“Reading the Bible is not where your engagement with the Bible ends. It’s where it begins.” anonymous
Scripture & Devotion: Scriptural focus: Ecclesiastes 8:4-8, 15
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.
Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come? No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has control over the day of his death. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.
Questioning the King
There is a very famous scene in Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist where the small boy (who has lost in the casting of lots among the slowly starving orphans to see if it might be possible to request an additional bowl of gruel) walks up to the director of the orphanage, holds out his empty porridge bowl and says, “Please, sir, I want some more.” If you have read the book or seen one of the many movie versions, you know that Oliver is severely punished for his audacity, locked in solitary confinement in a dark room for a week and sold into indentured servitude. His simple request for adequate nutrition is viewed as a lack of gratitude, a defiance of authority, a rebellion against the way things are, which the adults around him believe are the way things are supposed to be.
In Victorian England, as in ancient Israel, it was believed that those in authority held their position by divine right. To rebel against one in charge was interpreted as defiance of the king who had given him the authority. To question a king’s decisions, actions, and motives (or in other words, to say “What are you doing?”) was to risk losing one’s life; especially if the challenge was made in a public setting, in an unseemly manner, or at a time deemed inappropriate.
Here and now, in our own country, we are witnessing daily demonstrations protesting injustice in the guise of authority. “Misery” still “weighs heavily” upon many of our brothers and sisters, just as it has done for generations. The current uprisings are a direct result of a long history of those in authority having lacked the moral courage or the knowledge or the human decency to behave appropriately and uphold the individual and collective freedoms guaranteed by our national Constitution. It is right to oppose racism, discrimination, and cruelty, to stand up and stand beside people who have been denied basic rights because of the color of their skin, their gender, their country of origin, the language they speak. For thousands, non-violent protest at the current moment seems indeed the proper procedure and time and for addressing the wrongs of the past and for effecting social change.
In the above-mentioned scripture, Solomon refers to a king whom it would be wise to obey so that one “will not come to harm.” This earthly king can also be viewed as a metaphor for our heavenly King. However, unlike earthly leaders, God is not susceptible to sin, including sin involving societal assumptions and traditions that foster injustice and discrimination. There is no reason to question obedience to the commands of such a just and righteous king.
So, what is our king’s command and how do we know it? The answer is found in scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments. Micah 6:8 says “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Jesus said that the most important commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, to which he adds: “The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31). I believe it is this latter commandment that currently resonates among us, even in the hearts of people who do not believe in or follow the God we serve.
This passage from Ecclesiastes concludes with the following assertion: since man is powerless to control many things (the future, the wind, his life and death, for example), it would be wise for him to “eat, drink, and be glad,” or, in other words, to enjoy and appreciate the good things in life that God has provided. Only when we choose gratitude, to see all the gifts we are given as blessings from God, will joy accompany us in our journey through the world, especially in these troubling and uncertain times.
May we follow Your words to do justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with You. Continue to teach us how to love You and love people around us, and to show our love by serving in tangible ways so that others see You in us. Teach us to live in humility the way that Jesus did.