How wonderful to be wise,
to analyze and interpret things.
Wisdom lights up a person’s face,
softening its harshness.
Obey the king since you vowed to God that you would. Don’t try to avoid doing your duty, and don’t stand with those who plot evil, for the king can do whatever he wants. His command is backed by great power. No one can resist or question it. Those who obey him will not be punished. Those who are wise will find a time and a way to do what is right, or there is a time and a way for everything, even when a person is in trouble.
Indeed, how can people avoid what they don’t know is going to happen? None of us can hold back our spirit from departing. None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle. And in the face of death, wickedness will certainly not rescue the wicked. (Ecclesiastes 8:1-8, NLT)
Chapter 8 opens with a simple proverb that serves as a transitional link from chapter 7 into chapter 8. The essence of its meaning is that wisdom may not change life’s events or circumstances but can at least provide enough understanding to diminish the weight of what happens.
Beginning in verse 2, the Preacher offers affirming words to the old adage that claims the only two certainties of life are death and taxes, albeit he does this in reverse order. His direct evaluation of the power the king possesses leaves little to the imagination. It is absolute, and should be respected as one would respect the absolute power of God. Before we make a big misstep and apply this to our own contemporary political landscape, we need to remember that Qoheleth is talking about a person’s response to a monarch who has been appointed and is absolute in his rule. Old Testament kings remained on the throne until their deaths which came by a health issue or their over throw. While they may have had special advisors, they were omnipotent in their governance. His counsel, therefore, was to go along in order to get along. Do your duty, avoid those who aspire to overthrow the throne, follow the rules and use your wisdom to figure out how to make it, even when you make a mistake and get into trouble. Again, apples and oranges.
The remainder of this section returns us again to the subject of death. In Ecclesiastes 3 the Preacher reminded us that nothing under the sun is permanent. Here in chapter 8 he wants us to know that nothing is predictable. Like the king, death is certain and absolute in its rule, yet one cannot predict when it will occur. Note the comparisons between the two. Obeying the king is a matter is doing one’s “duty,” and facing death is coined as “an obligation.”
Which helps us understand more fully the opening Proverb which serves as the paragraph’s take away. In life we don’t have nearly as much control as we think we have, and there are inevitable realities that we cannot bypass. Many of those realities introduce events that we don’t anticipate. But if we attempt to live with wisdom we are not crushed by those unanticipated life events. Wisdom doesn’t eliminate life’s blows, but it can soften them.