BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES/The Quandary of Oppression, by Dr. Derek Thomas
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 1:00 PM
I am excited that for our current series on Ecclesiastes, we will be learning lessons from chapter 4 from my dear friend, Dr. Derek Thomas, Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina and the Robert Strong Professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary Atlanta.
There is a dark cloud hanging over Ecclesiastes 4. It is a very somber chapter. He's observing the world without God, without Jesus, without the gospel. And he sees that there are some in the world and all that they can say is, "I wish I had never been born." Have you ever uttered them in a somber way? The world in which we live, the world in which Solomon lived, can be a very dark and bleak place without God and without Jesus. He sees four things in a world without God.
The World is Full of Injustice
Verse 1, "I looked again at all the acts of oppression. I saw the tears of the oppressed and they have no comforter." We call our inner cities concrete jungles. It's a euphemism for the hopelessness and despair that often mars our inner cities. The world is full of pain. The world is full of sadness. The world is full of sorrow. And Solomon is observing the world; the world without God, the world without Jesus, the world without hope, the world in which there is oppression. Life can be unfair, and there is so much injustice. That's the first picture.
Wealth Does Not Provide Happiness
He, then, gives us another picture. It's a picture of a man who is trying to make money, more money than is good for him. It begins in verse 4, "I have seen that every labor and every skill that is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor." The picture has two sides to it. There's one man and his arms are folded. He's not doing anything at all. He's opted out. The world is so full of injustice, he's opted out entirely, but Solomon sees another man and he has, in Solomon's words, "Two hands full and a lot of toil and a lot of vanity." Solomon is describing the rat race. He's describing someone who's living all his life trying to acquire all the things, all of the toys that he can get. He has both hands full, but he still has toil. Do you know what epitomizes our society more than anything else? "I want to be a Millionaire." It says everything about our society, as though that would bring us happiness and contentment and all the joys of life.
The world is filled with envy, greed, and discontentment. The young, upwardly mobile, working all the hours there are, sacrificing everything - a marriage, friendships, and children, just to climb that corporate ladder and make it to the top so they can be what they thought they ought to be. Ambition becomes a necessity and necessity becomes a god, and it's all about the acquisition of things. And Solomon says the motivation is envy and greed.
I think this little section has something to say to many of us. Scripture is replete with warnings regarding the acquisition of things, and, how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus isn't saying it's impossible, but He is saying it's hard. Because the acquisition of things, the love of things, the greed, the ambition, the striving, the grasping, the two-hands-full mentality, can so easily get in the way of the thing that's more important, and that's our relationship with God. Godliness with contentment is great gain, the Apostle Paul said.
You can Have the Wealth of the World and Have No True Friend
He then paints another picture in verses 7 and 8. He looks again and sees another picture of vanity under the sun. "A certain man without dependent, having neither son nor brother." He's working all the time, but he doesn't have any friends. He doesn't have anybody to work for anymore. He's made it to the top. He's climbed that corporate ladder, but he hasn't got a wife, because she's left him. He hasn't got any children, because they've left him. You can throw all of your labors and all of your energies into this world and into work and into your job, and you can lose everything, you can lose your home, and you can lose your family, and you can lose your children. "Two are better than one." When you find yourself in difficulty, Solomon is saying, two are better than one. There are lots of lonely people in the world. And Solomon is talking about you. You may have your job, you may have your car, and you may have your pension fund, but actually you've got nothing.
If You Have Jesus, You Have Everything
And there's a fourth picture. He talks about it in verses 11-13, "A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction." It's a picture of a man whose been at the top, and he's lost his job and he's been usurped by a fresh-faced, young fellow-and he's out of a job. Some of you know what that feels like. The world of politics, the world of the CEO, the world of the managing director is a slippery domain. Solomon is describing something that was true 3,000 years ago. Isn't that breathtaking? Because he could have been writing that this morning because the world that Solomon had seen is a world very much like ours - a world without God; a world without Jesus; a world without the gospel and it's a sad place and it's an unforgiving and a lonely place.
And there is only one who can make sense of this sin-ridden world, and that is Jesus Christ. And what Ecclesiastes 4 is saying is that there's another kind of life-not life under the sun; not life in this world without God, but life in union and communion with Jesus. Because you may not make it to the top in this world; you may not have all of the baubles and bangles that the world affords, but if you have Jesus, you have everything. Jesus is saying to you, "Come unto Me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "If you're thirsty, come to Me and drink," Jesus says. "Come and feed upon Me."
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.