Ecclesiastes 8:1. Who is wise? — There are few wise men in this world. Who knoweth, &c. — How few understand the reasons of things, and can rightly expound the word and works of God! A man’s wisdom makes his face, &c. — Makes a man venerable, cheerful, mild, and amiable. The face is put for the mind, because the mind discovers itself in the countenance. The boldness of his face — The roughness or fierceness of it, shall be changed — Into gentleness and humility.
Ecclesiastes 8:2-4. I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment — All his commands which are not contrary to the will of God, who must be obeyed rather than any man, even rather than a king. In regard of the oath of God — Because of that oath which thou hast taken to keep all God’s laws, whereof this of obedience to superiors is one. Be not hasty to go out of his sight — Hebrew, to go from his face or presence, namely, in dislike or discontent to withdraw thyself from the king’s service, or from obedience to him: stand not in an evil thing — If thou hast offended him, persist not to do so but humbly acknowledge thine offence, and beg his pardon; for he doth whatsoever pleaseth him — His power is uncontrollable. Where the word of a king is, there is power — Whatsoever he commands he wants not power nor instruments to execute, and therefore can easily punish thee as he pleases. And who may say unto him — Hebrew, who shall say? who will presume, or dare to say so? He does not affirm that it is unlawful to say so; for Samuel spoke in that manner to Saul, and Nathan to David, and several other prophets to the kings of Judah and Israel; but only that it is difficult and dangerous.
Ecclesiastes 8:5. Whoso keepeth the commandment — Solomon here passes to a new subject; shall feel no evil thing — Shall be delivered from those mischiefs which befall the disobedient. A wise man’s heart discerneth, &c. — Both when, and in what manner, he must keep the commands of God.
Ecclesiastes 8:6-7. Because to every purpose there is a time, &c. — There is a fit way and season for the accomplishment of every business, which is known to God, but for the most part hidden from man. See notes on Ecclesiastes 3:1. Therefore the misery of man is great — Because there are few who have wisdom to discern this, most men expose themselves to manifold miseries. For he knoweth not that which shall be — Men are generally ignorant of future events, and of the success of their endeavours, and therefore their minds are disquieted, and their expectations frequently are disappointed, and they fall into many mistakes and miscarriages, which they might prevent if they foresaw the issues of things; who can tell when it shall be? — No wise man, no astrologer, no soothsayer can discover this.
Ecclesiastes 8:8. No man hath power over the spirit — That is, over the soul of man; to retain the spirit — To keep it in the body beyond the time which God hath allotted to it. This is added as another evidence of man’s misery. Neither hath he power in the day of death — Or, against the day, that is, to avoid, or delay that day; and there is no discharge — As there is in other wars; in that war — In that fatal conflict between life and death, when a man is struggling with death, though to no purpose, for death will be always conqueror. Neither shall wickedness deliver, &c. — And although wicked men, who most fear death, use all possible means to free themselves from it, yet they shall not escape it. The most subtle wickedness cannot out-wit death, nor the most daring wickedness out-brave it.
Ecclesiastes 8:9-10. All this I have seen — All these things before mentioned; and applied my heart unto every work — I have been a diligent observer of all actions and events. There is a time when one man ruleth, &c. — There are some kings, who use their power tyrannically, whereby they not only oppress their people, but hurt themselves, bringing the vengeance of God upon their own heads. And so I saw — In like manner; the wicked — Wicked princes or rulers, buried — With state or pomp; who had come and gone — Had administered public justice, which is frequently signified by the phrase of coming in and going out before the people; from the place of the holy — The seat of majesty and judgment, which may well be termed, the place, or seat, of the holy — That is, of God, often called the holy one; who is in a special manner present in, and presides over those places where justice is administered: and for whom, and in whose name and stead, magistrates act, who, therefore, are called gods. And the tribunal seems to be so called here, to aggravate their sin, who, being advanced by God into so high and sacred a place, betrayed so great a trust, and both practised and encouraged that wickedness which, by their office, they were obliged to suppress and punish. And they were forgotten — Although they designed to perpetuate their names and memories to succeeding ages; in the city where they had so done — Where they had lived in great splendour, and were buried with great magnificence, which one might have thought would have kept up their remembrance, at least, in that place. This is also vanity — That men should so earnestly thirst after, and please themselves with worldly glory, which is so soon extinct, and the very memory of which is so quickly worn out of the minds of men.
Ecclesiastes 8:11. Because sentence against an evil work — God’s determinate counsel for the punishment of all evil doers; is not executed speedily —
But is oftentimes delayed for some time, to give them space for repentance; therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them — Hebrew, מלא לב, their heart is filled, or, as the LXX, render it επληροφορηθη καρδια is carried on with full sail, like a ship with a strong and violent wind; or, is bold, or presumptuous, as the same phrase is used elsewhere.
Ecclesiastes 8:12-13. Though a sinner do evil a hundred times — Frequently, and innumerably; and his days be prolonged — The time of his life and prosperity; yet it shall be well with them that fear God — This implies both that good men might for a time suffer grievous things from tyrants, oppressors, and persecutors, and that it should be very ill with the wicked, which, indeed, is expressed in the following verse: which fear before him — Who stand in awe of God, and fear and forbear to sin, out of a sincere regard and reverence for him. But it shall not be well with the wicked — That is, it shall go very ill with him; great miseries are prepared for him; neither shall he prolong his days — Namely, very long, as he desires; which are as a shadow — His life, though it may seem long, yet in truth is but a shadow, which will quickly vanish and disappear. Because he feareth not God — He is cut off, and this misery is prepared for him as the punishment of his casting off the fear and service of God.
Ecclesiastes 8:14-15. There is a vanity which is done upon the earth — Either by wicked potentates, who do commonly advance unworthy men, and oppress persons of the greatest virtue and merit: or, by God’s providence, who sees it fit for many weighty reasons so to manage the affairs of the present world. To whom it happeneth, &c. — Who meet with such usage as the worst of men deserve. There be wicked men to whom it happeneth — Who, instead of those punishments which they deserve, receive those rewards which are due to virtuous men. This also is vanity — This is a very unreasonable thing, if it be considered without respect unto another life, as it is here, where Solomon is discoursing of the vanity of the present life, and of the impossibility of finding satisfaction and happiness in it. Then I commended mirth — Hebrew, השׂמחה, joy or gladness. Upon these considerations I concluded, that it was most advisable for a man not to perplex and torment himself with the thoughts of the seeming inequality of the dispensations of Divine Providence, and of the great disorders which are in the world, or with cares and fears about future temporal events, or with insatiable desires of worldly things, but quietly, cheerfully, and thankfully to enjoy the comforts which God gives him. See notes on Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; for that shall abide with him of his labour, &c. — This is the best advantage which he can make of this world’s goods, as to the present life.
Ecclesiastes 8:16. When I applied my heart to know wisdom — He seems to be here assigning the reason of that judgment which he had now passed, (Ecclesiastes 8:15,) which reason is, that he had diligently studied wherein man’s wisdom consists, and had observed the restlessness of men’s minds and bodies in other courses; and to see the business — To observe men’s various designs and employments, and their unwearied labours about worldly things. For there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep — Having now mentioned the business which is done, or which man doth, upon earth, he further adds, as an evidence of man’s eagerness in pursuing his business, For even by day and by night he — The busy man; seeth not sleep with his eyes — He grudges himself necessary refreshments, and disquiets himself with endless cares and labours.
Ecclesiastes 8:17. Then — Hebrew, and, or, moreover, I beheld all the work of God — I considered the counsels and ways of God, and the various methods of his providence toward good and bad men, and the reasons of them. That a man cannot find out the work, &c. — No man, though ever so wise, is able fully and perfectly to understand these things. And therefore, it is best for man not to perplex himself with endless and fruitless inquiries about those matters, but quietly to submit to God’s will and providence, and to live in the fear of God, and the comfortable enjoyment of his blessings.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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