April 26, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 15:15 in the audio file.
Or, Following and Influencing the Man
One of the most common frustrations in life is dealing with third-rate, inconsistent, or incompetent authorities. Of course, because of our sinful flesh, we typically dislike authority, disagree with authority, detest authority, and disobey authority. Those responses end up not really helping us because that attitude of resistance just makes authorities clamp down or tighten up or generally make things more unpleasant than we already thought they were.
Structures and systems of authority everywhere. Parents have authority over their children. Teachers and administrators have authority over their students. Employers have authority over their workers. Local law enforcement and elected officials, along with Federal/national representatives have authority over their citizens.
Some people seem to get extra foolish in the head when they get power. Others may have authority who never deserved it in the first place. Certainly there are times when we think our authorities aren’t paying attention to the right information. Or maybe they don’t communicate well. Maybe we just don’t like their attitude, or maybe something else. Regardless, they are in the position and they often act as if they have the authority to do whatever they want.
Solomon understood the system. He lived in or around the royal palace his entire life. He watched his dad as king, and then wore the crown as king himself. He saw his dad make good decisions and some that were not so good, some that pleased the people and some that really got their goat. In his own rule, even in his great wisdom, Solomon had people around him, those who were part of the king’s court of officials and counselors, who had ideas and suggestions and input.
The people who make the biggest impact in the world are not necessarily the ones with power and authority. Often the ones who make the biggest impact are the ones who influence those in positions of power and authority.
In the first half of Ecclesiastes 8 Solomon gives advice for those who are under authority (starting with those who were under him). Specifically, Solomon explains the importance of following authority, he gives some insight into how to influence authority, and then provides some perspective for when it is difficult to follow authority, so, Following and Influencing the Man (where by the Man I’m referring to the authority figure).
I’m preaching this for our kids as they mature and take on more responsibilities, for certain wives with Nabal-ish husbands, for our work amidst many government mandated restrictions as Washingtonians, and for wisdom.
Solomon was pretty pessimistic coming out of chapter 7. He claimed he could find no upright women and only one upright man out of a thousand. His first circle of search would have been those most closely connected to him in his palace, and there is a natural progression into how all those same persons should act when under the king’s authority.
In proverbial form, verse one starts out with a couple rhetorical questions and then adds the potential positives of finding a wise counselor, even though in his own experience they apparently were a rare commodity.
“Who is like the wise? And who knows
the interpretation of a thing?
A man’s wisdom makes his face shine,
and the hardness of his face is changed.”
Who is like the wise? Or, what is better than finding wise counselors? How great are they? And Who knows the interpretation of a thing? Who has discernment and perspective that is helpful and insightful? The implications are that this kind of person is very valuable and extremely rare.
Consider the outcome of the wise counselor: a man’s wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed. We could interpret this to mean that the wise man’s face shines, but that’s not the context or the best understanding of the phrase itself.
A man who influences his authority with wisdom makes the face of his authority shine. The king’s counselor makes the king’s face shine. I say that for a few reasons.
First and most importantly, the rest of the paragraph makes clear that influencing the king is the main concern. While it is true that a man’s wisdom has a self-referencing effect, the whole point of the paragraph is how we affect and encourage those over us. The context all the way through verse 9 is about interacting with those in power.
Second, if a man’s own face is hard then he’s miserable. But if his authority’s face is hard, that’s really bad for the counselor and everyone else who’s under the authority. Who really cares if the hardness of (the counselor’s) face is changed? Who cares if the counselor grumpy grapes? But if the king is like that, watch out.
And third, the phrase makes his face shine is typically used in reference to a superior showing favor to an inferior. For example, we want God’s face to shine on us (Numbers 6:25), and the king’s:
In the light of a king’s face there is life,
and his favor is like the clouds
that bring the spring rain. (Proverbs 16:15)
The point of verse 1 is that if you use your influence appropriately you can change the entire outlook of the king (and if the king, then certainly you can influence those in other, lesser positions of authority).
So how do you do that? Solomon shows the right way to follow and influence authority. This is his counsel in the context of powerful people in authority who may be unjust (as verse 9 concludes).
“I say: Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him.” (verse 2)
While it is true that we can have tremendous influence on our authorities (and we’ll see even more about that in verses 5 and 6), our general obligation to authority is very simple: obey.
I say is an emphatic way to highlight the bottom-line of what’s coming, “Hear ye, hear ye!” Keep the king’s command. The king is in charge. He has the position to make rules and the power to enforce them. Those who are not the king have it easy, all they have to do is keep the…command.
Obviously the point of the paragraph concerns following the king, but it certainly applies wherever there is an authority to follow. This isn’t only wisdom for conduct becoming a monarchy.
With regard to the king, Solomon says to follow the king because of God’s oath to him. Most translations make it seem like this is an oath that men make to the king (for example, the NIV: “Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God.”). And while that is certainly a possibility, the Hebrew doesn’t require that translation and I really think the better interpretation is that God has established authority and God has confirmed the king’s position, a reality affirmed in Romans 13. It’s personal, and authority flows top-down from God Himself.
“Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, ‘What are you doing?'” (verses 3-4)
While it is true that our first and foremost obligation is to obey our authority, that does not mean there is never a time to appeal a particular decision or to suggest a different approach. In fact, often those in authority seek input and counsel. In our system, the voice and votes of the people matters.
Here’s the point: sharing your perspective, even when it is requested and even if you’re right, does not make it your decision. You may have more information and insight than the king, it still isn’t your final call. The authority is responsible for what happens. You are responsible to the authority. Being permitted to play with the ball doesn’t mean we get to make the rules or that we can take the ball and go home in a huff.
That’s the exact attitude Solomon addresses in verse 3. Be not hasty to go from his presence. The context is the king’s court, where the king has invited his counselors for input. When you’re asked, be wise and give good advice. But if the king doesn’t agree, don’t throw a fit. If the king hears what you have to say and decides to go a different route, it’s not smart for you to storm out.
Some misunderstand their role and responsibility so arrogantly that not only do they loose their temper, then they plot a coup to overthrow the authority. But Solomon says, Do not take your stand in an evil cause. While that is true of any evil cause, this context is one of conspiring toward political treason and mutiny.
Misery loves company. People who feel like they’ve been mistreated or neglected or unappreciated find great comfort in a choir of like-minded complainers. They live in the F.O.G. (Fellowship of Grievances). It isn’t too long before the whining about authority turns into scheming against authority.
But that is not a good or safe position. It is not good because it is wrong per God’s oath (verse 2). It is not safe because, unless you’ve got all your ducks in a row, the king is still king and has power and resources to make you pay, for he does whatever he pleases. If the governor has enough weight to enforce his word, he will.
Verse 4 builds higher, For the word of the king is supreme. His word stands at the top, His word carries the most weight, his word goes. And who may say to him, “What are you doing?” Someone might say that to him…once, but it just isn’t bright. If you constantly question the authority, you will earn for yourself zero influence.
The right behavior is submission. The right attitude is humility and a proper understanding of our position.
The wisest counsel given with the most humble attitude is still not always successful. Timing and approach are key.
“Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him.” (verses 5-6)
The first half of verse 5 sets the stage for the second half which provides the point. The issue at hand is right timing. But as important as timing is, the best timing will not overcome disobedience.
Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing. The standard formula works like this: you + obedience = no punishment. Submission is the best platform for persuasion. You want to influence your parents? Build a solid foundation of whole-hearted following. Then, not before then, you will have earned trust and opened ears to hear you.
So remove obstacles to your opinion by obedience, then the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. This is all about how to maximize your influence. The wise heart considers and identifies windows of opportunity, he will know the proper time.
I think about the space shuttle in this kind of situation. NASA applies a ridiculous amount of computer nerd-ery with a ludicrous amount of money and straps an amount of fuel to the shuttle that could power some small countries for over a year, and still it seems like if someone coughs the wrong way they postpone a launch. In some situations there is a small window of opportunity for success.
Certain times are better than others. It is not bright to begin your personal infomercial when the other person is running uphill in mile 14 of a marathon. It doesn’t work when the other person is irritated or distracted or sleepy. Some people have big bay windows that seem open much of the time; others have small doll-house size windows that barely crack open.
The wise heart will know…the just way. We’re not talking about lying and conniving and misrepresentation to get what you want. We’re talking about a righteous, humble, situationally appropriate approach. You will get nowhere by annoying or antagonizing.
Remember Joseph with Potiphar and Pharaoh, Esther with King Ahasuerus, Daniel in Babylon.
Solomon concludes, For there is a time and a way for everything. Sometimes the right time is now, or maybe later, or maybe never. But the wise won’t waste their influence on a lost cause or in a foolish way.
There is a time for maximum influence, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him. The king may not listen even though you’ve told him that he’s headed for trouble (and taking you with him). The king may not lighten up even though you’ve appealed his discipline. Authorities don’t always make it easy. Life is hard under the sun.
When things are difficult, especially when dealing with difficult authorities, the right perspective is crucial.
“For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.” (verses 7-8)
Life is bigger than both the king and his counselors. Though one has relative authority, neither one of them have ultimate authority. Only God has a sovereign say. The word of the king has relative authority at best, since even he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? Answer: no one. Neither the wisest king or the most insightful counselor can predict the future.
The thing is, even if the king makes a call that you don’t like, neither of you knows what will happen tomorrow that might overturn it, or maybe next week or sometime in November.
In particular, four things are out of our control. No man has power to retain the spirit. There is a time to be born and a time to die. You will die, and both good and bad decisions are overruled by death. Second, no man has power over the day of death. Not only can someone not live forever, they can’t control when they die. You might be free from a heavy and hard authority sooner than you think. Third, there is no discharge from war. Fourth, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.
God is in control of who is in authority and how the person uses their authority. He is ultimately in control of whether you persuade or not. He is in control of how long and how bad/good things are.
Verse 9 provides the context and the conclusion.
“All this I observed while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun, when man had power over man to his hurt.” (verse 9)
Solomon saw it for himself, All this I observed. He gave it his full attention, while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun. And he saw that when men get authority, it often corrupts: when men had power over man to his hurt.
In this context of hurtful authority, Solomon still says obey. You may have opportunity to appeal and give input and offer good suggestions. You should do that as wisely and humbly and persuasively as possible. God may use you to make significant influence. He may not. That doesn’t mean you should give up. It means life under the sun is full of vanity and striving after wind.
I understand that we don’t live under a king. I don’t think your husband (or your dad) should be called King. In the Unites States we have a Constitution which belongs to the consent of the governed. But “consent” has always been the needed in some ways; more kings have been removed from office by the “people” than not.
You could be like the know-it-all son or the dripping wife (Proverbs 19:13), or like a late show jester spitting out scoffing like fire (Proverbs 29:8).
Or you could be the person that can be trusted to give the truth, even if you’re not invited to all the parties. “Don’t you have anyone around here who will tell you like it is?” “Yeah, but we don’t want him around much.” You have political wealth, spend it wisely.
As with the principle of war, we are in pursuit. This is great even if difficult season, and nowhere near finished. Exactly. Be in “the king’s” ear, at the proper time in the just way.
Keep praying for our rulers. Lives are at stake, and more than the scare from the coronavirus. Pray, and give thanks. The desire to live quiet and peaceful lives (1 Timothy 2:1-3) doesn’t mean that we can’t seek to influence the direction, it does require us to recognize a difference between dripping faucets and proper times and just ways to influence policy. Do it all as those who long for the lasting city of the ruler of the kings on earth, Jesus Christ.
[H]ere we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:14–16, ESV)