Ecclesiastes 4: Oppressed and Oppressors
October 6, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Jeremiah 12-13, Ecclesiastes 4, John 2:1-11, James 3:1-12
Another slight “tweak” in his overall structure that there are a series of “experiments” to test his original hypothesis in chapter 1 that everything is meaningless “under the sin.” Now we come to one of the most vexing issues in all of human experience: oppression. “I saw the tears of the oppressed.” Yes, indeed. Why? What for? Some of us live in such protected environments that it is hard to get our minds (let alone our hearts) around the very real and constant oppression of large swathes of the human population at this moment. For others of us, oppression is a daily lived experience. What meaning is there in our suffering and oppression? Why does it happen?
Philosophers have debated these matters through the aeons. Some have advocated for personal discipline to be able to control your own emotional response to suffering (this is, basically, the “Stoic” response). Others have advised that because there is so much suffering we should seize every moment to find pleasure (more the Epicurean response—at least as popularly understood). Still others have told us that the secret is to find enlightenment and realize that suffering is not “real” (in some sense or other the Buddhist option). And on and on it goes. More recently, it is popular simply to always keep a “positive attitude.” Stare in the mirror, repeat to yourself: every day and in every way I’m getting a little bit better.
But the “teacher” of Ecclesiastes is more honest than all of that. What is the meaning of all this oppression? If you take the perspective “under the sun” (that is from a this-side, temporal, little-confidence-in-eternity perspective), there is no meaning. What then can you do? Work and labor is meaningless for it gets you nowhere in the end. The only “medicine” he can offer is companionship. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” is not primarily a statement about Christian marriage, but the power of friends and companions looking after each other—even in the midst of this oppressed world in which we live.
But what of the powerful? What of those who are at the top of the hierarchy? The kings and CEOs and presidents? There is no meaning there either. There’s a long succession of people who did what they are now doing before them, and after them may come those who will mess up all they did. What’s the point? It’s all “chasing after the wind,” hebel, meaningless—“under the sun.”
Once more we are being weaned off a this-world, this-life, idolatry of achievement, success, pleasure—to realize that outside of Christ, without an “above the sun” perspective, all is meaningless. And therefore? Give your life to Christ. Invest in heaven by investing in what lasts for eternity: people and the church. For your labor in the Lord is NOT in vain, is NOT meaningless!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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