The Preacher observed officials who should protect and serve the interests of the people involved in things like graft, corruption, and bribery. He observed injustice where justice should have prevailed. He saw in the halls of justice the innocent treated like the guilty. He saw those who should have defended the oppressed become their oppressors (3:16). He believed God holds people accountable for their abuse of power. God judges every act of right and every injustice, and from “there,” there is no escape (3:17).
God makes it clear that every person faces death (3:18). Death is certainty; knowing judgment follows is a test intended to awaken people to their “beastly” injustice toward others. The animal world and the human world share the same end (3:19). They share the same transitory nature of life. As it concerns the certain fact of death, there is no advantage in being one or the other. Life is transitory and to think otherwise is futile.
The “same place” refers to the Hebrew concept of Sheol, the realm of the dead. People and animals share in common that they are created and will perish (3:20). His question, “Who knows,” is to say “No one.” The Preacher could see no farther than his own earthly existence, so he accepted that neither human nor beast knows about life hereafter (3:21). His concern is justice here and now for all. The presence of evil in this world should cause us to value the precious moments of life (3:22), for “No one” on this side of life can show what happens on the other side of life.
People sensitive to God and life see people oppressed by injustice and feel compassion for them (4:1). They stand up when they see corruptive abuses of absolute power and no one tries to help the oppressed. But the Preacher cannot see beyond the despair of unremitting injustice. In his estimation, the dead are better off than those who suffer constant injustice (4:2). For him, better to never be born than to enter this world of evil injustice (4:3).
The Preacher observed despair and injustice in a world like our own. He offered little of hope or encouragement. Despair, however, is not the only choice: “Some choose to see things as they are and ask why. I choose to see things as they can be and ask why not” (Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Sr).
Dr. David Moore is a university online Bible and theology instructor. Email: email@example.com
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