Ecclesiastes Chapter Eight, The Limits Of Wisdom


In our study of Ecclesiastes chapter eight, we will look at the fact that man cannot comprehend all of the ways of God. We will see how Solomon, the wisest man the world has ever known, came to this conclusion.

Ecclesiastes 8:1


Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things? Wisdom brightens a man's face and changes its hard appearance.


In chapter 7, Solomon compared following the ways of the world to the wisdom of following the ways of God. Now, he reminds us that true wisdom can only come from being in the presence of God. The brightening of the face reminds us of what happened to Moses as he was on the mountain with God. When he came down, his face shined because of the glory of God. We may not go up a mountain to meet God like Moses did but He has still made a way for us to enter His presence through the study of His word, through prayer, and through the living presence of the Holy Spirit in us. We should ask ourselves whether that presence changes our "hard appearance" because, if it has not, then, we have probably not really been in the presence of God.

Ecclesiastes 8:2 & 3


Obey the king's command, I say, because you took an oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave the king's presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases.


Although Solomon may have been speaking of an earthly king, he is probably speaking of using the wisdom that God has given us. He urges us to want to stay in the king's presence speaking of the desire to have God guide every aspect of our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. He speaks to the fact that we must take to heart the fact that God is right and just in all of His ways even when we do not understand them. As the Creator/Owner of all things, God has the authority to do whatever He wants and does not need our counsel.

Ecclesiastes 8:4-6


Since a king's word is supreme, who can say to him, 'What are you doing?' Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man's misery weighs heavily upon him.


Just as the people in an earthly kingdom must obey their king or face the consequences, so it is with God. He gave us free will and will let us make choices as to whether we listen to the Spirit or not. If we listen, He will protect us; if we do not, we can get ourselves into situations that can cause us harm. The "proper time and procedure" refers to the fact that we can take everything to God in prayer but, when He gives us an answer, we must obey for our own good whether it is the answer we wanted or not.

Ecclesiastes 8:7


Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?


Although there are people with lots of education and knowledge, there are limits to their knowledge such as the fact that they do not know the future. "What would you do today if you knew it was your last day?" is a question that is often asked. We must keep in mind that, for all we know, every day could be our last and so we should live like it. This is what James was talking about when he spoke of our boasting about our future plans (see James 4).

Ecclesiastes 8:8


No man has power over the wind to contain it, so no one has power over the day of his death. As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it.


When we die, our spirit either returns to the Father or awaits judgment. When our time is up, we cannot stop the journey of the spirit. Just like a soldier is retained during wartime, those who battle sin on their own will never be free from it.

Ecclesiastes 8:9 & 10


All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. Then too, I saw the wicked buried - those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.


Here, Solomon speaks of corrupt religious leaders as they saw the poor being oppressed and did nothing. Instead, those who were doing it were praised because they brought offerings to the temple.

Ecclesiastes 8:11-13


When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong. Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.


Solomon looked at delayed punishment and could not understand why those who do evil things can live a long time. Yet, he knew that, in the end, the punishment would come.

Ecclesiastes 8:14


There is something else meaningless that occurs on the earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.


Solomon came to realize that life on this earth is not fair. It would seem that God's people should be the richest people on the earth and yet, even today, those who lie and cheat seem to get ahead of those who don't. In the end, the earthly riches will not matter and so chasing them is worthless.

Ecclesiastes 8:15


So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.


Solomon advises us to enjoy what the Lord has given each of us and to not worry about what someone else has. This is contentment and it seems like it is the opposite of the way the world works today as everyone is trying to climb the ladder of success. Most do so without any joy and they seem to be the most miserable of people.

Ecclesiastes 8:16 & 17


When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man's labor on earth - his eyes not seeing sleep day or night - then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.


God had granted this man greater wisdom than anyone else will ever have and yet he realized that his wisdom had limits. He still could not understand everything that God had done. It is the same with us as we continue to grow in our faith and understanding of what God has done for us.

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