Obedience to Authority

1Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things? Wisdom brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance.

2Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. 3Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. 4Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, "What are you doing?" 5Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. 6For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man’s misery weighs heavily upon him.

7Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come? 8No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death. As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it.

9All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. 10Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.

This chapter begins with Solomon again pointing out a benefit of wisdom: "Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things? Wisdom brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance" (vs. 1). True wisdom, godly wisdom, can even benefit physical appearance. Sin often hardens the face as well as the heart, bringing lines of sadness, despair, guilt and worry. But wisdom "brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance." Look into the eyes of one who is wise in Christ, and see the joy and peace.

Solomon goes on with his proverbial teachings by giving wise advice concerning obedience to authority: "Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God" (vs. 2). Solomon advises us to "obey the king’s command", and then he gives us a reason to do so: "…because you took an oath before God." We all here in America pledge allegiance to our country daily in grade school, and, no doubt, I imagine that such oaths are performed in most countries. We are commanded over and over in the Bible to fulfill our oaths. In this instance, Solomon tells us to fulfill our oaths by obeying the king’s command.

Moreover, one of our Christian duties is to obey the laws of the land. Paul told us: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established" (Rom. 13:1; see also Titus 3:1; I Pet. 2:13–18). Governments are instruments of God, instruments that He uses to keep peace in a sinful world.

Solomon goes on to give practical advice concerning obedience to authority: "Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’ Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man’s misery weighs heavily upon him" (vss. 3–6). Solomon’s comments, taken literally, are directed to those who have personal dealings with "the king". Few of us live in countries that have kings; even fewer (if any) have personal access to the king. We may, however, apply these words of advice of Solomon to our dealings with any authority figures: whether it be our parents, our bosses, our local government officials, etc. With this in mind, let’s look at Solomon’s advice, taking special notice of how his advice applies to the boss/employee relationship.

First Solomon says: "Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence." In other words, when in the presence of those in authority, listen to what they have to say, hear them out, and do not be anxious to leave their presence for fear of being given marching orders. Don’t avoid the boss for fear that you will be given work to do! On the contrary, do your part to enlist yourself to help solve the boss’s problems.

Solomon also advises: "Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases." Though it is not improper to voice to the boss your opinion concerning the way that you think things should be done, there comes a time when, once the boss has decided on a plan, it is wise to support that plan, "for he will do whatever he pleases." Any opposition to the boss should be voiced tactfully and respectfully, for "who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’" To continue persistently in rebellion against the wishes of the boss is foolish, and can lead to dire consequences. On the other hand, "whoever obeys his command will come to no harm."

We would do well to follow this advice of Solomon, provided that the commands of the authorities are not in contradiction to the commands of the highest authority, that is, God. As Peter said: "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29). I believe that Solomon is speaking of times of disobedience in his next, enigmatic words: "…and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man’s misery weighs heavily upon him" (vs. 5–6). Yes, on rare occasions, "there is a proper time and procedure" to disobey the command of authority, but any such disobedience must be done with serious thought, and only at the "proper time", and with full acceptance of the result of such actions. If you disobey your boss, be willing to accept the consequences of getting fired. If you disobey governmental authority, be willing to accept the consequences of getting thrown in jail. In the Bible, the godly people who disobeyed governing authorities—such as Daniel, Peter and Paul—did so with an attitude of respectful opposition. When they were arrested for their disobedience, they accepted their punishment, even prayed for their captors, trusting their ultimate fate to the hands of God.

Though, in general, we are to "obey the king’s command", and though the king has authority to "do whatever he pleases", yet his powers are limited: "Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?" (vs. 7). The king is limited in his foresight. He cannot be certain what the consequences of his actions will be. Because of this limitation placed upon the king and, indeed, everyone, we can safely say that nobody is perfect.

The king is also limited by his mortality: "No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death" (vs. 8). For Solomon, the fact that "no one has power over the day of his death" also implies that a higher being does have power over the day of death. This, in turn, implies that everyone will be held accountable for their actions on earth. As Solomon put it: "As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it" (vs. 8). Death is not an escape from judgment for evil done in this life. On the other side of death’s door, you won’t be able to say: "Whew! I got away with that!" On the contrary, after death comes the judgment. As Paul stated: "For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (II Cor. 5:10).

Which is not to say that in this life there will be no dire consequences for a king’s wickedness. Solomon notes: "There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt" (vs. 9). Power is dangerous. It can lead to so many sins. And while, as noted, these sins have eternal consequences, a life of sin can also make life on earth miserable. Sadly, many in the world revere those who live a life of sin. Solomon saw this, and did not understand it: "Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless." (vs. 10). These men were not only wicked but hypocritical. Though they practiced wickedness, they pretended to worship of God, as they would "come and go from the holy place." Nevertheless, they still were revered in the place where they practiced their wickedness, as they "received praise in the city where they did this." This is a backward world, a world that reveres wickedness, and derides goodness and truth. Oh Lord, come quickly!

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