Read Exodus 32, Ecclesiastes 8, Luke 12. This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 8.
Solomon’ musings on government and its control are the subject of this section of Ecclesiastes. Generally speaking, Solomon’s advice is to submit to the government (vv. 2-6). He admits, however, that some governments can be oppressive (v. 9), grossly inefficient and ineffective (v. 11) and even unjust (vv. 12, 14). God’s justice, in these cases, will overcome these human government’s failures (v. 13) but even God’s ways don’t always make sense to us (vv. 16-17).
Nestled in all this advice about human government is a reminder that there are some things in life that are unpredictable and uncontrollable (vv. 7-8). Solomon gave us three examples:
- The future: It is unknown to us and, therefore, uncontrollable, and unpredictable (v. 7).
- Death: It is unavoidable and unpredictable (v. 8a-b).
- Wickedness: It is uncontrollable (v. 8c-d).
These three control every human life even more powerfully than the government does. They are so powerful, in fact, that even the government can’t control them.
But let’s focus on that last one–wickedness. Verse 8c-d says, “As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it.”
Unlike our modern, American experience of the military, most countries draft every able-bodied man when they go to war. Solomon says that once you’ve been conscripted into such an army, you’re not getting out. The only legal way out of military service is (a) be a casualty or (b) survive until the end of the war.
Solomon says that wickedness works the same way. Once you “practice it” (v. 8d), it owns you. He might mean the addictive power of wickedness or this phrase might refer to the consequences unleashed when we practice wickedness. Because the context of Ecclesiastes 8 speaks of government, which punishes wickedness, this verse is probably referring to the consequences of wickedness, not its addictive power. The verse then means, “You can do the crime but you won’t be able to control the time or the fine.”
The government may get you and punish you for your wickedness, but not all wickedness is against the laws of human government. This verse reminds us that if you break God’s laws, you won’t get away with it. Human government may punish you but, even if it doesn’t, God will make sure that you are punished.
This should be a sobering reminder to us when we are tempted to sin or think we might be able to sin and get away with it. Like the army, wickedness won’t let you out until you’ve completed your tour of duty. There’s no going AWOL, either.
If you are in Jesus, every sin you have committed or will commit has been punished through the death of Christ. His blood reconciles you with God as an act of mercy. However, God usually allows the human consequences of our sins to continue. The murder who trusts in Jesus will have eternal life; however, his faith and repentance does not bring his victim back to life, assuage the anguish or anger of the victim’s relatives, or commute his life or death sentence.
This is one of many reasons why we should not sin even though God forgives all our sins in Christ. We all like a feeling of control (or the illusion of control) over our lives but none of us can control the future, death, or the fallout from our sins.
By the grace of God, then, let’s choose not to sin but, instead, to choose what is righteous in God’s sight.