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)
The wise person is unique because they know how to interpret things. We must of course keep in mind the limitation of wisdom set out in the previous chapter. The wise person doesn’t always instantly know the proper course of action to take, but they are wise enough to know how important it is to wait and not make a rash decision. Knowing how to act in a particular situation is the most relevant aspect of the expertise of the wise.
Wisdom is a gift from God and brightens up the face. Wisdom removes the stern expression from the face taking away harshness and meanness.
The Preacher now turns his attention to how useful wisdom is when serving a king. The Bible tells us that it is God who has placed people in authority over us. It is wise to obey the rulers in authority. Normally speaking we should obey those whom God has placed in authority over us. This teaching is needed for today because we see many examples of disrespect for authority. As Christians we should show respect for the government of today in our country.
The Preacher says that the command of the king should be kept. Immediately we see that written down, as children of the age we automatically think about times when we should engage in civil disobedience. We think of all the circumstances when the ruler’s command should not be obeyed. We should note that the norm is that we should obey. The norm is obedience and disobedience is the exception. There are a large group of people in this country who will go to every protest march in London. Their norm is to protest. It becomes increasingly difficult to lead when people are unwilling to be led. The NT has much to say about Christians being good citizens. We are exhorted to pray for all in authority. When we look at what the government had to go through during Brexit and now the Pandemic., who would want the responsibility of their job? That is why we need to pray for them because they have to make hard decisions, usually with only limited information, and then get criticised by everyone especially those who are not required to make any decisions.
Obeying the government is seen by the Preacher as an oath taken before God. Because we are Christians, we have taken an oath to obey God. The instructions in the NT are clear about our civil duties.
Lord give us the wisdom and the humility to be able to serve and respect all whom You have placed in authority over us. We pray for our government that You will give them wisdom and help them to make just and honest decisions. Help us to be supportive by our prayers. Sustain our nation at this time of seeking to deal with the pandemic. Help us to be good citizens and may people see that being a Christian makes a difference to how we speak and how we behave towards those in authority. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.