False pride and rebellion against authority seems to be the number one problem that plagues mankind. Adam and Eve certainly opened up the proverbial “can of worms” when they rebelled against God’s clear command. I have inherited that bent toward rebellion and not only am I inclined to rebel, sadly I do it. It is a sad fact of human nature, that when someone tells us what to do, we become at the least, defensive. Worse, we often go on the offensive. Who among us has not muttered under our breath or said in our hearts, “You can’t tell me what to do!” That attitude brings much unnecessary trouble upon ourselves, upon the authority figure who gave the instruction, and others around us.
Solomon tells us how to deal with this issue in Ecclesiastes chapter 8. In verses one through nine, Solomon describes the relationship between a man and an authority figure over him. His premise is that a wise man can avoid the wrath of the authority. Solomon also addressed this in Proverbs.
Proverbs 14:35 The king’s favor is toward a servant who acts wisely,But his anger is toward him who acts shamefully. NASU
Proverbs 16:14 The fury of a king is like messengers of death, But a wise man will appease it. NASU
Proverbs 20:2 The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion;He who provokes him to anger forfeits his own life. NASU
A wise man will realize that it is in his own best interest to keep his bosses happy. Why do I have so much trouble with that? It is not so hard to remember it, as it is hard to live up to it.
Solomon gives a second reason for obeying authority. He tells us to remember our oath to God to obey authority. The New Testament repeats this admonition.
Romans 13:1-2 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. NASU
1 Peter 2:13-15 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. NASU
Titus 3:1 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, NASU
Our natural inclination to rebel, makes this a difficult command; nevertheless, it is a command.
Thirdly, Solomon turns his attention to the wisdom required to be a good subordinate. A good subordinate will realize that discernment is a necessity in obeying authority. Good judgment is needed to determine proper procedure and proper timing in obeying. Solomon rightly points out that we spend much time worrying about things we think might happen. We waste much time and bring much trouble upon ourselves by worrying about that which may never happen and if it does, we have no control over it. We cannot predict what will happen, thus we cannot predict the timing of any event, and there is much which we have no control over anyway. Thus, it is a blessing to simply be called to follow instructions, rather than make decisions. There is peace in being freed from responsibility.
Solomon closes this passage by explaining that he had been studying this situation and had seen much pain come as a result of one man exercising authority over another man. The passage is not clear if he is indicating pain to the one in authority or to the one who is under the authority. Various translations are divided as to the meaning. Maybe that is because Solomon means both. Each sometimes gets hurt in this relationship. Solomon is trying to help us avoid that hurt.
Certainly there is a time for civil disobedience. Surely there is a time to question authority over us. Absolutely, there is a time to walk away from a job that requires us to do something that violates, not our conscience, but the will of God. Solomon gives a word of advice in verse 3 of Ecclesiastes 8. He warns us not to be hasty in coming to the above conclusions. The rest of Scripture warns us that when we do choose that course of action, to be ready and willing to pay the consequences. Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah, Peter and John, Paul, etc. provide excellent examples from whom we can learn much. However, it has been my experience in my own life and in observing the lives of others that self-pride and sinful rebellion is the most common cause of failure to obey authority. Be wise and be careful. God has given you a command and it is for your own good. Rebelling against human authority might cause you trouble. Rebelling against God will cause you trouble.