Ecclesiastes 8: Wisdom Has Its Limits

1-9: Obey the rules

The opening ideas of this passage (leftover from the end of chapter 7) suggest that wisdom can change our appearance. When we act using wisdom, our reputation, attitude, perspective and approach all change. The benefits of wisdom then, are not only beneficial to us, but are also evident to others as our influence hopefully serves as an example.

It works to our own good benefit when we are in subjection to the earthly powers that rule over us. The insinuation to take from verses 4-8 is that God has given the powerful their power, and it is His will that they rule as they do, to perform whatever functions on the earth that the divine will desires. If we follow the command of the established rule of law in the land and that of the voice of the ruler, no harm will come to us. We are admonished to maintain the perspective of time on God’s terms; justice, retribution and punishment are His to direct and not ours to carry out. Those powers have been relegated to the proper authorities on earth and we are best served when we leave it to them. We have to resist the temptation to feel impatient and ungrateful and rather rest and grow in the knowledge that God will take vengeance on wrongdoers. This is true in every situation: “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Romans 12:19

Although it is good to realize that God will take vengeance, the Word of God goes further and also tells us how to act: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:14-21

Also, in this same vein, the apostle Paul elaborates on the idea of submitting to the authorities in the book of Romans 13:1-7: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”

Even though e may criticize those in power, God reminds us that they are there to keep things in order. We ought to be sincere in our belief that the power they use is granted by God and that all things will unfold in due time in accordance with the will of God.

There are the broad lessons we can take from verses 1-5 of Ecclesiastes 8. Verses 6-9 go deeper into the spiritual dilemma of exposing oneself to the question of fate; of who will be judged how and what the outcome will be or should be. We are told once again to remember who we are: we are not in control and our power is not formidable relative to the powerful on the earth and much less so relative to the power of God. Trying to make headway in situations that we do not have control over will relinquish our spirit to wickedness. Providing balance to the subject, verse 9 ends with a warning of sorts to those in power: “There is a time in which one man rules over another to his own hurt.”

10-17: Enjoyment is commended

These verses have some very unique and nuanced meanings that we would do well to remember. Recall how we talked in chapter 7 about how Solomon was revealing strong foundational ideas of wisdom and that we should think on those ideas and build upon them to shape our own wisdom. The ideas in this passage fall into this same category. Let us look at them one by one:

  • The wicked of the world will naturally continue to practice wickedness because they do not often experience immediate consequences
  • The life of the wicked one can be very long, even though he practices wickedness for much of his life
  • Those who fear God will have a positive outcome
  • Good things will happen to bad people
  • Bad things will happen to good people
  • In the midst of the work and the anguish of life, celebrating can often be the only respite, so we should enjoy life
    • Notice the qualifier of this statement, “under the sun” in verse 15, meaning that the glory of heaven in the life hereafter supersedes
  • No single man can be wise enough to know it all

These are abstract truths, the building blocks of wisdom when laid as a foundation for how we think, live and behave. Solomon, bequeathed with wisdom from Almighty God, has written down these divinely inspired words for the benefit of all mankind.

I encourage you to ingest these truths and make them part of your thinking. When we know these ideas as the revealed truths of God, they temper our perspective on reality and help us to make better decisions for our lives.

God bless you tonight. My prayer is that all who read this will remember the profound and often surprising truths in the book of Ecclesiastes.

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