Ecclesiastes 8: The Law of God or the Law of Man?
Ecclesiastes 8 presents a potential problem, and this was a lot of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer must have gone through when he was in Nazi Germany.
Ecc 8:2 I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.
Ecc 8:3 Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.
Ecc 8:4 Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?
Ecc 8:5 Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.
Here on earth, there are people who are given powerful positions. We might really support some of them, and we might really disagree with others. How then do we handle this passage in Ecclesiastes?
On the surface, it seems pretty obvious. We submit to those who are put in authority. God put them there. Verse two seems to point that out clearly.
Verse three seems similarly wise. Don’t go away from the king and do something evil. Notice that there is something implied here. This implies that the king will not lead you down the bad path, but in actuality, there have been kings that do evil. As I mentioned above, Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived under one of the worst rulers of all time. Was he obligated to do everything that Adolf Hitler wanted?
I think that the important thing to remember about this passage is that it was written at a specific time for a specific purpose. Certainly, the rulers of Israel were not perfect on the whole, but their law was based on the word of God. The people themselves had problems, but the law was not the problem. The same cannot be said for laws that are created today without regard for the Bible.
I think that the essence of the rule is still the same. We ought to submit to our rulers. God has put them there for a purpose. There are other places in Scripture that support that argument as well. However, there is also something to be said for the case of Daniel. It was illegal to pray, but he still prayed. Why is there some kind of exception here? Shouldn’t he have listened to the commandment of the king?
Our commitment to God needs to be higher than our commitment to man. Daniel could have stopped praying, but then he would not have been doing what God wanted. God’s law was more important.
I said in the beginning that this could be a potential problem. I can certainly see the world we live in becoming less and less hospitable to Christianity. There are places in the world where our faith would be illegal right now. Say I lived in North Korea, and I was distributing Bibles. People have been killed for doing it, and it is clearly against the law. Should I stop distributing Bibles? Should the law of the country rise above the Great Commission which tells me to take the Gospel of Christ everywhere? I think the answer is rather obvious.