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.
The writer of these words means by "applying his heart" the exercise of his attention and his judgment. He was a general observer, with an exercise of his judgment. The Holy Scriptures plainly encourage an exercise of thoughtful attention on the actions and characters of men, and the course of the world's events. But now comes the question as to the proper manner of doing this, so that it may really be beneficial.
I. If this attention to the actions and events of the world be employed merely in the way of amusement, there will be little good.
II. It is necessary to have just principles or rules to be applied in our observation of the world. And in this matter the most fatal error is to take from the world itself our principles for judging the world. They must be taken absolutely from the Divine authority, and always kept true to the dictates of that.
III. Notice two or three points of view or general references in which we should exercise this attention and judgment. (1) The grand primary reference with which we survey the world of human action should be to God. (2) Our observation should have reference to the object of forming a true estimate of human nature. (3) It should have reference to the illustration and confirmation of religious truths. (4) A faithful corrective reference to ourselves in our observation of others is a point of duty almost too plain to need mentioning. (5) Our exercise of attention and judgment on "every work that is done under the sun "should be under the habitual recollection that soon we shall cease to look on them; and that instead we shall be witnessing their consequences, and in a mighty experience also ourselves of consequences.
J. Foster, Lectures, 2nd series, p. 16.
References: Ecclesiastes 8:9-17.—R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 303. Ecclesiastes 8:10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 200. Ecclesiastes 8:11.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 313; C. G. Finney, Sermons on Gospel Themes, p. 128; G. Dawson, Sermons on Daily Life and Duty, p. 184; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 259. Ecclesiastes 8:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 148.
I. At the end of chap. viii. and the beginning of chap. ix., Koheleth points out that it is impossible for us to construct a satisfactory policy of life. "The work of God," or, as we say, the ways of Providence, cannot be fathomed. To the wisest man, labour as he may, the drift of the Maker is dark. The enjoyment of life, he says, is your portion; that is, your destiny, your duty, your end. Therefore, whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might. The only thing in the universe we can be sure about is pleasure. Therefore let us get pleasure while we may.
II. He has shown us the uncertainty and consequent uselessness of piety. He has shown us that good men and bad men experience joy and sadness indiscriminately, and at last meet with the same fate of death. He now proceeds to poi;t out (Ecclesiastes 9:11) the uselessness of "wisdom and skill," of what we should call ability. Misfortunes come upon the most deserving, and they cannot be foreseen. And besides the thwarting of Providence, able men have to suffer from the ingratitude of their fellows. The world is slow to reward the ability to which it owes so much. Sometimes it does happen that the advice of a wise man is taken in spite of his being poor. But one fool (not sinner) destroyeth much good. The fool is a great power in the world, especially the conceited fool. His self-assurance is mistaken for knowledge, while the modesty of the wise man is thought to be ignorance.
III. It may strike you as strange that among the various aims in life which Koheleth discusses he never mentions character. And yet it would have been stranger if he had. For what is the good of character to a being who may at any moment be turned into clay? Convince me that I must be extinguished some day, and that I may be extinguished any day, and I, too, should agree with Koheleth that my only rational course was to enjoy to the utmost the few moments that might be vouchsafed to me. Let me feel, on the other hand, that I carry latent within me "the power of an endless life," and that some day in the great hereafter it is possible I may find myself "perfect even as God is perfect," and then I can despise pleasure; I can see beauty in pain; I can gather up the energies of my being and consecrate them to righteousness and to God with enthusiastic and unwavering devotion.
A. W. Momerie, Agnosticism, p. 252.
I. The Preacher commences this section by carefully defining his position and equipment as he starts on his last course. (1) His first conclusion is that wisdom, which of all temporal goods still stands foremost with him, is incapable of yielding a true content. Much as it can do for man, it cannot solve the moral problems which daily task and afflict his heart, the problems which he must solve before he can be at peace (8:16-9:6). (2) He reviews the pretensions of Wisdom and mirth (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10). To the baffled and hopeless devotee of wisdom he says, "Go, then, eat thy bread with gladness, and drink thy wine with a cheerful heart. Whatever you can get, get; whatever you can do, do. You are on your road to the dark, dismal grave, where there is no work nor device; there is the more reason therefore why your journey should be a merry one." (3) He shows that the true good is not to be found in devotion to affairs and its rewards (9:13-10:20).
II. What the good is, and where it may be found, the Preacher now proceeds to show. (1) The first characteristic of the man who is likely to achieve the quest of the chief good is the charity which prompts him to be gracious, and show kindness, and do good, even to the thankless and ungracious. (2) The second characteristic is the steadfast industry which turns all seasons to account. Diligent and undismayed, he goes on his way, giving himself heartily to the present duty, "sowing his seed, morning and evening, although he cannot tell which shall prosper, this or that, or whether both shall prove good." (3) This man has learned one or two of the profoundest secrets of wisdom. He has learned that giving, we gain; and spending, thrive. He has also learned that a man's true care is himself; that his true business in the world is to cultivate a strong, dutiful character which shall prepare him for any world or any fate. He recognises the claims of duty and of charity, and does not reject these for pleasure. These keep his pleasures sweet and wholesome, prevent them from usurping the whole man and landing him in the weariness and satiety of disappointment. But lest even these safeguards should prove insufficient, he has also this: he knows that "God will bring him into judgment;" that all his work, whether of charity, or duty, or recreation, will be weighed in the balance of Divine justice (Ecclesiastes 9:9). This is the simple secret of the pure heart—the heart that is kept pure amid all labours, and cares, and joys.
S. Cox, The Quest of the Chief Good, p. 221.
Reference: 8:16-10:20.—G. G. Bradley, Lectures on Ecclesiastes, p. 108.
Ecclesiastes 8:17One of the most curious things to think of in the world is the inconceivable number of secrets which lie around us in nature, in humanity, in the lives and characters of those whom we know or those we love. It is even more curious to think how much of the interest of human life, of its work, its thoughts, of its affections, dwells in the fact of these secrets. The sting of our ignorance is the spur of life; and the consciousness of a secret to discover is the flavour of happiness, though the flavour is sometimes too bitter.
I. In nature we meet a secret to which we know we have no key. The feeling of that secret has been universal in man. It lies at the root of half of the religion and mythology of the world. It is the solution of that secret which we seek through life, which all art has sought incessantly. But we get no reply, except a reply half of pity, half of mockery. There is no face so full of the wild satire of secrecy as the face of nature.
II. Still more profound, still more mocking, though never so delightful, is the secret of humanity. There is a tragedy in it which is not in the secret of nature, and which makes our interest in it more passionate, more dreadful, more bitter, more absorbing. The existence of the secret precludes dull repose. It kindles an insatiable and noble curiosity; and wherever its pursuit is hottest, there is man most noble. When its excitement lessens or nearly dies, then we get what we call the dark ages, and man is base. But that never can last long; the secret of humanity springs up again to lure us after it: and the mark of all times when man has awakened into a new resurrection has been this, and this more than all things else: deep and wonderful interest in mankind, pursuit of the secrets of humanity.
III. What use is there in the secret? How can we retain its charm, and get its good, and purify ourselves from the fear, and anger, and sloth, and despair we know it creates in many? (1) Its use may lie in this: in the education which the excitement it creates gives to all our nature; in the way it awakens all our passions, all our intellect, all our spirit, and leads them through a tempest in which they are purified from their evil, in which, their excess being exhausted, calm and the tempered balance of them become possible. (2) The answer to the second question is to do as the religious Greek did who threw himself on the eternal justice of God: to throw ourselves on the eternal love of a Father. To do that is to know that there must be a Divine and good end to all; to know that all which we see, however dark it be, is education; to know the victory of goodness, justice, and truth, and knowing it, to throw ourselves on that side, and to feel that in doing so we are chiming in with God and yielding our lives and will into His hand.
S. A. Brooke, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 161.
References: 8—C. Bridges, An Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 182; T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 187.
I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.
Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.
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.
Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.
For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:)
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.