What Did the Wise Man Mean?
No Discharge from the War of Death
There is one war from which it is humanly impossible to get a discharge. King Solomon wrote on this: “There is no man having power over the spirit [life force] to restrain the spirit; neither is there any power of control in the day of death; nor is there any discharge in the war. And wickedness will provide no escape for those indulging in it.”—Eccl. 8:8.
At the time of dying a man is powerless. Try what he will, he cannot restrain the spirit so that the life force remains within his body cells, thus keeping himself alive. Dying men simply have no control over the day of death. No human efforts can get a person discharged from the relentless war that the enemy “Death” wages against all. (Rom. 5:14) There is not even a possibility of arranging for a substitute in order to provide oneself with a furlough from death. The inspired psalmist declared: “Not one of them can by any means redeem even a brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; (and the redemption price of their soul is so precious that it has ceased to time indefinite) that he should still live forever and not see the pit.” (Ps. 49:7-9) During their lifetime wicked persons, by astute and devious means, may be able to evade punishment. However, no device, no plan, no scheme can furnish them escape from death.
Coping with What One Sees in an Imperfect World
In this imperfect system, many things are seen that could be very disturbing to us. The wicked may be prospering, while righteous persons are suffering. How can we prevent such things from making us bitter?
Based on careful investigation, King Solomon provided some helpful observations. He wrote: “Because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily, that is why the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad. Although a sinner may be doing bad a hundred times and continuing a long time as he pleases, yet I am also aware that it will turn out well with those fearing the true God, because they were in fear of him. But it will not turn out well at all with the wicked one, neither will he prolong his days that are like a shadow, because he is not in fear of God.”—Eccl. 8:11-13.
As Solomon here pointed out, human justice may be lax and human courts may be painfully slow or even negligent in executing sentence against bad works. Because of not being punished for their lawlessness, the wicked think that they are getting away with something and therefore become firmly established in their bad ways. But their badness does not bring any reward. Their life passes quickly, “like a shadow,” and no scheme of theirs can lengthen it. On the other hand, righteous persons are not really put at a permanent disadvantage. True, others may make things hard for them. Nevertheless, a person’s having a wholesome regard for or “fear” of the Creator still works to his benefit. The righteous person preserves a clean conscience, finds contentment and satisfaction in doing what he knows to be right, and, if he dies as an approved servant of God, he has the hope of being raised from the dead. Thus, in the final analysis, everything ‘turns out well’ for those fearing Jehovah God.
If he is confident that the Most High will reward those fearing him, a person will not become bitter when he witnesses what Solomon next describes: “There exists a vanity that is carried out on the earth, that there exist righteous ones to whom it is happening as if for the work of the wicked ones, and there exist wicked ones to whom it is happening as if for the work of the righteous ones. I said that this too is vanity.” (Eccl. 8:14) Jehovah God is not to blame for such injustice. It is “a vanity that is carried out on the earth”—something for which imperfect humans are responsible. At times this is due to official corruption, at other times it is simply due to a lack of knowledge or appreciation of God’s fine standards set forth in his Word.
The God-fearing person does not permit the world’s inequities to spoil his enjoyment of life. He realizes that he simply cannot change what God till now has tolerated among humans, and he therefore acts in agreement with Solomon’s words: “I myself commended rejoicing, because mankind have nothing better under the sun than to eat and drink and rejoice, and that it should accompany them in their hard work for the days of their life, which the true God has given them under the sun.” (Eccl. 8:15) Yes, the best course in life is to maintain a proper fear of the Creator while finding satisfaction from work and through wholesome enjoyment of food and drink. For a person to worry and fret about all the wrongs in this system would only be frustrating and would detract from the enjoyment of life. It could ruin his own spirituality and happiness. Fretting or complaining will not speed up the relief due to come through God’s removal of the present order and its replacement by a righteous new order.—Ps. 37:5-7.
Furthermore, nothing is gained by trying to discover some rule or formula that might explain in full and exact detail why things happen as they do in this world. Wise King Solomon and others long ago made a careful survey of human affairs. Yet they could not discover such a precise rule by which to determine just what to expect in every case. Solomon remarked: “In accord with this I applied my heart to know wisdom and to see the occupation that is carried on in the earth, because there is one seeing no sleep with his eyes, either by day or by night. And I saw all the work of the true God, how mankind are not able to find out the work that has been done under the sun; however much mankind keep working hard to seek, yet they do not find out. And even if they should say they are wise enough to know, they would be unable to find out.”—Eccl. 8:16, 17.
Note that Solomon referred to the things that take place among mankind as the “work of the true God.” This can be said because everything occurs at his permission or toleration, but not because God initiates, backs up or approves of all that is done. Even though a person may sacrifice sleep, he simply will not be able to fathom the full scope of what God does and tolerates in the eventual outworking of his grand purpose. This is the thought conveyed by Moffatt’s translation of King Solomon’s words: “When I gave my mind to the study of wisdom, to study all the busy life of the world, I found that man is unable to grasp the truth of all that God is doing in this world; he may labour in his efforts to attain it, in a sleepless quest for it by day and night, but he will never find it out; a wise man may think he is coming on the secret, but even he will never find it out.”—Eccl. 8:16, 17.