The Meaning of Justice in a Meaningless World (Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:3; 5:8-9)

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The road to oppression is paved with corruption...

I have a friend who is going through a difficult time at her work. There are some higher ups who have plans for the facility where she works that would include her and the rest of her co-workers loosing their job. It would also mean the facility shitting down, which would affect the community as a whole. There have been meetings upon meetings that on the surface look like the higher ups are listening to the concerns of those beneath them, but no one is convinced they are being heard. There are secret meetings and shady decision making going on behind the scenes; that was recently made public. The higher ups have had no problem bending the rules to suit their agenda. By all appearances, it looks like the higher ups will prevail and win the day. My friend is out of a job. The community she worked in and served is at a loss. It leaves everyone involved and watching from the outside wondering, where is the justice?
Augustine once said,

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?” Augustine of Hippo

So it seems to appear in the case of my friend. When righteousness and justice are not valued in the way God values them, those who lord their power over people rob them of their ability to enjoy life under the sun. The road to oppression is paved with corruption. Where corruption erodes righteousness, justice deteriorates. Where there is no justice there is no freedom, only oppression. That is life under the sun in our Genesis 3 world. Solomon says as much in Eccl 3:16-4:3; 5:8. Essentially what you will see this morning is,

Justice and rightful governance are meaningless apart from Jesus.

If you are banking your life on finding perfect justice in this world you will be disappointed. Solomon teaches you in our text that, in our broken world,

Justice suffers at the hands of in wickedness in a meaningless world (Eccl 3:16-17)

Ecclesiastes 3:16 ESV
Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.
Inverse 16, Solomon laments that justice suffers at the hands of wickedness. The place that Solomon is referring to is the space given to a community where the law is sought to provide justice. In ancient Israel it was at the city gates with the elders of the community, or it could refer to priest people or royalty. Four our context it would be the judicial systems, our courts of law and Congress. Just laws should be discerned by judges who are characterized by righteousness. Just laws should be enforced by law-enforcement officers who value righteousness. Just laws should be made by men and women who desire righteousness and justice to protect the people they represent. Solomon says, this is not happening. Essentially where you should find righteousness and justice, instead you find wickedness-hence injustice.

“Injustice is justice that suffers at the hands of wickedness.”

God hates injustice and commands that humanity conducts itself with a high sense of justice. Consider what the prophets say.
Isaiah 56:1 ESV
Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.
Micah 6:8 ESV
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
And yet, what do we see sinful man do with justice? We make it wicked. When God confronts the rulers and leaders in Isaiah’s day, he says to them,
Isaiah 10:1 ESV
Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression,
He talking to those who abuse their authority for personal gain. The prophet Jeremiah rebukes the rulers and leaders of his day for their injustice and oppression. he says
Jeremiah 7:5–8 ESV
“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.
When I look at the prophets and see how the leaders of their day corrupted justice for their own personal gain, I see how corruption abuses justice, politicizes justice, and makes justice morally inconsistent; and I realize in y own context there is nothing new under the sun.

Corruption abuses Justice

Sadly, at the expense of good men and women who serve faithfully in our communities, we still find lawlessness in police departments. In November of 2020, Fox2News released the story of Donah Sandford, who was kidnapped and raped by Leon Pullen, a St. Louis police officer. There is a website developed for the sole purpose of keeping track of police corruption in St. Louis. As of right now it has over sixty-four articles detailing cases against St. Louis police officers. Now, it should go without saying that most police officers are good people who work at doing the right thing, and that most departments are run by good people who try to uphold the law. I personally know several police officers and I find these men to be of great character. However, there are enough bad apples in the bunch to cause us to pause in concern. Justice is not meant to be abused.

Corruption Politicizes Justice

Sadly, the courts are not fairing much better. We have once of the best judicial systems in the world. We are deemed innocent until proven guilty and we are judged by our peers. And yet, somewhere down the road we allowed political ideology to determine our judges. Have you ever noticed that when you vote for a judge on a docket, or if a judge is appointed by a congress, that their political affiliation is mentioned? Why do I need to know what side of the isle you fall on in your politics? Lady justice is blindfolded for a reason. We have deemed it necessary to know their political affiliation because we have concluded that one political ideology is more just than another. Right is only deemed right if it lines up with the right, and wrong is only wrong when it lines up with the left, and vice versa. Justice is not meant to be political.

Corruption Makes Justice Morally Inconsistent

Good night, let’s not get started on Congress. The whole lot of them, both the left and the right, are as shady as an oak tree in the middle of Texas. There is no moral compass in Congress. We have taken our moral compass out when we abandon the word of God. There is a movement to remove any form of God’s word on our buildings and monuments and any influence in our laws. This has opened the door for self-preservation and greed to corrupt so many decisions made on the hill that any sense of doing the right thing, the just thing, is seen as foreign, even malignant. And you see the affects of abandoning God’s word. L”ook at how they treat each other with contempt. Look at the morally confusing policies they pass regarding marriage, race, money, and health mandates. Look at their inability to lead the free world in a clear vision of democracy. China and Russia, two atheistic Communistic regimes, look at America’s confused sense of justice and say to us, “What moral high ground can you stand on when you condemn us as unjust? How is your justice any better than our justice?” Justice is not meant to be morally inconsistent.
We mourn the deterioration of justice in our country. We mourn it with every riot, every protest, every election, every political decision made in our state and federal government, every conflict we find ourselves engaging over seas. Journalist and Christian author G.K. Chesterton gives some insight to our mourning of justice. He says,
“America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly.” G.K. Chesterton
Justice deteriorates when God’s “claim” is taken lightly. When God’s morals and values and authority is taken lightly, man is left only with his sense of justice, which is meaningless in this world. Depraved and sinful mankind does not know how to be righteous and just with his neighbor. Humanity is not capable of holding the line of justice fairly because sin taints every aspect of our justice. The best we can do in this world is unholy and unrighteous justice. Furthermore, if you are banking on having true justice in this life, meaning you believe there is life after death or in a just God, then you will soon find that is a meaningless endeavor.
Our culture is fighting tooth and nail to rid itself of and influence of God’s presence, his word, his church, or his people-hence we mourn. This is life for us under the sun. Justice is mixed with wickedness, so justice suffers at the hands of corruption-hence injustice.
Our mourning is not forever, though. Our ultimate hope is not in the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights, or those we elect to lead us. There is a God who is just. He has revealed himself as Yahweh. He is the one true God and he has promised to judge and bring justice to the world. Solomon says as much
Ecclesiastes 3:17 ESV
I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.
Solomon is not a prophet. He is a King. He is not in the streets telling the people to repent because God’s judgment is coming. Yet, he sees the injustice and unrighteousness of this world and knows in God’s perfect timing, he will judge the righteous and the wicked. He will bring His justice, He will
Amos 5:24 (ESV)
let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Death is the wage we earn for our sinful injustice (Eccl 3:18-22)

The sum of verses 18-22 is death. Solomon compares the life of man with the life of an animal.
Ecclesiastes 3:19 ESV
For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.
This is odd in some ways. We spend a lot of time talking about how we are made in the image of God. We are not like the animals. We are the apex of God’s creation. In the Garden of Eden, God Gave Adam domain over the animals. Why would Solomon says we are like the animals here?
I have two reasons why I think Solomon says we are like the animals: We act like Animals and we die like animals.

We Act Like Animals

In the Garden of Eden, man was supposed to rule over the beast. God gave man dominion over all the earth (Gen 1:26-27). He also gave Adam the right to name all the animals. When the serpent came along and deceived Adam and Eve, he turned things upside down. Now instead of man ruling over the beast, the beast, in this sense was ruling over man. Adam lowered himself to be like the animals.
Sinful man often acts like an animal. Animals have no morality. There is no sense of right and wrong in the animal kingdom. Animals operate on instincts to survive. There are no protest of social justice when a lion devours a zebra. When act as if we have no moral sense about us, or when we deny justice to those who have been wronged, we act like animals.
This may be hard to see considering our culture over exalts animals, even treating as if they were human. We personify animals and give them human like feelings and values. Think how absurd it would be for us to believe the story of Finding Nemo. Can you imagine the consequences of thinking sharks around the world have developed a moral conviction about eating other animals, or humans? Sharks do not create societies for the humane treatment of baitfish. You might think I’m absurd but YouTube is filled with proof that we think this way.
I once watched a video recently of a man walking in the woods. He turned and realized a mountain lion was following him. Of course he was scared, as I would be, and so he faced the mountain lion and began walking backwards. What I found weird was his dialogue with the mountain lion. He said things, “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not a threat to you. I’m just passing through.” I’m like, that lion has no idea what you are saying, and could frankly care less. That lion is either hungry or mad that you are in its territory. It does not care about your life or your wife or your kids. The lion is not interested in justice.
Even though we have a conscience and moral ability, there are times when sinful humanity acts like that mountain lion, we the moral fortitude of animals. We kill with no regard for life or consequence like animals. Johnathan Aikin sums it up well. He says,
Even though we have moral sensibilities, we treat one another like animals. We deal with one another in the most disgusting ways imaginable. From Hitler to Stalin to Polpot and the Khmer Rouge killing fields, we see barbaric acts that humans commit against other humans.” Johnathan Aikin

We Die Like Animals

Secondly, we are like animals in that death comes for both of them. Solomon points us back to Genesis 3:19 in verse 20
Ecclesiastes 3:20 ESV
All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.
Once again, taking us back to Genesis 3:19 , the Garden of Eden, he brings home the reality of the fall. Why is death part of our existence? Death affects us because sin corrupted us. God told Adam that if he ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he would surely die (Genesis 2:17). When Adam listened to his wife and ate of that tree the curse came upon everything in this world. God told Adam
Genesis 3:19 ESV
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
This curse is not just limited to Adam, but to all of his offspring. Paul affirms this in the New Testament when he says
Romans 5:12 ESV
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
Death is what we deserve for our rebellion against God. Paul says,
Romans 6:23 (ESV)
For the wages of sin is death...
There is great irony in us longing for justice with each other while ignoring our injustice toward God. Death is a terrifying thing for us because in some deep sense we know justice is coming. The death spoken of in Genesis and Romans is both physical death and spiritual death. All the injustice we provoked or participated in is going to be dealt with. We will have to give an account for all the wrong we have committed against God and our neighbor.
Hebrews 9:27 ESV
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
You need to take your death seriously. You will die like an animal, but your soul will live on. Solomon says,
Ecclesiastes 3:21 ESV
Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?
Our bodies are not immortal. From dust you came and dust you will return. But God has given you a soul that is immortal. Your soul will live forever, and will one day be given a resurrected body, that will either experience his grace and love in heaven or his wrath in hell.
Solomon realizes death is inevitable and he knows justice will be perverted. This makes life difficult. Therefore, he says we should stop and take a breathe. In the midst of all this nonsense, enjoy some of the good things God provides in this life.
Ecclesiastes 3:22 ESV
So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?
Solomon picks up in chapter 4 by observing the oppression done by rulers under the sun. In summary, Solomon says,

Rightful Governance suffers at hands of corruption in a meaningless world (Eccl 4:1-3; 13-16; 5:8)

In Eccl 4:1
Ecclesiastes 4:1 ESV
Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.
The oppression being done under the sun is by rulers. In his context it would be government officials, royalty, even priests. In our context it would be our political leaders at every level. With corruption and injustice comes oppression. Politics in this world is meaningless if there is no righteousness and justice. We have elected evil men and given them power to do evil things. Someone might object at this point and say that, “Not all people who go into politics are evil, nor do they intend to do evil.” That may be true, but power tends too corrupt. Stan Lee is noted for creating marvel comics. From his pen have come the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, and Spider Man. He gave these heroes super human power, and then tells them, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The responsibility the have is to keep their moral compass always at true north. Never use their power for evil, always for good. Defend freedom and free the oppressed. That message is lost in politics. Some could argue it was never there.
What is the oppression? Where does it come from? I think Solomon touches on it
Ecclesiastes 5:8–9 ESV
If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.
The oppressed are the poor and those who have been violated and need justice. Its the small people of the world.Y Its you and me. Oppression comes in the form of government overreach, racial iniquity, poverty, and the such.
it comes from the man. We have a system in place to ensure checks and balances. Its called bureaucracy. You have a high official who is watched by a higher official, and there is high ones over them. Solomon says don’t be surprised when you see oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness. Don’t be be surprised that it happens because the whole system is corrupt. One official is allowed to oppress because his boss allows it, and the higher up boss allows it to happen because he is gaining something from it. If that does not sound like American politics, I don’t know what does.
Solomon says the whole thing is so worthless that it would be better if you were not born to have to deal with it.
Ecclesiastes 4:2–3 ESV
And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
There lies the problem with resting in our government, or putting our hope in our politics. Corruption kills justice and oppresses people. It keeps them from being able to live even a basic life under the sun.
Duane Garrett says this,
Ecclesiastes asserts that political corruption is terrible precisely because it does not allow common people to do the thing the book recommends—to enjoy their days under the sun. Oppression is innately wrong, and it also deprives its victims of the freedom to partake of the ordinary pleasures of life.” Duane Garrett
There is no president who will save our country. There is no congressman or woman who will be able to give you hope. There is no conceivable way to get rid of the corruption and bring true justice to the oppressed. Our leaders are doing what is right in their own eyes, and so many of them have rejected the gospel. What are we to do with this reality? What are we to do with our nation? Do we just check out, form a combine, run for our lives? What do I tell my friend who has suffered the injustice of losing her job because of corruption? I tell her to run as fast as she can to Jesus.
If you look back in verse 17, God is going to judge the wicked and the righteous. He goes on to say, “for there is a time for every matter.” The word “there” or even the phrase “there is a time,” alludes to the coming Day of the Lord. It carries an eschatological feel to it. There is coming a day when God will rectify all wrongs. He will restore heaven and earth, and he will place His rightful King, who will rule with pure righteousness and justice. That King is Jesus.

Jesus will reign as a righteous King who will restore justice and free the oppressed (Eccl 12:12-14)

The prophet Isaiah describes King Jesus as the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. he will establish his kingdom and uphold it with justice and with righteousness (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Isaiah also says when the Messiah King comes to rule the world, that the house of the Lord will be established as the highest of mountains, meaning the highest authority. The nations will flow to it. People will learn what true justice and righteousness is and how to live by it. And King Jesus will
Isaiah 2:4 ESV
He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
He also says, Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule with justice (Is 32:1).
Jeremiah speaks of the coming as the Branch of David.
Jeremiah 23:5–6 (ESV)
“ he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land...And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

The Road to Justice is Paved with the Blood of Jesus

Who is this King? It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the promised branch of David, who first came in humility as a Savior. Born of the virgin Mary, he took on flesh, lived a perfect life, and died a sacrificial death to atone for the sins of his elect. God was pleased with his sacrifice and raised him up on the third day. God promises to any sinner who will repent and confess their sins and ask for forgiveness, and accept Jesus’s as their Savior from his wrath, God promises to save them. By faith you allow Jesus to take the judgement you deserve for all of your injustice and unrighteousness on the cross. In return, he will give you his righteousness and the promise of eternal life with him in His kingdom, where there is no injustice and unrighteousness.
For now God is patient. He is allowing time for repentance, for the elect to come to His kingdom. But there is a time when Jesus will return. Jesus says
Revelation 22:12–16 ESV
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
and when he comes
Revelation 11:15 (ESV)
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
and He will reign with Justice and Righteousness and his government will be perfect.
The TTV kids are learning a catechism through a story involving three children who come to an old Scottish man, a member of their church, in his home. He loves talking about John Knox. John Know was a Scottish preacher who stood firm on the gospel when the ruling government was forcing Christians to denounce Jesus as King. He suffered many injustices in his life, even being imprisoned for long periods of time by corrupt government officials. John Knox wisely says to all of us who live in this Genesis three world, being oppressed by injustice and corruption, who long for our righteous king to return and rule and restore the earth, he says,
You have no cause for desperation, although the devil rage never so cruelly, and although the flesh be never so frail, daily and hourly lusting against God’s holy commandments, indeed, striving against the same. This is not the time of justice before our own eyes; we look for that which is promised, the kingdom everlasting, prepared for us from the beginning.” John Knox
If my friend is listening, I want her to know she has no cause for desperation. Although he devil does his thing and the wicked flesh of man does his thing, this is not a time for justice in our own eyes. Look for that which is promised for you in Christ Jesus, an everlasting kingdom , prepared for you from the beginning, a kingdom of peace and justice and righteousness. A kingdom bought by His own blood to ensure your justice will always be upheld.
With your eyes focused on Jesus, the true righteous King who will restore justice, set your heart on helping others see him. The only way we can turn injustice and corruption away is for God to transform the hearts of wicked people into Jesus serving, justice loving, kingdom living, missions minded believers.
Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, in his book, Family Ministry Field Manual, speaks of something he calls the Grover principle. he takes the Grover principle from Sesame Street. Grover would teach the children spacial awareness by zooming the camera in and out saying near and far. Jones says the church must reach those who are near to them, those in the church, ready to be discipled. At the the same time, the church must zoom out and reach those who are farther away, in the community. In the same way, I would contend that the church must disciple those in the church uphold justice. We must be a holy people who value God’s justice, living morally consistent lives. That means you must participate in discipleship.
At the same time, we need to reach those outside the church, and I would contend the next generation. We need to reach the children and teach God’s justice and raise them up as future leaders who will uphold God’s justice. That is one of the goals of Youth on Wednesday Nights and TTV. We exist to joyfully advance the kingdom of God by making much of Jesus int eh church, community, and home. We want to see the church, community, and home joyfully abide in Jesus. When our church, community, and home abides in Jesus, his Justice abides in our government. So, go be the voice of the gospel and the example of the gospel so that the God will advance his kingdom through you and restore His justice to our land.
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