When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one's eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out. – Ecclesiastes 8:16-17
Yesterday’s reflection on wisdom in chapter 7 gives way to a lecture about obedience to the king in chapter 8. This is a peculiar segue, except that the latter passages of Ecclesiastes emphasize human futility compared to God’s sovereignty. “I say:” the Preacher affirms, “Keep the king's command, because of God's oath to him.” The details of this oath are not directly clear, unless it refers to God’s oath to David and his successors. As an aside, you’ve probably noticed that there is also no direct reference to the LORD – Yahweh, the God of Israel – in this book. This may be a simple literary peculiarity, or it may reflect a particular perspective.
This is not the end of today’s curiosities. The Preacher returns to recounting oft-disconnected proverbs, such as those having to do with finding joy in pleasure. In chapter 9 he writes, “Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” But in chapter 11 there is a warning: “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” Are these contradictory? Does their immediate setting bring clarity? Or is this something that, like the book of Proverbs, requires referencing the entirety of Ecclesiastes and all of Scripture as context.
All throughout, notice the writer’s perspective on issues around the text. What is his understanding of life and afterlife? What is his true, and complete, view of wisdom? What is the relationship between riches and poverty, righteousness and unrighteousness? And who, exactly, is speaking, both in chapter 8’s “Obey the king” passage and chapter 12’s third-person closing?
The end of the matter; all has been heard… The book concludes less with a discovery than with a judgment, a conclusion to all the evidence the Preacher has gathered. As you attended to your emotions throughout the book, attend to your response at the end: does the judgment leave you satisfied, ambivalent, or wanting?
Our verse for this week is Ephesians 6:12: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Ecclesiastes 8 through 12. Now let’s read it!
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.