“Not every hill is worth dying on.”
I’ve lost track of how many times my dad said that to me growing up. As a passionate, head-strong, perhaps even a little obstinate teenager, this was a hard lesson. Oftentimes, I learned my lesson about it the hard way.
The moral of the expression is straightforward enough: not every single offense, injustice, hurt feeling, perspective, concept, angle, or idea is worth you planting your flag on and declaring, “I will NOT move!” The older we get—hopefully—the more we learn this.
If we’re trying to learn Biblical wisdom, we must. Fortunately, Scripture isn’t silent. Our text today is Ecclesiastes 8:2-6. And although it’s the continuation of where we’ve been for weeks, it’s very timely for this season.
2 Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. 3 Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. 4 Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?” 5 Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. 6 For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a person may be weighed down by misery.
Ecclesiastes 8:2-6 (NIV)
As I write this, the United States is still reacting to the transition of power from President Obama to President Trump. It’s easy to see a passage like this one and immediately apply “king” to “president”, but that would be making far too much of a hermeneutical leap. We can’t just swap out the words because the concepts are too different.
- In a general sense, a king was not elected by the people but was king because he was the next in line.
- In a specific sense, the king of Israel was a divine appointment by God. The Davidic line of kings was a covenant between David and the Lord Almighty.
- Neither of those concepts applies to American Presidents.
Knowing we cannot merely substitute “president” for the word “king”, there remains principles we can learn and we should apply them carefully.
Principle One: Submission (verses 2)
We don’t like submission, but it’s part of living. Romans 13:1-7 makes it very clear that we are accountable to God for our submission to those in secular authority over us. It’s interesting to note that when Paul was writing this, the Roman government was getting much less tolerant of Christians. We’re reminded there and here in our passage today: there is no authority that God didn’t establish.
This means: submitting to those who govern us becomes an issue of our testimony of God. “…Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life,” we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:11a.
Principle Two: Appropriate and Timely Disagreement (verses 3-6)
This brings us full circle: you can’t die on every hill. You can’t be so offended by everything happening that you yell at the top of your lungs about it. After a while, it simply becomes “white noise” that is disregarded. When that happens: what have you accomplished?
Instead, the wisdom of Solomon by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit reminds us “there is a proper time and procedure for ever matter” (verse 6). I often say it: as Americans (for those in my dear readership that are American) we have a right to protest. As Christians, however, it’s not so cut and dry.
This is the tension Solomon is speaking of. There are times we need to stand up. Most of the time, however, we simply need to shut up and wait for the right time and place. For American Christians, this time is usually elections. We have the privilege of the ballot box; this is not something people under the rule of kings had.
Will we disagree with those in authority over us? Certainly. But we must wait for the right time and place to speak against this.
We must stand, but as Christians, we must stand when it will do the most good for the most people.
You can’t die on every hill, but there are hills upon which we must die. Knowing the difference is learning the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.