Read the Passage: Ecclesiastes 8
Effect of Wisdom (8:1)
In Eccl. 7:23–29 Solomon wrote about the scarcity of wisdom, even noting that despite his desire to find true wisdom, “One [wise] man among a thousand I have found” (Eccl. 7:28). Recall that Solomon’s earlier comments in Eccl. 7:28 about women are not a general teaching but are a word-picture that personifies the idea of foolishness (cf. Prov. 2:16–19; 5:1–14; 6:20–29; 7:1–27). Solomon’s remarks about the rarity of a wise person at the end of Eccl. 7 invites the question, “Who is like a wise man?” (Eccl. 8:1), which is exactly what he asks at the beginning of Eccl. 8. Ultimately, at the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon will conclude that the truly wise and discerning man is the one who “fears God and keeps His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Eccl. 12:13; cf. Eccl. 3:14; 5:7; 8:12–13). Yet, speaking more broadly, here in Eccl. 8:1 Solomon briefly discusses three characteristics of wisdom that are manifest within a wise man.
First, as he asks a rhetorical question in Eccl. 8:1a, Solomon describes a wise man as one “who knows the interpretation of a thing.” The idea here is that a wise man is both prudent and discerning. Note that discernment is a repeated theme in the book of Proverbs (cf. Prov. 22:3; 27:12), as well as a topic that Solomon later revisits in Ecclesiastes (cf. Eccl. 11:1–6). Clearly, discernment and wisdom belong together. Second, Solomon writes, “A man’s wisdom makes his face [to] shine” (Eccl. 8:1b). The teaching here is that wisdom makes a man’s entire life radiate with holiness (cf. Exod. 34:29). Third, Solomon notes that on account of wisdom, “The sternness of a man’s face is changed” (Eccl. 8:1c). The idea here is wisdom changes pride into humility and anger into love. Wisdom always results in sanctification of the who possesses it.
Authority of the King (8:2–9)
In Eccl. 8:2–9 Solomon, who was the king, discusses the authority of kings and the wise behavior of royal subjects. Note that this passage contains truths that can be applied before earthly kings, as well as before God, our heavenly King. At Eccl. 8:1–3 Solomon encourages: (1) obedience to the law, (2) remaining in the presence of the king, and (3) avoiding evil and evil-doers. In Eccl. 8:4–9 Solomon gives five reasons for obeying the king. First, the king has power and cannot be questioned by others (cf. Eccl. 8:4). Second, obeying authority will keep one from harm (cf. Eccl. 8:5a). Third, a wise man’s heart discerns both time and judgement, thus the wise man will know how to behave properly in God’s presence (cf. Eccl. 8:5b–6). Fourth, no one—not even the king—knows the future (cf. Eccl. 8:7). Fifth, and finally, no one apart from God has power over life and death (cf. Eccl. 8:8–9).
Providence of God (8:10–17)
In the last half of Eccl. 8, Solomon discusses the doctrine of God’s providence. Note Solomon had addressed providence earlier (cf. Eccl. 1:15; 7:13–14) and he will carry this discussion forward into Eccl. 9. At Eccl. 8:10 Solomon notes the passing away of the wicked, as he observes, “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl. 8:11). This speaks to God’s intent of there being a connection between actions and consequences. Whenever this divine design is violated, chaos and ruin will result. Next, in Eccl. 8:12–14 Solomon writes that although the wicked sometimes temporarily flourish, on God’s timetable “it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him” (Eccl. 8:12). Solomon notes the fact that consequences are often delayed, is itself a mark of vanity (cf. Eccl. 8:14).
Over the last three verses of this chapter Solomon returns to a reoccurring theme in this book—that is, “Nothing is better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry” (Eccl. 8:15; cf. Eccl. 2:24; 3:12–13, 22; 5:18–19; 9:7). With this teaching Solomon is not encouraging hedonism but is recognizing the providence of God and exhorting his readers to wise living in the present world. Along these same lines Solomon writes, “A man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it” (Eccl. 8:17). In sum, Ecclesiastes teaches that in the fallen world, there will be sin and injustice. While believers must always work to address the effects of sin in the world; ultimately, before Christ returns, mankind will not be able to completely eradicate sin. Therefore, man must enjoy life under the sun, trusting in God’s sovereignty.
- As you have gained biblical wisdom in your walk with Christ, what areas of your life have been impacted the most?
- Do you regularly study the wisdom books of the Old Testament? What is a good, biblical definition of wisdom?
- Have you noticed the effect of wisdom upon your own life? How have you witnessed wisdom transforming the lives of others?
- Like David in Ps. 73, are you ever discouraged when the wicked prosper and the righteous are persecuted?
- In the present world, how can we balance recognizing the presence of sin, upholding the sovereignty of God, and engaging in effective ministry?