Starting in chapter seven of his journal we see that Solomon is no longer is exploring the various pursuits of worldly living which have left him unfulfilled and depressed. He has written several proverbs describing the true wisdom that comes from above and how life is enriched when one realizes that this is the wisdom that produces strength, balance and insight.
In chapters eight and nine Solomon will continue this line of thinking by discussing the qualities of good leaders, mysteries that cannot be solved and the importance of developing a proper philosophy of life. In his comments on the subject of leadership he notes that rising to this position in any enterprise is usually the result of hard work and talent, however, not all who achieve this role are qualified for their jobs. For example:
Some are promoted beyond their capabilities.
Some people rise one step above their competency level and, consequently, are not able to function effectively at this stage. It is hard to work for people like this because they are uninspiring and cause resentment among their followers since everyone is aware of and affected by their incompetence.
Some are egotistical and intolerant of lesser talented people.
These "hard driving" types think everyone else should be like them or no one else can be like them. They push too hard and usually do not appreciate the people who work for them.
There are many other types but these two are examples of leaders who have the position but not the character that the position of leadership requires. Solomon, who was a leader, provides five key characteristics that leaders should have in order to be qualified as godly leaders:
1. A Clear Mind
1aWho is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter?
The word "interpretation" means solution. Solomon says that a good leader is able to see through a problem to an eventual solution. A good leader's mind is not cluttered with unresolved issues and changing values. He or she can see clearly to the bottom line because a good leader has a set of core values and standard references to help him make consistent decisions whatever the situation. A leader's clear mind helps him lead without confusion or hesitation.
2. A Cheerful Disposition
1bA man's wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.
A cheerful heart is reflected in a person's face. He has a positive and happy look. There is nothing more difficult than serving under a person who has no sense of humor about himself or funny situations. A great leader deals seriously with the issues of leadership but does not take himself too seriously.
3. A Discreet Mouth
2I say, "Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. 3Do 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?"
Solomon is speaking primarily to subordinates here, saying that they should be loyal to their leaders and obey them because they can make life difficult for followers. In an indirect way, however, he is also telling leaders that they can best inspire loyalty and obedience in their subordinates if they have a discreet mouth themselves.
Leaders who exercise their authority with tact, sensitivity and compassion usually receive the benefit of supportive followers.
4. Keen Judgment
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. 7If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?
Good leaders show that they have the type of skills and attitudes that enable them to make good judgment calls when necessary. Solomon describes some of the features that enable one to have keen judgment.
In verse 5a he describes a leader who knows his place, is sure of his leadership and knows that the call is his to make. The royal command means one is put in a position of leadership by God in order to make decisions.
In verses 5b to 6 we see that this leader knows the right time and procedure in which things need to be decided and carried out. He remains calm in making these decisions, even when called upon to do so under pressure.
In verse 7 Solomon says that this person is tuned in to the attitude and needs of his followers. Even though others do not know what is going to happen, good leaders can discern the right timing for their decisions concerning the future. Leaders maintain loyalty and credibility by making good decisions based on keen judgment.
5. A Humble Spirit
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. 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.
Despite having great skill or given many advantages in life, it is important for leaders to recognize their limitations, and acknowledge their mistakes. Truly wise leaders are humble individuals who can take direction from the Lord above and advice from those below. This guarantees a leader's position with God and the loyalty, love and respect of his followers. Solomon ends this section with two warnings against arrogant and proud leaders:
First, God will judge leaders who take unfair advantage of those in their charge. Secondly, leaders who do take advantage of their followers hurt themselves more than they hurt those under them (because they, and not their followers, will incur the judgement of God).
Mysteries - 8:10-17
After reviewing some of the qualities of good and godly leaders, Solomon describes what he calls "mysteries" that defy even his great wisdom. Of course, when Solomon discusses things he cannot understand, he is referring to events and situations that he cannot understand without God's help or God's revelation. For example:
- Some things we do not understand because we have not yet discovered them in the Bible (spiritual immaturity).
- Some we do not understand because God has not revealed them to us yet (e.g. the coming of the Lord).
- Some we do not understand because they will always be beyond us (e.g. God's total wisdom).
In chapter 8:10-17 Solomon describes three mysteries that are simply beyond his knowledge and can only be understood with the help of God's revelation:
1. The Triumph of the Unjust
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 begins by referring to religious hypocrites who attend worship but who are evil people. Many times when these people die they receive elaborate funerals and are preached into heaven. In addition to this, those who build comfortable lives for themselves at the expense of others are never judged and punished for their unjust exploitation. Solomon complains that without swift justice (from God) others are encouraged to do the same. He does not, therefore, understand God's tolerance of this kind of evil and hypocrisy.
2. The Existence of Unfair Consequences
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.
Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people? For example, a young mother is struck and killed by a drunk driver who walks away from the accident without a scratch. Solomon looked at similar tragedies of his day and questioned why a good and loving God allowed unfair things to happen. Sometimes we ask ourselves the very same question. Imagine, even Solomon had no answer!
3. The Delight of Untimely Pleasure
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.
Despite the difficulties of life, however, there are good moments that come which are unexpected and unearned. Solomon's response to the first two mysteries is to encourage his readers to take advantage of the third one (unexpected blessings) when they come. This is not the answer to all of life's problems but a way of helping us avoid becoming skeptical, pessimistic or angry. Things that could eventually lead us to a loss of faith.
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.
In the final two verses of chapter eight, Solomon concludes that there are limits to what a person can understand (without God's help), even for a wise man.
Developing a Good Life Philosophy - 9:1-10
Now that Solomon is journeying back to God, demonstrated in his discussion about true wisdom, good leadership and the limits of his own wisdom, he begins to construct a view of life that he should have had from the beginning. He has tried many avenues that have led nowhere, and now that he is turning to God once again, he begins to see the way that a truly wise man should go. It is the same with us today, many try a variety of lifestyles or life-philosophies before finding the "narrow way".
In chapter nine Solomon makes a break from his past and begins to describe a new philosophy of life based on faith. We see this change in the first verse where he acknowledges that he has taken to heart and reviewed the various ways a man could choose to live his life, but now has found God's way. In the following verses he goes on to describe a life philosophy that is based on having faith in, and obedience to God. This life plan, he says, has four key truths and four key applications to guarantee a godly and rewarding life:
God is sovereign
1bMan does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.
Whether good or bad happens in your life, God is in control of all. Men cannot know what will happen, but God does (implied idea). When faith in God is the foundation that your life is built upon, you can deal with whatever comes knowing that He is in control, not you and certainly not the adversities that may confront you.
Death is certain
2It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. 3aThis is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men.
Knowing and believing that death is certain, enables one to keep a proper perspective on life and time. This knowledge also forces a person to establish priorities, be more careful in what he does, and seek after God with greater fervor.
The heart is evil
3bFurthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.
There is no spiritual progress in one's life until there is an acknowledgement of both sinfulness and the need for redemption. This is the first step in every "recovery" type program. A person cannot enjoy peace and joy without forgiveness and grace, and this only comes with the awareness and confession of sin.
Where there is life, there is hope
4For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. 5For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. 6Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.
In Solomon's day dogs were not pets; they were mongrels and wild. Lions, however, were prized as royal animals. Solomon is saying that it is better to live in poverty and dishonor than have great honor and praise but be dead, because the living have hope for tomorrow, but the dead are gone. His point is that while you are alive, make the most of the present, you have no guarantee of the future.
Solomon's faith in a sovereign Lord, his acknowledgement of sin and death, and the wisdom of taking advantage of each day set the course for his new philosophy and approach to life. He now ends the section with some practical applications that these things will produce in the life of one who embraces them.
7Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.
If God is sovereign and if, as a sinner, you are reconciled to Him, then enjoy what He gives you whatever it is. Christians often feel guilty for enjoying their blessings but should not feel this way since prosperity is only a sin when we gain it in evil ways, fail to give thanks for it or refuse to share it with others in need.
Purity / Spirituality
8Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head.
White clothing was a sign of purity, and oil represented the work of the Spirit in life. Solomon is saying that if your life is based on this philosophy then your life will be purified of its evil and the Spirit of God will lead you (through the Word, Spirit, church etc.).
9Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.
The man with a thousand wives concedes that an intimate relationship with one woman is the way to satisfaction and joy. The world offers all kinds of methods to find sexual and intimate satisfaction, but God has shown us that a faithful relationship with one marriage partner is the only way that this can be achieved fully.
10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.
Now that the searching for life's true meaning is over, Solomon says that a person can exult in their work, family and passion. Life is short so we must not wait until tomorrow to enjoy and make the most of today's blessings.
In the end, Solomon says that until we have settled in our minds some of the basics of what life is really about, we cannot truly begin to live and enjoy the life that God has blessed us with. I believe that this is the reason why people who neglect studying God's word and pursuing church life miss out on so much of what God has intended for us to enjoy.