Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? a man's wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.
1. Praise of true wisdom continued (Ec 7:11, &c.). "Who" is to be accounted "equal to the wise man? … Who (like him) knoweth the interpretation" of God's providences (for example, Ec 7:8, 13, 14), and God's word (for example, see on Ec 7:29; Pr 1:6)?
face to shine—(Ec 7:14; Ac 6:15). A sunny countenance, the reflection of a tranquil conscience and serene mind. Communion with God gives it (Ex 34:29, 30).
changed—into a benign expression by true wisdom (religion) (Jas 3:17). Maurer translates, "The shining (brightness) of his face is doubled," arguing that the Hebrew noun for "boldness" is never used in a bad sense (Pr 4:18). Or as Margin, "strength" (Ec 7:19; Isa 40:31; 2Co 3:18). But the adjective is used in a bad sense (De 28:50).
I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.
2. the king's—Jehovah, peculiarly the king of Israel in the theocracy; Ec 8:3, 4, prove it is not the earthly king who is meant.
the oath of God—the covenant which God made with Abraham and renewed with David; Solomon remembered Ps 89:35, "I have sworn," &c. (Ps 89:36), and the penalties if David's children should forsake it (Ps 89:30-32); inflicted on Solomon himself; yet God not "utterly" forsaking him (Ps 89:33, 34).
Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.
3. hasty—rather, "Be not terror-struck so as to go out of His sight." Slavishly "terror-struck" is characteristic of the sinner's feeling toward God; he vainly tries to flee out of His sight (Ps 139:7); opposed to the "shining face" of filial confidence (Ec 8:1; Joh 8:33-36; Ro 8:2; 1Jo 4:18).
stand not—persist not.
for he doeth—God inflicts what punishment He pleases on persisting sinners (Job 23:13; Ps 115:3). True of none save God.
Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?
4. God's very "word" is "power." So the gospel word (Ro 1:16; Heb 4:12).
who may say, &c.—(Job 9:12; 33:13; Isa 45:9; Da 4:35). Scripture does not ascribe such arbitrary power to earthly kings.
Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment.
time—the neglect of the right "times" causes much of the sinful folly of the spiritually unwise (Ec 3:1-11).
judgment—the right manner [Holden]. But as God's future "judgment" is connected with the "time for every purpose" in Ec 3:17, so it is here. The punishment of persisting sinners (Ec 8:3) suggests it. The wise man realizes the fact, that as there is a fit "time" for every purpose, so for the "judgment." This thought cheers him in adversity (Ec 7:14; 8:1).
Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.
6. therefore the misery, &c.—because the foolish sinner does not think of the right "times" and the "judgment."
For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?
7. he—the sinner, by neglecting times (for example, "the accepted time, and the day of salvation, 2Co 6:2), is taken by surprise by the judgment (Ec 3:22; 6:12; 9:12). The godly wise observe the due times of things (Ec 3:1), and so, looking for the judgment, are not taken by surprise, though not knowing the precise "when" (1Th 5:2-4); they "know the time" to all saving purposes (Ro 13:11).
There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.
8. spirit—"breath of life" (Ec 3:19), as the words following require. Not "wind," as Weiss thinks (Pr 30:4). This verse naturally follows the subject of "times" and "judgment" (Ec 8:6, 7).
discharge—alluding to the liability to military service of all above twenty years old (Nu 1:3), yet many were exempted (De 20:5-8). But in that war (death) there is no exemption.
those … given to—literally, the master of it. Wickedness can get money for the sinner, but cannot deliver him from the death, temporal and eternal, which is its penalty (Isa 28:15, 18).
All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.
9. his own hurt—The tyrannical ruler "hurts" not merely his subjects, but himself; so Rehoboam (1Ki 12:1-33); but the "time" of "hurt" chiefly refers to eternal ruin, incurred by "wickedness," at "the day of death" (Ec 8:8), and the "time" of "judgment" (Ec 8:6; Pr 8:36).
And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity.
10. the wicked—namely, rulers (Ec 8:9).
buried—with funeral pomp by man, though little meriting it (Jer 22:19); but this only formed the more awful contrast to their death, temporal and eternal, inflicted by God (Lu 16:22, 23).
come and gone from the place of the holy—went to and came from the place of judicature, where they sat as God's representatives (Ps 82:1-6), with pomp [Holden]. Weiss translates, "Buried and gone (utterly), even from the holy place they departed." As Joab, by Solomon's command, was sent to the grave from the "holy place" in the temple, which was not a sanctuary to murderers (Ex 21:14; 1Ki 2:28, 31). The use of the very word "bury" there makes this view likely; still "who had come and gone" may be retained. Joab came to the altar, but had to go from it; so the "wicked rulers" (Ec 8:9) (including high priests) came to, and went from, the temple, on occasions of solemn worship, but did not thereby escape their doom.
Because 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.
11. The reason why the wicked persevere in sin: God's delay in judgment (Mt 24:48-51; 2Pe 3:8, 9). "They see not the smoke of the pit, therefore they dread not the fire" [South], (Ps 55:19). Joab's escape from the punishment of his murder of Abner, so far from "leading him to repentance," as it ought (Ro 2:4), led him to the additional murder of Amasa.
Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him:
12. He says this, lest the sinner should abuse the statement (Ec 7:15), "A wicked man prolongeth his life."
before him—literally, "at His presence"; reverently serve Him, realizing His continual presence.
But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.
13. neither shall he prolong—not a contradiction to Ec 8:12. The "prolonging" of his days there is only seeming, not real. Taking into account his eternal existence, his present days, however seemingly long, are really short. God's delay (Ec 8:11) exists only in man's short-sighted view. It gives scope to the sinner to repent, or else to fill up his full measure of guilt; and so, in either case, tends to the final vindication of God's ways. It gives exercise to the faith, patience, and perseverance of saints.
shadow—(Ec 6:12; Job 8:9).
There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.
14. An objection is here started (entertained by Solomon in his apostasy), as in Ec 3:16; 7:15, to the truth of retributive justice, from the fact of the just and the wicked not now receiving always according to their respective deserts; a cavil, which would seem the more weighty to men living under the Mosaic covenant of temporal sanctions. The objector adds, as Solomon had said, that the worldling's pursuits are "vanity" (Ec 8:10), "I say (not 'said') this also is vanity. Then I commend mirth," &c. [Holden]. Ec 8:14, 15 may, however, be explained as teaching a cheerful, thankful use of God's gifts "under the sun," that is, not making them the chief good, as sensualists do, which Ec 2:2; 7:2, forbid; but in "the fear of God," as Ec 3:12; 5:18; 7:18; 9:7, opposed to the abstinence of the self-righteous ascetic (Ec 7:16), and of the miser (Ec 5:17).
Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
15. no better thing, &c.—namely, for the "just" man, whose chief good is religion, not for the worldly.
abide—Hebrew, "adhere"; not for ever, but it is the only sure good to be enjoyed from earthly labors (equivalent to "of his labor the days of his life"). Still, the language resembles the skeptical precept (1Co 15:32), introduced only to be refuted; and "abide" is too strong language, perhaps, for a religious man to apply to "eating" and "mirth."
When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:)
16. Reply to Ec 8:14, 15. When I applied myself to observe man's toils after happiness (some of them so incessant as not to allow sufficient time for "sleep"), then (Ec 8:17, the apodosis) I saw that man cannot find out (the reason of) God's inscrutable dealings with the "just" and with the "wicked" here (Ec 8:14; Ec 3:11; Job 5:9; Ro 11:33); his duty is to acquiesce in them as good, because they are God's, though he sees not all the reasons for them (Ps 73:16). It is enough to know "the righteous are in God's hand" (Ec 9:1). "Over wise" (Ec 7:16); that is, Speculations above what is written are vain.
Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.