Ecclesiastes 8–9. Six Frustrations--painful Realities

Key Notes: Working for the king. Is there anything beyond the grave? Do right; forget reward.

In these chapters Qoheleth spells out six frustrations that we all struggle with. They deal with the problem of evil,  not just specific evils that pervade society. We will not be able to answer the question of why evil exists in the world, but we are left to meditate on its effects.

*The wise man is caught between  his obligation to follow his superior’s instruction and his own judgment. 8:2–9
*The wicked are often eulogized while the righteous are punished. 8:10–1
* Even the wise are not able to understand God’s work on earth. 8:16–17
*The righteous should die a different kind of death from the sinner. 9:1–6
* Skill and talent should have rewarding outcomes. 9:11–12
* Wisdom ought to be rewarded by society. 9:13–18

8:2–9 If you work for the king, obey orders as you vowed. Do as you are told even if it is a bad idea. The king cannot be challenged in his decision. The wise man will figure out a solution although the matter lives heavily on him. But there are no guarantees….death, war, wickedness, and oppression are part of life.

Comment: If the wise must obey the king, the godly must obey the King of Kings.

8:10–15 It is absurd that the wicked are eulogized. The problem is that God’s delay in judgment is interpreted as no judgment.

Comment:  In fact, God is patient and allows sinners ample time for repentance. (Rom.2:1–4). Nevertheless, the sinner will not prosper in the long run and it will be well with the righteous. So the righteous should enjoy the simple pleasures that God has provided.

8:16–17 “What in the world is God doing?” The wise can toss and turn all night trying to understand but God’s ways are inscrutable.
Comment: The Openness of God theology says God does not know the future, at least not in detail. Scripture plainly teaches that God does know the future and we do not.

9:1–6 It does not seem fair that
the righteous and the wicked
the good and the evil
the clean and the unclean
the one who sacrifices and the one who does not
the good man and the sinner
the one who swears and the one who does not
all suffer the same fate--death.

The wicked live like mad and then they are dead. After that they know nothing—their knowledge and memory, their loves and hates, their envy and share in the world is all gone. At least we who live have hope.

Comment: This passage teaches that there is nothing beyond the grave. I think the Scripture can be read to show a stack of four levels of understanding about life after death, each with its own message. It is an example also of progressive revelation.

1. There is nothing beyond the grave.
“For in death there is no remembrance of Thee; in Sheol who can give Thee praise?” (Psa.6:5)
“I am a man who has no strength, like one forsaken among the dead, like those whom Thou dost remember no more, for they are cut off from Thy hand.” (Psa.88:4–5)

This view contains an important concept. There is no second chance. There is no reincarnation—an idea that comes from Eastern (Hindu) thought. As Heb.9:27 says, “It is given to men once to die and after that comes judgment.”

2. Sheol is a shadowy, miserable place for the unrighteous dead. It is not Hell, but it not pleasant, either.
“But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit. Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you.” (Isa.14:16)
“The mighty chiefs shall speak of them…out of the midst of Sheol: 'They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.'” (Ezek.32:21)

3. The righteous dead are with the Lord after they die. IICor.5:6

4. “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matt.22:32)
Moses and Elijah conferred with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. (Lk.9:30). They were in intelligent spiritual collaboration, although legally dead for centuries. The truth is almost beyond our comprehension.

We may have to stay at level 3 because we cannot grasp the higher reality that the saints are not merely "in the presence of God", but are alive, alive and in the presence of God.

9:7–10 Enjoy what God has given you—food, clothing, your life-partner.
Comment. There are five passages in Ecclesiastes in which death is discussed. In three of the five, the instruction to enjoy the good rewards of the day follows the discussion of death. (2:17–23, then 24–26); (5:15–17, then‘-20); (9:1–6, then 7–10).

Some of us are disturbed comparing  Ecclesiastes with NT passages which deplore the “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” motto of the despairing. (Lk.12:19; ICor.15:32). But the good things of everyday life come to those whom God approves.
“…apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the man who pleases Him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy." (Eccl.2:25–26)

9:11–12 Success should belong to the swift, the strong, the wise, the intelligent and the skillful, but not necessarily so. Time and (apparent) chance come to all. Statistics persuade us that most of the time things go well. Look at the Stock Market chart since’29. Yet we may be caught as in a snare by an evil time—an economic depression, a war, an earthquake or climate disturbance.

9:13–18 Finally, it is frustrating to realize that the poor and the wise may be neglected, even when they accomplish great good. Still quiet wisdom is better than shouting among fools and wisdom is better than military force. But one sinner can wreak havoc.

Discussion: The problem is that rewards and punishments are not handed out evenly. You cannot be sure how things will turn out. God’s judgment waits for Judgment Day. Wisdom must be pursued anyway.
*You give your prized heirloom to your child and you fear you will not be thanked. Do it anyway.
*Your neighbor may snub you if you express your faith. Say it anyway.
*You feel you are wasting your money giving to the Church. Give it anyway.
*A letter to your congressman will likely be ignored. Write it anyway.

You can’t be sure how things will turn out. The very wise cannot perceive God’s plan even at the local, daily level.

“If we could see beyond today as God can see,
            If all the clouds should roll away, the darkness flee,
            Our present griefs we would not fret, each sorrow we would soon forget,
            For many joys are waiting yet—for you and me.

       If we could see, if we could know, we often say,
            But God in love a veil has thrown across our way.
            We cannot see what lies before and so we cling to Him the more.
            He leads us ‘till this life is o’er. Trust and obey.”

--written by Mrs. Chas. Cowman, a missionary to Japan, who lived 1870–1960. Found on Google.