My message this morning is, “When those above you are idiots.” We all live under authority. Parents, bosses, government, church leadership - there is no such thing as a society without any measure of authority. Authority is one of the restraining factors in this world that keep us from drifting into chaos. We all live under authority, and that means we all have experienced both the blessing and curse of authority. Authority is a blessing when it leads to prosperity and safety. But there will be times when you will face the unfortunate reality that the ones to whom you are required to submit make decisions that are foolish, arrogant, harmful or downright wrong in your eyes.
And this, “in your eyes” is important. Because whether or not the people above you are actually idiots, there are days when you think that they are because they are not listening to you. You never think the people above you are idiots when they listen to you - only when they are not listening to you do they magically transform into idiots.
Your perspective on power and wisdom changes when you are the one in power. Remember being a kid and thinking that your parents knew everything? Then you become a parent and you’re like - ok, when is all of this knowledge supposed to kick in? Or you’re the boss and you realize that you actually have no idea what you are doing?
This perspective is what makes Ecclesiastes 8 very interesting, because Solomon is writes a chapter basically around the theme - what to do when your boss is an idiot … and Solomon’s the boss! He is the king! and this is not a democracy - he has absolute power. However, he also knows he doesn’t have absolute wisdom, or absolute righteousness. Yet neither did his advisors. And neither do you. So power without wisdom - somebody is going to get hurt, and somebody does. Look at the key verse in the section: Ecc 8:9 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.
Chapter 8 must be read with Chapter 7 in mind.Its been a couple of weeks, but the second half of chapter seven argued that none of us are absolutely righteous or absolutely wise. This means your boss is not. Your king is not. Your Prime Minister is not. Your parents are not. And it also means that you are not. Yet we live in these hierarchical relationships of authorities in which sinful and foolish people work for sinful and foolish people. This itself s part of the hebel of life. So what do we do when those above us our idiots?
Solomon saw no shortage of advisor and counsellors that thought they had everything figured out. He probably had no shortage of people who thought he was an idiot. He could see it in their faces. They would come into his counsel, their faces beaming, their wisdom exuding from them:
Eccl. 8:1 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.
Solomon has just finished arguing that no human being has perfect wisdom or pure motives, and he is supposed to go along with your plan because he can read it in your face? You suddenly are the fount of all wisdom and goodness? Solomon is too wise for the wise. He knows that at the end of the day, he is going to be the one who has to make the difficult decisions, whether they are wise or foolish, and whether you agree with him of not.
Respect the Authority of the Fools Above You
Eccl. 8:2 I say: Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him.
3 Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. 4 For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?”
Solomon does not say, keep the King’s command because he is always right, or because he’s so wise, but because he is king and as such has been set in a place over you by God. The second half of verse two tells us that the reason is because of the “oath of God” This could be either the oath God took within himself to set up rulers and authorities to execute justice and restrain chaos, as it states in Romans 13:
Rom. 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
or the oath that we take before God to submit to those in authority above us. Both understandings could be right, and Solomon’s wise advice speaks into both: everyone has people in positions of authority above them that are set over us by God’s providential arrangement and to who we all pledge a measure of our submission. And, even though Solomon is speaking about a monarchy, it doesn’t matter how the power is distributed, we all submit to authorities. You could have five roommates who decide everything democratically, but if three of them vote against you, it is the same as a king.
Solomon is a king. He knows that he will make the authoritative decision - some decisions that his advisors will think foolish. So he advises them here how to respect his authority even when they think him to be a fool.
Show No Disrespect ("Be not hasty to go from his presence”) In the ancient world, and still today, how you approach and take leave of the king was very important and showed the respect of his office. Consider the book of Esther, how carefully she approached the king of Persia and how respectfully she took her leave. If a person were to hastily walk out on the king in anger, such a public sign of insubordination would have to be dealt with! Imagine what your boss would do if in the middle of a meeting you walked out. Now imagine doing that to the king. You are basically asking him to fire you or worse. What good is your wisdom if you are fired. So Solomon say, even if you disagree with me and think I’m an idiot, don’t let your anger boil over, take your leave respectfully.
Plot No Defiant Stand:(“Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases”. Choose Your Battles Very Carefully. If you’re going to find a hill to die on, you better make sure that 1) it is a worthy cause, 2) you can win. I can imagine Solomon saying to his advisors, “Look, it’s fine if you disagree. But if you come after me? If you make me your enemy? You better be right and you’d better come hard. This is reality of challenging authority - even if you are right, you are making an enemy of those who rule over you. If you’re always looking for a hill to die on, you probably wont live that long.
Solomon is giving practical advice, to those who may work for him who think he’s an idiot. If they want to be of any use to him and service of the kingdom in the future, they can’t just fly off the handle whenever their “wisdom” is not listened to. So what does Solomon advise them to do?
Demonstrate Wisdom Through Good Work
5 Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. 6 For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him.
Solomon writes “Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing” - in other words, you’re not going to get in trouble for carrying out what my commands. However, “the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. 6 For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him.” Yes, I realize that my idiotic commands might be a burden weighing you down, but if you are so wise, you will figure out a way to carry out my commands in a proper and just manner. Show me your wisdom by your industry and creativity.
Now, it should be recognized at this moment that we’re speaking about matters in which your wisdom and the prevailing authorities wisdom are at odds and you think that those about you are acting foolishly. We’re not talking about an authority asking you to do something illegal or immoral. If that is the case, you violate the command of the authority out of fear of God. This becomes clear in the context, see especially verse 12 “Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him.”
So for example, Peter and James were told by the temple authorities that they were to stop preaching Jesus, “Acts 4:19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
If it is something truly immoral or unethical that an authority in your life is asking you to do, you must not do it. And yes, there will be consequences for authority is backed up with power. However, for most of us, our problems with the authority in our lives are not because they are asking us to violate God’s law, but our own preferences, desired outcomes, and advice.
The Problems with Fools Like Us Being in Positions of Authority
Here’s where Solomon get’s very honest. For the problem is not just with our boss, its with all of us. For Solomon understand the limits of his own wisdom:
7 For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? 8 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. 9 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.
No one knows the future
The king doesn’t know the future, no one does.
No one can control everything
The king is limited in his power to channel the motivations of others or keep calamity from happening.
No one can be freed from sinful inclinations
Just as a soldier is bound to his duty, so also is your king bound up in his own sinful nature. And so Solomon says, even observing his own actions and decisions as king, he found that the absolute power he ruled over others at times led to hurt them and even himself.
And so here is part of the problem with life in the breath. We need the order authority provides to keep us from chaos, yet the order that authority provides us is itself limited by the human condition. In other words - yes your boss might be a fool, but if you were to become the boss, who knows the foolish and evil things you might inflict on others.
This is very helpful to keep in mind if we are in fact placed in positions of power and authority over others. We must understand the limitations of our understanding, control, and sinful inclinations. If we do not, the more we try to deny these realities, the more tyrannical we will become in our own practice of authority.
God Will Deal With The Truly Wicked Rulers - Fear God
Eccl. 8:10 Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things. This also is vanity. 11 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. 12 Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. 13 But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.
A wicked man passed away. Now, during his life he received praised for presenting himself as a pious and righteous ruler, which is another problem with hierarchical systems - we tend to flatter those above us or assume that they are more wise or righteous than they are. We let them off the hook when they do wrong, and therefore they are encouraged to get away with more and more - its in our nature to do so. The more wickedness he got away with, the more wicked he became.
So what it Solomon’s final conclusion for this case that a man rules over another man to his hurt? Solomon’s final answer is that there is a ruler above the authority and that they will ultimately have to answer before him.
The only true hope in facing the hebel of this life is justice in the next. God has appointed a time of judgement, during which every human being, those of high position and of low will stand before the Supreme authority of the universe and give account of our deeds. This Judge is not a foolish, corrupt judge, He is a loving, caring father.