Ecclesiastes 8:1 In his study of the importance and value of wisdom Solomon lands on the major obstacle to wisdom and the fruit of wisdom and that is evil in the world. Faith in God brings this problem to light because if there is no God, then the problem with the world is all on man. But if we believe in a good and loving God, we invariably ask the question why is there so much suffering in the world? Where is God and doesn’t he care? Or does He lack the power to do anything about it?
Some people ponder this question and end up becoming either agnostics or atheists, but in so doing, they create a whole new problem: “Where does all the good come from in the world?” It’s difficult to believe that matter alone produced the beautiful and enjoyable things we have in our world, even in the midst of so much evil. According to Scripture the sad state of the world is a direct result of the fall of man and the outworking of man’s rebellion to God.
Solomon begins his consideration of wisdom in the face of evil. Wisdom comes when you understand authority. In Ecclesiastes 8:1 the man of wisdom has a good countenance. A godly countenance comes from the Lord Numbers 6:22ff; Moses’ countenance was affected by the presence of the Lord 2 Corinthians 3:13ff. A right attitude is reflected in one’s face Proverbs 15:13.
Although Solomon struggled to find a wise man, God has placed such men in positions of authority and influence. Joseph and Daniel rose to power because God gave them wisdom. Jesus tells us that God will similarly give us such wisdom (Luke 12:11-12). Paul experienced this (Acts 24:25; 26:28).
Ecclesiastes 8:2 Like Daniel Solomon tells us to obey the king’s command for the sake of your oath to God. This oath demonstrates the relationship between government and God. All government, whether just or unjust, comes under the sovreignty of God.
Obedience to God is demonstrated by our obedience to the governing authorities who serve as a servant of God for good (Romans 13:1-7). Anarchy is always worse than bad government. Jesus said, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Mark 12:17), and Peter exhorts us to ‘submit to every authority of man for the Lord’s sake’ (1 Peter 2:13-17).
Ecclesiastes 8:3-4 – Solomon counsels when dealing with authority to do so with discretion. We achieve nothing by reacting to a negative response by the king. The righteous are not offended. We must not storm out when advice we have given or a request we have made is turned down. Neither are we to enter into any plot against the person who has refused us, no matter how unjustly we may feel we have been treated. Solomon counsels to show proper respect to the one in authority. He also teaches us not to continue in a cause that is rejected as unacceptable. Because In the king will do whatever pleases him.
We such wisdom in Esther, in dealing with the Persian king, Ahasuerus, to intercede for her people. Her humility and respect for the king, and her behavior in his presence, demonstrated the right attitude (Esther 5:1-8).
Ecclesiastes 8:5-6 – Paul was executed by the Romans, yet he was able to declare with confidence the words of Romans 13:3. Joseph, Daniel, and Esther were placed in positions of prominence by God and were given discernment that would enable them to serve God’s will for his people. But obedience to the king is always subject to obedience to God. God’s people always live with the tension of knowing when it is right to remain silent and when to stand against.
God through Solomon provides insight in Ecclesiastes 8:6. The wise man has his heart yielded to God and will know God’s timing and judgement in everything as Yeshua told his disciples this in Luke 12:11. Jonathan boldly stood up for David before King Saul (1 Samuel 19:4-6) and Nathan was able to rebuke King David because he feared God more than he feared the king (2 Samuel 12). Timing is essential to every area of life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). The God who controls the destiny of man has a perfect time for everything. Yeshua came into this world only ‘when the fulness of the time had come’ (Galatians 4:4).
Ecclesiastes 8:7-8 God is sovereign over all things. Man’s days are in the hand of God. For the one who does not understand this his life will be filled with great anxiety and frustration that Solomon describes as, ‘the misery of man’ in vs. 6. Solomon spoke of this as well in Ecclesiastes 3:21; 6:12. The king may be over all his subjects but he, like them, is subject to the same hand of God in being unable to control the future.
However if one is guided by the wisdom that comes from God He will be able to good decisions that will consider the results of a decision. But here that kind of ability is denied. Yeshua wept over Jerusalem because he saw its future and was grieved by the unwillingness of his generation to listen to God’s messengers and heed their words (Matthew 23:37) they had even refused to listen to him: ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’ (Luke 19:42).
Solomon observes four areas where all men even Kings are powerless: They are powerless over the wind this could be also translated as spirit or the breath of life. Both are true and should be sobering, we can’t control life and we can’t control the weather. And we cannot control death except by murder or suicide, and even in these circumstances the Lord remains sovereign over that as well, by virtue of his control of the circumstances that come into our lives. God remains sovereign over that, even though we attempt to keep men alive we cannot keep them from dying.
Only Yeshua had this kind of power. This is also true in the matters of regeneration as well. John 1:12-13 and John 6:44. All men including Kings cannot escape the possibility of war. Solomon may be referring to wars that occur as a result of man’s sinful heart. There has never been a moment in history when there has not been war on earth. Many times in Scripture the Lord specifically states that He is the one who raises up enemies for war to discipline His people. Kings further will not be delivered from wickedness and its consequences, there will be a judgment by God. The Bible teaches that people’s wickedness is rooted in their unbelief. Those who reject God’s grace and mercy will share the same fate as the evil ruler (John 3:18-21).
Our ultimate authority is God. Obedience to those that he has appointed over us is counted as obedience to him—but whoever we are, king or pawn, we cannot escape God’s judgement and condemnation unless we obey his appointed King over all creation, Jesus.
Ecclesiastes 8:9 By now most of us know that life is not fair. Some go through life without to many troubles and trials yet for others life presents yet for others, one problem or trial seems to follow another. Solomon addresses them realistically and shows how he has come to terms with them. This verse is a bridge for what follows from what preceded.
Solomon has been referring to the power of rulers. He introduces this section about the injustices of life by referring to the abuse of the power entrusted to them. Who receives the brunt of the abuse? The oppressed person seems the obvious answer: “his hurt” is a better rendering than “his own hurt,” though the Hebrew allows either translation. And to a degree, both ways are accurate: the tyrant who manhandles others almost always pays for his crime in the end as we are seeing worked out in Egypt, Yemen and Libya today.
The authority entrusted to leaders is to help their people deal with national problems. But instead these leaders have viewed themselves as masters and have oppressed those whom they were supposed to serve. Solomon in the past observing this counsels his readers to settle for simple delights like work, food, and fellowship. He further instructs them to resist the temptation of bribery (Ecclesiastes 8:9); to abstain from a nostalgia for the good old days (Ecclesiastes 8:10); to submit to the will of God which man does not have power to change (Ecclesiastes 8:13); to avoid self-righteousness or evil (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17); to fear God (Ecclesiastes 8:18); and to ignore ugly comments that others may make about them (Ecclesiastes 8:21-22).
In a world where we are regularly faced with frustration this is godly counsel. In Proverbs 10:28 he tells his readers The hope of the righteous will be gladness, But the expectation of the wicked will perish.To Solomon the clear distinction between the righteous and the wicked was so blurred that his view of hope was clouded as a result. This is why it is so important to also read the prophets who spoke of a future hope in the latter days when God’s glory and righteousness would be revealed to Israel and the world. Hope is missing here just wisdom in how to deal with it.
The reason the message of Yeshua was so welcome was that it carried new hope. It brought God’s light on a future that was filled with gloom. Ecclesiastes shows the weaknesses of a human view of hope. Solomon taught in what not to hope; but it took Jesus to show where hope could be found. Solomon’s teaching said “look at life and scale back your hopes.”
Jesus’ word was better: “Trust me and find hope.” Solomon taught that the future was too mysterious to encourage hope while Jesus’ answer was the hope of a glorious coming with power and righteousness (Matthew 24:30-31). Solomom taught that death eliminated hope while Jesus’ answer was the promise of resurrection and eternal life John 5:28-29.This is and was the true hope of Israel but seems to be lost in Solomon’s pragmatism. Those who truly trust Jesus as God’s full truth can really hope in resurrection. For them death is no longer an end of life but a door to real and everlasting life.
Ecclesiastes 8:10-11 For the wicked to be “buried” and “forgotten” is precisely what they deserve. Why then call it “vanity” or “meaningless”? The theme seems to be that the wicked do not appear to get what they deserve—even in death. God had decreed that all men should have a dignified and honorable burial. Even criminals and the enemies of God’s people were given this right (Deuteronomy 21:22-23; 2 Samuel 17:23; Joshua 8:29).
Solomon observes that the funeral services of the just and the unjust should all be treated with the same honor. What is meant when he refers to the wicked as those who “go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things?” Is it referring to the burial service itself, with the body being carried from the place of worship to the grave? Or is it an expression of satisfaction that the wicked have now departed from the presence of God, to await the fate they justly deserve this too is not likely?
This is unlikely, too, for in this same verse he refers to what he sees as ‘vanity’. It is more likely that he is referring to the city of Jerusalem, the very place where these injustices have been committed. Here is the seat of God the residence of the Temple and yet we see injustice in the very city of God. Yeshua later had the same perspective of the Pharisees and Sadducees. What is so troubling for Solomon and for us as well is to hear the eulogies of men who have acted unjustly resounding in the very city of their evil.
We are taught, not to ‘speak ill of the dead. But it is hard to sit and listen to the praise of those whose lives have not deserved it. We tend to live in the now rather than looking at the eternal perspective. It is the threat of punishment that makes us obey, not some long term consequence for the most part. If punishment is not quick we tend to ignore the law. Companies and individuals ignore laws simply because they’re not enforced, knowing that even though they are guilty, they’ll ‘get away with it’.
Solomon touches this when he writes about ‘the heart of the sons of men’ being ‘fully set in them to do evil’. The delay in punishment encourages rebellion. He is troubled because he sees it as a great injustice.This has troubles people in all generations: ‘How can a God of righteousness allow the wicked to prosper? He has declared his judgment upon them, but it never seems to come.’ Peter explains this in 2 Peter 3:9-10. When we only have an earthly perspective then indeed life’s not fair. But what follows assures us that this is not the case when we have an eternal perspective.
Ecclesiastes 8:12-14 When faced with injustice all around us, we need to remember the promise that God has brought judgment through his Son. First in bearing it for all who will receive Him and then bringing justice to those who will not come to Him. Why must we hold on to this great hope? Ecclesiastes 8:14 gives us the answer.
There are two ways of looking at this verse: Firstly, we see again the unfairness of life but there is the glimmer of light that comes to through the gospel. It speaks of ‘righteous men who get what the wicked deserve’, and ‘wicked men who get what the righteous deserve’. Even acts of justice and mercy will not spare us from eternal punishment if we reject the Messiah. Because even our most righteous acts can never make a man righteous before God, for even if he enables us to perform them, they will not change the unrighteousness of our hearts (Romans 3:10, 3:20; Isaiah 64:6).
However the sinner who turns in faith to the one who justifies the unrighteous he will be treated as a righteous person—not in his righteousness, but that of Yeshua the Messiah (Romans 4:13-25). This of course makes no worldly sense but is the essence of God’s justice and mercy.
Ecclesiastes 8:15 – This is the fourth time that Solomon tells his readers, ‘eat, drink, and be merry’. Isaiah speaks of it as a sign of rebellion against the commands of God (Isaiah 22:13), and the irresponsibility of leaders (Isaiah 56:12). Jesus uses it when he describes a man who has given no thought for his eternal destiny (Luke 12:19). Paul uses it to describe someone who has no hope in the resurrection and attempts to dull his senses (1 Corinthians 15:32). Sometimes we want to do so ourselves when we observe the injustices of life.
Solomon here, however, uses the phrase in a positive way. Here he is emphasizing the hand of God. Even in the midst of unfairness and injustice, we are called to recognize the positive elements of our lives that are a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 5:18). He previously taught that the joys we experience from even the simplest things are ‘from the hand of God’ (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).
The good that comes from our labor is to be recognized as ‘the gift of God’ (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13), and he even goes on to say of a man that ‘God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart’ (Ecclesiastes 5:20). Peter spoke of the truth that, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common’ (Acts 10:15), and Paul tells us, ‘Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Ecclesiastes 8:16 – If we are focused only on what is done on earth we will find it impossible to come to terms with the unfairness of life. Even by trying to seek justice in the worlds courts of law will only increase frustration at the injustices from both large corporations and even governments hiring expensive attorneys to further their ends.
When the state of Georgia, was founded in 1732, the governor, James Edward Oglethorpe, introduced regulations to maintain harmony within the community. To do so he saw to it that slavery, alcohol, and lawyers were forbidden too bad those laws were not kept and embraced by the rest of the Colonies! While there is no solution to the problem, Solomon does not leave us hopeless. He reminds us that all these things are the work of God. The answer is found in God’s Word.
God has revealed that his ways are far beyond us (Isaiah 55:8-9), and calls us to give up wisdom in our own eyes turn to him (Isaiah 55:6-7). God will bring His justice to bear in due time, on this we should place our hope and trust.