“Authority” – Ecclesiastes 8:2-10

January 19th, 2014

Ecclesiastes 8:2-10


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Bible Memory Verse for the WeekObey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.  — Hebrews 13:17


Background Information:

  • (v. 3) Recent studies have indicated that “evil thing” may mean an act of rebellion or treachery against the throne.  If that is the case then the first line of verse 3 does not refer to a rapid and impolite exit from the throne room but a brash change of loyalty that removes the rebel from the king’s side to the conspirators’.  The explanatory clause that ends verse 3 speaks not of the king’s petty pique or hurt feelings but of the length to which he will go–whatever pleases him”–to quash a coup.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 181-82)


The questions to be answered are . . . Why Koheleth’s interest in authority all of a sudden?    What is he doing here?   What do we need to know about authority to be wise and to enjoy shalom in a life under heaven as opposed to authority in a life under the sun?


Answer:  If we believe in a sovereign, all powerful, all knowing, all wise God, then we believe He distributes power, control and authority as He sees fit.  Koheleth wants you to see that life under heaven (with a knowledge of God) involves submitting to authority structures as part of enjoying shalom.  If there were no God, then anarchy would be the only ruling system that would make sense.


A state is essentially a body of men who have been covenanted together to maintain certain relationships between each other by the observance of certain laws.  Without these laws and the mutual agreement to observe them, the bad and selfish strong man would be supreme; the weaker would go to the wall; life would become ruled by the law of the jungle.  Every ordinary man owes his security to the state, and is therefore under a responsibility to it.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Romans, 174)


In our own civilization, if every individual had liberty to do exactly as he pleased for only three days, all would be chaos.  (Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Discipline, 121)


The Christian is never to expect too much from the state.  This is always a difficulty.  People always expect too much from it.  Let me emphasize that by saying that Christians should never get excited about the state.  They should never get excited about politics.  They are to be interested; they are to vote; they must be intelligent and informed; but they should never get excited about one political party or the other.  But Christians often do, and to the extent that they do, they come under the condemnation of the Scriptures.

That was the whole fallacy, surely, behind the French Revolution of 1789.  People went mad.  Liberty!  Equality!  Fraternity!  The Revolution was going to solve all problems; it was going to put the world right.  Well, political revolution has not put the world right, and it never will.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 13, 57)


Even a Communist dictatorship is better than no state at all.  The darkest days in Israel’s history were those days described in Jg 17:6 when “everyone did as he saw fit.”  Just a few days (a few hours!) Without law in today’s world and all would be chaos, just as in the book of Judges.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Romans, 243)


AUTHORITY = The right to impose obligations.   (R.C. Sproul)


The Word for the Day is . . . Submit


What does Koheleth want us to know about relating to authority to make us wise?:

I-  Submitting to authority is to honor God’s servant.  (Eccl 8:2-5; see also: Jn 19:11; Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pt 2:13-17)


God casts the deciding vote in every election


Every form of government, whether good or bad, cruel or benevolent, is divinely decreed by God.  He has ordained that man should rule over man.  There is no other way to maintain an orderly society.  So it is a basic rule of life that men are to submit to those in power.  (C.S. Lovett, Lovett’s Lights on Romans, 339)


Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is Divine… Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants.  Indeed, these two sciences run into each other.  (James Wilson: signer of both the declaration of Independence and the Constitution; Original Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court)


Submission is not to be blind passivity.  RSV way (Heb. mišpāt) means ‘custom, procedure’ as well as ‘verdict, judgment;’ the wise man will be alert to God’s timing and ‘proper procedures,’ as were Jonathan (1 Sm 19:4-6), Nathan (2 Sm 12:1-14) and Esther (Est 7:2-4).  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 119)


There will be times when obeying the government will not be convenient, when it will interfere with other things you want to do.  To be summoned for jury duty just when you are leaving for vacation is not at all convenient.  To be hit with a zoning restriction that prohibits you from making a desired change on your property is not very pleasant; nor is paying your taxes when they seem a heavy burden.  But it is part of a believer’s response to government.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 113)


“Oath to God” is a reminder that all of our promises are made before God and, accordingly, take on a seriousness beyond the words with which they are uttered.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 181)


Because Solomon speaks in general terms in Ecclesiastes, some passages lend themselves to several applications.  This is such a passage.  The king he speaks of could be either an earthly ruler or the King of kings, that is, God.  Since the Hebrew language makes no distinction between small and capital letters, it’s up to the translators to decide on that.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 82)


In ancient times people stood in awe of their rulers.  One did not enter or leave a king’s presence without his permission.  The expression “to leave the king’s presence” was another way of saying “to leave without permission.”  Simply to turn one’s back on a king and walk out was a terrible insult to the monarch.  To do so would invite almost certain death.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 83)


Obey your leaders and remain loyal to them.  Why?  If for no other reason than that they have the ability to make life difficult for you.  Aside from this obvious instruction is a latent application: The speech of superiors has a direct effect on the loyalty and cooperation they receive from their subordinates.  In other words, employees respect a boss with a discreet mouth.  Leaders who exercise their authority with tact, sensitivity, and compassion will generally receive the benefit of supportive followers.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 77)


We must not be forward to find fault with the public administration, or quarrel with every thing that is not just according to our mind, nor quit our post of service under the government, and throw it up, upon every discontent (v. 3).  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1026)


2-7.  If you aim to please God, you are like a courtier who tries to please his king.   Obey the king’s commands, recognizing that you are pledged to serve him (v. 2).  If you displease him, you must accept the fact that there will be a rift between you.  He says what you should do (v. 3).  He is not accountable to you for what he does (v. 4).  When you know his will, you will be wise to do it at the right time and in the right way (v. 5), even though you cannot see his full purpose (vv. 6-7).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1178-79)


If you take obedience to the laws of the country lightly–if you say, “Well, everyone is doing it” or “They’re crazy laws anyway” or “It’s not my law; I didn’t write it or vote for it”–if you do that, then you are contributing to a spirit of lawlessness that will issue in anarchy and eventually lead to the loss of civil liberties and to a dictatorial government.  On the other hand, if you obey the laws of the land, you will be contributing to society by helping to sustain a stable and liberty-respecting government.  (James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Vol. 4, The New Humanity, 1666)


What he (Paul in Romans 13) says is that the concept of government is ordained by God.  In other words, he does not, for example, say that monarchy and an aristocracy have been ordained by God.  He does not say that the ruler should only be an emperor, or that a democracy is the only right form of government, or that an oligarchy alone is right.  He does not mention these at all.  All he is saying is that God has ordained that there should be governments, that there should be law and that there should be order.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 13, 36)


The OT had denounced pagan nations and their rulers—but some of the very prophets whose denunciations were fiercest also told Israel that God was working through the pagan nations and their rulers for Israel’s long-term good (Assyria, in Isaiah 10; Cyrus, in Isaiah 45; Babylon itself, In Jeremiah 29).    (N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone, Romans: Part Two, 87)


God uses even unworthy and culpable men as means to the accomplishment of His purposes (cf. Acts 4:24-28).  But on the other hand the offenses of governments do not undo the fact that it is God who has given the power–even the power which they now misuse–and that He can use even unrighteousness for the accomplishment of His purpose.  (Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans, 428)


“There is no power, but of God.”  Therefore, wherever powers exist and flourish, they exist and flourish because God has ordained them.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, 181)


It has been said that it is strange that Paul would speak so favorably about rulers.  Had he not himself been treated cruelly by the civil authorities?  See Acts 16:19-24.  Cf. 2 Cor 11:25: “thrice was I beaten with rods.”  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Romans, 434)


If I refuse for no just reason to submit to the authority of my employer, or my parents, or my teachers, or my government, ultimately I am in defiance of God, and I become a participant in lawlessness which is the spirit of the antichrist.  Christians are to be part of the complex of righteousness, not the complex of lawlessness.  We become models of submission to authority which the world is not.  We are called to obey God, and by obeying civil magistrates we show our spirit of submission and obedience to God himself.  (RC Sproul, The Gospel of God: Romans, 214)


Every Christian, no matter what form of government he lives under, is under command from the Lord to maintain proper and useful submission to that government for the sake of leading a peaceful life and having an effective witness.  This recurring theme of submission to society’s controlling power is nowhere more forcefully dealt with than here.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Romans 9-16, 206)


In the opening command, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1), “everyone” is emphatic: every believer.  So strong is the thought that verse 2 concludes, “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.”  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Romans, 240)


The logical ramification is simple.  Because civil government is an institution of God, to rebel against government is to rebel against the God who has established it.  In his commentary on Romans, the nineteenth-century Scottish evangelist Robert Haldane wrote, “The people of God then ought to consider resistance to the government under which they live as a very awful crime, even as resistance to God Himself” (An Exposition of Romans, 579).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Romans 9-16, 220)


Robert Haldane comments that “The institution of civil government is a dispensation of mercy, and its existence is so indispensable, that the moment it ceases under one form, it re-establishes itself in another.  The world, ever since the fall, when the dominion of one part of the human race over another was immediately introduced (Gn 3:16), has been in such a state of corruption and depravity, that without the powerful obstacle presented by civil government to the selfish and malignant passions of men, it would be better to live among the beasts of the forest than in human society.  As soon as its restraints are removed, man shows himself in his real character.  When there was no king in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes, we see in the last three chapters of the book of Judges what were the dreadful consequences.  (An Exposition of Romans, 581).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Romans 9-16, 225)


The universal call to submit to authority touches the root of our corruption.  Everyone is a sinner, and every sin is an act of revolt against authority.  If we respected the authority of God perfectly, we would never sin.  Sin is a refusal to submit to the governing authority of God himself, and God knows that about us.  If we are not willing to submit to God, it is more difficult to submit to the police department, the government, and other authorities that rule over us.  It is the duty of every Christian to be in subjection to the authorities.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Romans, 440)


It is ironic that this master text on civil obedience was written to the Roman Christians who were under the heavy hand of imperial Rome.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Romans, 442)


My friend John Guest came to the US as an aspiring evangelist.  He had been here less than 2 weeks when he told me he was unsure how to communicate the gospel in America.  When I asked him why, he told me that he had visited an antique store in a section of Philadelphia and had seen signs hanging on the wall proclaiming, “Don’t tread on me,” and “No taxation without representation,” and “We serve no sovereign here.”  He asked me, “Is that really the American mentality?  If so, how can I preach the gospel to a people who have a built-in antipathy toward sovereignty?”  We Americans have not been trained in giving honor and respect to those in authority over us.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Romans, 459)


II-  Wisdom and discernment is necessary when contemplating rebellion against authority.  (Eccl 8:6; see also:   Ex 1:18-21; Job 40:2; Prv 24:21-22; Dn 1:8-17; chp 3; 6:1-28; Mt 22:21; Lk 20:25; Acts 4:19; 5:29)


The words, man’s misery, seem to suggest that it is not always easy to know how or when to obey.  Many factors influence that, especially in such matters as the draft.  When and how should this be carried out?  Many young men have asked themselves that question.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 116)


As believers, we should understand that it is not always easy to know what God wants.  He does not want it to be easy.  We are not robots, given orders to go here or there, having no choice at all.  God clearly does not want those kinds of sons and daughters–he tells us that!  Yet that is what we ask for when we say to God, “Show me what you want me to do and I’ll do it.”  In other words, “Compel me; give me orders and I’ll carry them out.”  God does not do that.  We often struggle, evaluate, weigh, think, and puzzle over what we should do–and God wants it that way.  That is part of His plan.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 116)


Churches and individual believers should make every effort to explain carefully and respectfully their reasons for wanting a civil law or mandate to be changed that they believe would force them to disobey God.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Romans 9-16, 216)


Revolutionary subordination commands us to live in submission to human authority until it becomes destructive.  (Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 124)


The thought of knowing how and when to act or speak–the “time and way” (v. 5)–leads Koheleth in verses 6ff. to look at this “how” and “when” in a wider context, the context of life as a whole.  It is as if he casts his mind back to chapter 3 and remembers, yes, there is a time and a place for everything.  The snag is that, at this point, man finds himself in a real spot of trouble and perplexity.  He has no assurance about what the future will bring, except for one thing: the certainty of death (see 2:14).  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 57-58)


We would be unwise to try to draw from this section any general guidelines as to what our attitude should be towards “the powers that be.”  Koheleth is not presenting us with any theory of the state nor any thoughts for or against civil disobedience.  He has a more limited purpose; to give advice on how to succeed in government service.  That means coming to terms with the fact that you are a person under authority; there to implement decisions not to question them.  Thus we are reminded that in a much broader sense we are all under authority.  There are circumstances without our control which we cannot question: we cannot avoid death.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 58)


Indeed the most trifling details of our every-day obedience become the stepping-stones to our highest Christian privileges.  Difficulties will arise, as the exercise of needful discipline, and calling for sound judgment to guide us through them wisely and practically.  The King’s commandment–when to keep–when to resist it–the right manner of keeping or resisting–this is sometimes a time and judgment calling for great discernment.  It is not man’s natural prudence that sufficeth.  It is the wise man’s heart–the heart enlightened by the knowledge of God and his will–the heart possessed by “the Spirit of wisdom”–here alone is the safe discernment.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 189)


Evil in government arises from the evil in fallen man, living in a fallen world.  Who of us is free of evil?  Who of us can claim absolute innocence for all we do?  No one.  There is none righteous, the Searcher found; there is no one who does not do evil.  There is no government, therefore, that does not have evil within it.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 120)


A wise person can tell the difference between a legitimate command and an illegitimate one.  He knows what constitutes truth and justice because he is able to make good judgments from his wisdom.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 84)


Considering, however, the impact of divine timing and activity on a wicked king, “judgment” is always standing in the wings.  Koheleth views the king’s power as intimidating but not absolute.  The time may come when toppling the throne is the right course of action, but it will be the wise not the rabble who best discern when and how.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 182)


The “wise heart” knows “the proper time and procedure.”  The wise person knows that when God sees fit justice will be done.  Meanwhile, it can be difficult waiting.  A man’s misery under an oppressive government might “weigh heavily upon him.”

But there is a time for everything (3:1), and at the proper time God will rescue his people.  If that deliverance doesn’t come in this life, it will in the next.  In the end God saves us from every evil, including those spiritual forces which would oppress and destroy our soul.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 84)


On the things you can’t control, you can rest.  You can just chill.  You can wait because you know that when you’re in trouble, there’s a proper time and procedure for every delight.  Joseph waited thirteen years; Abraham, twenty-five; Jacob, twenty.  The saints of Hebrews 11 waited a lifetime then died in faith not receiving the promise! (Heb 11:39-40).  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 133)


Christians have always struggled with what exactly this means, particularly when it comes to the question of how far human powers are to be opposed in the name of God (e.g., as far as violent revolution?).   What is clear, however, is that those who hold to biblical faith can never accede to any mortal demand that they blur the sharp boundary between God and the created order, whether that demand comes from an individual “god” or from a nation-state or other community that has divine pretensions.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 173)


Solomon’s subjects, as soon as his head was laid low, went directly contrary to this rule, when, upon the rough answer which Rehoboam gave them, they were hasty to go out of his sight, would not take time for second thoughts nor admit proposals of accommodation, but cried, To your tents, O Israel!  “There may perhaps be a just cause to go out of his sight; but be not hasty to do it; act with great deliberation.”  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1026)


We will struggle through inner turmoil if we wrongfully disobey the laws of the land (Rom 13:5; cf. 2 Sm 11-12, Ps 32:1-5).  But we help maintain a guilt-free conscience when we keep the established laws.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Relating to Others in Love, 20)


Modern-day readers must take special note of what life in the Roman empire was like.  The political powers were there by birth, connection, wealth, or ruthlessness.  The masses had no power, could never expect to have any power, and could never think that they could change the status quo.  Their best strategy was to live within the structure and take advantage of the protection offered by it.  Because people still believed in “the divine right of kings,” most authority went unquestioned.  And those in authority usually had a well-developed system of spies and informers who would not hesitate, in the name of good citizenship, to turn in anyone who complained or rebelled.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Romans, 246)


Christians are not to use their freedom in Christ as a handy excuse for disobeying the laws of the state.  Civil disobedience should come only after submission to authority has been practiced.  We should be informed and willing to question the motives of those who govern us, but we should be more demanding and more suspicious of our own motives.  We must be careful not to be ruled by our sinful desires.  Our protest may not be spiritual but rooted in our offended pride or hatred of any authority.  This response is not directed by Christ or the Holy Spirit.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Romans, 250) (bold red emphasis Pastor Keith)


Believers have two good reasons to submit to their government: to avoid punishment and to heed their own conscience, for it will prod them to do what is right.  Believers know in their own consciences that obeying the authorities pleases God.  However, a believer’s conscience answers to a higher, divine authority; if ever the human authority contradicted the divine authority, a believer must be true to his conscience in following the higher authority.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Romans, 251)


It is often supposed that Rom 13 depicts Caesar in a positive light because at the time of writing (ca. A.D. 57) Christians had not yet suffered at the hands of the empire.  This is only partially true, at best.  Paul had not forgotten that Jesus had died at the hands of a corrupt Roman overlord; neither had he forgotten his own humiliation from a Roman governor in Corinth (Acts 18:12-17).  Moreover, writings attributed to Paul (1 Tm 2:1-2; Ti 3:1) and Peter (1 Pt 2:13-17) preserve substantially the same teaching on government at a period when Rome was openly hostile to Christians.  (James R. Edwards, New International Biblical Commentary: Romans, 304)


Just where may a man defy constituted authority on the ground that such authority is opposed to divine principles?  I became convinced that each Christian must answer this question in the context of his own life.  I saw that two sincere believers might reach opposite conclusions and become stern antagonists in a civil struggle, and yet both be in the will of God.  (Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Discipline, 108)


Let us look at the English word “conscience” against its Latin background: con and science, literally “with knowledge.”  When a man does something, with knowledge of what he is doing, it is according to his conscience.  When he does something wrong, he goes against himself and against God.  (Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Discipline, 117)


Conscience, the result of the fall, is the property of the race, but even after the fall, all would have been well if man had turned back to God.  The conscience may be likened to a sundial, which is made for the sun even as the conscience, rightly directed, reflects God’s will.  But suppose a sundial is consulted by moonlight.  The dial may read ten o’clock when actually it is two o’clock.  By a candle or some other light, the dial may be made to tell any hour, at the whim of the one who holds the light.  Thus conscience, which man took from Satan, can be a safe guide only when it is turned toward God for His illumination.  Once a man turns away his conscience from God and lets some other light shine upon it, his conscience is no longer reliable.  (Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Discipline, 119)


The Christian knows that it is God’s will that he subject himself to the authorities which God, in his providence, has placed over him for his (the subject’s) good.  Accordingly, failure to subject himself results in the accusing voice of conscience.  Therefore, for both of these reasons, namely, to avoid God’s wrath and to satisfy his conscience, one should voluntarily subject himself to the ruling authority.

This matter of conscience must not be passed over lightly.  It should be borne in mind that a Christian’s enlightened conscience is his sense of obligation to God.  Note the words, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men” (1 Pt 2:13).

On conscience see also Rom 2:15, 9:1; further, Acts 23:1; 24:16; 2 Cor 8:7, 10, 12; 10:25-29; 2 Cor 1:12; 4:2; 5:11; 1 Tm 1:5, 19; 3:9; 4:2; 2 Tm 1:3; Ti 1:15.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Romans, 436)


Believers must never go against their Christian conscience in order to obey the government.  This could involve such diverse things as participation in licentious entertainment, or working in institutions that perform wholesale abortions, or working or not working on nuclear weapons.  Believers must never sin against their conscience.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Romans, 241)


So many students filed objections to the war that the Supreme Court of the US made a decision that was, in my judgment, one of the worst miscarriages of justice I have ever seen, and it was made without a peep from the Christian community.  The Supreme Court ruled that no one could be given conscientious-objector status unless he could demonstrate that he was opposed to all wars.  To this day that remains the rule of the land.  Someone cannot be a conscientious objector unless he can demonstrate that he is opposed to all wars.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Romans, 452)


We must not expect too much from the state because the business of the state is mainly negative.  Its main function is to control and to limit evil and the manifestations of evil.  The state, whether it be a monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, or any other form that you may choose, can do very little positive good, and people have got into trouble when they think it can.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 13, 58)


III-  Some authorities demand an involuntary response . . . resistance is futile!  (Eccl 8:7-8a; see also: Gn 27:2; Prv 27:1; Eccl 11:5-6; Mt 24:42; Lk 12:16-21; Jas 4:13-16)


Who has the authority to determine when, where, how and to whom you are born?   Who has the authority to determine when, where, how and to what destiny you will die? 


The deliverance envisaged is that from death.  No measure, foul or fair, will rescue from this intrusion.  Kingly authority meets its match here.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 120)


One event–specially stamped with uncertainty, but linked with the Divine purpose, is–“a time to die”  (3:1, 2).  This most momentous event in man’s history hangs upon the Almighty Fiat.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 193)


Man–after all his mightiest efforts to make himself independent of God–cannot retain his spirit in its tabernacle prison a single moment beyond the time.  Nay, he hath no power at all in the day of death.  The king is as impotent to resist as the beggar.  “The power, that sways millions with a nod, fails here.  The wealth, that procures for its owner all that his heart can wish, fails here.  The might of the warrior, which hath slain his thousands, and which no human arm could withstand, fails here.  The most earnest desire of life, and the tears, and the wailings, and the fond caresses of disconsolate affection–all fail here.”  Only one of the children of Adam has even claimed this dominion over his life.  And he, while he thus asserted his prerogative, was pleased–for our sake–blessed for ever be his name!–to wave it.  “No man”–declared the Divine Redeemer–“taketh my life from me; but I lay it down of myself.  I have power to lay it down; and I have power to take it again” (Jn 10:18).  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 193)


A man therefore, having no power to retain his life, hath of course no power in the day of his death to repel the stroke.  The physician’s skill may seem to put off this day.  But he is only the instrument, and his success or failure only serves to mark the Divine purpose hitherto hidden.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 193)


Indeed as there is no way to control the wind, so there is no way to control the day of one’s death.  All of this is in God’s power.  He alone has the right and ability to do so.  Just as no one can be exempted from military service, so no one can deliver himself from the consequences of wickedness, no matter how clever his schemes may be.  In other words, all is under God’s control.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 84-85)


No one has control over his spirit. When it comes his time to die, die he must.  For all his arrogance, man still falls before the steady onslaughts of the grim reaper.  The inevitability of death is emphasized by the use of a metaphor.  The sinner is portrayed as a soldier in an army surrounded by the enemy and facing certain death.  Even so is man.  Though he plunges himself into a wicked life in an effort to avoid thinking about reality, this will not ultimately help him.  Death must come, and he should prepare for it now.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 113)


Of all the things that a government commands people to do, this is the most demanding, namely, to defend their country.  It is also the duty that brings the most danger, and with that danger, the most uncertainty about the future.  A soldier in wartime deals with the real possibility of death at any moment.  He of all people knows that he does not have knowledge of the future or power over the day of death.  Nevertheless, a soldier must do what he is commanded to do.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 188)


There is no man that has power over his own spirit, to retain it, when it is summoned to return to God who gave it.  It cannot fly any where out of the jurisdiction of death, nor find any place where its writs do not run.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1027)


8.  The analogy of the king illustrates the concept of God’s total plan.  Like the king, God has the power of life and death; and, when the time comes for a person to die, he cannot insist that he should retain the breath of life (v. 8a).  Meanwhile, one must press on until the end.  There is no escape from the battle by treacherously joining the enemies of the king (v. 8b).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1179)


IV-  Authority abused invites rebellion and God’s wrath.  (Eccl 8:8b-10; see also: Ex chps 7-14; Nm 12:1-13; 16:3-41; 1 Kgs chps 21-22; Prv 14:35; 16:14; 21:1; Jer ch 23; 27:5-8; Ezek ch 34; Dn 3-4; 6:1-28; Amos 5:10-20; 8:4-14; Acts 12:21-22)


A proper burial was part of honorable treatment in ancient Israel, and its omission was considered a great misfortune (Je 16:6).  Even criminals (Dt 21:22f.), suicides (2 Sm 17:23) and enemies of the nation (Jos 8:29) were generally buried (hence the ferocity of Am 2:1).  The Preacher is troubled by the honor that comes to the wicked.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 121)


Rulers may be uppermost in his mind.  But it is often those petty persons who, given a little authority, love to exercise it in such a way that they make others miserable.  Solomon has seen this abuse of power.  It is nothing new to him.  But the wicked schemes of those who practice wickedness will not, in the final analysis, deliver them (v. 8b).  God will see to that.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 85)


Unhappily, much authority works in whimsical ways.  The purposes for which it is given, the care with which it is to be exercised, the obligations which it carries–these are blurred when the ruler becomes heady with power.  Overawed by a sense of glory, such persons are vulnerable to all kinds of manipulation.  Whoever will feed their pompousness by telling them how good and wise they are can readily lead them to do things that are bad and stupid.  Intimidation and manipulation are not mutually exclusive terms.  The more the lion on the throne stands rampant to cow his subjects the more susceptible he may become to those who scratch his back like a pussycat’s.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 183)


As Jonathon Edwards said, God holds evil men like little spiders over the fire.  He will let them kick and thrash until He is tired of using them for His purposes.  Then he drops them in the flames.  When God wanted Ahab out, he was dog food, just like that.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 135)


Verse 10 creates some problems for translators and commentators.  Some say it is the wicked who used to go in and out from the holy place.  Others say there should be a period after “buried,” implying that both the wicked and the righteous are forgotten.  But whichever interpretation you choose, the end is the same.  Men are forgotten, and we can’t control the sovereignty of God.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 136)


God has the power to remove any government that fails to accomplish His purpose.  He did so with king Herod (Acts 12:23).  He can raise up nations and put them down when it suits His purpose.  He can also take care of the unfair employer, childish husband and the bad cop.  (C.S. Lovett, Lovett’s Lights on Romans, 343)


A country usually gets the kind of government it deserves, and it may be that one of the determining factors is the attitude of the average citizen toward those whom he selects to serve him.  (Abingdon Press, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, 605)


CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What does this message have to do with Christ and me?:

A-  Christ comprehensively demonstrated He has all authority under heaven and earth.  (Mt 10:28; 28:18; Lk 12:1-5; Eph 1:15-23; Col 1:15-20; Phil 2:1-11; 1 Tm 6:15; Heb 2:5-9; Jude 1:25; Rv 19:16)


Jesus’ authority has been established by his Word and his power.  The Scriptures are explicit about his authority (note the relationship of authority with each of the following): he has authority to teach (Mt 7:29; Mk 1:22, 27; Lk 4:32); to exorcize (Mt 8:28-34; 9:1-8; Mk 1:23-27; Lk 4:35-36); to heal (Mt 8:1-17; 12:15, 16; Mk 1:29-34; Lk 4:38-31); to forgive (Mt 9:2-8; Mk 2:3-12; Lk 5:18-26; cf. Ps 103:3); to judge (Jn 5:27; 17:2); to give life (Jn 10:28; 17:2); to empower (Mt 28:18-20).  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke, Vol. One, 152)


–   Over sins/judgment (Mt 9:6-8; Mk 2:10; Lk 5:24; Jn 5:27; 17:2; 2 Cor 5:10)

–   Over nature (Mt 8:23-27; 14:22-35; Mk 4:35-41; 6:45-52; Lk 8:22-37; Jn 6:16-21)

–   Over kings (1 Chr 29:11-13; 2 Chr 20:6; Ps 47:2; 83:18; 97:9; 99:2; 103:19; 108:5; 113:4; Isa 37:16; ch 40; Dn 4:35; Rom 9:5; Eph 4:6; 1 Tm 6:15; Ti 3:1; 1 Pt 2:13-17; Rv 17:14; 19:16)

–   Over demons, illness and disabilities (Mt 10:1; Mk 1:27; 3:15; 6:7; Lk 4:36; 9:1; 10:19-20)

–   Over death (Jn 10:18; Rom 6:9; 14:9; 1 Cor 15:12-57; Col 2:13-15; 2 Tm 1:10; Heb 2:14-15)

–   Over angels, patriarchs, ceremonies, sacrifices, and the Law {Mt 5:17; 12:8; Mk 2:28; Lk 6:5; Jn 5:39-40} (Heb chps 1-10)


I know who holds tomorrow even if I don’t know what tomorrow holds.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 134)


Kings do not control their own destiny, much less anyone else’s.  They have no grasp of the times, which lie in the hand of the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Rv 1:8; 21:6; 22:13).  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 171)


B-  Christ showed us that even He submits to lesser authorities at the proper time when wisdom demands. (Mt 17:24-27; 23:2-3; 26:51-54, 62-65; Jn 18:19-24; 19:1-12)


Jesus submitted to unlawful arrest:  (Mt 26:51-54, 62-65; Jn 18:19-24)


We should submit to authorities even if they are corrupt:  (Mt 23:2-3) 


Jesus was remarkably indifferent to those who held political power.  He had no desire to replace Caesar or Pilate with His apostles Peter or John.  He gave civil authority its due, rebuking both the Zealots and Peter for using the sword.  This infuriated the religious right of His day.  Eager to discredit Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians tried trapping Him over the question of allegiance to political authority.

“Tell us,” they asked, “is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

The question put Jesus in the middle:  If He said no, He would be a threat to the Roman government; if He said yes, He would lose the respect of the masses who hated the Romans.

Jesus asked them for a coin.  It was a Roman denarius, the only coin that could be used to pay the hated yearly poll tax.  On one side was the image of the Emperor Tiberius, around which were written the words Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus.

“Whose portrait is this?” He asked.  “And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied impatiently.

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” replied Jesus, handing the coin back to them.  They stared at Him in stunned silence.

Not only Had He eluded the trap, but He had also put Caesar in his place.  Christ might simply have said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”  That’s all that was at issue.  It was Caesar’s image on the coin, and Caesar had authority over the state.

What made Him add the second phrase, “Give…to God what is God’s”?

The answer, I believe, is found on the reverse face of the coin, which showed Tiberius’ mother represented as the goddess of peace, along with the words highest priest.  The blasphemous words commanded the worship of Caesar; they thus exceeded the state’s authority.

Jesus’ lesson was not lost on the early church.  Government is to be respected and its rule honored.  “It is necessary to submit to the authorities,” wrote the apostle Paul.  “If you owe taxes, pay taxes.”  But worship is reserved solely for God.  (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, pp. 116-17)


Mary & Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to obey Caesar (Lk 2:1-3) and it is a good thing they did or else we would not have a Messiah because he had to be born Bethlehem (Mic 5:2)


The money from the temple tax went into the treasury of the temple, which had become so corrupt that Jesus had already cleansed it once of its moneychangers and sacrifice sellers (Jn 2:14-16) and would do so again shortly before His arrest and crucifixion (Mt 21:12-13).  It was even out of the temple treasury that thirty pieces of silver would be taken to bribe Judas into betraying Christ.  Knowing all of that, Jesus paid the tax without hesitation or reservation.  — John MacArthur


Paul, like all other Christians, knew that it was an officer of the Roman government, Pontius Pilate, who handed Christ over to be crucified.  But that did not change his view of the ruler, that God has entrusted a special function to him.  That only shows that Jesus also had to suffer wrath in the present aeon.  It adds nothing new to what has been set forth, when a ruler uses his power to persecute Christians.  It only shows that the Christian can no more avoid suffering wrath here than could Christ.  (Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans, 430)


No good will come to the cause of the gospel by followers of Jesus being regarded as crazy dissidents who won’t co-operate with the most basic social mechanisms. Paul is anxious, precisely because he believes that Jesus is the true Lord of the world, that his followers should not pick unnecessary quarrels with the lesser lords.  They are indeed a revolutionary community, but if they go for the normal type of violent revolution they will just be playing the empire back at its own game. They will most certainly lose, and, much worse, the gospel itself will lose with them.  (N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone, Romans: Part Two, 85)


Paul chooses to associate all authority with God.  While the passage here speaks directly of political power, Paul will appeal for the same attitude of submission when the authority is spousal (Eph 5:22-33), parental (6:1-4), social (6:5-9), or ecclesiastical (Phil 2:29).  Paul’s appeal to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21) is not an appeal for believers to be the “doormats” of society, but is rather a solid recognition of the value of respecting and using authority for the good of the whole.  (Clarence L. Bence, Romans, A Commentary for Bible Students, 210) (bold red emphasis Pastor Keith)


C-  Christ demonstrated that submitting to authorities is God’s way of promoting shalom.  (Jer 29:4-14; Mt 17:24-27; 22:17-21;  Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:22-25; Good Friday, Acts 19:38-39; 1 Tm 2:1-2)


The instinctive response of self-preservation cries back, “Absurd!  That’s the quickest way to get taken or, worse yet, get killed!”  But, from the early Christians who prayed for their tormentors who cast them to the lions, to the Anabaptists in the sixteenth century who went to the stake without resistance, to the nonviolent movements of our modern era, there comes ample evidence that such gentle actions motivated by a sincere heart of love can overcome evil.  (Clarence L. Bence, Romans, A Commentary for Bible Students, 204)


The Lord would be pleased, of course, if all those in authority were decent men.  But wicked and evil men sometimes come to power.  So we find people in authority ranging from cruel kings to crooked cops.  Even so, God backs them for He would rather have them than none at all.  To have no law is anarchy.  That brings ruin.  (C.S. Lovett, Lovett’s Lights on Romans, 339)


It helps to remember that our Lord suffered under Pontius Pilate, one of the worst Roman governors of Judea; and Paul suffered at the hands of the worst Roman emperor, Nero.  Thus while the Christians of Rome lived in fear of unjust persecution, they were nonetheless to give cheerful submission to the earthly monarch.  (C.S. Lovett, Lovett’s Lights on Romans, 340)


The Christians are called to believe, though, that the civic authorities, great and small, are there because the one true God wants his world to be ordered, not chaotic.  This does not validate particular actions of particular governments.  It is merely to say that some government is always necessary, in a world where evil flourishes when unchecked.    (N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone, Romans: Part Two, 86)


The gospel is equally hostile to tyranny and anarchy.  (Charles H. Hodge, A Commentary on Romans, 415)


D-  Christ demonstrated that rebelling against abusive and/or wicked authorities can be God’s way of promoting shalom.  (Lk 6:1-11; 14:1-6; Rv 19:15-16)


There is a time to disobey those in authority: (Lk 6:1-11; 14:1-6)   Jesus healing on the Sabbath, picking grain on the Sabbath.


Believers should never allow the government to force them to disobey God.  Jesus and his apostles never disobeyed the government for personal reasons; when they disobeyed, they were following their higher loyalty to God (Acts 5:29).  Their disobedience was not cheap; they were threatened, beaten, thrown into jail, tortured, and executed for their convictions.  If we are compelled to disobey, we must be ready to accept the consequences (see 1 Pt 2:13-14; 4:15-16).  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Romans, 248)


E-  We should exercise our authority like Christ:  To promote shalom.  (Mt 20:20-28; Mk 10:35-45; Lk 22:24-27; Phil 2:1-11)


Humility is the hallmark of the spiritual leader.  Christ told his disciples to turn away from the pompous attitudes of the oriental despots, and instead take on the lowly bearing of the servant (Mt 20:25-27).  As in ancient days, so today humility is least admitted in political and business circles.  But no bother!  The spiritual leader will choose the hidden path of sacrificial service and approval of the Lord over the flamboyant self-advertising of the world.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 61)


When we lead by persuasion rather than command, patience is essential.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 71)


The true leader is concerned primarily with the welfare of others, not with his own comfort or prestige.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 125)


If Jesus provides the model for spiritual leadership, then the key is not for leaders to develop visions and to set the direction for their organizations.  The key is to obey and to preserve everything the Father reveals to them of his will.  Ultimately, the Father is the leader.  God has the vision of what He wants to do.  God does not ask leaders to dream big dreams for him or to solve the problems that confront them.  He asks leaders to walk with him so intimately that, when he reveals what is on his agenda, they will immediately adjust their lives to his will and the results will bring glory to God.  This is not the model many religious leaders, let alone business leaders, follow today, but it encompasses what biblical leadership is all about.  (Henry & Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership, 29)


Every time leaders choose to develop their own vision for their people instead of seeking God’s will, they are giving their people their best thinking instead of God’s.  That is a poor exchange indeed.  (Henry & Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership, 68)


Worship point:  Do you realize what kind of a mind and what kind of power would be involved to manage all the power and authority structures in the entire world and yet insure that the promises of Romans 8:28 and Genesis 50:50 would hold true for every believer?  Do you realize what kind of hope is ours when we understand that all authority and power ultimately comes under the control of a benevolent, compassionate, forgiving, merciful, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, all-wise, sovereign Monarch?  Contemplate and worship.


The furor over political matters that recently has taken place among Bible-believing people is unwarranted.  Some are so disturbed that they even find it difficult to sleep.  Christians who understand Ecclesiastes will not be among their number.  While they will vote the right way and lend what small influence they have to proper causes, they will also recognize that what they do is not going to last.  If they are successful today in the short run, they also know that it will take little more than a few years for all they have done to be undone.  They will not work and toil in politics as if they were able to build something permanent.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 86)


Over against them are the great certainties of the faith that make the uncertainties seem unimportant.  It is these great certainties about God that make it possible to live happily with present uncertainties.  One of these is that nothing is uncertain for God.  He knows all because He has planned and controls everything.  And it is He Who has promised the truths in Rom 8:28 and 29.  So although uncertainty is troublesome to the unbeliever, it should become an adventure with God for the believer.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 85)


Spiritual Challenge:  Begin to train yourself to recognize authorities.  Further train yourself to evaluate whether that authority demands your whole-hearted obedience, or thoughtful, humble, God-directed disobedience.   BEWARE:  Your deceitfully wicked heart naturally embraces rebellion. Finally, exercise your authority with Christ as your model.


He came to meet a need that far surpasses all other needs, a need that only He could satisfy.  He therefore spoke to the hearts and souls of individual men and women–never to their political, social, economic, or racial rights or physical pain and plights.  He taught the saving gospel that had power to make their souls right with His Father and to grant them eternal life–in light of which, temporal rights and morals pale in importance.  He did not come to proclaim or establish a new social or moral order but a new spiritual order, His church.  He did not seek to make the old creation moral but to make the new creations holy.  And He mandated His church to perpetuate His ministry in that same way and toward that same end, to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mk 16:15).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Romans 9-16, 211)


One reason why Jesus’ message blew through the ancient world like a gust of fresh air was that it carried new hope, great hope.  It shed brilliant light on a future that for Koheleth and his students was shrouded with gloom.

With considerable wisdom and with abundant candor, Ecclesiastes had shown the weaknesses in human views of hope.  He had taught his followers in what not to hope; but it took Jesus to show the human family where high hope could be found.  The Preacher’s motto was “look at life and scale back your hopes.”  Jesus’ word was better: “Trust me and find hope.”  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 187)


So often, and to their great shame, Christian people have quarreled over politics.  That is quite unforgivable.  Ultimately the disagreement is caused by a false view of what the state can achieve, otherwise no one would get so heated.  I have known churches to divide on political issues.  I have known Christian people who do no even speak to one another because of their different political views.  It is almost unthinkable, but it has often happened, and it is all due to a failure to understand the teaching of this great and important section of Romans 13.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 13, 58)



Biblical authority must never depend on human verification for it is the unquestionable Word of God.

The problem with much of the popular tactics used by many defenders of the faith today may be summed up as a problem of authority.  The apologist must see clearly that the nonChristian is in need of forsaking his commitment to independence and should turn in faith to the authority of Christ.  If however, trust in Christ is founded on logical consistency, historical evidence, scientific arguments, etc., then Christ is yet to be received as the ultimate authority.  The various foundations are more authoritative than Christ himself. . . . if beliefs in Christian truth comes only after the claims of Christ are run through the verification machine of independent human judgment, then human judgment is still thought to be the ultimate authority. (Richard L. Pratt, Jr.; Every Thought Captive, 79-80)


Quotes to Note:

So let me counsel you:

Adhere to the Way and attend to Reality.


Do not run from truth,

insisting upon bending what is to conform to what you desire.

Reality is what is; it is you who must do the bending.  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 68)


Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.

— Hebrews 13:17a



Leadership Model

For more information on this subject consult Pastor Keirh’s sermon on Roman 13:1-7 given January 15th, 2012 entitled:  “Submitting to Power”



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