Who is like the wise?
Who knows the explanation of things?
A person’s wisdom brightens their face
and changes its hard appearance.
Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’
Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm,
and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.
For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter,
though a person may be weighed down by misery.
Since no one knows the future,
who can tell someone else what is to come?
As no one has power over the wind to contain it,
so no one has power over the time of their death.
As no one is discharged in time of war,
so wickedness will not release those who practise it.
All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. Then too, I saw the wicked buried – those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.
When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong. Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.
There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.
When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labour that is done on earth – people getting no sleep day or night – then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.(Eccl. 8:1-17 NIV)
Winston Churchill described negotiating with any communist government in this way, ‘It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’ Whether Churchill had Ecc. 8 in mind we will never know.
It takes great wisdom to deal with authority. We should allow the government to rule otherwise we have anarchy. In the Preacher’s day the king had absolute authority. Today we have a representative government, democratically elected. Whatever type of government we have, the same types of dilemma arise. The first admonition was to obey the king or government. The motivation for this is that we took an oath before God to obey God’s commands. The oath before God points to the connection between government and God. God instituted governments to promote coherence in society and to rule over fallen humanity.
Yesterday we touched briefly on the instinctive desire to resist those who rule. That could be elders in the church, managers and supervisors at work, teachers in school, or government officials and those who have the responsibility to enforce the law. Because we live in a society that disrespects authority there is the real and present danger that we become like that too. The Preacher advises his readers not to be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence or to stand up for a bad cause. To rush away from the king’s presence means that you have disagreed with the king and you leave his presence out of disgust planning to rebel. This is a pretty pointless exercise because ultimately you cannot oppose the king. It might be better to remain and try to persuade. Recently I was listening to ‘Start the Week’ on the radio with Andrew Marr discussing John Preston’s biography of Robert Maxwell, to be released later this week, ‘Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell’. Robert Maxell was a media mogul, possibly most famous for his ownership of the Daily Mirror and for his infamous raiding of the pension fund of the Mirror Group. Maxwell was an egotist and expected his every request to be obeyed. Many who opposed him were quickly removed from their post. There was one person, Julia Langdon, Political Editor of the Daily Mirror at that time, who was able to quietly persuade him to change his mind on many bad decisions he had made. This is the stance of the Preacher, to remain as part of the team that can quietly influence and persuade.
Today in the West in democratic societies, the bureaucratic system can frustrate any attempt to bring about change. The wise person will need to learn how to work with the system rather than resigning or walking away. To change government policy on any issue takes a long time and great patience.
However, the wise will also know that when a people are weighed down by misery caused by the government’s rules then there is the possibility to protest. We have a number of biblical examples of this in Moses, Daniel and Nehemiah. They approached their tasks in a godly way and had years of service over which time they had gained respect and were listened to. These people were sensitive to God’s time and leading.
Lord we pray that you would help us as we relate to those who govern us whether that is in church, school, the workplace or citizens in society. When we feel that rule is unjust, help us to have a record of demonstrating respect and loyalty so that when we disagree that we can have a hearing. Many of our complaints fall on deaf ears as our views are not respected because of our previous behaviour or attitude. Lord help us to change if we need to, and to work steadily and loyally to promote our ruler’s programme, and help us to know how and when it is right to speak out and to work for change. Lord give us the wisdom to be patient and wait for Your time because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.