From:  Ecclesiastes and the Perpetual Paradoxes of Life               Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2012

 

 

 

[Page 95]

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six:

The Paradox of Restraint:

The Need for Moderation Versus

the Reality of Its Violation

(7:15-8:9)

   

 

            Lord Acton’s old axiom, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” retains its validity.[1]  The greater the degree of unrestricted power a government official possesses, the greater the probability that he will act arbitrarily and oppressively.  The Old Testament expressed the principle by stressing that any centralized ruler would grab more and more domination and would advance his own interest rather than, necessarily, those of his people.  (See the detailed warning given through Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:10-18.)  

As a ruler, Qohelet recognized this danger since he was ruler over the nation and answerable to neither a formal legislative body that might over-rule him nor to the vote of the people to retain or reject him.  One of the few things that could be done to temper this power was to assure that the monarch was familiar with the laws he was supposed to enforce.  Hence the king was to personally copy out the entire Torah (Deuteronomy 17:18-20), which would cause him to gain a first-hand familiarity with the regulations that were supposed to govern the nation.  But whether he respected and adhered to this law was ultimately decided only by the ruler himself.

            However much he may have inadvertently violated the principle in actual practice—and the totally consistent political leader is a rare bird, indeed—Qohelet recognized the need for moderation both on his level and that of all others and writes this section to share his insights with his readers.  (And, by re-reading the work, reminding himself as well.)

 

 

 

[Page 96]

 

Flow of the Argument:

         

           A.  Moral character does not always guarantee prosperity

               in this life (7:15)

          B.  Excess enthusiasm in religion, wisdom, or misconduct

              are all destructive even though the first two are both

             good in and of themselves (7:16-19)

          C. All sin with the tongue including ourselves (7:20-7:22)

          D. One can reason out such things but it is not always easy

             to do so (7:23-25)

        E. Facing the lack of a moral sense in other people

            (7:26-8:2)

       F.  Restraint in dealings with the government (8:2-9)

               1.  Do not use your relationship with the ruler to

                  encourage  him to do what you know is wrong (8:2-8)

2.      The ruler who allows himself to be misused may

     well injure himself (8:9)                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A.  Moral Character Does Not

Always Guarantee Prosperity

in This Life (7:15)

 

 

            Desirable though moderation is, it does not constitute a “certified check” guaranteeing success.  Qohelet had witnessed a phenomena that insulted his quite legitimate sense of evenhandedness:  the “just” individual who “perishes” in spite of his character and the “wicked” person who, in spite of his fundamental flawed nature, is able to live out a long life while never improving.  He can’t change the injustice.  Unlike Job, he doesn’t argue with God about it.  But he is determined to survive it.[2]

            One would think that if moral restraint were really that desirable that it would inevitably benefit the individual.  The king has seen it doesn’t always work [Page 97]    out that way.  Indeed, there seems a clear tone of discouragement and sadness in the way he introduces his observation, “I have seen everything in my days of vanity” and we can mentally picture him shaking his head in sorrow and disbelief.

            The despicable situation of injustice triumphant can drive a person to even greater despair.  Paul quotes Psalms 42:2 in writing to the Romans, “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Romans 8:36).  When the reality of oppression is a “given” how are we to deal with it?  Paul argued that we are compensated for such adversity by the fact that absolutely nothing in life can force us apart “from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39).

            Unlike Paul, Qohelet does not even offer a partial solution.  He only recognizes the quandary and, even with his great wisdom, does not lay out a way of dealing with it.  To him it was simply another reality of life that we must recognize as real regardless of whether it is either “fair” or “equitable.”

            How had he come to this recognition when he was tightly wrapped in a cocoon of privilege and wealth?  Quite likely he had heard of cases that were literally beyond the reach of law.  That may have been because the offense skirted its fringe or dealt with matters unprovable before any judge but which everyone recognized involved an unquestioned injustice.  (The simple reality then and even today is that law is not constituted in such a manner that it can root out all injustice.  It is simply beyond the capacity of law.) 

Some may have been cases handled by subordinates in which the truth only came out later.  (A phenomena not unfamiliar to the modern world either.)  In some cases the repressor is even the law itself, brandished to further injustice rather than the right.  Whether ruler or mere citizen, sometimes all we can do is recognize the phenomena and imitate Qohelet in shaking our heads in revulsion at a reality of life that has never vanished.

            This root fact ties in with what follows in that the author is advising a life of prudence and restraint—of fundamental ethical character, if you will.  Yet he is all too well aware that it is not a bullet proof vest against injustice.  The virtuous life of moderation is to be pursued because it is inherently better and not because it will assure either prosperity or triumph over earthly oppression. 

 

 

 

 

B.  Excess Enthusiasm in Religion, Wisdom,

or Misconduct Are All Destructive Even

Though the First Two Are Both Good

in and of Themselves (7:16-19)

 

[Page 98]

 

            It is easy for us to grasp the idea of avoiding evil—certainly its excesses!  It is far harder for us to grapple with the idea that even virtues can be over done and, instead of making us better people, become counterproductive and even harmful to us.

            First there is the fact that even religious enthusiasm can become transformed into a negative, “Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise; why should you destroy yourself?” (7:16).  The sad fact is that a person can become so preoccupied with explicitly religious behavior that the application of the Biblical principles that one claims to believe in are ignored in actual application to other areas of life. 

I recall the reliable report I had of one lady in the Middle West who was so wrapped up in going here, there, and everywhere on “church matters” (and thus they were) that she neglected her husband and family, the maintenance of the household, and the social interactions that are essential to maintain a relationship.  Her piety took her to the divorce court.  Her religion destroyed her marriage just as surely as if she had an affair. 

            There is a thin line between dedication and obsession.  There is a narrow difference between the enthusiasm of commitment and the enthusiasm produced by unremoved guilt.  When that line is crossed it can easily be because one feels continued responsibility  over some moral or relational difficulty in the past and—on some deep level—we think that by becoming super-religious one “compensates” for that failure. 

But the right relationship with the Divine does not consist of super-achievement in one area of life (religious activity) as a means of atoning for the failure in others.  It consists of relying upon Divine grace and seeking forgiveness for whatever those failures may have been.  If God was willing to forgive Paul for persecuting the church, surely there is nothing we have done that He is unwilling to forgive.     

            Individuals manifest over religiousness in a number of ways—a religiousness that does them no real good so far as reconciliation with God.  They make a public show of it and make sure others can’t escape knowledge of their piety (Matthew 6:1-4).  It can involve stressing obedience to the minute details of God’s law and forgetting that its great principles need to be applied as well (Matthew 23:23). 

It can involve “acting” religious without the actions having any real faith roots in the heart (Matthew 23:24-28).  Or forgetting the sins one still has due to being puffed up by one’s virtues (Luke 18:12, 14).  Or doing injustice to others in the name of religion (Philippians 3:6).  And doubtless the list could be stretched even further.

            Next Qohelet turns to the person who is seeing how much he can get away with, “Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish” (7:17a).  The risk taker.  The gambler.  The one who is driven by inner demons of inferiority to take moral or physical risks that border on the irrational.  James 1:21 (“overflow of wickedness”) and 1 Peter 4:4 (“flood of dissipation”) both describe people who not only do evil but do abundant evil; we might go so far as to say (only half seriously) that they are so extreme that they give evil itself a bad name!

[Page 99]            The prime late twentieth century example of such a person was surely President Bill Clinton.  One of the things that really annoyed me about his sexual escapades in and before the Oval Office—in addition to the fact that they occurred at all . . that they represented a lifestyle rather than a temporary failure . . . that he committed perjury over them . . . and that he managed to do it so often that he got himself caught—lay in the fact that he “even gave affairs a bad name.” 

In traditional amoral mythology the “affair” has a romantic tinge to it, hours grasped to enjoy the company and pleasure with someone you would enjoy spending all your time with.  Some one you respect, think the world of, and perhaps are even in a bit of awe over. 

            If the testimony of the investigations released at the time are anywhere close to accurate, however, Clinton treated the woman at the center of the affair as a mere sexual toy for his own gratification and pleasure until he got bored and cast her aside.  How she could endure such trivialization is one of the abiding mysteries of the whole situation.  He had been not only “wicked” but “overly wicked” in frequency and mind frame toward those he (mis)used for his pleasure.  She was available and that was all that mattered.  He even made evil look worse than it normally would. 

            Some find it repulsive to think in terms of being “overly wicked,” as if that some how implied it was right to be “moderately wicked.”  Qohelet has no such idea in his mind.  It is, rather, a very this-world application of a fundamental principle found throughout the work, “use wisdom and common sense in all areas of life.”  And just as the religious can become so consumed by his or her religion that a balance is no longer maintained, the same can easily happen to the person who admits to few moral scruples at all.  And the excess becomes so extreme it may even embarrass anyone who knows about it. 

Perhaps the modern conceptual equivalent of Solomon’s idea would be, “don’t make a fool of yourself.”

            In particular the author of Ecclesiastes has in mind that “wicked” and “foolish” behavior which can get you killed, “Why should you die before your time?” (7:17).  The victim of an injustice who has been pushed once too often may well turn and kill you.  The person who crawls in one too many beds with somebody else’s spouse may well land up with an impassioned bullet through the head.  And the punishment in either case is hardly likely to be as dramatic as that endured by the one who provoked the action.

            More often the backlash comes from “death” in a very different form.  That of the death of reputation and public respect.  Public image is a very odd thing.  A star or starlet, for example, may act in the most irresponsible manner for years, doing one outlandish or immoral thing after another. 

And finally it happens one time too often and their long-suffering public begins to think of them as despicable and not to be trusted.  It doesn’t happen to every person who acts this way.  But it happens to enough that it should give pause and make one reconsider whether the mere fact that one “can get away with” something means that there won’t be consequences in one form or another.

            In 7:18, the author makes plain he is not trying to minimize the importance of religious observance.  To put an interpretative gloss upon the intent of the text, [Page 100]    “It is good that you grasp this [the folly of a reckless or extremely immoral form of living just discussed in verse 17], and also not remove your hand from the other [not stop religious observance because of the danger of becoming too wrapped up in it]; for he who fears God will escape them all [avoid falling into either trap].”  

            If a person is astute enough to grasp this truth that extremes of all type can be avoided, then one has greater “strength” than do “ten rulers of the city” (7:19).  This may point to a council of ten rulers characterizing city government at the time.[3]  Alternatively it may simply mean a significant number of rulers, whatever that figure might be from place to place.  Intellectual strength is given a greater importance than temporal governing power.  It is not to dismiss the importance of the latter, but to stress the importance of the former.

 

            The text viewed from the standpoint of the author.  When and how did Solomon come to the conclusions he did?  One could easily expect the super-religious example to have come from observation of prominent members of the priesthood.  In a similar manner, one could expect the morality is irrelevant mind frame to be found among the more secular orientated of his governing advisers.  As an individual whose position required him to come in contact with many people of both strata--and as an astute observer--it would have been difficult for him to avoid seeing repeated examples of both weaknesses.


            The text viewed from our standpoint.  As one grows older and moves from community to community and meets a wide variety of religious and strictly secular folks, one inevitably comes into contact with glaring examples of both the piety-is-enough and constraint-be-damned mind-frames.  Perhaps the most sad example occurs when the two approaches blend into one in the same individual. 

            In the Middle Ages more than a few popes disgraced their religious leadership by hypocrisy, political conspiracy, and immoral behavior of the worst kind.  Their position of leadership was, somehow, expected to please God sufficiently to cause Him to overlook all the other offenses. 

The mentality is far from dead and there are no religious boundaries to it.  The cardinal who callously suppresses repeated stories of child molestation and passes on a priest to yet another parish to prey upon its youth.  The television “evangelist” who weeps tears of pious joy weekly and then prowls the street periodically for a prostitute. 

Who hasn’t read reports of such?  The names are irrelevancies for, let another decade or two go by, and won’t we read of someone else falling into the same or similar traps?  Human nature changes little and the evils Qohelet warns against are just as lethal today as they were in his day.

 

 

[Page 101]

 

C.  All Sin with the Tongue

Including Ourselves (7:20-7:22)

 

 

            This section begins with one of the most fundamental principles of both testaments:  we are all sinners (7:20).  This is a fundamental principle, of course, of both the Old (1 Kings 8:46; Psalms 130:3-4; Psalms 143:2; Proverbs 20:9; Isaiah 53:6) and New Testaments (Romans 3:21-23 and 1 John 1:8-10).  There are only three ways to deal with the fundamental reality of human existence:  deny we are guilty; redefine what “sin” is to avoid covering the behavior that condemns us; and confessing it before God and seeking His forgiveness.

            None of these is the subject of the current text.  Instead, here the emphasis is on how our sinfulness should affect our attitude and actions toward others.  From our failures Solomon argues that we should be restrained in our judgment since we commit the same offenses as they.  If we hear them figuratively or literally “cursing you” (7:21) we should not fall into the trap of forgetting that we, too, have done the same thing (7:22).  Not, perhaps, at them, but at someone else.  Perhaps not even verbally but merely inside our hearts.[4]  Which of us has not thought to ourselves, “I just wish I could strangle so and so”?

“Cursing” here may or may not carry our modern connotation of vulgarity.  It certainly does carry the idea of condemnation and censure and vigorous passion in doing so.[5]  Oversensitivity at the very offenses—in others--that we ourselves commit not only torments our inner spirit,[6] it easily makes us look like hypocrites in the eyes of others who have a fuller appreciation of what is happening.  

            Did Qohelet learn this application from some occasion on which he criticized some subordinate for “biting the head off” of another for some real or perceived misjudgment--and then happen to overhear some other servant remarking “it sounded a lot like what the king himself said to so-and-so last month”?  Or perhaps he saw some particularly annoying fault-finder on his governmental staff guilty of the inconsistency and was astute enough to recognize just how contradictory was the person’s rebuff with his own behavior?

            Many a sermon has justly been preached upon the impropriety of condemning others for what we ourselves do.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus took it even further.  He emphasized that it is extremely easy to be supercritical of others when, by any objective judgment we ourselves have been guilty of far worse (Matthew 7:1-5).

 

 

 

 

D.  One Can Reason Out Such Things but It Is

Not Always Easy to Do So (7:23-25)

 

[Page 102]

 

            Solomon sought out wisdom but here he makes an admission:  it did not come easily.  Often it seemed “far from me” (7:23), so deep in profoundness that it worried him whether anyone could grasp the matter--“who can find it out?” (7:24).  In spite of these repeated discouragements, he continued to seek out insight—not just “wisdom” in some abstract form but also its application to morality, to reason out “the wickedness of folly” (7:25). 

Note the play on words:  “folly” is itself “wickedness.”  It is a waste of our talents and opportunities.  But we may still have to think out why this particular act is wrong.   Some evils are easy to detect:  Others require thought and meditation.  When we are so close to the line between right and wrong that it seems “fuzzy” and “gray,” that itself is a warning that we are about to stumble across the barrier.

            Any one who has researched and written a book on a difficult or controversial topic—as I have on more than once occasion—has gained a taste of what Qohelet went through.  The data is elusive.  Everywhere you turn someone is arguing the opposite.  How in the world do you determine what the truth is?

            Yet this is the course of despair.  Whether one seeks out historical, moral, or religious truth the one certain way of never finding it is to stop looking.  That the ancient king refused to do.  And by not giving in, he found it.  Just as we can.

 

 

 

D.  Facing the Lack of a Moral Sense

in Other People (7:26-8:1)

 

 

            First the author pictures the woman who is an utter trap for a man, “the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters” (7:26).  Predatory, injurious, destructive.  “He who pleases God shall escape from her, but the sinner shall be trapped by her” (7:26).  The person who does not believe there are such women out there—and males too!—is wearing blinders.  The sun rises and sinks on their preferences and they will make life as close to the fires of eternal torment as they can if their desires are crossed. 

Yet the sense of sexual obsession or inadequacy is so strong that many will allow their looks or superficial charm to blind them to everything they lack in substance, intellect, maturity, and the ability to share love and affection.  The sexual act becomes the be-all of the male-female relationship rather than the glue that bonds all these elements into the synthesis of a new person, the “oneness” of a married couple.[7]   Short term pleasure is gained only at the cost of ongoing torment.

            In this verse Qohelet conspicuously does not claim that all women are destructive in such ways.  Although it is not uncommon to find commentators insisting that this is his view,[8] the wording of the verse points to a specific kind of a woman, a woman with negative and destructive attitudes and actions.[9]  They could [Page 103]    be looking for another sexual conquest, they could view us as a means to a better economic position in life, they could simply be seeking someone they think they can dominate and control.  Any one who believes that only males can be so self-centered is living in a fool’s paradise.

            Feminist ideological saber-rattling notwithstanding, the fact remains that there are more than a few thoroughly obnoxious women who will make life “a living hell” for any male unlucky enough to fall into their spider-web.  The male of the species is quite capable of similar extreme and irresponsible behavior and one would be equally wrong to ignore it.  Qohelet does not denounce those males for he, obviously, was not married to one of them and no doubt if the author had been a woman she would have illustrated the danger from the predatory male gender. 

Solomon is pictured as having a multitude of wives.  Could this be the bitter voice of experience speaking?  Most likely.[10]  Even in the polygamous culture in which he lived--one in which he did not have to deal with any single wife more than he wished--one woman of this temperament could make his life miserable.  Not to mention that of the other wives with whom she came in contact.  Directly in their personal relations and indirectly through disrupting the relationships of the entire extended familial household.  

            Others prefer to take the woman of the text symbolically.  As H. C. Leupold argues, “Since at the beginning of the chapter the discussion is still on the subject of wisdom, it cannot seem strange if we claim that here the discussion centers wholly on the same subject. . . .  We maintain then . . . that the strange woman is heathen philosophy or any form of human philosophy, even as she is in the book of Proverbs” (referring to the “strange woman” texts of that earlier book).[11]

But if the “woman” symbolizes the rejected pagan philosophy, what are we to equate the almost as extremely criticized “man” of verse 28?  One would presumably need a Jewish parallel to run alongside the pagan one since the pagan alternative has been exhausted by the imagery of the “woman.”  In the times of Jesus we have the human traditions that twisted the intent and purpose of Torah (Matthew 15:1-9), but would Qohelet have had to deal with something comparable in his day? 

The intensity of Solomon’s denunciation of women (in 7:26 and 7:28) has encouraged some to argue that women here represents “personified Folly so familiar to the reader of Proverbs. . . .”[12]  The wisdom of carrying over that image from Proverbs, however, is highly questionable when there seems nothing in the current context to urge us to such an interpretation.

 

            Next the author turns to males and their inability to live up to Qohelet’s exacting standards (7:27-7:28).  Not one single woman had he found able to do so (7:28).  These verses sound incredibly negative about women, but if one pays close attention to what is being said it is actually only marginally more negative than what is said about males.  After all among males, only “one man among a thousand” had he found able to be wise in the sense they needed to be (7:28).  Although “man” here is adam, women are contrasted with this category in the remainder of the verse, indicating that the male part of the species is specifically in mind.[13] 

[Page 104]           None versus one in a thousand.  In other words, virtually none at all.[14]  If this is a compliment to the male gender, it is a back-handed slap rather than actual praise.  They barely make it either. 

If we insist on making 7:26’s rebuke of women as based upon bad personal encounters, then the same basis is likely the underlying root of the cynicism found concerning males.[15]  (Since the remarks about males are clearly an exaggeration, a similar recognition should be read into the remarks about females as well.)

Nor does the charge of sexism work any better by citing this (grudging?) admission that one in a thousand males is actually capable of “wisdom” while he had never met a woman so blessed.  After all, he wasn’t in a society that encouraged women in that direction in the first place.  Indeed, since he had found so pitifully few males capable of attaining the goal, even if there had been an absolute educational and social equality, he was hardly likely to have found any higher a percentage of females than that meager a percentage! 

His scorn of one gender is only a shade above that of the other.  Hence it manifests despair at the human race, rather than one gender alone.

 Oddly, some insist that Solomon is still talking about women:  In rebuking females he is admitting that there were a few who did not fail his test, his one in a thousand.[16]  Can we really believe that he wore such thick “gender glasses” that he was oblivious to the faults of his own gender—that he would take the implicit stance that women were hopeless while males generally were quite satisfactory? 

Do we really believe that earlier he was speaking of women when he denounces oppressors and the abusers of their government/bureaucratic positions?  No, to the extent that he zeroes in on specific character failures, most of them appear to be either gender neutral or targeted at the male.  He was not one to be oblivious to either gender’s failures.       

            Indeed, the very next thing he turns to is that all of humankind falls fatally short of its individual moral potential, “Truly, this only I have found:  that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (7:29).  It does not seem an exaggeration to say that Qoholet only points out one type of failure among women (making the life miserable for males, verse 26), but here asserts that failure of some type is inevitable for both genders:  which of the “many schemes” (7:29) an individual male or female embraces, he or she will still embrace some error. 

Whatever “superiority” the male has in one area, he looses by a multitude of other shortcomings.  And the woman, too, for that matter.  The logic of the context is:  women fall short (7:26); males fall only minimally less short (7:28); neither can blame it on God (7:29).[17]

            In spite of the fact that so few are truly wise (7:28), he refuses to fall into total frustration.  So long as humans exist, the potential is still there and wisdom should be the goal.  Such insight makes the “face shine” and turns the appearance from “sternness” to one of joy and happiness (8:1).

            Clearly Solomon despairs for the human (male or female) ability to acquire practical wisdom as it relates to how to live and behave.  Looking around us today, the human species seems to have made only limited progress in regard to either gender.  When observing the practical failures in constructive interaction between [Page 105]    humans--both within a family and a social context--is not the failure rate still appalling?

A few examples:  The tendency to approve or justify whatever evil our offspring commits, substitutes family “loyalty” for the censure that is amply deserved.  The inclination to avoid criticism of relatives even when they have acted in the most blatantly destructive manner.  The willingness to call every failure a human “disease” rather than admit that a voluntarily chosen lifestyle has created the problem.  And the list goes on and on. 

If Qohelet lived today, would he have been willing to whitewash such inconsistencies and the perversion of the reasoning progress?  Or would he not have lashed out at our blindness and wondered whether he would still be able to find even his one in a thousand?

            Faced with the destructiveness that so often exists within organized society, it would be easy for us to give up our hearts to despair.  The ancient monarch was clearly tempted by that course, so why should it be surprising if we are so inclined?  Yet he consciously refused to embrace it, just as we should.  The evils haven’t vanished but the potential for wisdom is still there and if we encourage but a few in that direction, we still leave the world with more such right-minded individuals than when we first entered it.

 

 

 

 

F.  Restraint in Dealings with the Government (8:2-9)

 

 

1.    Do Not Use Your Relationship with the Ruler to Encourage Him to Do

What You Know Is Wrong (8:2-8)

 

 

            The fundamental fact in an ancient monarchy was that the king made the rules:  these one must obey because one has made an implicit or explicit “oath to God” to do so (8:2).[18]  Although there is always an implicit oath of duties between subjects and rulers—you are benefited by the rule and have a moral obligation to obey (cf. Romans 13)—the immediate reference, in light of what comes next, are office holders of whatever rank.  Alternatively those seeking prominence at the royal court.[19]  

In some cases there was certainly an explicit oath in regard to policy as well.  2 Kings 11:17 refers to how the priest Jehoiada made a covenant “between the king [Page 106]    and the people” which involved at least the destruction of idolatrous places of worship (verse 18) and possibly other things as well.

            Although it was a natural desire among those of the higher socio-economic-political classes to wish to be near the king it was a privilege/right they should exercise with caution (8:3a).[20]  Beware of advocating something you know to be “evil” because the king himself will make the final decision (8:3b) and if he is perceptive and has seen through the foolishness of your advice, you will either be shunned by him or face overt punishment. 

Nor is it prudent to attempt to challenge a king as to what he is doing; he has the power (8:4).  Although the monarch, if prudent, will recognize that there will be times when he is not advocating the best approach, a brazen challenge is not going to win his friendship and is likely to reap his dangerous animosity.  Even when the ruler’s ideas are unwise, one must “discern both time and judgment” as to when and how to raise the matter (8:5).  In the ebb and flow of political decision making, there will be a time to do so, though it may not be until after the policy has had adequate severe consequences (8:6) that will make the king amenable to a change in course. 

Telling him in advance when he doesn’t want to hear, will do no good because no one can be absolutely certain of the outcome (8:7).  Your advice might actually be the best, but circumstances work in such a manner as to allow an inferior policy to be the successful one.  In one sense this advice is very “utilitarian” rather than idealistic or crusading;[21] on the other hand, it is also the best way to assure that our ideals and goals have a chance of becoming reality.

Now the king returns to the point he began on:  giving advice you know will produce an “evil” result (8:3).  “Wickedness will not deliver those who are given to it” (8:8) and if he has caught you giving this kind of advice he will cut you no slack and his wrath will be coming down on your head and not someone else’s.

The theme throughout here is prudence.  Prudence when you are right:  bid your time until the situation changes and your superior advice may be listened to.

Prudence even when you want to mis-steer the king:  don’t knowingly even attempt it.  The consequences are too severe if he discovers what you are attempting.                 Any monarch will receive competing counsel.  Often it will grow out of the attempt of rival cliques to implement their own agenda, seeking to utilize the ruler as their tool.  Others are merely arrogant individuals who have deluded themselves into believing they have the best advice even though only the presence of inherited wealth has permitted them that illusion.  Yet others will be attempting to use the king’s actions to further their own private and personal agenda of financial increase, revenge, and prestige seeking.  They will even embrace what they know is an “evil” course of action (8:3) if it furthers those aims.

            A ruler learns these facts or he becomes a mere instrument of powerful court factions.  Qohelet, presumably, had encountered such people during his reign and was well aware of the jockeying for position and influence that was constantly going on around him.  Any competent king would recognize it.  Hence the not-so-subtle reminder throughout this section that the king retains his power and that if you play unsuccessful games with his goals and intents, you are the one that will ultimately suffer. 

[Page 107]          We, as individuals, behold similar jockeying in corporate America.  One faction wages war with another and one department with another.  In my last pre-retirement post, the corporation in which my secular work was performed had perhaps 800 or so men and women work during the day.  Perhaps fifty of us worked the night shift.  Guess who “caused” most of the problems?  Yep, that small minority who looked at the sun and wondered what that strange phenomena in the sky could possibly be.  Yet in what business does something like this not occur? 

            Yet the factional fighting ultimately gets out of hand.  And somebody, sometimes even managers and higher, discover their civil wars have gotten them transferred into a new job rather than advanced their own power interests.  So the mentality Qohelet faced is still with us today and is just as much a plague.  

 

 

 

 

2.     The Ruler Who Allows Himself

to Be Misused

May Well Injure Himself (8:9)

 

 

            This is the part that must have hurt the king to write or dictate:  he had made mistakes.  He had taken the wrong advice upon occasion.  He had done injury to others, quite possibly.  He certainly had done injuries to himself and his own policies.   “All this I have seen and applied my heart to every work that is done under the sun:  There is a time in which one man rules over another to his own hurt” (8:9).

            No one likes feeling a fool.  In my own work career I have seen multi-million dollar projects that were supposed to thrust our company into the forefront of the industry, collapse into disarray because some computer gurus had sold us a bill of goods that they could not accomplish.  On a much more modest level, I once worked for thirteen years with a typesetting company who had invested hundreds of thousands, repeatedly, into the latest state of the art systems.  And for thirteen years it teetered on the edge of bankruptcy as the varied systems refused to work as advertised, with the company finally collapsing a few years after I left.

            Monarchs don’t like being sold “a bill of goods” either, especially if they discover that it had benefited an individual or a small fraction of their aristocracy and no one else.  After all, the blame comes back upon the ruler who approved the actual decision and not those who manipulated him into it.  And if the tone of Qohelet’s works can be trusted, he remembered with considerable annoyance and anger when it had happened to him personally.

 

 

 

 

Footnotes

 

[Page 108]



[1] Kidner, 67, suggests the axiom is the modern way of expressing the thought of 7:7.

 

[2] Tamez, 99.

  

[3] This works especially well if one assigns the work to a time when Greek city government customs had become widely known.  Leupold, 167, though, notes that the city under consideration is surely “Palestinian” and that there is no reason to believe that they had adopted such a procedure.

 

[4] Leiman, 139.

 

[5] Cf. Kidwell, 185.

 

[6] Leiman, 138.

 

[7] Cf. Bush, 25.

 

[8] For example, Frank Zimmermann, The Inner World of Qohelet (New York:  KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1973), 29.  For a survey of alternative interpretations, see Salyer, n. 54, pp. 345-346.

 

[9] Leiman, 143.

 

[10] Bergant, 270; Davis, 205; and Tamez, 10.

   

[11] Leupold, 173-174.

 

[12] Tomas Frydrych, Living under the Sun:  Examination of Proverbs and Qoheleth, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, volume 90 (Leiden, Netherlands:  Brill, 2002), 167.

 

[13] Fox, Qohelet, 242-243, is uncertain what the contrast is intended to convey but protests against the strictly “male” reading of the text, “He could not say that he found only one male in a thousand.”  In light of his clear cynicism about the human race, why not?

  

[14] Crenshaw, 147.

  

[15] Davis, 205.  Bergant, 270, thinks he might have been seeking “perfection of others and been disillusioned.”  On the other hand, those faced with repeated idiocies of excess and misjudgement, can be driven to distraction even though they never suffered from the delusion of human perfectibility.

 

[Page 109]    [16] Tamez, 102.

   

[17] Crenshaw, 148.

  

[18] For the unlikely possibility that the “king” in the text is Yahweh Himself, see the discussions in Leiman, 149-150, 151; Kelley, 124-125; and Leupold, 179-191.

    

[19] Bergant, 271 applies it to both types of individuals.

  

[20] For the text of alleged pagan parallels to 8:2-5, see the quotations in Panc Beentjes, “ ‘Who Is like the Wise,’ Some Notes on Qohelet 8:1-15,” in Qohelet in the Context of Wisdom, edited by Antoon Schoors (Leuven-Louvain, Belgium:  Leuven University Press, 1998), 307.

 

[21] Bergant, 271-272.