Ecclesiastes 8:1–17: Who is Like the Wise?
As we have noted previously, the first half of Ecclesiastes exposes the vanity of false sources of comfort, hope, and satisfaction in this world. The second half of Ecclesiastes, however, is more constructive, working to offer a comprehensive vision for life in a vain world. This does not mean that the Preacher does find something in this world, under the sun, that escapes the vanity that plagues everything else. Rather, the Preacher is teaching us critical skills for life in a fallen world. First, he taught us how to discern what is truly and eternally “good” (Eccl. 7:1–14), and then he began to define wisdom as the fear of the Lord (Eccl. 7:15–29). Now, in Ecclesiastes 8, the Preacher continues to expound on the theme of wisdom, with a particular burden on helping us to see what wisdom looks like in various situations, since God’s wisdom enlightens the eyes.
1) How would you answer the Preacher’s questions: “Who is like the wise? And who knows the interpretation of a thing?” (v. 1a)? What does the Preacher mean when he says that wisdom makes a man’s face to shine, and to change the hardness of his face (v. 1b)? How would you summarize the overall effects of wisdom in the life of someone? Where is wisdom powerful and helpful? What, though, are the limitations of human wisdom?
2) What danger does a supreme authority pose to human beings (v. 2–4)? If we do not have a king, then who has “power over man to his hurt” (v. 9) in our own society? What wisdom does the Preacher offer about how to interact with the powers that be? While the Preacher encourages us to be careful in our actions toward the king, is he advocating total appeasement to anything and everything that even an evil king would command? Why or why not?
3) What troubles the Preacher about what he sees at the funeral of the wicked (v. 10)? Why is this troubling to him? How does the failure to hold accountable some wicked people help to encourage wickedness in other people? Why, though, should we not give ourselves to wickedness? What is the significance of the Preacher’s saying “I know” instead of “I see” in v. 12? How can we have such confidence in the ultimate justice that God will bring at the final judgment?
4) Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people (v. 14)? How much sense can we make of this? In light of this perplexing situation, why does the Preacher commend “joy” (v. 15)? How much of the “work of God” can we see in this world (v. 17)? Why is it wisdom to know that we cannot find it out? How does such an acknowledgement of limitation and ignorance correlate with the true nature of wisdom?