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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 8

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Ecclesiastes 8:0


Obey the RulesThe Value of Practical Wisdom(Ecclesiastes 7:1-1)The Meaning of Existence is Hidden(Ecclesiastes 7:23-9)Thoughts About Life(Ecclesiastes 7:1-1)Warnings(Ecclesiastes 7:8-17)
Ecclesiastes 8:1Ecclesiastes 8:1Ecclesiastes 8:1 Ecclesiastes 8:1-9(vv. Ecclesiastes 8:1-8)
Obey Authorities for God's Sake Obey the King
Ecclesiastes 8:2-4Ecclesiastes 8:2-9Ecclesiastes 8:2-9Ecclesiastes 8:2-8
(vv. Ecclesiastes 8:2-3)
(vv. Ecclesiastes 8:4-8)
Ecclesiastes 8:5-9 The Wicked and the Righteous(Ecclesiastes 8:10-12)
(vv. Ecclesiastes 8:9) Ecclesiastes 8:9-10(vv. Ecclesiastes 8:9)
Death Comes to All(Ecclesiastes 8:10-12)Retribution
Ecclesiastes 8:10-15Ecclesiastes 8:10-13Ecclesiastes 8:10-13 Ecclesiastes 8:10
Ecclesiastes 8:11-14Ecclesiastes 8:11-14
Ecclesiastes 8:14-15Ecclesiastes 8:14-15
Ecclesiastes 8:15Ecclesiastes 8:15
Ecclesiastes 8:16-17Ecclesiastes 8:16-17Ecclesiastes 8:16-17Ecclesiastes 8:16-17Ecclesiastes 8:16-17

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verse 1

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 8:1 1Who 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.

Ecclesiastes 8:1 “the interpretation of a matter” This (BDB 833 CONSTRUCT 182) later came to be associated with the interpretation of dreams, especially in Daniel, but here it has no such connotation. It is another way of referring to human reason or wisdom.

NASB“illumines” NKJV, NRSV“makes his face shine” TEV“makes them smile” NJB“lights up the face” LXX“lighten”

It is possible that Ecclesiastes 8:1 should go with chapter 7 and conclude that discussion. Rhetorical questions often close units (i.e., Ecclesiastes 6:12). It seems unrelated to what follows unless it deals with how a wise person should act in the presence of a king. However, I personally think the “king” refers to God.

This VERB (BDB 21; KB 24; Hiphil IMPERFECT) is often used of God's face (e.g., Numbers 6:25; Psalms 4:6; Psalms 31:16; Psalms 44:3; Psalms 67:1; Psalms 80:3, Psalms 80:7, Psalms 80:19; Psalms 89:15; Psalms 119:135; Daniel 9:17), but only here of a human face.

“causes his stern face to beam” “Beam” literally means “change” (BDB 1039 I, cf. NKJV). This verse means either (1) wisdom gives peace and contentment or (2) wisdom helps courtiers keep their true feelings to themselves (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:3; Ecclesiastes 10:4).

Verses 2-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 8:2-4 2I say, “Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. 3Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.” 4Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, “What are you doing?”

Ecclesiastes 8:2-3 These two verses have a series of commands:

1. “keep the command of the king,” BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. “do not be in a hurry to leave him,” first VERB, BDB 96, KB 111, Niphal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

3. “do not join in an evil matter,” BDB 763, KB 840, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

Ecclesiastes 8:2 “Keep the command of the king” “King” (BDB 572 I) is either a reference to God (i.e., the Targums) or to an earthly monarch (i.e., LXX, cf. Romans 13:1-7).

It seems to me that the real subject of Ecclesiastes 8:2-8 is God, not just an earthly king because

1. the sovereignty of the king, Ecclesiastes 8:3-4 (God in Ecclesiastes 8:11)

2. there is a proper time, Ecclesiastes 8:5-6 (cf. chapter 3)

3. humans have trouble, Ecclesiastes 8:6

4. there is mystery in human affairs, Ecclesiastes 8:7 (only God knows)

5. God's authority is emphasized in Ecclesiastes 8:8 (humans do not/should not have it, Ecclesiastes 8:9)

6. the phrase “he will do whatever he pleases” is always used of God (cf. Psalms 115:3; Psalms 135:6; Jonah 1:14)

7. the vast majority of the uses of “command” (BDB 846) refer to God

Again look at the paragraphing comparison at the beginning of the chapter. This opening section obviously deals with life at court. But how many separate truths are being communicated? Notice how the modern translations answer this question:

1. NASB, NKJV - two

2. NRSV, NJB, TEV - one

“oath before God” This refers to an oath of allegiance (1) to God or (2) to the king in God's name (BDB 990).

Ecclesiastes 8:3 “to leave him” This phrase can refer to (1) a rebellion (i.e., Akkadian and Ugaritic usages) against God or (2) leaving the king's service.

“an evil matter” The word has a wide semantic field as its usage in Job and Ecclesiastes (NIV) shows (Kohlenberger III, Swanson, The Hebrew English Concordance, pp. 1480-1481).

1. “evil,” Job 1:1, Job 1:8; Job 2:3; Job 21:30; Job 28:28; Job 30:26; Ecclesiastes 4:3; Ecclesiastes 9:3(twice)

2. “painful,” Job 2:7

3. “trouble,” Job 2:10; Job 31:29

4. “harm,” Job 5:19; Ecclesiastes 8:5

5. “wicked,” Job 35:12; Ecclesiastes 12:14

6. “heavy,” Ecclesiastes 1:13

7. “grievous,” Ecclesiastes 2:17; Ecclesiastes 6:2

8. “miserable,” Ecclesiastes 4:8

9. “wrong,” Ecclesiastes 5:1; Ecclesiastes 8:11

10. “misfortune,” Ecclesiastes 5:14

11. “bad,” Ecclesiastes 8:3; Ecclesiastes 9:2

12. “hurt,” Ecclesiastes 8:9

13. “crimes,” Ecclesiastes 8:12

14. “cruel,” Ecclesiastes 9:12

Remember, context determines meaning (not Lexicons).

Verses 5-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 8:5-9 5He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure. 6For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man's trouble is heavy upon him. 7If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen? 8No 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. 9All 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.

Ecclesiastes 8:5royal command” This is a Persian word (BDB 846) used in reference to an order of the king (or of God, cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13).

NASB“experiences no trouble” NKJV“will experience nothing harmful” NRSV“will meet no harm” TEV“you are safe” NJB“will come to no harm”

For the word's wide semantic range, see Ecclesiastes 8:3, where it is translated “evil matter.” Could this refer to the righteous obeying God's laws? Notice the term “procedure” (in Ecclesiastes 8:5 and 6), means “judgment” (BDB 1048).

Ecclesiastes 8:6 “proper time” This is reminiscent of chapter 3 (i.e., God's timing).

“procedure” This literally means “judgment” (BDB 1048).

“when a man's trouble is heavy upon him” “Trouble” here literally means “evil” (see note at Ecclesiastes 8:3). The LXX has “knowledge” instead of “trouble.” Life is hard and unpredictable, even for the wise, god-fearing person.

Ecclesiastes 8:7 This mystery of life (humans do not know why, when, or how problems/joys come) is a recurrent theme (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 9:12; Ecclesiastes 10:14). Human wisdom cannot find the answer to this mystery, so:

1. enjoy life when you can (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:11)

2. trust (i.e., fear) in God (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:12, Ecclesiastes 9:13)

3. obey God (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:5; Ecclesiastes 12:13)

This is all we can do (from the sage's OT perspective [cf. Ecclesiastes 6:12]). Thank God there is a New Testament!

Ecclesiastes 8:8 “the wind” The LXX, KJV, NRSV, and REV have “spirit,” which is an attempt to balance the next phrase (“authority over the day of death”). Humans often cannot affect or change the events of their lives! Surely evil will not help (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:13)!

The term “given to it” reflects a direct object from the word Ba'al (BDB 127), which means “lord it over” or “rule.” Wickedness is personified as an ineffective taskmaster!

Ecclesiastes 8:9 “under the sun” This recurrent phrase is the key to my interpretation of the book. See note at Ecclesiastes 1:3.

“a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt” This is a general summation of the human situation. The dominance (cf. Genesis 1:28) given to humanity in creation has been abused! In Ecclesiastes this usually refers to governmental oppression (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:1; Ecclesiastes 5:8; Ecclesiastes 7:7).

Verses 10-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 8:10-13 10So 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 futility. 11Because 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. 12Although 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. 13But 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.

Ecclesiastes 8:10 This verse has several textual problems. The question is, how many people are being referred to and how are they characterized?

1. the wicked (NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB, NIV)

a. were given a proper burial (implication elaborately)

b. attended worship often

c. were temporarily praised (there is a textual problem involving “forgotten” [BDB 1013] or “praised” [BDB 986 II]) in the city where they lived and everyone knew they were evil

2. the wicked and the righteous (JPSOA, JAMES MOFFATT Translation)

a. wicked were buried with praise

b. righteous were not praised

c. both were forgotten

3. the wicked attend worship and boast of it (NEB, REB, this involves a textual change)

Ecclesiastes 8:11 “the sentence” This is a Persian word for “royal judgment” (BDB 834). In this context it must refer to God. His mercy and slowness to anger is taken as a license instead of a call to repentance (cf. Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9)! Time and opportunity reveal the human heart!

Ecclesiastes 8:12 “may lengthen his life This was/is the problem of evil in a fallen world. It is in its own environment! It flourishes here. It seems to prevail over the good. Evil persons may “live” longer, but they will face God one day! It is this seeming unfairness to God's Word (i.e. Deut. 27-29), unfairness to traditional Wisdom teaching (cf. Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 9:10-11; Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 14:23; Proverbs 19:23) that rubbed Job, the author of Psalms 73:0, and Qoheleth wrong! Where is the God of promises and justice?!

“still I know it will be well for those who fear God” This is a faith statement for Qoheleth (i.e., Ecclesiastes 3:14; Ecclesiastes 5:7; Ecclesiastes 7:18; Ecclesiastes 8:12-13; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 1:29; Proverbs 2:5; Proverbs 9:10). His experience says differently (i.e. Ecclesiastes 8:14-15). Yet, he trusts God for a future vindication (as did Job, cf. Job 14:14-15; Job 19:25-27).

Ecclesiastes 8:13 “will not lengthen his days” This seems in direct contrast to Ecclesiastes 8:12.

“like a shadow” See note at Ecclesiastes 7:12.

Verses 14-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 8:14-15 14There 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. 15So I commended 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.

Ecclesiastes 8:14 This verse screams out at the apparent injustice in life (i.e., Ecclesiastes 8:10-11). Qoheleth affirms God's justice (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:12-13), but yet there is obvious injustice in this life. This verse begins and ends with “futility”! It is in light of this kind of unfairness that the promises of God (i.e., we reap what we sow, e.g., Job 34:11; Psalms 28:4; Psalms 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 32:19; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31-36; Romans 2:6; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 3:8; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7-10; 2 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 2:23; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 22:12) are questioned. If the wicked do not reap what they sow in this life, but the righteous often do, then there must be an afterlife to verify God's promises and implement God's justice!

Ecclesiastes 8:15 This is a recurrent theme (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; Ecclesiastes 3:12, Ecclesiastes 3:13, Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-9). Trust God; enjoy the moment! This is the conclusion based on the failure of wisdom to understand or affect the unfairness and injustices of this seemingly random earthly life!

“there is nothing good” See notes at Ecclesiastes 8:1 and 2:24.

“under the sun” See note at Ecclesiastes 1:3.

NASB“stand by him” NKJV“will remain with him” NRSV“will go with them”

The VERB (BDB 530 I, KB 522, Qal IMPERFECT) basically means “to be joined to.” Enjoyment of the daily gifts of life is to be a companion to daily labor. A contented and merry mood (worldview) makes life successful, not the other physical things (cf. chapter 1-2). I am so glad I have this perspective and a New Testament!

“the days of his life which God has given him” (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 6:2; Ecclesiastes 9:9; Ecclesiastes 12:7, Ecclesiastes 12:11).

Verses 16-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 8:16-17 16When 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), 17and 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.

Ecclesiastes 8:16-17 This is either (1) a summary statement which parallels chapters 1-2 or (2) the introduction to a new section (Ecclesiastes 8:16-10, cf. UBS Handbook for Translators, p. 309 or TEV (Ecclesiastes 8:9-12).

1. Wisdom is laborious (i.e., grievous task [cf. Ecclesiastes 1:13, Ecclesiastes 1:18; Ecclesiastes 2:23, Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 3:10], lit., “even though one should never sleep day or night”), Ecclesiastes 8:16.

2. Qoheleth gave himself to it (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:13, Ecclesiastes 1:14)

3. Human wisdom cannot discover God's purpose (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 7:23).

This is why Ecclesiastes 8:15 and later Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 are advocated!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Is Ecclesiastes 8:1-9 speaking of God or an Eastern Monarch?

2. Why is Ecclesiastes 8:10 so difficult?

3. Is there a seeming contradiction between Ecclesiastes 8:12 and Ecclesiastes 8:13?

4. Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous die early?

5. Can we know God and His will for man?

6. Why are there such varied paragraph divisions in this chapter?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/ecclesiastes-8.html. 2021.
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