Ecclesiastes 8
Barnes' Notes
Although in some degree baffled in his own pursuit of wisdom, Solomon yet regards wisdom as the nearest approach to "that good for man" which he is seeking; and presses here, as a part of that wisdom, a spirit of obedience Ecclesiastes 8:1-5. In the face of the incomprehensible course of external events, he determined to abide in the fear and trust of God Ecclesiastes 8:6-14, and to acknowledge the natural incompetence of every man to find out the unsearchable ways of God Ecclesiastes 8:15-17.

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.
And who - Rather, and as he who knoweth. The possessor of wisdom excels other people: it imparts serenity to his countenance, and removes the expression of gloom or fierceness (see the marginal reference).

I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.
Oath - A reference to the oath of allegiance taken to Solomon at his accession to the throne (the margin of 1 Chronicles 29:24).

Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.
Stand not ... - i. e., "Do not persist in rebellion."

Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?
Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment.
Feel - literally, know. The meaning is, "He who obeys the commandment (i. e., the word of the king, Ecclesiastes 8:4), will not be an accomplice in any act of rebellion; and if he be a wise man he discerns (literally knows) that the king's commandment or action is liable to correction, if it be wrong, in God's time and by God's judgment." Compare Ecclesiastes 3:11, Ecclesiastes 3:17.

Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.
Because, therefore - , Or, as in Ecclesiastes 8:7, "for."

The possibility of God's time and judgment being in opposition to a king's purpose or commandment Ecclesiastes 8:5, suggests the thought that such discord is a misery (evil, Ecclesiastes 6:1) common to man (or, mankind).

For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?
When - Or, as in the margin. For the meaning of this verse, compare marginal references.

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.
Neither hath he power - Rather: "and there is no power." Compare Ecclesiastes 3:19.

No discharge ... - i. e., "No exemption from the final hour of struggle between life and death."

Wickedness - Though the life of the wicked may be prolonged Ecclesiastes 7:15, yet wickedness itself has no inherent power to prolong that life.

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.
To his own hurt - Or, "to the hurt of the subject." The case is still that of an unwise king whose command is obeyed Ecclesiastes 8:2 even to the hurt of the wise man who obeys him.

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.
i. e., "I saw wicked (rulers) buried, who came into the world and went from the Holy place (the seat of authority and justice, Deuteronomy 19:17; 2 Chronicles 19:6), and they were forgotten in the city where they had so ruled to the hurt of their subjects: this - their death and oblivion - shews their lot also to be vanity." Others interpret the verse: "I have seen wicked men buried; and (others) came into the world, and from the Holy place they went out of the world, and were forgotten in the city where they had done rightly" (compare 2 Kings 7:9).

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.
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:
His days be prolonged - i. e., in his wickedness Ecclesiastes 8:8.

"I" is emphatic, as if to mark the opposition to the "sons of men" Ecclesiastes 8:11.

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.
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.
Which is done upon the earth - The instance of vanity, to which these words are applied, is the seeming inequality of God's justice; but if they are considered in connection with the profession of personal faith in God's absolute justice Ecclesiastes 8:12, the conclusion is irresistible, that, whatever reason the Preacher had for reserve in declaring his belief, he certainly looked forward to final judgment in a future state of existence (compare Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 12:14).

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.
Mirth - Better, Gladness, or "joy" (as in Ecclesiastes 2:10). The Hebrew word is applied not only to the pleasures arising from the physical senses, but also frequently to religious joy. The sentiment of this verse is a frequent conclusion of the writer's personal experience (compare marginal references), and is unfairly charged with Epicureanism. The Preacher is careful to set forth pleasure as a gift from God, to be earned by labor, and received with thankfulness to the Giver, and to be accounted for to Him. His estimate of the pleasures of the senses is recorded in Ecclesiastes 7:2-6.

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:)
These verses supplement Ecclesiastes 8:15 with the reflection that the man who goes beyond that limited sphere within which he can labor and be contented, and investigates the whole work of God, will find that his finite intelligence cannot grasp it.

Ecclesiastes 8:16

Business - Or, "travail" Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 3:10. The sleeplessness noted probably refers to the writer himself.

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.
Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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