“Even the Wise Do Not Know”

Ecclesiastes 8:1-17 

Who is like a wise man?
And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
 A man’s wisdom makes his face shine,
And the sternness of his face is changed.

I think what Solomon is saying is that knowledge is a never ending pursuit, as we discover what we don’t know.

So… today, thanks to the Internet the knowledge of the world is at our fingertips.  We have instant access to information with the touch of a button.  We are now able to get news in minutes of its happening.

Thanks to modern gadgets and technology, knowledge is exploding and its getting harder and harder to keep up.  It takes a wise and humble person to know what they don’t know and what they don’t need to know because you can’t know it all.

Wisdom allows us to meet challenges in life but even knowledge has its restrictions because wisdom can’t solve all of our problems.  Haven’t you ignored your limitations and pushed yourself beyond capabilities?  What were the results?

Obey Authorities for God’s Sake

I say, “Keep the king’s commandment for the sake of your oath to God.

Do not be hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand for an evil thing, for he does whatever pleases him.”

Where the word of a king is, there is power;
And who may say to him, “What are you doing?”

He who keeps his command will experience nothing harmful;
And a wise man’s heart discerns both time and judgment,

Because for every matter there is a time and judgment,
Though the misery of man increases greatly.

For he does not know what will happen;
So who can tell him when it will occur?

No one has power over the spirit to retain the spirit,
And no one has power in the day of death.
There is no release from that war,
And wickedness will not deliver those who are given to it.

All this I have seen, and applied my heart to every work that is done under the sun: There is a time in which one man rules over another to his own hurt.

Solomon is telling us to respect human authorities so we can all get along.  We should be all be joyful, no matter what the circumstances are because a person who has biblical wisdom is assured of what is right. There is no greater privilege than understanding where we came from, who we are, where we are going, how sin is removed and what the will of God is. There is no greater blessing and there is no other place to find these answers than from God in His Word. Solomon begins this chapter by saying that in a world full of questions, it’s wonderful to know the absolutes of life. Some things in life we can’t understand but some things we can understand—like what the moral will of God is, who He is, and who we are in Him.

Solomon is saying that much of what happens in our daily lives is controlled by orders and desires, along with the needs of others whether it’s a family member or community.  There are things we are required to do on a daily basis that we’d rather not do.  We all have to live with things we don’t like.

Today we don’t agree to oaths like in the past but we do make commitments to authorities. When we work for an employer, we are bound to do what we are told to do until such a time that we leave their employment.  Someone who is under the power of another is humbled by having to comply.  So… humility is knowing what you don’t know and learning to live with what you don’t like.

Back when this was written Rulers had absolute power over their subjects.  These rulers were not elected nor did they have to answer to anyone.  So I guess the question today would be how do we relate to those who have power over us and leave us powerless?

Solomon’s answer to this would be to obey the king’s orders, to not be in a hurry to leave his service and stand up for a bad cause.  This is something the wise person understands.

So… instead of rejecting what is problematic we should try to become familiar with it.   To acknowledge it and experience it fully without distancing yourself.

Martin Luther King and Gandi are both examples of how we can take a stand without acting out or repressing.

We’ve all heard the saying timing is everything, well the wise person knows there’s a proper time and procedure for everything.

Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem but he waited until God gave him the opportunity.  Had he not done that the King would probably have had him killed.

We can rejoice that we have the ability, wisdom and compassion to go forward.  In the weeks that followed 9-11 a whole city full of people reached out and took care of one another when the world as they knew it fell apart.

Death Comes to All

10 Then I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of holiness, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done. This also is vanity.

11 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.

12 Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him.

13 But it will not be well with the wicked; nor will he prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he does not fear before God.

14 There is a vanity which occurs on earth, that there are just men to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity.

I think what Solomon is saying is that humility is accepting what you can’t change.  If you’re doing what you don’t like sometimes you can’t change it because you are not in control.  Obviously if you could change it you would.  So much in life is uncontrollable.  Sometimes when you think you’ve got a handle on things they can become out of control again.  Solomon is saying there are four things you can’t control:  1) Death – because we don’t know when it will find us even though its reality of life.  2) Distress – we will all be disappointed and hurt by someone or something. Everyone will suffer some grief because that’s life.  3) Deception – Solomon comments about the funeral of a man who had frequented the temple, but who had lived an ungodly life. He had deceived the people who knew him, and they eulogized him in grand fashion. All this while the godly people of the city were ignored and forgotten.  This still happens today.  If a public figures dies that was considered a crook or evil they may still be considered a saint.  Meanwhile someone doing good may die and go unnoticed.  And lastly 4) Defiance – we see people protesting in the face of authority all the time.  People often think they can get away with doing things they are not supposed to be doing.  People get parking tickets all the time when there are people doing much worse things and getting away with it.  But wisdom will leave ultimate judgment to God.

So, Solomon is coming to terms with reality and that is when somebody bad dies all their bad deeds may be glossed over. There are also people who have committed horrible things and they have a great life and are never brought to justice.  Is this fair?  Like the drunk driver who hits another vehicle killing that driver but the drunk driver walks away without a scratch.

15 So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun.

Humility is enjoying what you can’t explain.  Solomon is saying we should eat, drink and be merry.  Which seems odd coming on the heels of death, distress, deception and defiance but I think that’s the point.  I think Solomon is saying that because we can’t change those things we should not get caught up in trying to do the impossible.  We should instead focus on facing life with humility.  We should not be sitting around moping over things we can’t change.  We instead live every day to the fullest, being thankful.

Sometimes we can feel we are caught in darkness but then suddenly the clouds can part.  Out of nowhere we can cheer up or relax.  No one else but you can give you this because of the vastness of your mind.  So the next time you lose heart try to change the way you are seeing what is making you lose heart.

16 When I applied my heart to know wisdom and to see the business that is done on earth, even though one sees no sleep day or night,

17 then I saw all the work of God, that 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; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it.

So, Solomon’s final words on humility is discovering what you can’t discover.  If we knew everything about God and the world, we wouldn’t have any sense of our own faults or vices.  I feel God has masked things on purpose so that we would know His greatness, in order that we might be forced to seek after Him to discover what we don’t know. The discovery of God and His ways in this world is a never-ending quest.

I don’t think any one of us can claim to understand life or have solved everything that God has done.

So Solomon is telling us to have a positive outlook on life.  To accept life as God’s gift.

Solomon is saying we must trust that God is in control of those things we don’t understand and this requires wisdom.  We can’t control everything around us, there are events that will surprise us.  The world isn’t fair.  One of the most difficult mysteries is the unfairness of life.