Compromise, despair and joy (8:1-17)
Wisdom helps people see the underlying meaning of things and teaches them that to act with pleasantness is better than to act with harshness (8:1). If, for example, people work in the king’s palace, they will do what the king says, partly because they have sworn before God to be obedient and partly because they will be punished if they disobey. But if they find the king’s command unreasonable, wisdom will show them a way out. They will wait for a suitable opportunity to act, then act in such a way that, though they do not disobey the king, neither do they sin against their conscience (2-5).
Despite the compromise he recommends, the writer knows that people remain uneasy about the outcome and about the future in general. They know they have no control over life or death. Just as there is no escape from a battle, so there is no guaranteed success to wrongdoers (6-8).
Often there appears to be no principle of justice at work in the world. The wicked go unpunished and, even when they are dead and buried, people still praise them for their achievements in life (9-10). It seems that this lack of punishment encourages people to sin (11-12a). The writer knows what the traditional teachers say: that those who fear God will be rewarded and those who are wicked will be punished (12b-13). But he also knows that often the opposite is true (14). People should not despair over
these problems, but rather enjoy whatever God has given them in life (15). They should not spend weary days and sleepless nights puzzling over problems to which only God knows the answer (16-17).