Going off of last chapter’s theme of wisdom being a good thing despite what we have come to call its “meaninglessness,” Solomon presents us with a chapter largely focused on the benefits of wisdom, largely mirroring another Biblical text that credits the large majority of its authorship to Solomon as well (the book of Proverbs).
The question right off the bat is straightforward: “Who is like the wise? Who knows the explanation of things?” (8:1). In asking these questions, we are reminded of another benefit of wisdom previously unmentioned in chapter 7: It allows you to understand the ways of this world that much more. If this was not clear enough, Solomon goes on to state that “a person’s wisdom brightens their face and changes their hard appearance” – it raises their optimistic outlook on life and removes the stress and fear and hate that hardship often brings. (Remember now that we are speaking in terms of those who “see the sun” (7:11) and not those who are stuck seeing “under the sun” (ch.1-6), therefore the wisdom we speak of is wisdom received directly from God with His ultimate plans in mind.)
Upon reaching verses 2-4, we must at first acknowledge the fact that the king mentioned in the text is not God, but instead Solomon referencing himself; in other words, the king represents those who the Lord has put in command over us. In taking an oath to God (as we did when we became Christians, letting Him know that we trust Him and His sovereign will), we have thus made ourselves willing subjects to His will, and thus Solomon reminds us to honor those that God has placed above us, trusting that these people haver been placed in power in accordance with God’s plans. Don’t rush away from this authority and don’t oppose them, for if you do, the consequences lie in their hands (a fact that isn’t necessarily a spiritual truth but rather a logical one that even the non-religious could deduce). Likewise, questioning the wise council of someone God has placed before you is inadvisable to say the least. This applies to how we honor God as well.
Then comes verses 5-8, a series of statements that apply not only to those who obey God, but also serve as general truths regarding the benefits of wisdom and/or heeding the words of the wise:
- We see that security is established. A wise person knows when to apply the best or proper course of action that will in turn lead to the best outcome. As we discussed in chapter 3, there is a proper time for everything, and with wisdom comes a greater understanding of how to know these allotted times. (In fact, this established security can serve as an answer to many of the questions posed in the last half of that same chapter). A wise heart will know how to discern between good and bad authority. (v.5-6)
- We see and recognize our inability to know all. This is where the misery of the previous verse stems from – our inability to know the future with certainty. Though heeding wisdom gives us a better perspective of the future, yes, only God knows 100% what lies in store. (Therefore we likewise shouldn’t expected others to predict or know with certainty some future they similarly can’t know.) (v.7)
- We see that death comes unexpectedly. Those who are truly wise see the frailty of life and it affects how they live in the moment. You see, death is as uncontrollable as the wind: no matter what we or those around us do, it is God who declares our fate. To be scared of death is – utilizing a metaphor that has been prevalent throughout the rest of the book – like “chasing after wind.” (v.8a)
- We see that we get what we ask for. This is not karma, but instead simply the laws of nature. If the world asks for war, somebody had to fight, so if one man lives a wicked life, it is wickedness to which they will succumb. (The wort part about this is that wickedness, for us, happens to be a very hard habit to break, therefore trials and tribulations are a guarantee in life.)
All these serve to remind us to enjoy life and live in the present, for while we realize our limitations and capabilities and we know that life is unpredictable and not necessarily fair, by “seeing the sun” we can attain a wisdom that allows us to feel totally secure despite the discomfort.
In verses 9-10, Solomon deals with hypocrisy and how it’s best to live by your word, because once you die, people will remember you for who you truly were rather than who you claimed to be. For instance, a foolish man telling others to be wise will be remembered for his foolishness, just as a priest living wickedly will be remembered not for the great things, but for the blatant wickedness of his deeds. This is our call to action to live by our words. Likewise, when we read that “there is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt,” this is a reminder that there is a time to stay “I told you so,” but only at the proper time such as when it takes the form a harsh rebuke, as in when someone is being foolish and hypocritical. In an instance such as this, the rebuke may hurt in the moment, yet in time is leads to a growth which will be better recognized once greater wisdom and understanding has been attained.
Verses 11-13 bring with them a slight change of subject, moving towards the topic of crime and punishment. God, in His grace, often delays in pursuing us for our wicked or sinful deeds (for some, it may be true that they will not truly be punished until the final judgment at the end of time), yet in our own arrogance we take this grace for granted, sinning all the more so that grace may about (not a good idea, according to Paul in his letter to the Romans). Solomon reminds us that there is no advantage to being wicked (ultimately because of a final judgment) but also, in a sense, because of the internal guilt most encounter. The temporal of patience of God does not eliminate eternal judgment. NOW LET’S BE HONEST… it may look awesome to “have it all,” but those who fear God are the ones who ultimately have it all.
Verses 14-15: In regard to the last paragraph, this promise of final judgment does little to satisfy our very “under the sun”-minded intellects, so Solomon begins to address the elephant in the room: the wicked who get what the righteous deserve and the righteous who receive the lot of the wicked. In this, he encourages us to keep an eternal mindset, for this is the only way to truly enjoy peace during life. God isn’t a cosmic vending machine that works off of karma – no matter what all the other religions tell you – so rather than thinking “poor pitiful me” when a seemingly unfair lot is cast, we should instead thank God for all the good things we often take for granted. (Enjoy those strawberries!) “There is nothing better for a person to eat and drink and be glad,” because not only are we blessed, but we’re SPOILED. We have been given far more than we deserve (this is something true for anyone who breathes, since Adam and Eve and every person since them have proved that we deserve death), so be joyful and “rejoice always” (1 Thess 5:18), thankful for all things. If you can truly enjoy those strawberries and recognize how spoiled you are – embracing the true love of the Father – you will be freed of any stress, anger, bitterness, or hardship that life on earth provides. (To summarize: Life sucks, get over it.)
Before moving on, it is important to note that verse 15 is very easy to misinterpret, so I just want to clarify something: It means to enjoy what God has supplied you with – such as food and drink – even if life doesn’t seem fair; it does not mean to go out take those things God has provided and waste your life away by abusing them.
Alright, moving on. In the next [and final] two verses, we are reminded that God’s work, when it comes down to it, is truly wonderful and beautiful yet likewise incomprehensible. From trees to lakes to birds to bees to whales to humans to birth and death and all of creation and its mysteries, it’s all so beautiful and wondrous, something no one can deny. Yet since we are not God, we are incapable of fully understanding this world, though we do our darndest trying to – “getting no sleep day or night” (v.16). The wise might claim to know hot the world works – something especially prevalent today with philosophers and scientists trying to constantly disprove God’s divinity or existence while they, in fact, are left perplexed by unexplainable phenomena of the universe – but no one does. And this is how God intended it! We constantly build our own towers of Babel and try to eat the fruit that will give us full knowledge, yet God’s will is still not fully known to us.
Yet despite all this confusion and chaos, we see our need for Jesus. You see, in keeping His will a mystery, God is calling us into a relationship with Him – for the closer you grow to someone, the more you will understand their will. (For instance, I recently noticed that I’ve started using a lot of the same slang as one of my roommates, a direct result of hanging out with him more and knowing him longer.) So if we want to truly understand the world, we need not look to science or philosophy – which are people in the world trying to explain it, like a fish claiming knowledge of the entire ocean – but instead to God, the Creator of it all who not only understand the world and wills everything within it, but likewise spoke it into being. (If you truly want to know how the world works, who better to talk to than the One who created it all?) Not only this, though: He spoke us into being. And He wants a relationship with us.
As if to prove this point, instead of waiting for us to look from “under the sun” to the sun, the Son Himself came down into the Creation so that we could be together once again. That’s how eager He was for that relationship! Instead of waiting for us to do something right, He decided to make the first, second, and third moves, asking only that we respond. And if we do respond – if we do get to know Jesus – we will begin to truly grasp the ways of the Father who sent Him. I just got through taking a forensic science course, and in that course I learned something interesting about fire that I think can similarly be applied to this lesson: In the case of arson, you can’t see the source of the fire when you are in it, but from the outside – taking an outside perspective of the fire in and of itself – you can. Isn’t it the same way for life, as Solomon has been telling us? Life and its understanding is like standing in a vapor: it clouds our minds and makes us incapable of seeing the bigger picture, but if we step outside of the vapor, we can at last find its source. Similarly, the only way to find the meaning of life is by taking an outside perspective to find the source, and the only way of that is by going to God.
Solomon, though this lifelong experiment of seeing things “under the sun,” missed a huge factor of life for a good majority of his time as king over Jerusalem: God, a factor that is quite noticeably absent from the Ecclesiastical text for a good majority of it especially when compared to other Biblical texts. The Bible tells us that, for a time, Solomon pursued other gods and resultantly – as we’ve seen in the previous seven chapters – made a bunch of really dumb decisions. Yet notice how despite Solomon’s rebellion, God used that folly to teach us a lesson, and the resultant research paper that is Ecclesiastes further proves the fact that Scripture is God-breathed because the very non-righteous acts result in truths for the wise. If Solomon had never turned to “see the sun,” we would only have the first six chapters, but God loved us so much that He pursued Solomon and reminded him the value of wisdom, which could only be attained through Him. Solomon, through this text, can point us towards God’s desire for a relationship with us because he felt it firsthand…understood how God constantly pursued him.
Now its your turn.