In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia, looks at the wisdom from Solomon about how one should regard authorities in Ecclesiastes 8:1-9. Solomon teaches that, If you want to be wise and avoid trouble, you should obey the authorities God has set up in your life. Solomon also gives four wise reasons why should obey even unjust authorities:
1. Because You Fear God (v. 2)
2. Because You Want to Avoid Harm (vv. 3-5a)
3. Because You Are Waiting for God’s Justice (vv. 5b-7)
4. Because You Remember Your Own Weakness (v. 8)
God really is that great. How could we not want to hear His words and put it into practice? Let’s pray and ask the Lord to open His word to us right now. Let’s pray. Great creator, God, Lord of all, King of the universe, thank You for Your word. Help us now to understand it. Open my mouth to speak it. Make it clear to us. And help us to put it into practice. This is Your wisdom. Lord, help us to pay attention to it. In Jesus name. Amen.
When I was about five years old, I made a life changing discovery. It was a true eureka moment, greatly improved my childhood experience and even the rest of my life. I didn’t need books or some special tutoring course to reach this breakthrough. I stumbled upon this valuable secret all on my own. What was my great discovery? That disobeying your parents isn’t worth it. Though getting your own way when your parents tell you does feel good. And you temporarily feel quite powerful and important. Those feelings don’t last very long. They’re soon replaced by a painful sensation on the back side, or the dismaying realization that you’re no longer allowed to do the fun activities that you really liked, or even the agonizing dread that accompanies the words – wait until we get home. By around five years old, I had experienced enough episodes of disobedience followed by discipline to notice – hey you know what, life is better for me when I honor and obey my parents. They’re happier, I’m happier. They give me more trust and freedoms over time. It’s not a bad gig.
Now yes, as I continued childhood and early adulthood, I saw that obeying my parents many times meant submitting to directions that I didn’t like, or that I disagreed with. And sometimes I sought respectfully to express my concerns or to appeal for a different course. But if my parents remained committed to their choice, I saw that it didn’t pay to oppose authority and therefore I submitted.
Really, what young Dave had to learn is a basic but important piece of wisdom, even biblical wisdom, for living life in a fallen world. And this wisdom doesn’t only apply to child-parent relationships, but really every kind of submission and authority relationship that we encounter in this world. If you want to be happy and avoid unnecessary trouble in your life, then obey the authorities that God has placed over you.
That’s actually the title for the sermon today – obey authorities, avoid trouble. If you’ve been with us recently, you know that we’ve been studying through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. This book by king Solomon of Israel, wisest man who ever lived, it is instruction about how to live life well in a vaporous world, because that’s what the fall has made this world. It’s fundamentally vaporous. It’s insubstantial. It’s passing away quickly. It’s impossible to fully understand. In the next section of Ecclesiastes, Solomon is going to explain for us the principle, that simple yet profound principle that I just introduced to you. Life is full of powerful yet always imperfect and frequently unjust authorities. Still, if you want to live life well and avoid unnecessary trouble, submit to the authorities over you and trust God to deal with them in His own perfect timing. Please open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes chapter 8. We’re going to be looking at verses 1 to 9. It’s page 675 if you’re using the pew Bible.
Remember that we’re in the second half of Ecclesiastes at this point, where Solomon is especially emphasizing for us that even though wisdom is not ultimate, it is not the perfect guarantee of success in life. It cannot deliver you from death. It is nonetheless useful, beneficial for living in this world. Chapter 7, we saw how wisdom teaches us to be on guard against those who seem good but are not actually. Chapter 8, we’re going to see how wisdom teaches us how to live under imperfect authorities.
Let’s read our section for today. Ecclesiases 8:1-9, the Word of God reads,
Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam. I say, “Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.” Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, “What are you doing?” He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him. If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen? No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it. All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.
The main message of the section of Scripture I think is pretty clear. If you want to be wise and avoid trouble, obey the authorities that God has set up in your life. Notice in verse two, Solomon specifically urges us to keep the command of the king. The king certainly would have represented the most powerful and important of God-ordained authorities at the time this book was written. And certainly everything in this passage has direct application to those who serve a king. Nevertheless, the principle of wise submission that is articulated here, especially when we connected to other Scriptures, it actually embraces every authority that we encounter in life. And that includes parents, school teachers, husbands, policemen, various government officials, church elders, managers, and employers.
Solomon urges us to obey authorities, but he doesn’t just give us that command, that excitation. He also gives us reasons. In Ecclesiastes 8:1-9, Solomon gives us four reasons, four wise reasons that you should obey even unjust authorities. Four wise reasons that you should obey even unjust authorities. I’ll give them to you up front. Number one, because you fear God. Number two, because you want to avoid harm. Number three, because you are waiting for God’s justice. And number four, because you remember your own weakness.
Let’s see how Solomon develops these points as we walk through the passage verse by verse. Let’s start in verse one, where we see a brief reminder about how wisdom gives confidence for life. Look at verse one again. Solomon says,
Who is like the wise men and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.
Our passage opens with two rhetorical questions, asking essentially who really understand, who really has wisdom? Now we’ve seen these same types of questions, actually recently in Ecclesiastes, they appeared at the end of chapter 6. They appeared at the end of chapter 7. And the expected answer for these rhetorical questions is the same here as it was in those passages. Who has true wisdom? No one does. No one is truly like the wise man. No one knows the full interpretation of a matter. There are a lot of people proclaiming that they know, that they have ultimate wisdom, that they can lay out for you the fundamental scheme of the world, they can explain everything, and they know the solution. But no one really knows. That kind of knowledge, that kind of answer, it’s beyond us. We’re vaporous people living in a vaporous world. No one has ultimate wisdom. Solomon’s reminding us of this upfront.
But then notice right after Solomon questions who really has wisdom, he proceeds in the second half of verse one to talk about the benefit of wisdom for life. Moreover, the rest of the passage presents really wisdom for life from God through Solomon. So then, while on the one hand these opening questions remind us that no one has ultimate wisdom, on the other hand, they remind us that there is a more basic and accessible wisdom that some people do have. People like Solomon – someone who’s learned much and seen it all. Therefore, Solomon’s opening line should make us ask – do I have basic wisdom? Am I seeing wisdom’s benefit in my life? If not, Solomon is essentially saying to us – listen up because I’m going to share that wisdom with you. Not ultimate wisdom, basic wisdom, basic wisdom that will help you in your life.
How does Solomon describe the benefit of this basic wisdom? He says it’s like an illuminated face. Wisdom lights up a person and it changes a stern or strong expression to something a little more friendly. It’s interesting that if you look at all the times the Bible talks about a shining face, every other instance besides the one here is a reference to God’s own glorious face and the favor that comes to you when that face shines on you. Actually you see this many times in the Old Testament. Israel was always praying that God might shine His face on them to do them good. You also might remember that Moses, after he stood in God’s glorious presence and spoke to him as it were face-to-face, Moses’ face shone. So here, it’s like Solomon uses wisdom itself as a stand-in for God’s face and tells us, do you want illumination? Do you no longer want to have that angry or furrowed brow that is so common among those stressed about what to do in life? Then stand in the presence of wisdom. Let God’s wisdom shine on you. And it’ll reflect in your own face. You will become confident as you face the troubles and uncertainties of life, not because you know that everything will work out perfectly for you, but because you know that you’ll be acting in the best way and in God-honoring reverence. People who possess wisdom have this fundamental confidence. They tend to have more amiable expressions. They’re not so stressed, not so worried, not so upset, and it shows up in their faces. People like to have those kind of friendly looking people around, people including kings, those in authority.
Verse one then, Solomon prepares us for a new topic by reminding us how wisdom give confidence for life. Then next, Solomon introduces us to the new topic he has in mind and gives us a main command in it. Look now at the first part of verse 2, where we read,
I say, “Keep the command of the king…”
Let’s stop there. That’s a pretty straightforward imperative from Solomon, right? It starts with I say. That’s emphatic, underscoring his own authority and knowledge. Why Solomon is giving us his studied opinion – he’s been on both sides of the kingship equation. He’s served under a king when his father was on the throne. And then he’s been a king himself for almost 40 years by the time he’s written Ecclesiastes. So Solomon is reminding us he knows what he’s talking about. You can trust his advice, people of Israel could and we can trust his advice about how to deal with rulers and authorities. I say, he says. What’s his advice? Keep the command of the king. Literally watch the mouth of the king. Be careful to hear what he says and do it. Don’t fail to pay attention to the king’s words. Don’t disregard what the king says to accomplish your own agenda. Be careful to obey the commands of the king. Why? The rest of verse two is going to give us our first wise reason that we should obey even unjust authorities.
Number one, because you fear God. Obey even unjust authorities because you fear God. Verse two again,
I say, “Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God.”
Okay, you see the word oath here and immediately that raises the question what oath Solomon is talking about. Is Solomon referring to the oaths or pledges of the people of Israel to loyally serve the king? We do see examples of this in the Bible – 1 Chronicles 29:24, 1 Kings 2:43, Ezekiel 17:18. Obedience to the king is connected to oaths. Or is Solomon alternatively talking about the oath God made on behalf of kings, even to David and his line, to a point and support their reign over the people of Israel. That first appears in 2 samuel 7, but repeated in various places in the Old Testament. What sense is the oath of God here? I think the first sense better fits the passage, but perhaps the latter is also implied. In other words, Solomon exhorts his original audience by reminding them – you know that God himself set up the king who was ruling over. You even sworn oath to loyally serve and obey him. Therefore, for the sake of your oath, out of fear and reverence for God, be careful to obey the words of the king. Do not go back on your oath and thereby provoke God’s judgment. He takes oaths seriously. The king might not always act in a righteous way. Some of his orders and policies might be foolish or self-seeking. But do not abandon the king. Submit to him and obey him for the Lord’s sake.
Does that kind of instruction sound familiar? It should, because we heard it earlier in our service today, did we not? When Pastor Babij read from Romans 12 and 13, we saw the same truth emphasized. We today might not have taken specific oaths or sign contracts explicitly submitting to the various authorities that we find over us in our lives, but our obligation to submit to and obey authorities is there to the point it is as if we had made an oath before God. And we must take our obligations seriously. Let me just repeat for you what Romans 13:1-2 says,
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
It’s pretty serious. So brethren, think about the submission authority relationships that you’re part of. Maybe you’re a wife with an unbelieving and unfriendly husband. Maybe you’re a child with unrighteous parents. Or maybe you’re a citizen, a subject, or a visiting alien under an unrighteous government. Why should you submit to those authorities? Why should you still take care to honor and obey each of them? The answer – first of all, it’s for the Lord’s sake. It is out of holy affection for God and a desire to honor whatever authorities He has seen fit to place over you. He has His reasons for doing so. One of those whom God has called you to honor for His sake. Of course, you’re never to honor any human authority above God. If a human authority commands you to disobey God, you must obey God rather than men – Acts 5:29. Nevertheless, the first wise reason that you and I and everyone should obey even unjust authorities is because you fear God and want to honor Him. And as God promises, those who honor Me I will honor. That’s 1 Samuel 2:30.
So we’ve seen the first reason. The second wise reason to obey even unjust authorities appears in Ecclesiastes 8 verses 3 to 5a, the first part of verse 5. And it’s this – number two, because you want to avoid harm. Obey even unjust authority is because you want to avoid harm. Look at those verses again, starting verse 3:
Do not be in a hurry to leave him.
That is the king.
Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, “What are you doing?” He who keep a royal command experiences no trouble,
Notice that verse three begins with two negative commands, which complement the positive command given back in verse 2. Verse two, we learn we should keep the command of the king. Whereas in verse three, we are told we should not hurry to leave the king or join in an evil matter. These latter two options are real temptations to us when it comes to authorities. Particularly, when we witness an authority doing something we don’t like or acting in an evil way. Really another way to put it is – our common impulses, our flight or fight. In the face of difficulty, we might first choose to abandon a certain authority and try to run away. Hey, the king’s not doing what I want. That’s it. I’m out of here. I’m going to go find some other king.
Or to give some more modern examples. My husband is way too demanding. I’m going to get a divorce. My boss is so unreasonable, I am quitting this job and I’m going to let him know how upset I am. Or the church elders aren’t doing what I think is best. I’m going to leave the church. At these thoughts, Solomon says not so fast. Do not be in a hurry to leave. Maybe in some extreme cases, leaving is the right choice. But don’t just leave when you detect that a person, the person that God has set up over you and is leading you, when you detect that he’s imperfect. Why? Because you’re going to experience trouble in pursuing fight. Example – divorces are difficult and they leave lasting consequences. Suddenly quitting your job means suddenly having no income. You’re not going to be able to just go right back. Cutting yourself off from your church and your shepherds, that’s going to harm you spiritually. And there might not be a better church around. Often times, flight from authority is not easy and it brings with it repercussions. You might not be able to get away. Or let me say this first. In the ancient world, many the authorities, especially kings, were particularly powerful. Then you might not be able to get away and when they catch you, you will have to answer for your flight and it might not be pretty. So flight is not a recommended option. And neither is fight. Notice that Solomon says in verse 3,
Do not join in an evil matter,
or as the ESV has it in this verse,
Do not take your stand in an evil cause.
The phrasing here describes opposition to the king’s command, though the precise form of this opposition may vary. A servant to the king may simply refuse to obey orders. Or he may openly argue against the king’s commands at court. I think that’s a bad idea. I think you’re wrong. I think this is unjust. Or he might even engage in a secret conspiracy to undermine the king’s commands and even overthrow the king. Understand that our translation say evil matter or evil cause, but the term evil does not necessarily refer to actual wickedness. I’ve shared this with you before, but the Hebrew word for evil is closer to the English word bad, which can refer to something that is morally bad or wicked, or it can simply refer to something that is poor quality or harmful.
Solomon’s counsel therefore not to stand in the bad cause against the king, it may be because the cause itself is evil. It is selfish and wicked. Or it’s simply doomed to fail and it’s only going to annoy the king. Whenever the form of opposition and whatever the motivation, Solomon counsels us don’t do it. Why? Again, because you’re going to experience trouble. You’re going to bring harm on yourself. You see, powerful authorities tend not to like opposition. Whether your opposition is open or not, well motivated or not, if you persist in fighting against an authority, an authority that is not open to your critique, your constructive criticism. If you persist in fighting, well, get ready for pain. Get ready for punishment. This cop didn’t have a good reason to pull me over. I’m going to give him a piece of my mind. Not a good idea. My parents are so annoying not let me do what I want. I know they told me to drop the issue, but I’m going to add one more insulting word just to let them know how I feel. You’re just going to hurt yourself if you do that. The government is corrupt and using my money to promote sinful activities. I’m not going to pay taxes anymore. Let them try to come after me. Oh they’ll come after you all right. Why does harm tend to come to those who persist in resisting authority? It’s pretty simple – because authorities have power and we, those are under authority, do not. Look at the last part of verse 3,
For he will do whatever he pleases.
Kings in ancient times didn’t have to stand for their subject’s shenanigans. Kings were all-powerful in their own realms. They did whatever they wanted. They didn’t have constitutions or congresses to limit their authority. And even where there were some laws, they frequently just ignored those. They did whatever pleased them. Kind of like God. Isn’t that a description of Him – Psalm 115:3,
Our God is in the heavens, He does whatever He pleases.
That’s the way King Solomon sounds. If you were to challenge authority, you would challenge the king by abandoning your post or by openly or secretly opposing the king, what do you think is going to happen to you? You eventually would be dealt with. And perhaps in a very final way. Verse four continues the same idea. Look at verse four,
Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, “What are you doing?”
The idea here is that kings are powerful. Their words get things done. And if they say to you you’re toast, guess what? You’re toast. So who indeed will say to a king, someone in powerful authority – what are you doing? Which is to say, explain yourself king, I’m not sure I agree with your choices. The king doesn’t have to answer you. The king doesn’t have to listen to you. So why put yourself in harm’s way by continually questioning and opposing the king’s command? Verse five thus appropriately summarizes,
He who keeps a royal command experiences has no trouble,
Generally, friends, that’s the truth. Authorities in life, yes are often selfish and unfair, yet seldom willing to listen to rebuke. If you have a respectful and legal means to express your grievances against an authority, if you have some legitimate way to advocate for change, by all means take advantage. And if an authority calls on you to disobey the commands of Christ, even if it’s a powerful authority, be prepared to disobey respectfully as much as possible, knowing that you will probably suffer consequences for Jesus’s sake. But apart from those two cases, heed the wisdom of God via Solomon here. Keep the king’s command. Obey authorities and avoid harm.
Now somebody might say at this point in the sermon, Pastor Dave, if we only obey authorities and stick to allowed channels for expressing our grievances, then nothing’s ever going to change. Authorities are just going to walk all over us. Tyrants are going to get away with all their tyranny. We’re never going to see justice unless we rise up and directly oppose and disobey authorities. Certainly, there are many today who take this stance. It’s even considered patriotic in our country. Submission isn’t good enough. We have to teach authorities a lesson if we want to improve our lot and help society. However wise such thinking sounds, we’ve got to be honest, it doesn’t come from the Bible. In fact, it contradicts Solomon’s very next point in this passage.
We’ve seen two wise reasons that Christian should obey even unjust authorities. Let’s look at a third now. Number three, because you are waiting for God’s justice. Obey authorities, even unjust authorities, because you’re waiting for God’s justice. Look at verses 5b to 7. Second half of verse 5,
for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him. If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?
Now hearing those verses read from the New American Standard translation, you probably don’t get that these verses are about justice or about waiting for justice. You’re probably like, where are you getting that from, pastor Dave? But the interpretation of these verses hinges on a particular word, and it’s the word that translated “procedure” in New American Standard. The Hebrew word for procedure here is the word “mishpat”. And it’s usually translated judgment or decision. Mishpat usually means judgment or decision. It could mean something like procedure, but usually judgment or decision. In fact, if we look at all the other places where the word is used in Ecclesiastes, we see that mishpat in every other place has a meaning connected to justice. For example, Ecclesiastes 5:8 says in part of it,
If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight;
Or Ecclesiastes 11:9,
And follow the impulses of your heart and the desire of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgement for all these things.
Or Ecclesiastes 12:14,
For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
And now most significantly, Ecclesiastes 3:16, and I want you to see this yourself. So please take your Bibles and just go back a couple pages to Ecclesiastes 3:16-17. Remember that this verse appears right at the end of a section where Solomon was teaching us that there is a time and season for everything. You never know what season is coming next. You can never know. Only God does. It’s just part of life. At the end of that section, Solomon considers the fact of unfixable injustice in the world and he connects that very frustrating aspect of life to what he just spoke about, the unpredictable times and seasons of life. And listen to what Solomon says. We’ve talked about this before a number of weeks ago. Listen to what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 3:16-17. He says,
Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice…
And there’s mishpat once again.
in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness. I said to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.
This cross reference is particularly significant because not only does it complete the pattern of every other instance of this word in Ecclesiastes, mishpat referring to judgment or justice, but noticed how parallel the argument is Ecclesiastes 8 to Ecclesiastes 3. According to Ecclesiastes 3:16-17, how does one know that a time of justice will come? Because God is a Judge and because there’s a time or season for every matter or for every delight, you can translate the word either way. No one knows when the time of justice will come or whether it will appear in this life or only in the next. But the time of justice will come. We can know that for sure.
Solomon says the same thing in Ecclesiastes 8. Starting again in verse 5, let’s read it but translating mishpat as judgment instead of procedure as we see in the New American Standard Bible. By the way, the King James actually translates the word as justice, so I’m not just pulling that out of nowhere. Look at verse 5 again,
He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and judgment.
In other words, the wise person keep the king’s command. He doesn’t fret continually over the injustice of authorities. Why? Because he knows in God’s good and perfect plan, the time, the season of justice will come. How does the wise men know that? Look at verse six,
For there is a time
It says proper time here, but more literally,
there is a time and judgment for every matter or delight,
It says delight here, but it’s the same word in Ecclesiastes, 3:17. It’s translated matter there. There’s a time for every matter, there’s a judgment for every matter or delight. It’s the same argument. Because God is Judge, we know that there is a time and judgment for every matter regardless of how powerful and how unchecked an authority seems to be. When is that time? When will we see justice on unjust authorities? They are not taking our rebuke. They’re not listening to our advocacy for change. When will we see justice? Look at verse 7.
Well, actually let me mention before that the end of verse 6, after all the trouble or evil of man is heavy upon us. He’s not pulling punches here. Authorities can make our time pretty miserable. When will we see justice? Verse 7 tells us,
If no man knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?
When’s the time of justice? No one knows. We don’t know what the future is going to be in its specifics. So how we going to know when it’s going to be? Is the time of justice on a particularly evil authority next month, next year, next century? Maybe. No one knows, no one can say when justice will come, but we know it will come in God’s perfect timing. And, you know, it doesn’t that remind you of one of the last parts of 2 Peter that pastor was preaching through? Where’s Christ coming? where is the justice He is going to establish on the earth? Everything is proceeding as it always has. I don’t think it’s ever going to come. It says God is delaying for a reason. He’s being merciful. Similar concept. God’s justice will come. Vindication for His oppressed people will come. And that means we can obey. We can obey the authorities that God has put in our life. We don’t have to sin to bring about justice. God will do it. We can fear God and trust His timing for judgment. And doesn’t God tell us to do this explicitly in different parts of the Bible, like the one we read earlier. Romans 12:19-21. Let me remind you the Bible’s consistent on this. God says through Paul,
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
And isn’t our Lord Himself the greatest example of waiting on God for justice? No one endured greater injustice from the hands of men and from even the hands of God-ordained authorities than Jesus Christ. But Jesus didn’t start a rebellion. He didn’t try to overthrow Pilate, Rome, or the Sanhedrin. He didn’t start a riot, though He did warn some of the authorities. A time of justice is coming, even on Jerusalem, and you will see the son of man coming on the clouds. In His present circumstances, Jesus didn’t try to rebel and seek His own justice. He trusted God would bring it about at the appropriate time.
But you know who acting differently? You know who did try to rebel and seek his own justice? Jesus’ disciple Peter. Peter witnessed the injustice taking place in the garden with Jesus. The authorities were unjustly taking Jesus away to arrest Him, and they were going to kill Him, and he knew that. So what did he do? He pulled out his blade and he asked Jesus, Lord, shall we strike with a sword? He didn’t wait for an answer. He just attacked a man in that party that came to arrest Jesus and he cut off the slave of the high priest’s ear. Now Peter’s heart surely was full of zeal and loyalty and love for Jesus. But did Jesus commend him for that action? He didn’t. Rather He said to Peter, Matthew 26:52,
Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.
Jesus reminded Peter that the outcome of violent revolt tends to be violent death. And in a sense the authorities have the right pursue that. And with this reminder about Peter in the garden, I think there’s a connection also to the last point that we’re going to hear from Solomon in Ecclesiastes 8. In all our noble or less than noble scheming and opposition against the authorities, we tend to forget one simple fact. And that is – we’re really not that powerful to make the things that we want to happen happen. Though we have grand ideas as to how we’re going to manipulate the circumstances and accomplish our goals via revolt, it’s quite likely that our rebellion will not accomplish these goals at all, but maybe even opposite. Look at Ecclesiastes 8:8. We see the fourth and final of our wise reasons that we should obey even unjust authorities. Verse eight, Solomon says,
No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it.
I don’t think I said the point. Number four, what’s are our final reason to obey? Because you remember your own weakness. Obey authorities because you remember your own weakness. Verse eight presents three scenarios in which every person, every human being, lacks power. These could be three somewhat distantly related scenarios. Well I’m persuaded that each of these is actually an illustration of the same thing. Man cannot overcome death. Man has no power over death. Notice first, Solomon says man has no power or authority to keep wind restrained. Now the Hebrew word for wind could also be translated breath, or spirit. Actually the ESV does translate the term as breath here, and I think that’s the better sense. Solomon is saying, remember, no man, not even you, has the power to keep life breath in his body. We’re all breathing right now. Who’s making that happen, you? Not really. You don’t have that kind of power. No matter how you scheme or struggle, when God takes away your life breath, that’s it. It’s done.
Second, notice Solomon says the man has no power or authority over the day of his death and that’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it? No one chooses the day of his own death. Even those who try to commit suicide are frequently foiled on their chosen course of action. That’s just a reminder that we are not ultimately in control of our deaths. God is. We can’t extend our lives. We can’t even ultimately choose to end our lives. God has to allow that.
Third, man can find no discharge during a time of war or struggle, which is a really intriguing claim because as far as we know, there were ancient provisions even in the Bible for people to indeed be released from the army before a battle or before a war. We actually see this in Deuteronomy 20. You could be discharged. Also, the Persians, they even had a system where various great man, they were required to fight for their king in wars, but they could be discharged. They could arrange for a substitute to go in their place. They basically paid people to go fight on their behalf. These kind of things existed, so Solomon’s third scenario is a bit curious, but I think it makes sense if we see the struggle that he’s talking about as the struggle of death itself. We often talk today of people battling with various diseases, especially cancer. Oh he’s battling cancer. Or it’s not going well in his battle against cancer. Not all of us are necessarily going to battle with cancer, but you know what, all of us, unless Christ comes back first, we’re all going to battle with death. We’re all going to have a battle with death. We cannot choose when that battle is going to take place, but it will. And it’s not a battle that we will win, at least not in a temporal sense. For those in Christ, there is ultimate victory, but we must still go through the river of death. There is no discharge from this battle. You can’t call in a substitute. The battle will be your own to fight, and you will lose it. You just don’t have power.
So when these three scenarios, man proves to be weak. He proves to be impotent in the face of death. All this exposes his fundamental lack of power, and they informed the fourth and final statement from Solomon in verse 8 where he says,
and evil will not deliver those who practice it.
You see, man, even each one of us, despite our frequent lofty views about ourselves, even public self-exaltation to the level of deity, when you get down to it, we don’t really have that much power. And this is true even for those in authority, who seems so powerful, who indeed have words that on the surface appear to get things done. They may suppose that their schemes, their evil will secure them power and keep power in their hands. They may think that. And at the same time, those under their authority may think that they also can use evil to obtain and overcome power. But while evil may temporarily seem to help you, God will see to it that it will not ultimately save you. Actually all too often, evil schemes blow up in your face. And you know why? It’s because you’re just not that smart. You’re just not that powerful. And you know what? Neither am I. We are human beings, fundamentally limited and wholly dependent on our Creator and Sustainer God. If you ever succeed in a particular scheme, it’s only because God allowed it, not because you’re so great.
If we do not have any real control over our own deaths, if we can’t even keep ourselves alive another moment, what makes us think we have the power to make things happen in our schemes against authority? I’m going to assassinate the king. Don’t be surprised when you’re caught and executed. I’m going to get my teacher fired. Don’t be surprised when it doesn’t work and you’re the one who has to leave the school. I’m going to slander that politician in order to ruin him. Don’t be surprised if your slander actually increases popular support for him rather than diminishes it. You’re just not that powerful.
Even the worst dictators and most oppressive governments today, they’re not really secure despite their evil schemes, despite their armies, despite what seems like an unassailable system of protection. God can easily bring them crashing down whenever He wishes. If that’s the case for those who seem the most powerful today, then let us remember our own weakness and not look to what are ultimately empty evil schemes in order to bring about what we want, in order to find deliverance.
So then in summary, Solomon is giving us four wise reasons that we should obey even unjust authorities. To review, number one – because you fear God. Number two – because you want to avoid harm. Number three – because you are waiting for God’s sure justice. Number four – because you remember your own weakness. Solomon concludes the section and gets ready to bring us to the next one in verse 9. We’ll get to the next part next week. But for now, let’s just read verse 9. He says,
All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.
I know it’d be easy to dismiss all this instruction from Solomon, to say well he was talking about good authorities. Yeah it’s easy to submit when you have a good authority. Solomon is not naive. He knows his counsel is not merely for those who serve under reasonable authorities. Rather, it’s like Solomon says to us, I know that many if not most of the cases under the sun that involve authority are of this kind – someone exercising authority over another to his harm, to the harm of the one who is under authority. Solomon says I know that. I know that. Yet he still counsels us, along with the rest of the Scripture. Remember until Christ returns and establishes His kingdom, there will not be in ultimate fix to injustice or oppressive authorities or the corruption of government. You won’t see it. You won’t find it, and it will be painful in the meantime, at certain times.
But if you want to be wise, if you want to be happy, if you want to avoid unnecessary trouble, then fear God and obey the imperfect authorities that He has set up over you in your life. This is the very wisdom of God. Are you willing to listen to it? By faith, will you apply it in your life? Only those who do not vainly look for ultimate gain in this passing world will be able to do this. You’re saying no no no, I’ve got to find my ultimate gain now. I can’t afford to just obey authority. They’re in the way of what I’m looking for. As long as you’re thinking that way, you’ll never listen to this wisdom, and you’ll suffer the consequences because of it. But for those who fear God, those who have found salvation from sin in the Lord Jesus Christ, they can abide by this wisdom. Because they know that their ultimate gain, their true life, their real reward is not now. It’s in the world to come. I’m reminded of words from Hebrews 13:14,
For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
If you’re waiting for that city, then you can do this. And you’ll be blessed because of it. The political situation in this country will continue to change, probably will get worse, but Solomon says no one knows. Ultimately, yeah it’s going to get worse. Antichrist will raise his kingdom. But in the meantime, who knows what the next season’s going to be. Maybe it gets a little bit better, maybe it’s a little worse. Nobody knows, even if they say they do. But whatever the future holds for us in this country and in our neighboring countries, let’s prepare. Let’s prepare by applying the wisdom of this passage. Learning to fear God and obey the authorities He has put up.
Let’s pray. Oh God, it is true what people say. As acknowledgement of You disappears from the world, more and more people will look at government and various authorities in the world as if they are God. And they will be zealous for these false gods and they will try and get us to be as zealous as they are, even to the contradiction of their commands and wisdom of your word. But Lord, let’s not fall. Please don’t let us fall into that trap. Indeed Lord Jesus, we have no lasting city here, but You have prepared a place for us. For those who are willing to be the scum of the earth in the eyes of men, you are not ashamed to call them Your brethren and to make them rulers along with You in the kingdom to come. Lord, who are we, who are we that You would bestow such grace on us, that you would raise us from the lowly place. Lord, we are on the level of animals because of death. We have no power. And yet You have given us, You have promised us such an exalted place. Thank you, God. We look forward to the coming of Your kingdom and we say, Lord, bring it. Bring it now. But in the meantime, we will be Your faithful slaves. We will wait. We won’t pursue our own vengeance. We won’t sin in order to obtain justice for ourselves. We won’t foolishly act against the authorities that You have set up to harm ourselves. We will walk by faith. We’ll wait for Your justice. We’ll apply Your wisdom and know Your blessing. Be merciful to this country. Be merciful to each one of us where we find ourselves and authority situations that are painful. Where a parent or where a boss or someone else, Lord, is oppressive as an authority, You will hold them to account. But we know what You called us to do. For any who are still rebelling against Your authority, I pray that they would repent it and stop idolizing other authorities in the world or gain in the world. Lord, I pray that they would give up those vain idols, those empty pursuit, and they’d turn to the One who is life, the holy God. Please do that God. In Jesus name. Amen.