We live in a world of complexities and conundrums, so must resist falling into an “all or nothing” mentality. The kings of the Bible aren’t neatly divided between good and bad. It’s filled with great kings who are adulterers (David) and evil kings who bless the people of God (Cyrus).
The text for the sermon today is Ecclesiastes 8. These are the words of God:
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?” 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. 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.
Throughout this study we’ve said one of the two dominant themes in Ecclesiastes is divine sovereignty. And many times, discussions of this nature tend to wind themselves up in esoteric and metaphysical knots. But we must remember that Ecclesiastes isn’t an esoteric book. It’s divine sovereignty for the mechanic who wants to understand why cylinder heads crack and the gardener who can’t understand how weeds got back into that bed.
So, instead of defining divine sovereignty as if we just ate a theological dictionary, let’s define it as such: God is God; and however big you think he is, he’s bigger. His bigness isn’t so much a quantitative leap as it is a qualitative leap. God isn’t bigger than us the way that the Earth is bigger than a pinhead. He’s bigger than us the way Beethoven’s 5th is bigger than a pinhead. And, as Solomon teaches us about God’s power and sovereignty, in chapter 8 he applies the doctrine to politics. This is sovereignty in the halls of power.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Kings are only as good as the counsel they receive; therefore, a wise man offers the king the truth he needs in the way that he needs it. (v. 1) Generally speaking, we are to obey governmental officials, because they are installed by God. (v. 2) Wisdom doesn’t make every political hill an Iwo Jima. This isn’t an ideal world, and some issues aren’t worth shedding your blood for. (v. 3-4) The key is to walk in obedience to God. When you are doing this, God will order your thoughts, actions, and tell you the proper time to draw a line in the sand. (v. 5-8) One of the insanities of this life is when evil men are celebrated, like embalming Lenin and building him a museum. (v. 9-10) The way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to bring swift justice against wrong doers. When this doesn’t happen, and evil prevails, the righteous must remember that the Lord will bring perfect justice in the end. (v. 11-13) If you are seeing justice mishandled by governmental leaders who are either criminally incompetent or simply criminal, don’t forget to take joy where you can. (v. 15) You are not omniscient, God is. Even the wise do not see all ends. God does. No matter how hard you try, you can’t possibly understand all that he is up to. (v. 16-17)
THE MATTER OF ALLEGIANCE
All governmental authority comes from God. (Rom. 13) In his goodness to human beings God has instituted various governments. The first is self-government. There can be no government of groups without self-government. God also established three other governments: family (Gen. 2), civil (Gen. 9), and ecclesiastical, or church (Matt. 16).
Because each of these governments were established directly by God, God has defined them, set their boundaries, and Scripture frequently calls us to obey them “in the Lord.” “In the Lord” is important because it limits the authority of each of those governments. We are to give allegiance to our national leaders, but it is not absolute allegiance. We render unto Caesar his due, but no more. The rest belongs to God.
Because we are people who claim an objective divine authority, we have a tendency towards political inflexibility. But we live in a world of complexities and conundrums, so must resist falling into an “all or nothing” mentality. The kings of the Bible aren’t neatly divided between good and bad. It’s filled with great kings who are adulterers (David) and evil kings who bless the people of God (Cyrus). This means that political battles must be kept in perspective. Flexibility and prudence are not the same thing as cowardice. Voting for a less than saintly candidate is not the same thing as worshipping vice.
King Ahab was a wicked man who had a cabinet member who feared the Lord. Many faithful Christians might wonder how a godly man could work in the administration of an ungodly king, but the Bible doesn’t. And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house… Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly: For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water. (1 Kgs. 18:3–4)
It is not our part to master all the tides of the world but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after us may have clean earth to till. – Tolkien
So, what does it look like to follow Christ in a godless nation led by godless leaders? Solomon had seen sinners do evil a hundred times with impunity. They lived long and when they died, everyone built memorials for them. But the memorials of tyrants are a mist, just as the tyrants were a mist, and those who build the memorials are a mist. They have no power to prolong their days (v. 13)
So, be joyful. Our nation is in the mess it’s in because it has forgotten the God who gives everything. And while we certainly need better leaders, we also need God’s people receiving God’s gifts with joy. Tyrants are not just fought with ballots or muskets; they are fought as families and friends gather around the table and thank God for their food. And our enjoyment of those meals isn’t a cheat. We can truly enjoy them because the true king has conquered the grave. He isn’t a mist. (Isa. 53:10) He has been given the throne of his father, David. He is ruling and reigning in the church. We are preaching the gospel to every creature and baptizing them. And one day, every knee will bow: the knees of the faithful will fall in love and the knees of tyrants will bend in submission.