly; and this verse indicates that failure to obey this principle has the effect of encouraging evil. In America today, we see how true this is. The average time required to execute sentence upon a vicious murderer runs into many years, sometimes exceeding a whole decade.

We like this translation: "Because the sentence for wrongdoing is not quickly executed, that is why men’s minds are filled with thoughts of doing evil.”

"It shall be well with them that fear God ... it shall not be well with the wicked" (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13). It is amazing that some scholars try to find a `scandal’ in the Word of God. Look at this:

"Here is a clear affirmation of the `scandal’ given by the success and prosperity of the wrongdoer: `the sinner does evil a hundred times and survives.’ But this is immediately followed by another affirmation that seems to deny it and that seems to side with the traditional optimism of the sages that God will judge the wicked.”

We have read a hundred similar exclamations by scholars who seem to think that there is something inconsistent with the occasional success and prosperity of a grossly wicked man and the untimely end of some righteous person, as being in some manner contradictory to the blessed promises in the word of God (not merely the wisdom of the sages) that the Lord blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked. Ridiculous! both in the Book of Job, and in the previous chapter here, we have continually pointed out that this is exactly what should be expected in a world rushing headlong in rebellion against God.

What is written here is exactly the way it is. Yes, sinners prolong their days in prosperity; but it is still true that it shall be well with the righteous and it shall not be well with the wicked. But, of course, Roland E. Murphy `fixed’ this `scandal’ by calling the statements that it should be well with the righteous and not well with the wicked as, "an addition by a later hand.”

In this passage, it is clear enough that the author (Solomon), "Knows the general rule that those who fear God will fare well and live long, and that those who do not fear God will not (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13); but he also knows cases that do not conform to the general rule; and for that reason he calls it all vanity.” Solomon was dead wrong in this. Any vanity and vexation that derive from such exceptions to God’s will should not be directed against God, as it appears that Solomon might have been tempted to do. It should be directed against man’s rebellious wickedness against God’s rule. In that alone is the true explanation of the exceptions and the cause of them. The rebellion of Adam’s race against God is the full and sufficient explanation of our evil world and its wallowing in its own miseries.

Solomon’s false view here that "all is vanity," was due solely to his blindness to the reality and consequences of sin. Fleming noted that, "The traditional teaching did not satisfy him, ... that it made `no sense.” This was not due to anything that Solomon ever saw on earth that was any different from that which he should have expected, but solely to his having turned away from God’s Word.

This is the second division of this immediate section which offers guidance through wisdom for difficult or trying times. More specifically, the admonition is to work and function as a wise person even when the wise or righteous are oppressed.

Ecclesiastes 8:9 Both translators and commentators manifest bias when translating or discussing this verse. Is the verse a summary, transitional or preparatory? Some maintain that it is a summary verse and include it as a terminating verse for the section including verses one through nine. Others say that “‘All this’ points forward to the problem that is about to be stated and about to be solved." A. L. Williams states that the expression “all this” is used to “introduce” not to “gather up.” The NASB views it as a summary with a new paragraph starting with verse ten. “One man ruling over another” seems to reflect more on the content of the preceding verses than it does to the following arguments. However, it may be taken as simply identifying a point in history—a time when one man has power over another to his hurt. The primary theme of this section deals with the characteristics of a wise man and this theme is still under consideration here. The most satisfactory view may be that the verse is transitional as is Ecclesiastes 7:14; Ecclesiastes 9:1; Ecclesiastes 9:11 and Ecclesiastes 9:13.

It should be noted again that Solomon is still restricted by “under the sun” observations.

The latter part of the verse also offers some difficulty. It could mean that the injured man is the one being oppressed or it could mean that the one who is doing the ruling is the one who suffers hurt. The Amplified Bible incorporates both views with the translation, “. . . one man has power over another to his own hurt or the other man’s.” Usually it is understood to mean that it is the poor, righteous person who suffers the persecution.

Ecclesiastes 8:10 Once more this verse presents additional difficulties in determining the original meaning. But whatever it means, it is labeled as “vanity” and “futility.” To make each of the activities in this verse refer to the wicked person makes for better sense. It is the wicked individual who journeys to the “holy place” (the Temple). They are observed by those who live in the city as worshiping God, but their worship is meaningless. (Cf. COMMENT Ecclesiastes 5:1-7) Such hypocritical worship was meaningless because it would neither hold back their time of death nor would it fortify them against the inevitable certainty of God’s judgment. They were able, however, to influence their peers and received respectable burial. They received the burial due the righteous. This Solomon says is vanity and futility. The despicable in Israel were to be “. . . buried with a donkey’s burial, dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 22:19). However, the wicked receive decent burial from their neighbors and friends.

Some of the living played along with their hypocritical game. They closed their eyes to the wicked deeds performed by those whom they had helped to bury. They praised their names in the streets. Some translations have “praised” instead of “forgotten.” However, in a short period of time the dead were forgotten even by those of their own city. It is the wicked rulers who have died and receive burial. This makes the action more absurd and motivates the observation, “This too is futility.” From the standpoint of the righteous, one of the most perplexing problems encountered 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. It is specifically to this problem of life that the Preacher addresses himself.

Ecclesiastes 8:11 The first observation in this verse suggests that sinners do appear to carry out their wickedness without just retribution. This is not the way wise men would prefer. Punish the wicked and reward the righteous. This would eliminate part of life’s futility and bring immediate justification to the one who trusts God. However, the ultimate justice of God is one of the major themes of the Bible, and a wise man will accept the promise of the vindication of the righteous on faith. It was precisely this same problem which stimulated the words: “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, and washed my hands in innocence; for I have been stricken all day long, and chastened every morning” (Psalms 73:13-14). The Psalmist felt the burden of the inconsistent justice of his world. He would have despaired in the face of it except for an experience which assured him that it will not be well for the wicked. His next observation manifests an assurance of God’s justice and also how he came to that conclusion. He writes: “. . . when I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight, until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end” (Psalms 73:16-17). The Psalmist drew near to God and was able to place the apparent injustices of life in proper perspective. The following two verses in Ecclesiastes demonstrates that the Preacher has come to the same conclusion!

The second thought in this verse is a result of the first. It is because the justice of God does not demand immediate retribution for evil activities that the hearts of men are literally filled to overflowing with evil. One has said that “the same sun that hardens the clay melts the wax.” The long-suffering of God has a positive effect on some hearts while it is the occasion of evil activity for others. It is not the wise man who is under consideration here. The wicked are the ones considered in verse ten and the conclusion drawn in this verse has the wicked as the subject. The Preacher has a keen eye to interpret human nature. He observes that since men do not pay immediately for breaking God’s moral laws, that they are deceived into believing that such evil behaviour need never be recompensed. The “heart” is mentioned because it is the seat of both emotional and rational processes. The “given fully to do evil” suggests that the wicked feel secure in their present state and give themselves with fearless, shameless, boldness to the practice of evil. The fact that God is slow to anger and filled with grace and mercy is clearly set forth in Exodus 34:6; Psalms 86:15; Romans 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9. Many misinterpret God’s mercy and conclude that pay day for them will never come. The Preacher only states that God’s judgment is not “executed speedily,” he does not imply that it will not be.

Christians are not such fools, They can rejoice because Christ has made them “wise unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). He has taught that although the wise man is a sinner, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried . . . He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). The wise Christian is thankful that “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, and not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Ecclesiastes 8:12-13 These two verses demonstrate the final vindication of God’s ways. It is an open message to both the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are assured that a temporary extension of the life of the wicked is not tantamount to God’s approval of their evil deeds. He is also given assurance that his own allegiance to purity of life and obedience to right will be rewarded. On the other hand, however, the sinner should take heed. There are forceful, declarative warnings. “It will not,” “he will not,” and “he does not” are statements which ring with certainty. They leave nothing to the imagination of the wicked. They close off all possible exits which could have served as a refuge from the wrath of God. There is no comfort in the Preacher’s message for the one who has been deceived to believe that God will not execute justice.

The sinner “does evil a hundred times.” He goes unchecked in his evil rampage. The ideas that “his days are lengthened” is best understood to mean that his evil activities are prolonged. He has neither found the meaning of life nor are the number of his days prolonged because of his wickedness.

It is well for the one who fears God. He is the exact opposite of the sinner. The term fear has been sufficiently defined. As it appears here, it represents the abhorrence of all that appeals to the sinner and it encompasses all that is worthy of the wise. The fact that sinners often live to old age should not be taken to mean that they have received God’s approval. The fact that the righteous sometimes die young should not be interpreted to mean that God is uninvolved in His world and lacks empathy with His own. The Preacher declares: “I know it will be well for those who fear God.” The details of how God will vindicate His own are hidden from the eyes of the Preacher. He has observed enough, however, to know that someway, sometime, God will have the final word and justice will triumph. One must keep in mind the purpose of the book and also the restricting limitation of “under the sun.”

The NASB translates the first part of verse thirteen to read, “But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow.” The idea here is understood to mean that a shadow lengthens and the evil man will not experience length of days. Although this appears to contradict the statement concerning the fact that the evil man “may lengthen his life” (Ecclesiastes 8:12), it need not. First of all, it has been pointed out that verse twelve could mean his activity in sin is lengthened although his actual days of life need not be. Also, some sinners do live a long time but such longevity should not be understood as a product of their wicked activities. The message to the wise man is that he should not despair if he observes a wicked man living a long time in spite of his wickedness. Leupold translates the first part of this verse differently. He writes: “But it shall not be well with the wicked, and being like a shadow, he shall not prolong his days.” This conveys just the opposite meaning of lengthening and implies a fleeting, transitory existence as a shadow. In Ecclesiastes 6:12 the comparison between life and a shadow is made to illustrate how fleeting man is and this truth corresponds to Leupold’s translation. The use of the shadow to represent the shortness of life is also supported by Luther, Vaihinger and Hengstenberg.

It will not be well for the wicked and the reason is clearly stated: “He does not reverently fear and worship God” (The Amplified Bible). Once again the practice of the fear of the Lord is the distinction made between the wise man and the wicked. One should not be surprised to see this theme occur (Cf. Ecclesiastes 3:14; Ecclesiastes 5:7; Ecclesiastes 7:18; Ecclesiastes 8:12-13) or to discover that when the conclusion of the “whole matter” is drawn, it is once again “the fear of the Lord” which remains as the one distinction which sets a man apart as the one who shall stand in the final day (Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Verses 14-15

Ecc 8:14-15

Ecclesiastes 8:14-15

SOLOMON’S SOLUTION FOR THE VANITY

"There is a vanity which is done upon the earth, that there are righteous men unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again there are wicked men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said, This also is vanity. Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be joyful: for that which shall abide with him in his labor all the days of his life which God hath given him under the sun."

"There is a vanity done upon the earth" (Ecclesiastes 8:14). "This says that the righteous get what the wicked deserve, and that the wicked get what the righteous deserve."

What strikes us in this is Solomon’s apparent ignorance of the Torah, or at least his total indifference to what is written there. The epic truth that righteous men unjustly suffer and are cut down in the prime of life, while the wicked prosper is dramatically illustrated by the Biblical account of the murder of Able and the subsequent prosperity of the man who murdered him. The conceited notion here that Solomon learned all that about such things from what he "had seen under the sun" is ridiculous. As a matter of simple fact, Solomon himself is the classical example of the wicked man being prospered "as it should have happened to a righteous man."

"Eat ... drink be joyful" (Ecclesiastes 8:15). Solomon’s recommendation as the solution for all these exceptions to what should have been was his own version of Epicureans: "Eat drink and enjoy life." Again and again this is the recommendation that Solomon repeated over and over again in Ecclesiastes.

In this third division, one is instructed to work although he has limited resources under the sun, and although he discovers that God’s ways are past finding out. In addition, he is deeply troubled because on numerous occasions the events of life are opposite from what they should be: wicked men prosper as though they were the righteous, and the righteous suffer as though they had committed grievous sins.

The two most common factors which color the writing of the Preacher are evident in this section. Both the “vanity” and “under the sun” concepts limit his observations. From the purely earthly point of view he has drawn his conclusions. His conclusion found in verse fifteen is a reasonable one to him. Especially is this true in the light of his restricted knowledge as he observes the activities of the wicked and the righteous.

Ecclesiastes 8:14 Is there an issue on the face of the earth that is more perplexing to the one who does good than that presented in this verse? It is the basis for much of what has been identified as a “grievous, sorry task” that has “afflicted” the sons of men. This issue, the inequitable correspondence between the righteous and the wicked and their deeds, serves as a potential stumbling block even to the Christian who has the full revelation from God. How difficult it would be for one to understand when all he has to work with are the tools of observation. This explains the Preacher’s rather matter-of-fact and limited conclusion.

He equates the activities with “futility.” Since the mark of vanity rests upon all creatures “under the sun” then, to a degree at least, one could almost expect some imbalance in rewards and punishments. In other words, the shock need not be so severe when one realizes that the world too travails beneath the curse of sin and decay. However, even such an admission does not dissuade the searching mind. The Preacher’s conclusion is still valid—there should be a closer, observable correlation between the righteous and his rewards and the wicked and his punishment. But it is not the case, so he marks the whole experience as false and empty.

Ecclesiastes 8:15 In the face of his observation, Solomon returns to his previously stated conclusion (Cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18). He commends the enjoyment of the primary resources of living: eating, drinking and merriment. He also qualifies his commendation twice in this one verse by the phrase “under the sun.” He is not encouraging one to a life of greedy abandonment or wanton hedonism. He offers more the idea of quietly sharing in the blessings of life which are obviously placed here by God for one’s enjoyment. Man is going to have to “toil” through life and his memory will serve him best if it contains these fundamental joys upon which he can reflect. He admits to the truth that it is God who gives man his days to live. It is true that God gives the “wicked” his days too. Solomon is arguing that a wise man will recognize them as a gift from God and although he is often bewildered by what he sees to be unfair balances of life, he will nevertheless resign himself to living each day to its fullest.

Verses 16-17

Ecc 8:16-17

Ecclesiastes 8:16-17

THE INCOMPETENCE OF EVERY MAN TO FIND OUT THE UNSEARCHABLE WAYS OF GOD

"When I applied my 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), then I beheld all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because however much a man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea, moreover, though a wise man seek to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it."

The problem in Ecclesiastes is exactly that which was encountered in the Book of Job, namely, can the eternal righteousness and justice of God be reconciled with the glaring instances cited in Ecclesiastes 8:14, where the righteous received what the wicked deserved and the wicked received what the righteous deserved? Loader, and other scholars, believe that the author of Ecclesiastes believed that this was impossible. "The answer for the Preacher is no." This writer cannot accept that; and even if that interpretation is correct, it would mean that Solomon himself was grossly in error by such an allegation. Job accepted both the anomalies of life and the eternal righteousness and justice of God as absolutely compatible; and we believe, in his conclusion, that Solomon also did this.

Certainly, any fool knows that "All is not right with the world," and that all kinds of injustices and gross wickedness prevail everywhere; but none of this can be intelligently charged as God’s fault, in any degree whatever. Man’s freedom of the will, his decision to serve Satan rather than God, the fact of God’s displeasure with man’s rebellious condition (evidenced by his cursing the ground for Adam’s sake), the strange fact of the children of darkness being in many instances wiser than the children of light, the impartiality in natural disasters, and the capricious results of chance happening to all men alike .... it is these things that cause startling miscarriages of justice continually throughout the world. Yet back of it all, the justice and mercy of God prevail eternally.

"Though a wise man seek to know it, yet shall he be not able to find it out" (Ecclesiastes 8:17). Solomon here says that, "Even a wise man like himself cannot fathom the ways of God’s providence."

Solomon often stressed the idea of "eat, drink, and be joyful"; but he never cited these things as the ultimate happiness, always mentioning along with them the toil, uncertainty, brevity of life, etc. as foils, even of these blessings. Kidner understood Solomon’s real intention when he wrote, "He gives us a ray of hope in the words, `all the work of God’ (Ecclesiastes 8:17), for it is God’s work that battles us; life is not `a tale told by an idiot.’"

Loader also supposed that Solomon here attributes the riddle that he has seen to the action of God. This is true. Adam’s expulsion from Eden, the ensuing enmity between Satan and the seed of woman, the curse upon the earth, etc. - these were key elements in man’s earthly wretchedness.

The unfathomable mysteries of life and all of the hidden things that belong to God come to mind as we read these verses. "This unsearchable nature of divine things is similarly proclaimed in Job 11:6-9 and in Romans 11:33."

Ecclesiastes 8:16 This verse is a summary of the two previous proposals: (1) From Ecclesiastes 1:16-17, he declared that he would “know” wisdom. He recognized that such wisdom would enable him to succeed in his second proposal. (2) He also proposed to see the business activity that is done upon the earth. (Cf. Ecclesiastes 1:13)

The closing thought in the verse has been interpreted two different ways. It may suggest that Solomon is the one whose eyes cannot close in sleep. This would be due to the intense study of that which he desired to know. Or it could have reference to the ones he observes who are so engaged in the activities of life, especially in business enterprises, that they do not even take time to sleep. “To see sleep” is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament and means to enjoy sleep. Once again it could apply either to the one who tries to discover the solutions to the problems of life, or to the ones who are engaged in endless labor to increase their wealth. Neither will discover satisfaction and thus will never “enjoy sleep.” Almost all authorities admit to the hyperbolical use of the expression “one should never sleep night or day.”

Ecclesiastes 8:17 If Solomon could have reached beyond his time and selected any verse from the New Testament to state succinctly his closing thought, it undoubtedly would have been: “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways” (Romans 11:33)! Solomon wanted to discover the work of God—that which is done upon earth through the providential ordering of things—but it was far from him. Even though man “should seek laboriously” he will not discover it. A wise man should say “I know,” but he cannot. This double emphasis on man’s desire to know and his willingness to expand his energies without restraint, speaks to the gravity of the subject and the intensity of Solomon’s quest.

Obey the King - Ecclesiastes 8:2-17

Open It

1. When do you find it difficult to obey the law?

2. Why do you find it easy or difficult to take time out for fun or leisure?

3. What do you think is unfair?

4. What is one way you think the government could more effectively deter crime?

Explore It

5. Why did Solomon say to obey the king’s command? (Ecclesiastes 8:2)

6. What would happen to the person who obeyed the king’s command? (Ecclesiastes 8:5)

7. For what did Solomon say there is a proper time and procedure? (Ecclesiastes 8:6)

8. What does no one know? (Ecclesiastes 8:7)

9. Over what does no one have power? (Ecclesiastes 8:8)

10. What happens when a criminal sentence is not quickly executed? (Ecclesiastes 8:11)

11. What did Solomon conclude about people who are God-fearing? (Ecclesiastes 8:12)

12. What did Solomon conclude about people who do not fear God? (Ecclesiastes 8:13)

13. What did Solomon conclude was meaningless? (Ecclesiastes 8:14)

14. What did Solomon commend? Why? (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

15. In what way are we limited? (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17)

Get It

16. What lesson about the punishment of crime does Solomon impart?

17. Why should we obey our elected leaders and the laws they make?

18. How can we encourage our elected leaders to pass and enforce just laws?

19. What is the proper procedure for challenging an unjust law?

20. What does it mean to fear God?

21. Why are people who fear God better off than people who do not?

22. Why do the righteous sometimes get what the wicked deserve and vice versa?

23. In what respect is it impossible to fully understand life and God?

24. Why did Solomon commend the enjoyment of life?

25. How can we enjoy life as a gift from God?

Apply It

26. What is one specific thing you will do this week to help you enjoy life more?

27. What can you do to cultivate a healthy reverence for God?

28. What is one thing you can do to uphold good and just laws?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/ecclesiastes-8.html.
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