Ecclesiastes 8:1-15

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John Carter –  July 13, 2014 –  Ecclesiastes 8:1-15 – Wisdom
Wickedness, Wisdom, & Fear

Wickedness does not deliver the fool, and
Wisdom does not deliver the wise, rather
Fear before God protects the one who fears God.

In the midst of some of Ecclesiastes most difficult passages to translate we will forgo the academic discussions of the best way to translate this passage and work off the assumption that the English Standard Version (ESV) is healthy and well-crafted translation of the Hebrew text. Our time is better spent on looking at the topics covered in this passage.

  • The Linchpin of 7:15-29 and 8:1-15(17)
  • Keeping the Command of an Evil King and Man’s Powerlessness
  • Evil Glorified & Fearing God
  • The Sad Inversion of Reward and Judgments for Wicked and Righteous Deeds
  • Happiness Still Encouraged

Verse 1 – The Linchpin of 7:15-29 and 8:1-15(17)
Although our text could include all the way up to 8:17 it seemed best to conclude with the 15 since the Preach tends to start new thoughts with the phrase “I applied my Heart” and verses 16-17 seem to be strong enough to stand alone and for the sake of minimizing the preaching text these verse have been moved into the next section.

The quick poem asks a rhetorical question with the impending answer of no one, or God alone. The preacher seems to be acknowledging the impossibility of knowing wisdom fully. But he still points to the happiness that is found in having a moment of epiphany.

Verse 2-9 – Keeping the Command of an Evil King and Man’s Powerlessness
It is easy to be young and misguided in our wisdom. Sometimes we hear a doctrine of God and are quick to jump to the necessary conclusion of that doctrine. But as the Preacher is good at doing he quickly disrupts our easy application of what is true. I interpret all of these verses (2-9) in the context of an evil king and a well-meaning person seeking to do the wise things. Speaking to a young person who may find himself in the presence of a king he tells this young wise man to not be so quick to resist an evil king in the presence of the king.

It righteous to denounce evil but the hard question to answer is when is the proper time to denounce evil? The preacher says the wise heart will know the proper time and place. It seems to be evidenced in the Bible over and over again that although God hates evil he is still patient in dispensing judgment on those who do evil. On one side this is distressing but on the other it is comforting knowing that God is patient finding no joy in the death of anyone and is seeking for all to repent of their wickedness.

Man has no control over the spirit (the wind[1]), the day they die, the time of war, or to be delivered by the evil which they have given themselves over to. Man is powerless, so seeking to control the events of this world is futility. Much worse is that man often has power over another man to his hurt. Despite the atrocities of wickedness it still seems to be in vogue.

Verse 10-13 – Evil Glorified & Fearing God
Evil men deserve no proper burial. They should not be in Holy places. And they most certainly should not be praised for their work (deeds)! Why is this so? Why is evil so easily glorified? From the preacher’s perspective it is due to the delay in the punishing and executing the punishment for sin and crime. When a person sees that that the odds to break a law are in your favor then what motivation is there to do the right thing? We even learn this reality in the class room and on the school yard. Why did the wrong kid get in trouble? Why did the teacher not punish the trouble maker sooner? This is why the children of man are bent on wickedness.

This is where the linchpin verse takes effect. In Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 we learn about the brokenness of being overly wise and overly wicked. Instead we are introduced with not a 3rd option of “finding a balance” but instead finding the 4th option.[2] The option to instead fear God. For wisdom without a fear for God is useless. And wickedness is still foolishness.

The wise die and wisdom doesn’t preserve the wise. The wicked die and wickedness doesn’t save the wicked. Rather, those who are seeking something more than this vanity will need to posture themselves in fear before the awesome and living God.

Verse 14 – The Sad Inversion of Reward and Judgments for Wicked and Righteous Deeds
The frustration about those who do evil and are rewarded still boils over in this passage. But even worse is those who are righteous and receive the what is due for the wicked. A discomforting and mind-blowing reality that is not easily glossed over. A situation that begs an answer from God. But as we learn from Job, not all events we experience in this life will be answered in a timely fashion; if at all!

Verse 15 – Happiness Still Encouraged
So what does the preacher encourage us to do in the midst of these cosmic frustrations? He encourages man to be happy. Joy even. This is difficult because it looking at the stacked deck of misery it would be easier to become overly invested in solving all the complexities of evil or to just give in and join with the wickedness. The preacher fights against either option and commends happiness.

The preacher goes back to the linchpin and points out the joy in knowing the interpretation of a thing. Who better knows the interpretation of a thing than God himself? There is happiness to be found in fearing and submitting to the one with all the right answers. Especially when that one has the ability to make things go well for those who fear him.

Wickedness does not deliver the fool, and
Wisdom does not deliver the wise, rather
Fear before God protects the one who fears God.

This text is another standard Ecclesiastes example of destroying presuppositions and assumptions and forcing us, the reader, to reconsider the doctrines we have, the language we use, and the God whom we serve.

  • The Linchpin of 7:15-29 and 8:1-15(17)
  • Keeping the Command of an Evil King and Man’s Powerlessness
  • Evil Glorified & Fearing God
  • The Sad Inversion of Reward and Judgments for Wicked and Righteous Deeds
  • Happiness Still Encouraged

These topics conclude with and validate the belief that,

Wickedness does not deliver the fool, and
Wisdom does not deliver the wise, rather
Fear before God protects the one who fears God.

[1] Possible last reference to “chasing after the wind” – Gredanius Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes

[2] 4th option as presented by Joe Slunaker in his sermon on this passage given July 3, 2014