FIRST PARTICULAR ASPECT OF THE WISE ORDERING OF ONE’S LIFE: OBEDIENCE TO THE KING: ECCLESIASTES 8:2-5
Here begins a series of five examinations of wisdom in practice. Solomon begins with the practical problem of dealing with the king. Here is a point at which Pemble may have a distinct advantage over a modern reader of the text. Pemble lived in a world in which kings were very serious business. For a modern, Kings are an abstraction. An American may learn of King George’s blunders and an English citizen may think of royalty as a quaint practice, but neither fears that Elizabeth or her son Charles are going to send anyone off to lose their head. As for elected politicians, we simply vote against them at our next chance. We think of politicos as “public servants”.
Pemble’s commentary takes very seriously the position of Solomonic authorship and the affect that has upon his view of the world, particularly in the matter of kingship.
Pemble introduces this section as follows: “ The nature of the wise ordering of one’s life is particularly exemplified in many points requiring great wisdom to free us from the danger of divers temptations which drive foolish men to foul extremities and inconveniences.”
“I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God. Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him. Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou? Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment. (Ecclesiastes 8:2-5, KJV)
The first particular is the matter of obedience to kings in the execution of their commands, wherein a wise man carries his business faithfully and seasonably. Here note.
The duty: obedience to kings, I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment; the reason is added, and that in regard of the oath of God, because thou hast sworn allegiance to him, of which oath God is a witness and revenger. Which also may be in some part as a reason so a qualification of our obedience, salvo juramento Dei, so far as may stand with the fealty we owe to God, verse 2.
A Dehortation to Disobedience
The disobedience of foolish men, from which we are dehorted66 ]dehort: an exhortation designed to dissuade[. The fault is double:
The first fault in such disobedience is hastiness in taking offence at kings’ commandments; expressed in it effect or sign, viz, departing out of his presence: to turn the back and fling away in a chase is a sign of rashness and fury, and also of contempt, especially before kings: Be not hasty to go out, & c., take heed of conceiving and discovering discontent and choler before a king67.
The second fault of such disobedience is wishfulness in persisting in disobedience and rebellion, worse than the former, Stand not in an evil thing, submit and come in again, verse 3.
The Danger of Disobedience
From these faults men are deterred by a two fold-argument.
From the danger of disobedience: It is not safe to oppose a king, because it is not easy to overmaster him: And therefore, he that resists and incurs his displeasure is sure to smart for it. The king’s power is of large extent, he doth what pleases him, he will have his pleasure performed, either by obeying, or upon punishing thy rebellion, verse 3.
The reasons are: His words and commands are always joined with power, authority, and majesty, and therefore will oversway all power opposed to it, where the word68. His actions may not be censured and scanned by his subjects, who may say unto him what does thou? His faults are liable to God’s, not man’s, judgment, so that it is not in the subjects’ power, nor belongs to their duty, to call him to examination, verse 3.