Critique of Advice to Heed Authority
1* Who is like the wise person,
and who knows the explanation of things?
Wisdom illumines the face
and transforms a grim countenance.
2Observe the command of the king, in view of your oath to God. 3Be not hasty to withdraw from the king; do not persist in an unpleasant situation, for he does whatever he pleases. 4His word is sovereign, and who can say to him, “What are you doing?”
5* a “Whoever observes a command knows no harm, and the wise heart knows times and judgments.” 6b Yes, there is a time and a judgment for everything. But it is a great evil for mortals 7c that they are ignorant of what is to come; for who will make known to them how it will be? 8No one is master of the breath of life so as to retain it, and none has mastery of the day of death. There is no exemption in wartime, nor does wickedness deliver those who practice it. 9All these things I saw and I applied my heart to every work that is done under the sun, while one person tyrannizes over another for harm.
The Problem of Retribution. 10Meanwhile I saw the wicked buried. They would come and go from the holy place. But those were forgotten in the city who had acted justly. This also is vanity.* 11Because the sentence against an evil deed is not promptly executed, the human heart is filled with the desire to commit evil— 12* because the sinner does evil a hundred times and survives. Though indeed I know that it shall be well with those who fear God, for their reverence toward him; 13and that it shall not be well with the wicked, who shall not prolong their shadowy days, for their lack of reverence toward God.
14This is a vanity that occurs on earth: There are those who are just but are treated as though they had done evil, and those who are wicked but are treated as though they had done justly. This, too, I say is vanity. 15d Therefore I praised joy, because there is nothing better for mortals under the sun than to eat and to drink and to be joyful; this will accompany them in their toil through the limited days of life God gives them under the sun.
16I applied my heart to know wisdom and to see the business that is done on earth, though neither by day nor by night do one’s eyes see sleep, 17e and I saw all the work of God: No mortal can find out the work that is done under the sun. However much mortals may toil in searching, no one finds it out; and even if the wise claim to know, they are unable to find it out.
* [8:1–4] The author continues to quote traditional wisdom but then to counter and qualify it. He concedes wisdom’s advantages (v. 1), but then describes the subservience and sometimes demeaning demands required of the sage in the court of the king (vv. 2–4).
* [8:5–9] The wise exhibit keen insight about human nature and the course of events (vv. 5–6a). Yet their knowledge and wisdom confront certain limits, such as the mystery of evil and the time and inevitability of death (vv. 6b–9).
* [8:10] This difficult verse seems to contrast the wicked, who die enjoying a good reputation as pious individuals, and the just, who are quietly forgotten.
* [8:12–17] The author admits that traditional wisdom affirms the long life and success of the just and the short unhappy life of the wicked (vv. 12b–13). But he points out clear exceptions: the wicked who live long, and the just who suffer for no apparent reason (v. 14). His puzzlement and frustration prompt a twofold response: acceptance of whatever joy God chooses to give each day, and honest acknowledgment that no one can discover “the work of God” (cf. 3:11; 7:13; 11:5).