TEXT: Ecclesiastes 8
THEME: The Mystery of Wisdom
After a short break from Ecclesiastes we now return to consider the 8th chapter. The mystery of wisdom! Just when you think that you get a little wiser, it escapes you. And yet, it is undeniable that wisdom may be learned. We see that very clearly in this chapter and elsewhere in Solomon’s writings (e.g. Prov. 2).
The subject of “wisdom” starts and ends Solomon’s conversation in Chapter 8 (see vv. 1, 17).
Verse 1 celebrates the gift of wisdom and of having truly wise people among us. “Who is like the wise? And who knows the interpretation of a thing? A man's wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed.“ To be sure it is a rare gift (see 7:27–28), but we should treasure it when it is found among us.
A wise person possesses the ability to interpret a matter and its resulting calm assurance produces a radiant face (v. 1b). Wisdom softens one’s face. It is a reflection of the softened heart and mind that is instructed by God.
The wise heart is a discerning heart – it does not merely know the difference between right and wrong; it knows the difference between right and almost right.
The wise person is not just a person who is intellectually wise. Their wisdom comes out of a spiritual fountain which is from God. David Powlison, a Biblical Counselor speaks about the blessing of being in the presence of ‘wise love’ : “Wise love makes a huge difference in other people’s lives… genuine care, a searching question , sympathy and understanding, a timely and true word of God , practical aid , patience in the process- these are life giving.”
Pray then that God would be pleased to raise up many such people among us in these days! Pray for this gift, and seek it in the Scriptures and by prayer, brothers and sisters!
Having said that , verse 17 brings us down to earth:  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.
Here Solomon announces the frustration of the wise person who says, “I know,” but cannot understand everything about the work of God. Wisdom is a wonderful gift (v. 1b), but no one, except God possesses it without limit. There are aspects of life and knowledge that just remain mysterious and elusive. There are times when we simply have no words .Job’s situation comes to mind . None of those wise and theologically articulate friends of Job ultimately understood the nature of Job’s suffering. The key to Job’s suffering was with God.
At times the reason for our suffering is plain, particularly when our own stupidity and hardheadedness has been the cause of our suffering (see 1 Peter 4:15). But there are times when suffering has a mysterious origin (see 1 Peter 4:16).
Solomon’s quest is to search out and explain the nature of true wisdom. In that process he once again reflects upon various matters that require wisdom that can be acquired through knowing God and His will , whilst admitting that at other times this just doesn’t work . Let us simply follow Solomon’s thought processes:
Firstly, Solomon advises his hearers to submit to the king (vv. 2-6).  “I say: Keep the king's command, because of God's oath to him.  Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases.  For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?”  Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way.  For there is a time and a way for everything, although man's trouble[f3] lies heavy on him.
Here is the first bit of wisdom. Know your place with respect to the political rulers that God has placed above you! Submission to authority finds its basis in “the oath of God”. According to Scripture kings occupy their offices by God’s decree. So, being submissive to the king is part of one’s obedience to God (see Rom 13). Respect to the king or the president of a country is seen in v. 3: “Be not hasty to go from his presence.“ We call it “observing protocol“. He tells you when to go.
We also must beware of getting involved in an ‘evil cause’ - a matter that the king might find displeasing. The king whose duty is to maintain stability in the country will punish any appearance of evil, lack of submission or rebellion as he sees fit (cf. Prov. 14:35; 24:21–22).
Verse 4 also warns about arguing with the king or demanding an explanation for his decisions. The rhetorical question “who may say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” demands a negative response, “No one”! God, king, and potter exercise similar power over their subjects. So as a citizen it is wise to observe protocol , and to be careful in one’s timing. I am not always sure that the public media is wise in this regard!
The mention of a ‘proper time’ (v. 5) introduces further issues involving timing.(vv. 6–8). “For there is a time and a way for everything ” (v. 6 ) . We have seen this already in 3:1 ff. The rest of verse 6 further clarifies the thought : “For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy upon him”. All our problems , all our lack of wisdom ultimately originates from our sinfulness (see Eccl 7:29).
To summarize: To be a wise citizen means to be obedient to the governing authorities, in as far as they do not resist the rule of God . We need to understand at all times that we are fallen people , and we must guard ourselves that we are not tempted to annoy our rulers. That would be very unwise! Pray for wisdom to be a positive citizen of your country!
Secondly , Solomon reminds us of our inability to control life’s circumstances (vv. 7–9)  For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be?  No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.  All this I observed while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun, when man had power over man to his hurt.
It is wisdom to know that we all lack knowledge concerning the future (v. 7). Only God has the ability to declare what the future holds (see Isa 46:10–11).
In verse 8, Solomon offers four examples of an individual’s lack of control over life:
1. No one can restrain the ‘ruach’ (Hebr.) which can be translated either “wind “(see Prov 27:16) or “spirit“. We cannot control the wind; we are unable to control our spirits - speaking of inability to prevent death.
2. No one can control the day of their death. Only God knows the day or hour.
3. No soldier can discharge himself in time of war. Deserters get punished . Apply this to the spiritual realm. Jonah’s don’t get away from their divine commission!
4. Wicked deeds cannot deliver evil doers. God will ultimately bring every evil deed into the light!
Mankind cannot ultimately control or change the decrees of God. Do you understand this? I know that many people find this very limiting and perplexing, but ultimately it is wisdom to accept God’s sovereignty over all aspects of your life. Pray for humility and submission to your sovereign God!
Thirdly , know that those who fear God will do well! (vv. 10–17)
Again , Solomon reflects upon what he has seen ( see vv. 9, 10… All this I observed… then I saw…” )
V. 10 :   Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things. This also is vanity. He observed wicked people being buried. These wicked people were known to have entered the “holy place” (probably the Temple) where they mingled with believers. They were praised, even while everybody knew that they were wicked. This unfortunately happens all too often in the church, where the wicked are allowed to influence the direction of the church, even receiving praise, when they should have been removed (1 Cor. 5). “This also is vanity “ says Solomon. What wisdom and what courage it takes to deal with such matters, particularly when evil doers are deeply entrenched in the church. Pray for the purity of the church!
V.11 - 13  Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.  Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him.  But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.
Here is another important insight! Solomon says that because of the sluggish pace of the legal system, the law loses its power to dissuade people from evil. When justice is not meted out quickly, evil doers have no reason to fear the justice system ( which is given by God to man). We are familiar with this in Namibia. Delayed justice is really a terrible evil, and to recognize this and to deal decisively with it requires wisdom and courage . Pray that our justice system sees this !
In verse 12 Solomon observes that an evil person might have the opportunity to commit an act of evil a 100 times and still live a long time. And in the light of v. 11, it appears that Solomon attributes to God the same delay in justice that is so evident in human courts of law. That may be so, but remember that God’s delayed justice is not because of His forgetfulness or inefficiency or inability to control evildoers . It is because of his patience and mercy with mankind! And so Solomon confidently declares, “still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly.” This truth he knows by conviction and he holds to it by faith. Pray that you may have the wisdom to see this clearly!
An evil person’s major problem consists of the lack of any fear of God (v. 13). In verse 12 a sinner “may prolong his life” but in v.13 the wicked “will not lengthen his days.” – particularly when we think of life in the light of eternity. Jimmy Saville, the one time BBC presenter who has just been posthumously exposed in the UK to have been a sexual pervert and child molester may have lived to a ripe old age, but be sure that his sins have found him out before the throne of God. Pray that you may not deceive yourself with respect to the consequences of sin
Fourthly , know that no man can know God’s ways (vv. 14-17)
Here is the climax of wisdom’s mystery. It is expressed in v.14: Wicked people prosper and live healthily , and righteous people seem burdened and suffer. It all seems so unfair! Humanly speaking this does not make sense. So what advice does Solomon have to give in response to this enigma?
Verse 15 reveals the answer. Enjoy your God given pleasures while you can! This is the third time that Solomon gives this sort of advice (see 2:24–26; 5:18–20). He does not give this advice as an anesthetic simply to deaden the pain of life’s injustice. His point is that we should not waste our God-given joys by constantly worrying whether God is fair or not! Solomon says "seize the moment" ! Worrying about what’s fair or not brings us no joy, no peace, no rest, and no solution. It is important to understand that God’s wise providence rules all that happens “under the sun”. Pray that you may have the wisdom to see this! No one can understand the ultimate reasons for what happens, because even the wisest person is but a fool by comparison to God.
And so, Solomon reviews his pursuit of wisdom in vv. 16–17. In his search for wisdom he could eliminate sleep and still not succeed (v. 16). The fact remains that humans are incapable of discovering all of God’s work “under the sun.” There comes a time when we will have to say : It is wisdom’s mystery! This is the conclusion of Paul after he has written to the Romans of the electing grace and mercy of God, and he finishes his thoughts with these words in Romans 11:33–36. “How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (v. 33b).
The conclusion of Chapter 8 finds an echo in the words of 1 Corinthians 1:20–25.
Human wisdom (influenced so strongly by our sinful nature) and unaided by God cannot help us. We need God’s wisdom for life! God displays His wisdom in the person of the person and work of Jesus Christ, and so Solomon’s sermon prepares our hearts for the greater message of redemption. And no-one can turn to the Redeemer until they first recognize their own inability to do anything for themselves.