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Ecclesiastes 8:4  (King James Version)

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Ecclesiastes 8:4-9

The term “king” used in this context makes some avoid or completely overlook the broader issue involved in the subject of deference. Hardly any of us will ever directly be confronted by a literal king. However, all of us are under the authority of leadership where we are employed, in the home, at school, or for that matter, even as we are driving to do our shopping. The principles of wisdom given in terms of a king, then, may apply to situations in our lower-level social status. To understand the counsel better, we can substitute the term “leader,” which is better suited to our lives.

Verse 4 begins an intriguing paragraph, as Solomon gives overall reasons why deferential respect is good counsel. It adds a note of sternness to Paul's words in Romans 13, making Solomon's counsel good and useful information for us. We might call it a series of common-sense reasons to prepare us for his conclusion in verse 17, rather than strictly spiritual reasons why being thoughtfully careful before a ruler, especially a stern one, is wise on its surface.

The first reason is the most directly spiritual, one we must consider highly important. People in positions of authority in society stand to us in the place of God because His Word clearly declares that they are ordained of God. Because God is involved, it should immediately suggest to us the reality of a greater purpose and power, and we should treat such authority figures with care. Therefore, with this advance warning, should we ever be put in this position, we must be respectful and on our toes.

A second general thought is suggested in verses 6-9. The idea is that we do not know the future, and we are virtually powerless even in controlling the present. Solomon wants us to take our limitations into serious consideration. I Peter 5:6-7 provides this similar sound advice: “Be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”

A third thought is covered more thoroughly in verses 10-15. We are aware of grave injustices in this world, yet we can still enjoy the life God gives. We have to recognize that even if he grants our desire—for which we might have come before the leader—though it may be important to us, will not change anything in society. This is a reality. What we desire is not the solution to all of mankind's problems. Even if our desire is effective, it will change things only temporarily. He is not counseling us to abandon hope but to be willing to recognize the realities of life.

The fourth puts a cap on the entire circumstance: Since God is indeed involved, even the wisest person cannot find out all of His work. We must hold our expectations of accomplishment somewhat in check. In other words, be moderate in our expectations because we do not “see” things as God does. Compared to Him, we have severe limitations, and thus wisdom, even though using it is always good, may seem to have limitations.

It is also helpful to understand that Solomon's common-sense reasons are better understood within the historical times and circumstances in which they were given. If we apply their spirit to our time, we will find they are practical and workable regardless of the era we may live in.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Fifteen): Deference

Ecclesiastes 8:1-4

We need to be aware of a truth about why deference is necessary when facing a king. The truth is that power is present in his office, and it is God-given. A similar statement appears in Job 9:12, where Job speaks of God's attributes: “If He takes away, who can hinder Him? Who can say to Him, 'What are You doing?'” Thus, deferring to the ruler may avoid his exercising excessive power to maintain peace.

We must be aware that God has indeed granted power to the ruler. The ruler's responsibility is as the appointed enforcer of the nation's laws. Historical logic demands that the power must be there because, without the power in the authority's hands, existing laws would be merely advice. If the leader's office has no power to exercise, respect for law diminishes, and the citizenry will ignore the laws. Such a scenario has happened repeatedly in history. We are experiencing an increase of disrespect for law in this nation as we move toward Christ's return.

What should our understanding of law be? To clarify this reality of power, it may help to personify law in the person of the ruler. Yet, the law, unlike a man, never sleeps. It also never forgets, having a long, long memory. Also unlike a mere man, it has virtually unlimited power to reach out and snare a lawbreaker. It must be respected because real power resides in it because of God above.

A vivid biblical example of this involves David's nephew, Joab, and his relationship with David. He treated Uncle David, the king, imperiously and rudely throughout most of his life. But like God, David, the holder of earthly power in Israel, remembered. Before David died, he left orders for Solomon, and cousin Joab was executed by the new king in short order.

Joab seemed to get away with his disrespectful attitude toward David and his office for a long time, but he eventually paid for it. Why did David have him put to death? Because in reality, Joab had shown great disrespect for God. Joab did not perceive where the power truly resided.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Fifteen): Deference

Ecclesiastes 8:4

To a person with long experience of the Western world, the degree of acceptance called for by this verse is almost beyond belief! Our cultures value such a high level of freedom of speech that our “kings” are called into account in the public media virtually second by second! Every word they utter is parsed for secret meaning, and every phrase is analyzed until all aspects of possible meaning are mined for insight as to how to criticize them. Every leader is considered fair game.

We certainly live in a different age than that of Solomon. However, we must keep in mind who we are, who is giving this counsel, and why this counsel is given. We are dealing with God and His purposes, so the counsel fits these realities above all other considerations.

Two examples of the need for the wisdom of giving deference appeared in recent news broadcasts. The first involved a young woman stopped by a policeman for a minor driving infraction. She had either given a wrong signal as to which way she intended to turn or had, for some reason, given no signal at all. As the patrolman began questioning her, she suddenly became irate to the point that she needed to be restrained, arrested, and imprisoned. A few days later, she hanged herself in the prison cell. Nothing indicates that the patrolman mistreated her in any way.

The second incident occurred a few days later under similar circumstances. A patrolman stopped a man for a minor moving violation and asked the driver to produce his driver's license. The man at first merely hesitated but soon began expressing angry resistance. A second time the officer asked him to produce his license. Suddenly, the driver jammed the car into gear, stepped on the gas pedal, and began driving away. The patrolman shouted at the man to stop and at the same time drew his weapon. The man would not stop, so the patrolman fired one shot, hitting the driver in the head and killing him.

Both of these incidents escalated to high intensity within a few moments. There were no drawn-out arguments and no prior history between those involved, just a citizen confronted by a public authority figure whom the citizen heatedly refused to submit to. Their resistance to a simple legal request became their death sentence.

As humanists have risen to leadership in virtually every aspect of society in the Western world, self-centered disrespect has surged to the fore. Nevertheless, Ecclesiastes 8:4 continues to stand as a reminder of what Romans 13:1-4 confirms to Christians regardless of when they live: Rulers in their position of authority in society stand in the place of God to us because they are ordained of God. Despite the rapidly declining social conditions on earth, God still rules His creation. Therefore, He counsels us to give those in leadership within our nations, not merely respect, but some measure of reverence as well.

In addition to this instruction, Ecclesiastes 8:1-4 also contains an implied promise of favor to those who have made the covenant with God and are honestly and consistently striving to remain faithful to their responsibilities within it. Such a person is indeed wise because he understands the nature of his duties as a citizen. Thus, this verse provides practical wisdom to pass through life smoothly. Such a person is thought to be an excellent citizen.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Fifteen): Deference

Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Ecclesiastes 8:4:

Ecclesiastes 8:4
Ecclesiastes 8:4


<< Ecclesiastes 8:3   Ecclesiastes 8:5 >>

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