1Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man's wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.
The end of wisdom is great joy because of the insight that a man has into the true reality of the state of the world around him and to the state of his own heart. He no longer has to wallow in uncertainty and confusion, but the wisdom of God enlightens his mind to see the world as God sees and to have no doubt about what is true and what is not. It leads him to freedom of the fullest and most purest sense. His life can be purposeful, meaningful, and filled with joy.
2I say, "Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God.
3"Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases."
4Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, "What are you doing?"
5He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure.
6For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man's trouble is heavy upon him.
Solomon exhorts his listeners to obey those in authority, particularly the king, i.e. government officials. The Christian should be subject to them unless they force him to do something against Christ and the mandates of the Scripture. God’s authority always trumps that of the earthly authority. Yet, generally speaking, the king should be respected, and this should motivate a citizen not to abandon him (e.g. treason) and join forces with someone else. Doing evil will lead the king to pursue such a person in punishment. It doesn’t make sense to challenge the king by doing wickedly, but a king should be obeyed and respected. If a king persecutes his people, there is a time and place for rebellion, but it must be done wisely and rightly. It cannot be evil in intent or vengeful, but it must be for the sake of truth, freedom, and righteousness. Just because a situation is horrible doesn’t give the suffering citizen the right to act in evil. Righteousness must guide his every decision and action.
7If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?
8No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it.
Not only does man not know the future, but he cannot predict the future. This should lead him to live in wisdom, discretion, and with good stewardship. It should also motivate him to trust the Lord Who does know what will happen and when because He is sovereign over all things. Man cannot control the wind and tell it which way to blow, but God can. Man can do nothing to keep himself from dying should God ordain it. The NKJV has a clearer translation of v. 8 saying, “No one has power over the spirit to retain the spirit, And no one has power in the day of death. There is no release from that war, And wickedness will not deliver those who are given to it.” Some may choose to live in wickedness, not fearing the Lord, in which case they may want to put off meeting the Lord in judgment. Yet there is nothing that they can do. Fighting death is a hopeless fight, and there is no escape from the war which death will wage, physically and spiritually. Thus, rather than being concerned about prolonging our earthly lives, we should accept the days which God ordains for us, and purpose to glorify Him in each of them one at a time.
9All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.
10So then, I have seen the wicked buried, those who used to go in and out from the holy place, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. This too is futility.
11Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.
12Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly.
13But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God.
Solomon has observed that there are those who do wickedly to others, taking advantage of them and exercising authority over them to their detriment. Yet these wicked men also die, for they cannot put off death when it comes for them. They get buried, and to the watching world, there seems to be no justice. They seem to have gotten away with their evil deeds, and this motivates others to continue in evil as well. Yet just because the consequences aren’t immediately visible does not mean that the wicked get away with their wickedness. (As a side note, in this narrative, the wicked used to be very religious, doing the religious rituals of entering the holy place. Yet their hearts were evil and bent on doing wrong. Thus, their religion was empty and futile.) God is not fooled by empty religion, but He knows the heart and will judge accordingly. Some may sin and sin again, even living longer because of it, but it will not be well for them in eternity. God will judge them, and they will have to face His wrath. Those who are righteous and who stand for truth even openly even if it costs them their lives have assurance that it will be well with them in eternity. Generally, living in righteousness prolongs life more than wickedness anyway (Ephesians 6:1-3), so there is no point is living wickedly and dying sooner and going to hell forever. Righteousness is always better.
14There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility.
15So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.
The rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Man cannot assume that just because he lives righteously that all will go well for him. Generally, he will be better off, but still he might have hardship, and sometimes it might be worse than that which the wicked experience. Sometimes the wicked prosper, but in the long run, they will be destroyed (Psalm 1). Thus, a man shouldn’t live righteously for the sake of demanding earthly prosperity of God, for God never guaranteed this. He should, however, fear the Lord because He is the Lord. Solomon’s advice to the righteous man is to eat, drink, and be merry, all within the confines of Biblical morality, to the best of his ability such as to enjoy life with the Lord. Things may not always go smoothly, but he should have joy in the Lord and in the good things God has given him to enjoy. He should enjoy his labor, his food, his drink, his wife (Ecclesiastes 9:9), his family, and all good things from the hand of God, the giver of all good and perfect gifts (James 1:17).
16When I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task which has been done on the earth (even though one should never sleep day or night),
17and I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, "I know," he cannot discover.
Again, Solomon explains that even though he, the wisest man on earth, has set his heart to grow in wisdom, he has realized his limitations. There are some things that lack explanation and are unknowable on this side of eternity. Even if he never slept, still he wouldn’t have enough time or insight to figure all things out. God has done so much, and man’s lifetime is too short and his mind to weak to be able to understand even all that is before us in the created world, let alone the philosophy and wisdom behind it all. Some may say that they know and have all the answers, but none can discover the secret things of the Lord. As David says in Psalm 139:6, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.” (see also Isaiah 40:28, Romans 11:33)