In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia continues to investigate Solomon’s teaching on how to respond wisely to life’s great frustrations. In Ecclesiastes 3:16-22, Solomon considers the frustration of life’s unresolvable injustice and gives three wise ways to respond:
1. Rest in God’s Justice (v. 17)
2. Remember Your Humble Position (vv. 18-21)
3. Rejoice in Your Portion (v. 22)
Let’s listen to a few lines of poetry. Here’s how they read.
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a God! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
William Shakespeare wrote these lines as part of his famous play Hamlet. These words not only articulate the thoughts of the disillusion character prince Hamlet, but they also actually capture a profound biblical truth. Mainly that man, each one of us, is both eminently dignified and eminently base. Man is both higher than the rest of creation and on par with the lowest of creation. He is simultaneously worthy of utmost respect and utmost contempt.
On the one hand, God created man in a very exalted position. According to Genesis 1, mankind was the final creation of the creation week. He was the culmination. God created man to rule over the earth and its other creatures. And God says a man that God made man in the image of God, the very image of God. What an exalted position.
But on the other hand, man’s rebellion against God thrust man down into an utterly humiliated position. At the fall, God cursed man and man’s world so that even the ground itself resists man’s rule. Men’s fellowship with God was sundered and needed a way of restoration. And most humiliating of all, man was made subject to death. God said to man in Genesis 3:19,
For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Think of it, the apex of creation, carefully formed from the dust by the loving hand of God Himself, was sentenced to one day return to the ground as mere dust. Like the animals who were also formed from the dust and are doomed to return to the ground, so every man, woman, and child has been cursed by God to end as decomposed dirt. And don’t we see the dramatic tension of man’s dignity and his humiliation still in the world today? We see it in various ways. We who were given dominion over all creation, we struggle with the simplest things, like trying to untangle your headphone cord to your computer cord. Or we who make great scientific breakthroughs and can articulate theology in various languages, we often forget what we were just doing or why we came into a room or open the refrigerator. And we who rule entire nations, amassed great wealth, and break olympic records, we still die, even like the mangiest dog.
I bring this truth to your attention this morning because in a surprising way, this truth about man’s paradoxical state is essential to the next piece of instruction before us in Ecclesiastes. Our author King Solomon, he continues teaching us as we move through this book about life, about the frustrations of it and how we are to approach like life. In this next section, he wants to address another of life’s difficulties, its great frustrations, and that is injustice. And not just injustice, but unresolvable injustice, injustice that you cannot change, escape, or overcome. We will encounter such injustice in our lives. But how should we respond to it? We’ll find today that the answer has much to do with what we are as humans, especially in our humiliation.
Please take your Bibles and open to Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verses 16 to 22. The title of the sermon is “A Time For Justice”. This next section in Ecclesiastes is closely connected to where we were last time, Ecclesiastes 3:1-15. In the earlier part of this chapter in Ecclesiastes, we saw that Solomon taught us, reminded us that we are not ultimately in control of our times. That is, we lacked fundamental power over the situations and the seasons of life that we face. But rather than trying vainly to obtain control over our times now or despairing over our lack of control, Solomon counseled us to take the only wise and happy way before God, which is to, as we talked about last time, recognize God’s control of times, rejoice in the good from God that we still receive amid our changing times, and revere God appropriately as the perfect Lord of times.
But what about times of injustice, when we witness or we suffer under unchecked oppression? Injustice and oppression are issues that Solomon will return to repeatedly in Ecclesiastes. And he brings them up now in the context of accepting and enduring our times. Are you experiencing injustice in your life right now? Are you a witness to it? Are you experiencing this treatment? All of us have to some degree or another. Certainly all of us will. Therefore, we need to hear the teaching of Solomon today, and this is the living and active word of God. So let’s read our text. Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verses 16 to 22,
Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness. I said to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every matter and for every deed is there. I said to myself concerning the sons of men, “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.” For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Who knows that the breadth of man ascends upward and the breadth of the beast descends downward to the earth? I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?
Notice for our passage that verse 16 presents the problem around which the rest of the teaching is oriented. What is the problem? It’s what I identified earlier – unresolvable injustice. This is one of life’s great problems. Solomon says, furthermore I have seen. This language indicating that what he is about to discuss has both continuity with the previous section and represents a new topic of focus. And where has Solomon looked or seen to come up with this observation under the sun? He says, and this is a phrase we see all throughout Ecclesiastes. Under the sun refers to life in this world, life in a cursed and fallen world. What he’s about to discuss is not some isolated incident that just took place in a certain corner of the world at one time. No, this is a truth about life in general. It applies in some measure to all places and all times.
What does Solomon observe? What is the truth he brings to our attention? That in the place of justice, there is wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, there is wickedness. Noticed that these phrases are parallel and repeats the same words. This parallelism is for emphasis, showing how sure this truth that he’s presenting is. And this truth is not a comfortable one. Solomon tells us injustice is everywhere, even in the places where justice is supposed to be administered and when people look for righteous examples.
Notice the phrase, the place of justice. This refers to the place of justice or judgment where it’s decided, and that would be the law court, the courtroom. What will you find in the courtroom, Solomon asks? Wickedness. Sometimes you will find wickedness even in the courtroom. You will find evil behavior, wrong actions, guilt, and injustice. Even in the judge, even in the officials, even in the guards who are standing watch. And it should be shocking to us, right? If anywhere we would expect to find just and righteous behavior, surely that would be in the law court, and those who are tasked with knowing, administrating, and enforcing the law. But Solomon tells us, all too often this will not be the case. There will be injustice and as a result many people, especially those who are without power, they will suffer oppression.
Notice the second phrase he uses in verse 16, the place of righteousness. The poetic parallelism of verse 16 certainly equates this with the place of justice, the law court. But the law court is not the only place that we would expect to see righteous behavior, that is behavior that is just, fair, good, and right. Solomon says that in many other places where we would expect to see righteousness, we will find that even there is wickedness. So not only in law courts, but in governments and schools and charitable organizations and sadly even churches and family homes. Many times those who are responsible for leading righteously, setting a good example, treating people well, teaching what is true, meeting needs, protecting those who are vulnerable, they will instead use their power to abuse others and indulge themselves. Isn’t this what Pastor Babij has been warning us about from 2 Peter. Even some Christian leaders are wolves in sheep’s clothing. And so also some parents, some teachers, some CEOs, lawyers, congressmen, and presidents.
Now thankfully not everyone is a flagrant oppressor. There is some fear of God in the world. God has distributed common grace. Nevertheless many times, even though those who are supposed to be the leaders and promoters of righteousness are actually wicked. If these are the ones who are in places of power, what can any of us do about it? What hope is there in changing the situation? Injustice, as we are seeing, is a fact of life, and it has been since the fall. It’s all over the Scriptures. Think of Cain and Abel. Think of Joseph and his brothers. Think of David and Saul. Their lives were filled with suffering and injustice.
And what about now? Is injustice still a problem today? Of course it is. In fact, that’s what’s always in the news, cries for justice. Now it’s worth noting that many of the calls we hear for justice today are not actually for Biblical justice but more for a Marxist ideal of complete sameness and equal outcome, which we don’t really have time to get into. But Biblical justice, it seeks to live rightly in relationship with God and others, which means at least two things – giving people first their due of compassion and dignity as beings made in the image of God. And second, impartially rendering judgment on people for their behavior, rewarding good and recompensing evil. That’s Biblical justice.
But do we see Biblical justice today? So often we do not, even in the so-called places of justice and righteousness. And again, examples can be multiplied at all levels of life. From the school bullies to genocidal governments, from the adulterer who abandoned his family to the millionaire who is involved in human trafficking. We have corrupt politicians, corrupt judges, and corrupt policemen. Not all of them thankfully. Even those who claim to be reformers in various sectors of life, they turn out actually to be corrupting their own way. Again, in most cases when we even discover this injustice, what power do we have to stop it, to escape from it, or to rectify it? Probably all of us here have been victims of injustice, and some more than others. But sadly, we have to also admit that we have been victimizers and perpetrators of injustice ourselves, haven’t we? Though we have been mistreated, we have mistreated others too. People mistreat us because we don’t have power, but we mistreat those who are weaker than we are. And for those who have mistreated us, we often retaliate with our own brand of mistreatment, even justifying our sin by their sin. He did it to me first.
So friends, it is an uncomfortable truth, proclaimed by Solomon but certainly confirm that our own experience, injustice, unresolvable injustice is a fact of our fallen world. It’s part of life under the sun, both for Christians and for non-Christians. So how should we respond? How should we approach life in the face of unresolvable injustice? Solomon will teach us.
That’s what we see in the rest of our passage, the three wise responses to life’s unresolvable injustice. The structure of this passage is similar to the one that we looked at last time. Three wise responses to life unresolvable injustice. And I’ll give them to you as we look at each.
Take a look at the first wise response in verse 17. This is number one – rest in God’s justice. The first wise response to unresolvable injustice is to rest in God’s justice. Verse 17,
I said to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.
This is pretty straightforward counsel, isn’t it? In the face of injustice or mistreatment that you have no ability to righteously remedy, you must leave it with God and trust God to take care of it in His own time. Notice that in this verse, right after observing how life is full of injustice, Solomon immediately remind himself of God’s judgement. God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man, Solomon says. Maybe the judges in the world are not presently getting it right Maybe righteous persons are not receiving their protection or their reward that they deserve. And maybe wicked persons are meanwhile enriching themselves and getting away with evil. But one day, Solomon says, we can know the time of injustice will be changed to a time of justice and the oppression will end and God will set the situation right.
Notice Solomon’s rationale for why he and we can rest in this truth. He says,
for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.
This sounds like what Solomon said earlier in the chapter, doesn’t it? Ecclesiastes 3:1, life is full of different times. We aren’t in control of the times that we face. Yet someone is in control, and that’s God. While He may ordain that certain times of injustice come upon us or come upon our people or world, He has also ordained times of justice. The season will eventually change for God’s people. Winter will become spring. Oppression will become liberty and vindication.
But now here’s the question. When will this happen? When will the season change? The answer – we don’t know. We can’t know. Something interesting here in this verse. Notice the word there at the end of verse 17. If you are using the New American Standard translation which I’m preaching from, you’ll notice it’s right at the end of the verse. It says there’s a time for every matter and every deed is there. That sounds a little awkward in English, but it actually reflects the Hebrew. It’s a little awkward in the Hebrew too. In fact, commentators are not quite sure what to do with this there at the end of the sentence. It’s like Solomon is saying, there’s a time for every matter and every day, including justice there. Where, Solomon? When? It’s ambiguous. I think that’s done on purpose. No person knows where or when. Only God knows. Truly, it is quite satisfying to see a time of injustice change to a time of justice. Isn’t that what we all long for? Isn’t that what the image of God and its sense of justice in each one of us longs for and craves?
Think of what it must been like when Israel was liberated from Egypt. They endured oppression, slavery. But God finally turned the time of injustice to justice. Imagine what the people of Israel must have felt, such joy and jubilation, awe at God. Wow, he really is a God of justice and He has vindicated us. It was a beautiful and powerful deliverance, but how long did it take? How long was the time of injustice? According to Moses and confirm by Stephen the New Testament, about four hundred years. Four hundred years of oppression and slavery. Whole generations of Israelites were born and died under injustice and they never saw the season change. All these Israelites were living in a season where nobody knew when the time of injustice would end, probably nobody. But the season did change at the time God determined and it was marvelous when it changed, but certainly it took a long time.
Or consider another example from recent history. The Soviet Union set up its iron curtain of communism over much of Europe at the end of World War II in 1945. But the soviet union had an oppressive government that denied God and basically deified itself. How long was God going to let such an unjust and oppressive government last? Of course, nobody know. And while the nature of the iron curtain changed over time, it wasn’t until 1989 that most of the Soviet bloc countries peacefully removed communism and not until 1991 that communism fell in Russia. So for about 45 years, many people in Europe, including many Christians, they endured a communist oppression without knowing when it would end. Again, it certainly was a joyful day when that season changed, but lasted a while.
So what about the ongoing injustices that we witness in the world right now? How long until God judges the oppressive governments in China or North Korea? How long until we finally see abortion condemned and outlawed, like it should be? How long until God stops the kidnapping and killing of Christians in various countries around the world? How long? We don’t know. Only God knows. And what about the personal mistreatment that you suffer? Maybe your parent mistreats you, or your spouse or your boss or someone else. How long is it going to last? How long are you going to have to endure? You can’t know. Only God knows. You must rest in His justice and His timing. The Lord of time knows when the season of justice should arrive. He will give you the grace to endure in the meanwhile, but you must trust Him and wait patiently for His deliverance.
Of course, there are other Scriptures that declare that there will one day be a final judgment, a final day of justice from God, both for punishment and reward. 1 Peter 4:5 says that all will have to give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. And who is that? The Lord Jesus Christ. In that day, every thought, word, and action will be called to account. It will also be recompensed appropriately. What does that mean? For all of those outside of Jesus who did not repent and believe in Him, who are not covered by Him, even while they nevertheless committed injustice, for them they will suffer everlasting furious wrath from God. He is a righteous and holy God. He is the just Judge.
But for all of those in Christ, covered by His robes of righteousness, with all their sins and injustices, has even if they are many, paid for and totally covered by the Lord Jesus’ sacrificial death. For them, they will receive life and an everlasting kingdom with God. This is true for every single one of us here today. When the day of justice comes for you, ultimate justice, what will be God’s verdict? Will you be found in Christ and vindicated, or will you be found apart from Christ and justly condemned for your own injustice.
Solomon didn’t know some of the specifics of God’s future judgment like we do now, but even he knew that God would set everything right eventually. But we can’t know the exact time of God’s justice. We can know that God will provide justice at the right time for His people, both before He comes and certainly when He comes. You may be noticing that Solomon again is providing us with a kind of imperfect comfort in the face of life’s frustration. We can take comfort in the fact, even as we face times of painful and unresolvable injustice, that our Lord, the Lord of times, will one day bring justice. Comforts that that longing for justice we have in a heart, but there’s still that frustration at the same time because we don’t know when the time of justice is and we will have to endure injustice until that time, perhaps even many days of suffering concluding with our death before justice comes. Solomon can’t eliminate the frustrations of life for us, but he is still showing us the best way, the right way to respond to them.
And so we see in the face of unresolved will injustice, the first wise way to respond is to rest in God’s justice. The second wise way is surprising, and it covers most of our passage. Verses 18 to 21, we see number two, how should we respond? Remember your humble position. Remember your humble position. Look just at verse 18 to start. Solomon says,
I said to myself concerning the sons of men, “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.”
Wait a second, Solomon, just what are you saying here? Let’s analyze this verse carefully. Solomon has just spoken about how in the face of unresolved injustice, man ultimately must rest in God’s justice, trusting that God will bring justice in God’s perfect time. Now Solomon is making another comment on this situation of waiting for God’s justice. He says that God has a special purpose in it that involves testing. Solomon says that God is testing them. Who’s them? It’s mankind, all people. Solomon said this is concerning the sons of men. Good or bad, God’s doing something with them. He says that they are tested.
What does it mean to be tested? The Hebrew verb translated tested here is used infrequently in the Old Testament. Its root is associated with what is specially chosen or clean? The verb is used in at least a couple other places to talk about what is purged or cleansed out. So the best understanding of the term as used here is something like to test in order to secure a cleansed portion. To think like a sifting or refining process. A purifying kind of testing. God says He’s doing this with mankind. What is a specific process of testing that he is using? He doesn’t identify it for us specifically in the verse, but we can infer it from the context. What has Solomon just been talking about? Unresolvable injustice. Therefore, God is testing mankind to the point of securing a cleansed portion with unresolvable injustice. That’s His process. That’s His method of testing. And now Solomon explains a specific purpose in that testing, a goal for the cleansed portion and it is what he says at the end – in order for them to see that they are but beasts.
So putting it all together, Solomon is saying, I can see now that God has purposely tested mankind with unresolvable injustice so that a chosen and cleansed portion of people will realize and see that they are basically on the same level as beasts before God. Now that statement probably still sounds a little shocking to you. Let’s let Solomon explain himself a little more. Look at verses 19 and 20.
For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one died so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.
These verses are helpful. These two verses clarify in what way man is or is like a beast. He is not like a beast in every way, or even in most ways, but in one basic main way. In one regard, man is a beast, one main regard. What does that regard? In regard to death. Verse 19 says man and beast share the same fate – death. They both live for basically a short time and then they die. They even have the same life breath, Solomon says. You might say, wait I thought God made man differently from animals, and it’s true. Genesis two says that God breathed His spirit or His breath, into a man, into man’s nostrils. But Genesis one and two also say that both man and beast have nefesh, which is life essence or soul.
In psalm 104, verses 29 and 30 says that animals too are sustained by the breath, the spirit, the ruach of God. No, Animals were not made in the image of God. That was unique to man. But when it comes to life essence, at least when we’re talking about the biblical terms, man and beast are the same. When we add the fact that both man and animal were formed from the dust and return to dust. Both go to the grave. You can see that when it comes to beginnings and endings, man and beast are basically one. Both are vanity. Both are vapor. Both are as transient as smoke. You see, in these verses, Solomon hadn’t suddenly thrown out his theology from Genesis 1 to 2 about man’s dignity. Rather, Solomon’s focusing on Genesis 3 and how the curse of the fall has set man at the same level of animal by death. Because of death, dignified man is no better or has no advantage over animals.
Man has plenty of advantages over animals in other things. It’s certainly better to be a human than to be a butterfly or cat or something like that. But there’s no advantage when it comes to death. Every man dies the same way, as the most undignified animal.
And now, for the most startling verse – verse 21,
Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?
What is going on here? Some interpreters suppose that here, the author is confessing his disbelief or at least his agnosticism about any human afterlife. Who knows? Who knows what happens after a person dies? Who knows if it’s any different from what happens to an animal. But we need not see these words as Solomon questioning the soul’s existence after death. Information regarding the afterlife was limited in the Old Testament and in Old Testament times. But confidence in everlasting life and resurrection and even in an eschatological final judgment is evident even in the earliest Old Testament books. Jesus points this out Himself, doesn’t He? In Exodus 3:6, God declares to Moses, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am, present tense. Even though these men have long died, God still says I’m their God, proving that they are in fact still living. So He’s still their God in the present. There is life after death. Job also famously articulates his confidence in the resurrection – Job 19 verses 25 to 27. Psalm 16, which we’ve looked at before, and Psalm 49 also express confidence in life from the grave. And then we can add later books like Daniel and the major prophets for more evidence. Even Solomon himself shows in Ecclesiastes that he believe there is life after death for humans. And this really comes from his expectation of a full and comprehensive judgment from God. Even here, he’s mentioned earlier in our passage that every person will be judged.
Yet Solomon confesses multiple times in this book that in this life the judgment isn’t always full or fair. There are righteous men who died like wicked men, he says. And there are wicked men who are blessed and live happy lives, full lives, long lives, like righteous people should. They die and we don’t see their justice. But Solomon says, there will be justice even for them. He asserts multiple times, Ecclesiastes 11:9 and Ecclesiastes 12:14, every person will one day be judged as they deserve, even if they weren’t judge that way in life. He even says in Ecclesiastes 8 verses 12 to 13 that this judgment, despite whatever happened in life, the coming judgment will go well with the righteous and it will not go well with the wicked. That is only possible if humans have a life after death. So even Solomon certainly believes in the soul’s continuation after death. We should not see verse 21 here in our passages as Solomon questioning that.
So what is Solomon doing in verse 21? I think the answer is Solomon is simply again pointing out just how much reduced to the level of animal man has become by death. Because not only does men die but afterwards, you cannot tell the difference between the death of a person and the death of an animal. It’s not like the cartoons where like when a person dies, you see a little ghost starts ascending upwards. When an animal dies, like a little dog spirit starts going down into the earth. You don’t see that. You don’t see anything. Empirically speaking from what we can observe in life, there is no difference in what happens afterwards when a person dies and an animal dies. Can you tell me you can see a difference? I ask you, how can you tell? How do you know? There’s no observable difference. The death of a person, a dignified person, looks just like the death of an animal, even the death of cow, death of a sheep, looks awfully similar.
So what’s Solomon’s point in emphatically showing us how death makes humans just like animals? It’s to help us appreciate God’s purpose in subjecting us to unresolvable injustice. And do you know that purpose is? It’s to make us and to keep us humble, so that we would be humble. Every time your soul endures unresolvable injustice and that image of God in you, in your heart, cries out saying, oh God why is this happening? Why can’t I do anything about it, to stop it or change it? God wants you to remind yourself, Ah that’s right. This is part of God’s purpose in showing me that even in my dignity as a created human being how low sin has brought my condition. Like every other human, I am as impotent against injustice as I am against death. On my own, I don’t have the power to change the world, to force the time of justice, to call evil to account. I can’t even live long enough to follow through on my weak efforts to establish justice. I’m so transient. But God, look at Him. When He says it’s time for justice, there’s no arguments. He is wholly all powerful and wise while I am not. I am just like a beast before him that lives a vaporous life.
So even as I cry, like many of the people of God have throughout the ages, how long, oh Lord? I will remember my place. I will not demand justice in my timing and in my way. Rather, I will leave it up to His perfect mind, even as I plead with Him, because He is God and I am not. Friends, I think this is what’s going on here in this part of the passage. It’s about our remembering our humble place. And isn’t this just like what we saw in the previous section of this chapter. Why does God placed eternity in our hearts, yet subject us to changing times and seasons without showing us what He’s doing from beginning to end? Solomon told us in verse 14, so that we would fear God, so that we would revere Him with a reverence that He is due, that we would appreciate the difference between Him and us. Our lack of ability to force times of justice, It should make us revere even more He who is just and who will judge at the perfect time.
But are we willing to take that humble perspective? Maybe this part of the passage is kind of offensive to you. You say, I’m no beast. Are you willing to listen to what God actually declares here. Are you willing to take that humble perspective before God? Are you willing to accept that in a certain way you are but a beast before Him? Not removing your dignity as someone created in the image of God, but alongside it. You know, there is a promise to us if we will take a humble view of justice before God. Listen to what God promises to those who humbly importune Him about injustice. Luke 18:7-8, Jesus says,
now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
I think we could say that another way. Will He find people who are humbly trusting Him, even as they cry for justice? I think that question expects a negative answer. Probably won’t find many. When it comes to justice, God hears the pleading cry of the humble who trust in God’s perfect timing. But He has no regard for those who proudly and even with blame demand justice from God. God, you’ve done wrong. Give me justice. Why should God listen to that?
So then, in the face of unresolvable injustice, Solomon counsels us by the Spirit of God. Number one, rest in God’s justice. Number two, remember your humble position. And finally verse 22 gives us the third wise response to unresolvable injustice. Number 3, rejoice in your portion. Rejoice in your portion. Verse 22,
I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?
This is the third time we’ve seen this kind of counsel from Solomon in Ecclesiastes. Now again, he’s not sugarcoating the situation or pretending that living with oppression is easy. He’s telling us, my friends, don’t let injustice prevent you from enjoying the good that God still does for you in your life, the good that He still gives you. Solomon counsels us, be happy or rejoice in your various activities. And he’s mentioned some of those are already in Ecclesiastes – eating, drinking, working, enjoying the fruit of your work. Enjoy it, he says.
Notice the two reasons he gives us for that action. First he says, for that is his lot. That is, that is man’s assigned portion, his designated share of plunder. You see, God has assigned joy to you, just as He also assigns injustice to you. So would you not be foolish to take one and not the other? I’ll endure the injustice but I have no time for joy. Why not embrace the good that God has given you and be thankful for it? Don’t embrace it as the gain that’s going to unlock power to thwart injustice, force the times that you want. It’s not going to work. Don’t take it as gain, but take it as a gift. Take it as a gift from your God as you continue to live in this difficult world. That’s the first reason.
The second is, Solomon says, for who will bring him to see what will occur after him. This is a question that Solomon actually ask repeatedly in Ecclesiastes in different forms. Basically, Solomon keeps on wanting to remind us – what is the point of worrying about the future, especially after you die when you don’t know what’s going to happen? And even if you did, you couldn’t do anything about it. If you just strive for this uncertain future, worry about the future, you will miss out on what God is doing and giving you right now. So stop being overly concerned about the future, Solomon says, and enjoy your present lot.
Of course, Solomon is not saying we should be complacent about the future or even injustice. No, there are wise precautions that one should take for the future, even if it is uncertain. And God’s people should be moved to address injustice when they can meaningfully do so. After all, part of enjoying our present lot from God includes what Solomon told us last time, right? Ecclesiastes 3:12 – do good. We should be doing good as we have capacity, and that involves rectify injustice. One preacher put it this way, we accept the fact of injustice, but we do not accept injustice. You tell people, yeah I know that’s hard for you, but you know, injustice is part of this world. Hey, if you can do something about it that’s truly helpful and it’s not going to replace your preaching of the gospel, then do it. Really, as Christians, we should love biblical justice because it’s the heart of God. And as we have opportunity, we practice it and we help establish it.
Yet still, don’t miss Solomon’s point. As Christians heeding God’s own wisdom, we should not become hung up over unresolvable injustice, nor should we think that somehow we can work hard enough, strive enough to establish perfect justice in the world. It’s not going to happen. And even if it did, it wouldn’t last. We should not become hung up over unresolvable injustice. And yet many people do, even in the church, don’t they? Some people take the injustices they’ve suffered as their identity. It becomes what defines them. It colors everything they do and how they interpret everything. Oh, I was abused as a child. My spouse was unfaithful to me. I’m a victim of racism and prejudice. Solomon acknowledges that these are terrible hurts and injustices. They are wickedness that will receive the judgment of God. And in the church, we should weep with those who have suffered this way. We should encourage them.
Nevertheless, we would be foolish if we let such sins against us dominate us. And we are unkind to our brethren if we leave them obsessed with their injuries. Those caught up in the injustice of the past or in an uncertain justice in the future, they cannot enjoy God’s portion to them in the present. They cannot enjoy the simple gifts of God in this life, nor can they even enjoy doing good to others for Christ’s sake, because they are too focused on themselves. Really, the ultimate pattern for dealing with injustice is our Lord Christ Himself, isn’t it? Even though He had the ultimate dignity far above even us made in the image of God. He is God. He has ultimate exultation, glory, and dignity. What did He do? He submitted to death, and not just the death of a human, but because by now we know what that really means, it’s the death of an animal. Actually, the Scripture speaks this way, doesn’t it? He went as a sheep silently to slaughter, God Himself. Oh, he spoke out against injustice. He preached the truth. He helped the downtrodden. He exposed sin. But being reviled and mistreated, He did not retaliate in kind nor give way to bitterness. Rather, the Scripture say, Ge kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.
In His sorrowful life, Jesus nevertheless continually enjoyed the good of doing His Father’s will. He said it was His food, more necessary than physical food. And even in His passion, Hebrew says Jesus marched forward for the joy set before Him. The joy of pleasing His father and bringing many sinners to God. Is it at all surprising that He who is the word of God and the wisdom of God incarnate should have acted so in accord with the wisdom of Solomon given to us in our passage today. Peter says, in 1 Peter 2:21, Christ suffered for us and left us an example for us to follow in His steps. And that is what we are to do. Let’s do this. Let’s do this together as a church. There’s no room for lone ranger christianity when it comes to injustice. March forward together. May the Lord enable us to do this, to wait patiently together for the Lord’s time of justice. We can encourage one another. We can uphold one another in the meantime. Justice will come. It ultimately will come, but even in this life there will be times of justice. We don’t know when it’ll come, but we can trust God. We can remember our humble place before God, and we can rejoice in the good that God still does us, even as we wait.
Let’s close in prayer. Gracious Father, thank You that You are the perfect judge. No sin, no injustice will escape Your notice. You will bring it all to account one day. Lord, what a fearful thing for those who are not in Christ. I pray Lord, if there’s anyone here today who is trusting in their works, trusting in their association with christianity, trusting in something else other than Jesus Christ and His perfect life and death on their behalf, Lord I pray they would repent and believe. Lord, for Your justice is fierce on those who deserve wrath. But for those in Christ, Lord, wow. We look forward to your justice because that will not result in our doom but our vindication, even our reward from you. Not that we’ve earned anything. You actually enable us to do any of the good works that we do. Lord, You were so generous and even in such a situation You say, I will still delight to reward you, to commend you, to bring you into my presence to give you Myself, to give you a place in My kingdom forever. God, who are we? Oh God, You created us in a dignified way, but by sin we have become so low before you. And yet in Christ, you have exalted us even higher than we were before. What are we? What are we, God, that You should do this for us? We who are yet sinners. And still so often we fall into sin. Lord, help us to learn from Your wisdom, to no longer walk foolish way, even in the face of unresolvable injustice, but to entrust ourselves to You, just as our Lord Jesus did. In Jesus name. Amen.