To get us back to where we are today, let’s review.
(1) The whole book of ECCLESIASTES has as its purpose to evaluate all labor in life apart from God in order to lead us to labor for God alone.
(2) We finished the INTRODUCTION (chapter 1) and also Solomon’s PERSONAL EXPERIENCES (chapters 2-3) along with the beautiful conclusion of faith which followed this.
(3) Now we are up to chapters 4-6 in which Solomon’s purpose is to evaluate a bit more concretely some of the reasons for which men live and labor apart from God. Here he takes samples of various Godless ways of life and analyzes them to see if they contain any profit eternally, apart from God. He looks at four basic ways men seek meaning in life without God:
1- By trying to obtain favor of men (chapter 4);
2- By trying to manipulate God (chapter 5:1- 7):
3- By trying to gain social power (5:8-9); and
4- By laboring for earthly riches (5:10-6:9).
Because the first and last of these four errors are the most common, Solomon also spends the most time on these. He gives four “study cases” of ways people try to please people and has five sections counteracting the all-important place most people give riches. Today and the next three studies we will deal with the futility of living to please people.
The first case of futility in trying to please people is people oppressing other people. Solomon does not specify the exact setting for this oppression. It may be a ruler oppressing his subjects. It may be a slave-owner oppressing his slaves. It may be a husband oppressing his wife. It may even be parents oppressing their children. It covers any situation in which people are oppressing other helpless people.
(4:1) “So I returned and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and, behold, the tears of such as were oppressed and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressor there was power, but they had no comforter.”
The picture is poignant and pathetic. The people whom Solomon observes are under rulers and masters who are cruel and intolerant, giving them little if any reason to enjoy life. Their lot is labor without human reward, suffering and fear from day to day. The result is that they often give way to weeping and tears.
Further, these unhappy people have “no comforter”. There is no escape from their lot of suffering, no way out. They must, all their lives long, remain without comfort under the oppressors.
Such situations have been widespread throughout history and still today. One hundred some years ago, the United States still had slavery and this description fit many of the lives of the slaves (though not all). In many Communist countries still today, the citizens are virtually slaves who live in terror of the government. Wherever Roman Catholicism or many tribal religions have ruled unrestrained, the people became objects of its oppression. And even in “civilized” countries, husbands or parents can be tyrants who bully and afflict their wives and children. All such people share Solomon’s description: they have “the tears of such as were oppressed” and they have “no comforter”, apart from God.
(4:2-3) “Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.
“Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.”
In such situations, says Solomon, the person who is best off is the dead person. He is better off than the person who is still alive who spends all his days in fears and tears. He is also better off than the person still to be born because all that unborn child faces is the same future misery.
There is no pleasing an oppressor. If a person’s hope for happiness rests in the favor of men, then the lot of the oppressed is the worst on earth. Apart from God, there can be no value, no meaning, no hope or joy in such intolerable situations. If there were no God and no future life, what possible happiness could there be in the miserable life of the oppressed person?
Solomon does not at this point give the “conclusion of the whole matter” but we as believers draw the Biblical conclusion constantly. If we are Christians not under oppression, we realize that we are no better than the oppressed person but simply placed by God under different circumstances. If we are Christians under persecution, we find that we do have a Comforter, God Himself, Who promises us an eternal reward if we remain faithful in the difficult lot He has given us. And if we meet those under oppression, we seek to show them also that value in life is not dependent on our circumstances now in this life but rather on our eternal destiny.
Although most of us do not live under the constant oppression which Solomon pictures here, yet we all suffer degrees of oppression at various times. We, too, often feel we have no comforter and give way to bleak despondency.
May God lead us as Christians through these vales of despondency and up to the level plains of daily walk in faith with Him. As He uses our tears to bring us to our knees, may these tears be not just tears begging deliverance from our lots in life but rather tears that confess our sins and unworthiness. May they lead us to the Cross of the Redeemer, Who will guide us by His Word and comfort us by His Spirit.
Then also we can see the bright hope of heaven before us and walk in contentment and joy. With Paul, we confess that this suffering is “light” in comparison to the joy of eternity which God has prepared for all those who love Him. There is value to the Christian’s life, and there is joy, too, even in oppression and suffering!
Letter #14. Theme: ECCLESIASTES 4:1-3:
“People Oppressing Helpless People”
True or False?
1. Solomon is describing people under cruel authorities, not just people with unkind neighbors.
2. Solomon feels sorry for these oppressed people and encourages them to try to escape.
3. The dead person is better off than the person living hopelessly under oppression.
4. This hopelessness applies to both Christians and non-Christians under oppression.
5. The Christian hope is not in earthly escape from oppression but in heavenly reward.