Search Bible Outlines and commentaries




Douglas Miller: In sum, the larger unit (8:1-17) begins in 8:1 with the double rhetorical question: Who is like the wise man? Who knows the interpretation/explanation? It closes with statements that no one can find out (find, three times) or know the work of God (v. 17 NRSV). Qohelet’s concern for the limitations of human knowledge in this section is then confirmed by the triple use of vapor at its center (8:10-15). The problem of the wicked prospering is not resolved; there remains a tension between confidence in God’s justice and the presence of injustice.

Craig Bartholomew: Traditional wisdom may teach that there is a time and a place for judgment and justice (v. 6), but what if our observation contradicts this and we see justice endlessly delayed? This is the problem Qohelet moves on to in this section, which deals with the problem of the wicked not being speedily punished.

George Hendry: The mills of God grind slowly – so slowly that men may easily suppose they do not grind at all.  The universe appears indifferent to moral distinctions, and Ecclesiastes is well aware of the difficulties of a too facile acceptance of the Jewish “philosophy of history” and of attempts to discern divine judgments in the course of events (v. 14).  Nevertheless he knows of the certainty of judgment, even though it be not manifest in the things that are seen and temporal, and for this cause he faints not and can even laugh at despair (v. 15).  Here he shows, more clearly perhaps than anywhere else in the book, that his own soul has an anchor within the veil.

Albert Barnes:  In the face of the incomprehensible course of external events, he determined to abide in the fear and trust of God Ecclesiastes 8:6-14, and to acknowledge the natural incompetence of every man to find out the unsearchable ways of God Ecclesiastes 8:15-17.

Joseph Benson: It shall be well with the good, and ill with the wicked, though not immediately, Ecclesiastes 8:12-14. Therefore cheerfully use the gifts of God, and acquiesce in his will, Ecclesiastes 8:15-17.


David Hubbard: The first set of reflections explores the pattern of rewards that prevails in human experience. The wicked seem sometimes to be honored for their hypocrisy, while the righteous are forgotten despite their piety (v. 10); divine judgment often lingers so long that fear of it ceases to be a corrective to society’s proneness to do wrong (v. 11); in short, the system of rewards on occasion, at least, works backwards—righteous people get what is due the wicked and vice versa (v. 14).

The thoughts (vv. 12–13) sandwiched between these criticisms of divine justice show clearly that Koheleth was suggesting that the apparent inconsistencies in God’s dealing with the human family were the exceptions not the rule: in the great bulk of situations those who “fear God” will receive blessing (“good”), while the “sinner” and the “wicked” person will ultimately perish even though the “sentence” (v. 11) may seem frightfully slow in coming.

A.  (:10) Inconsistent Legacies

  1. Inconsistent Honoring of the Wicked in Their Burial

So then, I have seen the wicked buried,

those who used to go in and out from the holy place,

Allen Ross: The first sentence sets the stage with the observation of the funerals of wicked people. The second sentence is about those who came to the holy place (most likely a synagogue) to honor the dead and then exited the holy place to join in the funeral procession. The third sentence then completes the picture of what Qohelet calls absurd: those who had done righteously were forgotten. It is oppressive for him to think that the wicked are buried with pomp and great honor (cf. Job 21:32–33), while the righteous are forgotten.

David Thompson: The fact that wicked people are buried implies that when wicked people die, many people show up to honor them. Wicked people do reach positions of honor and prominence and Solomon had certainly witnessed lavish funerals for wicked people that died. Solomon saw that wicked people die and are honored by an impressive funeral. People gather to pay their respects to people who do not deserve respect.

  1. Inconsistent Forgetting of the Righteous

and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus.

  1. Refrain of Futility

This too is futility.

Tremper Longman: Qohelet observes that wicked people die and their deeds are forgotten (the verb in the MT is the hithpael of škḥ) in the city where they were active in the holy place. On a surface level that sounds like good news to the righteous: What could be better than to have the wickedness of the evil slide into oblivion? But Qohelet surprises us and concludes, “This too is meaningless.” . . .

[Longman] argues on the basis of the ancient versions for a slight emendation from the hitpael of škḥto forget” to the hithpael of šbḥ to praise.” With this reading (see also NIV, NRSV, and numerous modern commentators), the verse clearly pinpoints a logical cause behind Qohelet’s frustration. The wicked may indeed die, but even then they are buried and praised in the city where they did their evil deeds and religious posturing. It is the fact that the wicked continue to receive the praise owed to the righteous that frustrates Qohelet and leads him to utter his conclusion that “this is meaningless.”

Douglas Miller: one can discern the heart of the Teacher’s message regardless of how one resolves the textual puzzle. As he has observed before, sometimes the wicked fare well, the righteous fare badly, and justice is not served (5:8 and 8:14 just below). For this reason, sifting through all the interpretive options for verse 10 is not essential. . .

That being said, the sixth option [“The wicked came from the holy place and were buried; those who acted righteously were forgotten” (Symmachus, NJPS)] is attractive because it complements the way verses 11-14 contrast wicked and righteous. The sixth option requires a small change in the received Hebrew text (the result would well fit the Hebrew text reconstructed from the LXX for this part of the verse); the statement then means brought to burial (buried, T/NIV and NRSV). The sixth approach also interprets the word ken (this, NIV; such things, NRSV) as righteously; although this word is not used with this sense elsewhere in Ecclesiastes, it is a well-established usage (e.g., Gen 42:11; 1 Sam 23:17). Forgetting (šaka ) the righteous in the context of death indicates an abandonment, a neglect of proper burial (Fox 1999: 284; cf. Ps 9:18; Isa 49:15); the bodies of the righteous lie neglected in the city, while the wicked who die are taken from the city for burial in the cemetery. Thus, since Qohelet says elsewhere that everyone is forgotten (1:11; 2:16), the sixth option explains a special use of šaka (to forget) in this context. The holy place is either the temple or the synagogue from which the funeral proceeded. Thus Qohelet moves from a lack of power over death (8:8) to a reflection on the injustices of death (8:10).

David Hubbard: [Supports same textual changes] “Then I saw the wicked approaching and entering the place of holiness and doing so frequently, while the righteous were forgotten in the very city where they did the right things. This also is vanity.”

B.  (:11) Inconsistent Retribution for Wickedness

Because 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.

David Hubbard: Note that nothing is said here about human responsibility to execute sentences. From this silence, and indeed the whole context, especially the emphasis on the fear of God (vv. 12–13), it seems safe to say that the One who does not work “speedily” enough is God.

Allen Ross: Building on this example, Qohelet complains that the lack of swift retribution for wicked crimes only encourages further wickedness. In the case just mentioned in v.10—that of wicked people’s burial with full honors—there is no longer even the possibility of retribution for crimes committed. While initially one might think that Qohelet’s complaint is against those in the city who have honored the wicked and forgotten the righteous, the very fact that death has entered the picture means that, ultimately, his complaint is against God, who has allowed the wicked to go beyond the jurisdiction where justice can be meted out.

William Barrick: Being Wise in God’s Thorne Room (:10-17)

Because of the sluggish pace of the legal system, the law loses its power to dissuade people from evil. Solomon observes that people give themselves more fully to committing evil deeds when “the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly” (v. 11). Deniers of Solomonic authorship point out that Solomon, as king, had control over the pace of justice. Why complain about something over which he himself had control? He did not make every legal decision. Like all kings he delegated authority in lesser cases to other leaders (see 5:8). Some failed to expedite justice or were slowed in the process by accepting bribes (cp. 7:7). All such injustice comes about because of the fallen nature of humanity.

Leon Hyatt: The same problems exist today in enforcing the law. Suspension of penalties, probation, and parole are techniques that are used to give people an opportunity to make a new start and to correct their ways, but all too often they become excuses for a person to continue his wrongdoing. No human wisdom can tell when placing a person on probation or parole will help him correct his ways and when it will increase his incentive to do wrong. The best judgment of judges often proves to be wrong, no matter how they decide to handle a case. In spite of all the advances in law enforcement and in spite of all of the sincere efforts to improve the dispensing of justice, the problem of unfair and unequal enforcement of the law is as great a problem today as it was in Solomon’s day. It remains as a testimony to the vanity of human wisdom.

C.  (:12-13) Indisputable Value of the Fear of God

  1. (:12)  It Will Ultimately Be Well for Those Who Fear God

Although 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.

Douglas Miller: The Teacher laments that sentence against an evil deed/crime comes slowly, a circumstance that encourages more wrong to be committed (v. 11). The statement is general enough to include divine as well as human judgment against an evil deed. With verse 12, on the other hand, the speaker seems confident that regardless whether a wicked person commits a hundred crimes and lives long, it will somehow be better for God-fearing ones because they fear God. While this does not negate the lament of verse 11, it softens it by giving an encouraging word to faithful believers.

David Hubbard: the verse attests the fact that divine slowness in punishing the wicked should not dampen the hopes of the faithful for their own just and joyful reward.

  1. (:13)  It Will Ultimately Not Be Well for Those Who Don’t Fear God

But 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.

Iain Provan: Qohelet resists the conclusion that wickedness pays. He continues to affirm that it will go better with the person who fears God than with the person who does not (vv. 12–13), and he explicitly states that the days of the wicked “will not lengthen like a shadow,” by which is probably meant that the life of the wicked is a fleeting and insubstantial thing that does not last long (cf. 6:12).

Craig Bartholomew: The confession continues in v. 13 but with an important shift. In contrast to the one who fears God, it will not be well with the wicked and their days will not be long, because they do not fear God. As we have observed before, when Qohelet juxtaposes his confessional view with his enigmatic view, he does not resolve the contradictions but leaves them intact. So here, the clear contradiction is left intact: in v. 12a the sinners do prolong their lives, whereas in v. 13b they will not prolong their days! The confessional statement of vv. 12–13 thus affirms the character-consequence structure of Proverbs, but the juxtaposition of contradictory views is not resolved. Thus a gap is opened up in the text between what Qohelet observed and what he knows. The gap represents the immense struggle within Qohelet: how does one resolve the contradiction between what one observes and what one “knows”?

D.  (:14) Inconsistent Examples of Futility Under the Sun

  1. Bad Things Can Happen to the Righteous

a.  Refrain of Futility

There is futility which is done on the earth,

Allen Ross: Verse 14 is a further description of an enigmatic situation of injustice that Qohelet has observed. Justice is turned upside down. The righteous are treated as if wicked and the wicked as if righteous. This too Qohelet cannot comprehend—it is enigmatic, a terrible mystery. Qohelet’s strong feelings about this are indicated by the double use of “enigma(tic),” at the beginning and end of this verse.

b.  Observation

that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked.

  1. Good Things Can Happen to the Wicked

a.  Observation

On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous.

b.  Refrain of Futility

I say that this too is futility.


So 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.

Iain Provan: The business of living well before God in this way must not be sacrificed in the pursuit of truth that is ultimately beyond our grasp.

Douglas Miller: The Teacher concludes the subsection with his familiar exhortation to enjoy life: people should eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves (v. 15 NRSV; cf. 2:24; 3:12-13; 5:18; 9:7). While there is some reason to hope for a better future, appropriate rewards are often inaccessible in the present. He therefore commends enjoyment in the midst of the present circumstances. His reference to the days of life that God gives them under the sun alludes to what Qohelet has said before about the brevity of these days (NRSV; 2:3; 5:18; 6:12) and their pain (1:13; 2:23; 5:17), as well as their vaporous nature overall (7:15; 9:9) [Death, p. 229].

David Hubbard: The simple graces from God’s hand are the daily staff of life. We should lean on them particularly hard just at those points where bafflement bodes spiritual defeat. “Commended” is literally “praised” (Heb. shābah), the same word with which the Preacher saluted death in 4:2. When the mystery of justice or any other mystery looms overwhelmingly before us, what better distraction, what sounder reorientation can we gain than to fix our hearts on the certainty of what we understand: food, drink, and rejoicing. “Labor” (see 1:3) there will be—both the “labor” to gain sustenance and the “labor” to gain understanding. But we have a “stand-by” (to adapt one translation of “remain”, JB) to see us through “the days of (our) lives” that “God gives.That stand-by is joy.

Philip Graham Ryken: the Preacher is growing more and more confident about this joy. Earlier he told us that he had found “nothing better” than joy (Ecclesiastes 2:24) and that he had “seen” joy (Ecclesiastes 5:18), but here he urges us to experience God’s joy for ourselves. “I commend joy,” he says (Ecclesiastes 8:15), and the word he uses for “commend” is a Hebrew word for praise (shabach). Yes, there is vanity under the sun. Yes, we see injustice that is hard to accept or understand. Yes, we have a lot of hard work to do. Nevertheless, there is joy for us in the ordinary things of life — eating, drinking, and sharing fellowship with the people of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Our life is not only a great deal of trouble and hard work; it is also refreshment and joy in God’s goodness. We labor, but God nourishes and sustains us. There is a reason to celebrate. . . . God is calling us to rejoice, to celebrate in the midst of our working day.”  Without the saving, personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and the certainty of eternal life, it is hard to have much joy at all. Even the best moments in life are tinged with sadness because we know that life will not last forever. One day we will have to die, and unless we know Christ, we live in the fearful expectation of judgment.


A.  (:16-17a) The Pursuit of Wisdom

When 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), 17 and I saw every work of God,

Tremper Longman: Qohelet here restates the goal of his intellectual labor (vv. 16–17a). He wants to know wisdom (v. 16), but his conclusions are extremely disappointing. What he discovers is the limitation of knowledge. No one, not even the wise, can understand what is going on in the world. As in 7:25–29 Qohelet admits that no one can find (māṣāʾ, here translated comprehend) the world.

Allen Ross: His autonomous epistemology results in his not seeing sleep! What he sees is so disturbing that it prevents him from finding rest. He is fully engaged in the quest, but it is constantly bringing him irresolvable enigmas, and one can imagine the impact of such a state on one’s sleep. Qohelet himself shares in the experience he describes in 2:23: even at night his mind does not rest.

B.  (:17b) The Elusiveness of Wisdom

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.

Walter Kaiser: No one can know entirely what goes on under the sun (8:17)—only God knows comprehensively and completely. What mortals know is partial and incomplete. Mortals can dig and search for wisdom as much as they wish, but they will discover that they will be as shut out from their desired goal for comprehensive knowledge as the person who went on the same quest for wisdom in Job 28. The author of Job 28 plainly declared: “Man does not know the way to [wisdom]” (Job 28:13), for only “God understands the way” (Job 28:23). In fact, God said to man, “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is discernment” (Job 28:28). No wonder, then, that even so-called wise men cannot know what goes on under the sun. Human insight, understanding, and reason, like water, cannot rise higher than their source or its own level. Therefore, to the degree that God reveals His plan to believers, to that degree only are they able to apprehend that much of the plan of God. Yet there still are mysteries and puzzling aspects that remain. Only God knows entirely; we mortals know only in part.

Joseph Benson: No man, though ever so wise, is able fully and perfectly to understand these things. And therefore, it is best for man not to perplex himself with endless and fruitless inquiries about those matters, but quietly to submit to God’s will and providence, and to live in the fear of God, and the comfortable enjoyment of his blessings.

Douglas Miller: With some repetition, the Teacher insists that no one—not even the wise, who have the greatest potential—can make complete sense of what is going on in the world (v. 17). Comparing this verse with other statements Qohelet has made, we should understand that some knowledge, even important knowledge but not total knowledge, can be achieved.

Allen Ross: There are no wise people, only those whom God has given for a few short years the task of trying to find wisdom, yet has not given along with the task the ability to find it. To Qohelet, this is absurd.

David Thompson: As a believer, we do not have to understand or be able to explain everything God does to find meaning to life. God does what He does. He does not demand that we be able to explain it. What He does demand is that we trust Him and fear Him and obey Him. That is the mark of wisdom. That is the mark of a meaningful life. There are many mysteries of God that exist in this world. We will never be able to resolve them and that is okay. We can still have meaning and fulfillment if we will keep our focus on God and continue to enjoy what He has given to us.