What Did the Wise Man Mean?
WISDOM can have a wholesome effect on its possessor. “Who is there like the wise one?” wrote King Solomon. “And who is there knowing the interpretation of a thing? The wisdom of a man itself causes his face to shine, and even the sternness of his face is changed for the better.”—Eccl. 8:1.
The truly wise man is outstanding in human society, without compare. Aside from another wise person, there is no one else like him. He knows the “interpretation of a thing,” that is, he possesses the needed insight to solve perplexing problems of life.
Even the wise man’s countenance is pleasant. His face radiates an inward joy and satisfaction. As a result, what might otherwise appear as a stern, forbidding face takes on an appealing expression.
How to Cope with Imperfect Human Rulership
As a king, Solomon was in a good position to give advice about how to act wisely toward rulers. He stated: “Keep the very order of the king, and that out of regard for the oath of God. Do not hurry yourself, that you may go out from before him. Do not stand in a bad thing. For all that he delights to do he will do, because the word of the king is the power of control; and who may say to him: ‘What are you doing?’”—Eccl. 8:2-4.
In ancient Israel, the representative elders of the nation might enter into a covenant with the king, agreeing to remain loyal to him. For example, regarding David we read: “All the older men of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David concluded a covenant with them in Hebron before Jehovah.” (2 Sam. 5:3) Accordingly, disobedience to the command of the king would mean unfaithfulness to the oath of loyalty made before Jehovah. On the other hand, obedience constituted regard for the true God, in whose presence the covenant was made. Similarly, out of regard for Jehovah, true Christians remain submissive to the governments of this world, recognizing that such exist by God’s permission.—Rom. 13:1, 2.
Solomon’s advice about not being in a hurry to leave the king’s presence is expanded on at Ecclesiastes 10:4: “If the spirit of a ruler should mount up against you, do not leave your own place, for calmness itself allays great sins.” A person may be corrected or chastised by someone in authority. He may resent the correction and be ready to give up a position or even to change his attitude toward the ruler. Solomon, however, recommends avoiding hasty action in switching loyalties or resigning a position. The same principle can be applied today to employer-employee relationships.
Wise King Solomon further counsels against ‘standing in a bad thing,’ that is, becoming involved in something the ruler considers bad. By virtue of his authority, the king’s word carries far more weight than the word of any of his subjects. His is the controlling voice; he has unquestionable authority. That is why no one can challengingly say, “What are you doing?”
The person who remains law-abiding should have nothing to fear from the ruler. Solomon comments: “He that is keeping the commandment will not know any calamitous thing.” (Eccl. 8:5) The obedient subject will not experience a “calamitous thing” that comes as a punishment for transgressing the king’s law. The wise man’s counsel parallels the words of the apostle Paul: “He who opposes the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God; those who have taken a stand against it will receive judgment to themselves. For those ruling are an object of fear, not to the good deed, but to the bad. Do you, then, want to have no fear of the authority? Keep doing good, and you will have praise from it.”—Rom. 13:2, 3.
But what if the ruler is unjust? Evidently with reference to this situation, Solomon continued: “The wise heart will know both time and judgment. For there exists a time and judgment even for every affair, because the calamity of mankind is abundant upon them. For there is no one knowing what will come to be, because who can tell him just how it will come to be?”—Eccl. 8:5-7.
The wise person does not rise up in revolt. Having a heart motivated by wisdom, he realizes that there is a proper time for action and a right way to put up with an oppressive ruler. Open rebellion would mean courting disaster. Good judgment, on the other hand, will prevent a person from acting at an inopportune time. (Ps. 37:1-7) For “every affair” there is a proper time and judgment or manner of dealing. So a person is just asking for trouble if he disregards this fact and acts in haste. Imperfect humans already have enough problems without adding to them by acting rashly, ignoring that “there exists a time and judgment even for every affair.” Besides, no one can be sure just what the future holds. Even men in authority die. Keeping this fact in mind can help one to endure a difficult situation. The rule of the tyrant cannot continue indefinitely. Everything in this imperfect system has its end.
Thorough Examination of Oppressive Human Rule
The conclusions Solomon reached about oppressive rule by man were based on careful observation. He gave heartfelt consideration to the whole scope of such human rule and its effect upon the people. For this reason he could say: “All this I have seen, and there was an applying of my heart to every work that has been done under the sun, during the time that man has dominated man to his injury.”—Eccl. 8:9.
Tyrannical rulers, however, are not able to continue their domination indefinitely. Solomon continued: “Though this is so [man’s dominating man to his injury], I have seen the wicked ones being buried, how they came in and how they would go away from the holy place itself and be forgotten in the city where they acted that way. This too is vanity.” (Eccl. 8:10) While alive, the wicked ones would come in and go away from the holy place, which, in Solomon’s day, was the holy city of Jerusalem with its temple of Jehovah. (Matt. 24:15) There they should not have practiced wickedness. At burial they go away from it for their last time. Despite the exalted position of the wicked men, they would die, be buried and would, in the city of their activity, soon fade from the memory of the living. Thus their life as tyrannical rulers would prove to have been vain, empty.