Ecclesiastes 3:16–4:3; 8:2–14comment (0)
January 14, 2010
By Kenneth B.E. Roxburgh
Related Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:16–4:3; 8:2–14
Bible Studies for Life
Chair and Armstrong Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University
Wrestling with Life’s Mysteries: Wrestling with Injustice
Ecclesiastes 3:16–4:3; 8:2–14
The vision of the prophet Amos echoes throughout passages of Ecclesiastes, a longing that “justice might flow like a river and righteousness like a never flowing stream” throughout the whole of God’s creation. Yet like every aspect of life on which the preacher reflects, he encounters experiences of injustice at every level of society.
The Place of Injustice (3:16–17)
Within the courts of law — the very place where justice should be clearly displayed and judgment dispensed — the preacher finds “wickedness.” Yet the courts of justice are not the only places where people find disappointment. In the same way in which Jesus discovered money changers in the temple charging exorbitant prices for sacrificial animals, it is often with the Church that we find attitudes and actions of unrighteousness and injustice in the way people are treated. Before the symbol of the cross, where we meet as fellow sinners, we often encounter prejudice rather than a love that welcomes all peoples into the fellowship of God’s family. In the 12th century, King David I of Scotland was known to visit various castles throughout the land and sit by the door of the hall wherever he was staying in order to hear and deal with grievances brought to him by the poor, sick and suffering. This was the role of the king in biblical times and remains the responsibility of people in authority. Whether in civil or church contexts, justice is to be experienced. The preacher concludes with the promise and warning that ultimately God will deal with those who have oppressed others and injustices will be recompensed.
The Power of Oppression (4:1)
The writer of this chapter contrasts the power of the oppressor (the ability to treat people as objects rather than as those created in God’s image) with the effect it has on the oppressed (shedding tears and feeling no one will be able to bring neither comfort nor relief). The gospels present Christ as drawing alongside those who were oppressed and even regions like Jerusalem, as on several occasions during his ministry he shed tears for the effects of sin on communities. The fact that the King of kings broke down, not in silent weeping but in an unrestrained manifestation of concern for the needs of people, indicates the Judge of the earth will not allow evil to march on without consequences. In this context, the promise of Revelation that God will wipe away all tears from our eyes encourages us to place our hope in the ultimate dispenser of justice and to pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.”
The Procedure of Protest (8:2–9)
The main lesson in this section comes in verse 3 when it commands not to “stand up for a bad cause.” This is difficult when the king himself may be the very perpetrator of injustice. We read in the New Testament that Paul faced a similar dilemma as he encouraged the church in Romans 13 to submit to civil authorities, realizing not every civil authority supported the cause of justice. Even the greatest of people can engage in wrong actions for “there is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt.” In Scotland, the mercat cross was traditionally the place where edicts were read, business and commerce were conducted at the weekly outdoor market and justice was dispensed. It is a reminder that at the heart of so many western cultures, the cross of Calvary, the place where love and justice meet, should continue to call us to lives of loving justice and working for its establishment.
The Prospect of Reversal (8:10–13)
Ultimately the preacher is convinced that despair is not the correct attitude for believers to have. Rather we should place our confidence and hope in the ultimate action of God in dispensing justice. Thus our attitudes should be to become God-fearing, seeking His honor in every action in which we engage. The final image is striking — those who do not fear God and live with a concern for justice will discover “their days will not lengthen like a shadow.” Their end will be curtailed, and they will not enter into the joys of the eternal world, which Jonathan Edwards described as a “world of love” where sin and sorrow will be no more.