The close of the last chapter is the manifest transition to the beginning here. Bitter to the royal Preacher was his reflection on an experience he had proved so thoroughly. Nevertheless self-reproach did not lessen his sense of the value of wisdom.
"Who [is] as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? A man's wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the hardness of his face is changed. [I counsel thee], Keep the king's command, and [that] in regard of the oath of God. Be not hasty to go out of his presence; persist not in an evil thing: for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him, because the king's word hath power; and who may say unto him, What dost thou? Whoso keepeth the commandment shall know no evil thing; and a wise man's heart discerneth time and judgment: for to every purpose there is a time and judgment; because the misery of man is great upon him: for he knoweth not that which shall be; for who can tell him how it shall be? There is no man that hath power over the day of death; and there is no discharge in that war: neither shall wickedness deliver him that is given to it. All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there. is a time wherein one man hath power over another to his hurt. And withal I saw the wicked buried, and they came to the grave; and they that had done right went away from the holy place, and were forgotten in the city: this also is vanity" (vers. 1-10).
Wisdom is inseparable from the fear of the Lord, its beginning; and consists of entrance into His mind, and thus solves questions otherwise inscrutable in a skein so tangled as man every where offers as he is now. Nor this only; it transfigures himself, be he ever so plain, and changes the strength of his face, bold as it may be by nature. So in the N.T. let your moderation be known to all men, trying as circumstances may be. Obedience is a first principle, as the Preacher lays down emphatically and this not for wrath but for conscience' sake - the oath of God. Haste to go out of his sight is as dangerous as persisting in an evil; for power is of God, and he wieldeth not the sword in vain. Power from the people is a base falsehood, and a usurpation fatal to those that forget God and His word. Rulers are a terror not to good work but to evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do the good thing, and thou shalt have praise from it, for he is God's minister to thee for good. The wise heart discerns time and judgment: so we see in scripture and prove in daily life, and here dependence on God is invaluable. The king needs it at least as much as his subjects. So Solomon began; not so did he proceed when wealth and honour and pleasure filled his life; but so now in repentance he feels and teaches us all. For every purpose is it requisite; and as the wisdom that discerns time and judgment is rare, so is the misery of man great for the want of foreseeing. For he knows not what is coming and can find none on earth to tell him. Oh, if he but looked up to Him Who knows all and bowed to His will! This is part of divine wisdom and open to all that fear Him in the midst of creature changes, with death the closing scene of man here. Who has control over the spirit, who over the day of death? Where the discharge in that war? Wickedness assuredly shall deliver none given to it. All this had the Preacher seen, and set his heart to all the working which is done under the sun, the time when man ruleth man to his hurt. He had on the one hand seen the wicked buried and gone, and on the other those that had done right gone from the place of the holy and forgotten in the city. This too is vanity, and yet plain fact.
"Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Though a sinner do evil a hundred times, and prolong his days, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, because they fear before him: but it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his [days], which are as a shadow, because he feareth not before God. There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there are righteous [men], unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him in his labour the days of his life which God hath given him under the sun.
"When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also [there is that] neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:) then I beheld all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because however much a man labour to seek out, yet he shall not find; yea moreover, though a wise man think to know, yet shall he not be able to find" (vers. 11-17).
How vividly and unquestionably a true picture of mankind as they are! Evil abounds and flourishes till the Lord come; yet no less surely the moral government of God secures good to those that fear before Him, and retribution to those that fear Him not: were they to live long, it is but a shadow. Whatever vanity be in that reaching righteous ones according to the doing of the wicked, and to wicked ones according to the working of the righteous, God is not mocked nor man overlooked. But it is not yet the day when righteous power permits no evil and good openly triumphs? This is reserved for the kingdom, as the kingdom is for Christ appearing in glory and those who suffered with Him then glorified.
Meanwhile the Preacher again praises the thankful acceptance in this mingled scene of what God gives for the life that now is, without perplexity as to its riddles, which escape even such as sleep not day or night: they are beyond man's ken to solve, let him be ever so wise. Christ alone clears up, and. the Spirit sent to dwell in all that are His; for He searches all, yea, the depths of God; but this is lost, just so far as with a divided heart man is trusted.