The value of prudence as relating to submission to rulers is now discussed. The Greek and Roman idea of personal independence was of something proud, irritable, and defiant. A different sentiment breathes from this chapter. In the sore trials of many ages and in many lands the Jews have been a patient people: “Sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.” The philosophy and advantage of patience are now unfolded.
1.Who’ the wise — Wisdom makes a man superior to other men. Whatever may be the wise man’s condition, he is by virtue of his character a nobleman in his own right. “My mind to me a kingdom is.”
His face to shine — An illuminated, intelligent soul modifies the countenance, turning its hard, stolid heaviness to an expression of grace and culture. The type of the Grecian face changed greatly by the refinement of the two centuries before Pericles. If now the wise man is by this conciliatory verse shown to be the crown of his race, he can quietly bear transient, though unjust, inconveniences.
2.I — Would better be followed by say, therefore. To keep, is imperative — “keep.”
The oath of God — An allusion to the oath of fealty sometimes sworn by subjects to rulers, as was done by the Jews who settled in Egypt under Ptolemy Lagos. This verse has a logical connexion with the previous one. Use, then, this excellent prudence in your relation to the ruler who has a sworn and vested right to govern you.
3.Be not hasty, etc. — But if the king be harsh and tyrannical? Then do not hasten to leave his service.
Stand not in an evil thing — Hebrew, Rise not up for an evil word from him. Revolt is too grave a matter to be rashly undertaken, for power to do as he pleases is part of the definition of kingly power.
4.Word of a king — The king’s “word,” or royal mandate, conveys his power, and a subject may not resist or demand explanation. Equally so in a republican government. A right-minded citizen will, without resistance, obey the law or accept its penalty, until it is lawfully repealed.
5.Keepeth the commandment — An obedient subject will seldom be harmed, for even a tyrant needs such subjects.
Time and judgment —Better, time of judgment. The wise man will reckon that a day of change, and even of retribution, must come.
6.Therefore — Should be when, as it often implies time. A time of judgment comes when the misery of man becomes intolerable. The Hebrew suggests that the man is the cruel tyrant, and the misery is that which he causes to him, that is, to his subject.
7.For he knoweth not — The tyrant knoweth not, etc. He cannot see what will come of his own tyranny. The next scene in his drama has often been a dethronement, an exile, an assassination. Many such tyrants went down in ruin about the time of the Captivity; and they are always liable to terminate their fantastic tricks by some other than natural death.
8.No man’ hath power’ to retain — The tyrant is still spoken of as liable to all human liabilities. The French peasant takes off his hat in silent reverence when a funeral-train passes, as doing homage to a ruler mightier than king or emperor, to whom, at last, all rulers bow. “Death comes, then farewell king!” Wickedness often means, and it might be plainer here to say, wicked acts, frauds, cunning deceits.
9.Ruleth’ to his’ hurt — But such retribution, though sometimes seen, does not always appear. Koheleth admits that in his observations he has seen men sometimes ruling others to their damage: not the damage of the ruler, but of the subject. Own is not found in the Hebrew, and its insertion breaks the sense. For this is the admission of the opposite of what has just been remarked, namely, that retribution comes to tyrants. Here is a case where it does not come.
10.I saw the wicked buried — The best translation of this difficult verse is the following: Indeed I have seen the buried wicked [ruler] reappear, [in his successor,] and those who did right depart even from the place of the holy, and be forgotten in the city. A more perplexing passage can hardly be found. The tyrant dies in quiet and leaves his power to his heir, while the righteous man, the devout attendant upon the sanctuary, passes away into oblivion. Admitting this lack of visible punishment for a sinful life, we are prepared for the impressive statement of the following verse.
11.Because sentence, etc. — So the absence of prompt punishment confirms the idea that there will be no punishment, and men become the more reckless. The subject does not stop with this verse, but, as the Hebrew indicates, continues to the middle of the following, and there the sentence should end. The same word begins both verses, and should be rendered alike in both, the latter strengthening the former.
12.Though — Better, Because.
A hundred times — The Hebrew says, “A hundred.” We may supply “times” or years. Seeing it is long delay which is spoken of, years is better. Days does not occur in the Hebrew, which says, And to him is an extender; that is, he has a successor. Making here the period, the next clause begins, But I for all that know, etc. Koheleth was not the only one of God’s ancient people who was pained and perplexed at the contrast between what he saw and what he knew. The psalmist had said, “When I sought to understand this, it was too painful for me.” Yet he holds by his faith rather than by his sight.
13.Prolong his days — The words, as a shadow, should precede “prolong his days.” “His days” shall flee like a “shadow.”
14.There is a vanity — This verse is a concession, and needs to be introduced by a concessive word, like still, however; rare words in Hebrew. The sufferings due the wicked seem sometimes appointed to the righteous, and the happiness due the righteous falls to the wicked. This unwelcome but stubborn fact seems to make all retribution look like “vanity.”
15.I commended mirth — Koheleth has now reached the conclusion that, though prudence may regulate a life, it yet cannot affect the ways of providence or adjust the allotments of good and evil among men. So he concludes, as did Plutarch and other sages of old, that nothing remains to a man but to seek the tranquil enjoyment of what comes within his reach, for that is all the good he will have.
16.I applied mine heart — A summary is now given of the results of all the investigations made up to this time to find the real good by pleasure, wealth-getting, and wealth-using — by business and by prudence. The clause (strangely written as though set in brackets) for also there is, etc., gives the idea of the ceaselessness of the work done upon the earth.
17.A man cannot find — The sad, weighty conclusion is, that the way and work of God among men is absolutely beyond comprehension. Every effort to compute it is entirely unavailing. Many, many questions may be asked to which God is pleased not to answer, and which man, at his wisest wisdom, cannot. The problem, ever unsolved, stares at him like the sphinx in the desert, “with calm, eternal eyes.”
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany