New English Translation
Human Government Demonstrates Limitations of Wisdom
1 Who is a wise person? Who knows the solution to a problem? A person's wisdom brightens his appearance, and softens his harsh countenance.
2 Obey the king's command, because you took an oath before God to be loyal to him.
3 Do not rush out of the king's presence in haste - do not delay when the matter is unpleasant, for he can do whatever he pleases.
4 Surely the king's authority is absolute; no one can say to him, "What are you doing?"
5 Whoever obeys his command will not experience harm, and a wise person knows the proper time and procedure.
6 For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, for the oppression of the king is severe upon his victim.
7 Surely no one knows the future, and no one can tell another person what will happen.
8 Just as no one has power over the wind to restrain it, so no one has power over the day of his death. Just as no one can be discharged during the battle, so wickedness cannot rescue the wicked.
9 While applying my mind to everything that happens in this world, I have seen all this: Sometimes one person dominates other people to their harm.
Contradictions to the Law of Retribution
10 Not only that, but I have seen the wicked approaching and entering the temple, and as they left the holy temple, they boasted in the city that they had done so. This also is an enigma.
11 When a sentence is not executed at once against a crime, the human heart is encouraged to do evil.
12 Even though a sinner might commit a hundred crimes and still live a long time, yet I know that it will go well with God-fearing people - for they stand in fear before him.
13 But it will not go well with the wicked, nor will they prolong their days like a shadow, because they do not stand in fear before God.
14 Here is another enigma that occurs on earth: Sometimes there are righteous people who get what the wicked deserve, and sometimes there are wicked people who get what the righteous deserve. I said, "This also is an enigma."
Enjoy Life In Spite of Its Injustices
15 So I recommend the enjoyment of life, for there is nothing better on earth for a person to do except to eat, drink, and enjoy life. So joy will accompany him in his toil during the days of his life which God gives him on earth.
Limitations of Human Wisdom
16 When I tried to gain wisdom and to observe the activity on earth - even though it prevents anyone from sleeping day or night -
17 then I discerned all that God has done: No one really comprehends what happens on earth. Despite all human efforts to discover it, no one can ever grasp it. Even if a wise person claimed that he understood, he would not really comprehend it.
King James Version
1 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 boldness of his face shall be changed.
2 I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.
3 Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.
4 Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?
5 Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment.
6 ¶ Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.
7 For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?
8 There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.
9 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 ruleth over another to his own hurt.
10 And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity.
11 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.
12 ¶ Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him:
13 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.
14 There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.
15 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 of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
16 ¶ 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:)
17 Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.