All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. Then too, I saw the wicked buried – those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.
When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong. Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.
There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.
When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labour that is done on earth – people getting no sleep day or night – then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.(Eccl. 8:9-17 NIV)
A king may be a tyrant, controlling all, deciding the destiny of others, but there comes a time when his reign comes to an end and that is through his death. Every king and ruler should take care during their reign because that reign will not go on forever. Then after death comes the judgement. People may afford the tyrant a great funeral because no one likes to speak ill of the dead. But it does not take long before they try to expunge the memory of the ruler. Laws he enacted are reversed, statues are removed, streets named after him have a name change. He goes the way of all flesh, and the place that once knew him will no him no more forever.
Injustice isn’t just practised by rulers, it exists everywhere. The existence of wickedness is understandable since the Fall, but the fact that wickedness is not punished seems so unfair.
In a just society it seems that there should be a universal law that the just are rewarded and the wicked are punished. However, it seems that the wicked break the law with impunity and get away with their crimes. Surely, we feel that if the state doesn’t call the wicked to account then God should. The Preacher reassures us that even though the wicked appear to escape with committing a myriad of crimes, it will not go well for them. We don’t know when that will be. We must trust God that there is a time for justice and that time will be according to His Sovereign choice.
The most startling thing about the wicked is that they attended the Temple, but still pursued their life of crime. The example of the wicked and their escape from temporal judgement could encourage others to contemplate such a life.
But an even greater enigma is set out in v14. Justice is turned on its head. The righteous are punished and the wicked get rewarded. This is not a view of life in a hypothetical world where the Lord is considered not to have a presence, because this is the reality of what the world is really like. God is long suffering. It is because the world is like this that Ecc. has been written.
The Preacher returns to the theme he mentioned earlier in the book, of encouraging us to be content with our lot in the life that the Lord has given us. We can become so obsessed with the level of wickedness out there in the world that we fail to enjoy the food and drink (our daily bread) that God has provided and rejoice in God’s Sovereign rule. This attitude of contentment with God’s timing and with God’s daily gifts will sustain us and be with us as we continue our daily work.
The Preacher tells us that there are many mysteries that we cannot unravel. I am very sceptical of the people who claim to have an insight into what God is doing with the pandemic or any other event. It is beyond us all to be able to say what God is doing, but it is given to us to believe that God is doing and to trust Him for all outcomes.
‘Knowing in whose hands your life rests does not give you cheap answers to every riddle in life, but it does take away the pain of the enigmas and it does quieten the restless waves.’
Lord we are so easily distracted by the anxiety of seeing suffering in the world and the injustice of the prosperity of those who inflict suffering. Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.