5Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. 6For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him. 7For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? 8No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it. 9All this I observed while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun, when man had power over man to his hurt.
(Ecclesiastes 8:5-9 ESV)
One of the best evidences of wisdom is outward behavior. A person who is wise keeps a command and will not, therefore, encounter punishment (evil thing) for being disobedient. When we do what are told life is (generally) a lot easier because authority figures can enforce their rules. It’s often easier to just go along even when we don’t like it or agree.
For example, when we obey our laws we don’t get into trouble [Proverbs 16:14; 19:12; 20:2]. When we drive the speed limit we won’t get a ticket. When we pay our taxes we won’t be fined. At work, when we do our job according to the directions we’ve been given we won’t be fired.
Of course, this does not mean that all rules and commands from authority figures are just. They are human beings, after all, and therefore are prone to acting sinfully. The responsibility God gave to man [Genesis 1:28] has certainly been abused.
But wise people know the proper time and the just way when it comes to their behavior. There is a time to be disobedient [Ecclesiastes 3:1-8] – such as when a command from a human authority figure contradicts God’s commands.
Sometimes authority figures can be oppressive. They trouble people by laying heavy burdens on them. This is, of course, wrong. But one must act wisely, with proper timing, to correct such an injustice. This is not always easy because it implies waiting and while we wait we will continue suffer. But better to wait and suffer a while longer than to act rashly and end up encountering harsher conditions.
It makes sense to wait before acting because we don’t know what is to be. None of us can predict the future. Nor can we know how things will be – we can’t tell what others are planning. So we must act at the proper time and the proper way. To do so is to act wisely.
We also do not know how God will work in a given situation. Even though we may be suffering now, He may use our circumstance to bless in a way that will be impossible if we acted too rashly and took matters into our own hands. Better to pray and seek God’s wisdom than to act based on our own understanding which is undoubtedly limited and flawed.
Solomon gives a couple of examples of how we don’t know the future and also have no control over it. First, when it comes death, no human has power to resist (retain the spirit). When God wants us to leave this earth we will leave it. We don’t know when that will happen. Nor can we postpone or prevent it.
Neither will wickedness (sin) do anyone any good. Those who are given to it (those who do not acknowledge they are sinners and repent) may think they are going to heaven someday. But they won’t be. That is not how God designed the world. And God is not going to bend or break the rules for anyone. We cannot control God.
This Solomon observed when he took a look at what was happening “under the sun“. That is, on earth in a godless world. Here man has power over his fellow man to hurt them. This is how it is. This is how it will always be.
The wise accept the realities of life and pick their battles wisely knowing they cannot escape the war. Yet they seek justice in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time.
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