June 16 – Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:3


Heads up:
Downtown has an alternative schedule for the next two weeks. The week of June 16 Downtown will be using the Ecclesiastes 5:10-17 guide.

Main Focus: Justice on earth will always be incomplete, so we hope not in human judgements but in a perfect Judge.

On a list of things that promise satisfaction but can’t bring it, wealth and pleasure are some of the usual suspects. Justice is a surprising addition to the list, and yet the Teacher goes after it too, showing how the crookedness of earthly life corrupts even our most dignified pursuits. In discussion we’ll turn to Psalm 73 to unpack the Teacher’s disappointment just a bit more, while also providing the remedy for our malaise in the perfect justice of God.

Enigma is standard fare Ecclesiastes, but the end of chapter 3 takes it one step further. There the Teacher points out another hevel, how wickedness inevitably creeps into human courts because humans work there. Even our best attempts at uprightness, at appropriate governance and equitable laws, will inevitably be sullied and stained by our sinful nature. The same thing goes for the “place of righteousness,” i.e. the place where God’s name is remembered (then the Temple; now the church). In no place on earth can we find perfect justice or perfect righteousness—the pursuit is folly.

This disappointment in human justice will be the primary focus of our discussion. However, the passage keeps going and gets real weird. In 3:18 the Teacher begins to speculate about the human spirit, wondering whether humans are any better off than beasts and questioning whether we can know what happens to human and animal spirits after death. Like I said, our primary topic is justice (3:16-18 and 4:1-3), but if questions come up about this wacky middle part, keep in mind that the Teacher is questing for meaning and answers “under the sun.” In that line of inquiry, the human spirit is an enigma, outside the full discernment of the human intellect in the vein of Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful…who can understand it?” Furthermore, in Ecclesiastes 12:7 he’ll talk about the human spirit returning to God, which is backed up by the broader biblical counsel (cf. Luke 23:43; Phil 1:23), so his speculation gets diffused by what we know through the rest of God’s revelation (i.e. there’s nothing to worry about here).

So back to the Teacher’s disappointment over injustice, we’ll turn to Psalm 73 to dig into this disappointment even further. There the psalmist Asaph describes a situation in which his heart failed within him over wanton wickedness on earth. You’ll notice similarities to our Ecclesiastes passage in the psalm, in particular his attempt to understand it all was a “wearisome task” (cf. Ecc 1:8) and how he was “like a beast” (cf. Ecc 3:18) in his brutish assessment of the situation.

Psalm 73 will also help us expand on a brief thing the Teacher mentioned when he considered injustice in the world: “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked” (3:17). Psalm 73 expands on the hope that can be found when facing injustice in the world by remembering the perfect justice of God. While we might see rampant injustice in front of us today, there will be a day when everything and everyone is held to account, a day in which the incorruptible Judge will enact perfect justice.

These two passages then help us know how to respond to injustice in the world. They help us see that the pursuit of justice under the sun will always be fraught, always incomplete and imperfect, always awaiting the perfect justice that can only come from a perfect Judge. The working of justice in the world will simply never satisfy. However (and this is a big HOWEVER in conservative evangelical circles), these passages also help us see how justice, though a fraught endeavor, is by no means a fruitless endeavor. Just back up to Psalm 72:12-14 and you’ll see how God makes a priority of helping and defending the poor, in turn making it a governing priority for the Israelite king and his people.

We’ll finish discussion with the ways we each feel called to participate in God’s priority of helping the vulnerable. This may look like financially supporting important works locally and globally, but this also may include volunteering, direct assistance, tutoring, fostering, becoming a guardian ad litem, even just asking if an elderly neighbor needs help around the house. These latter options are ones that make us consider how God can use our whole selves, from wallet to gifts to kindness and presence, to bless others.

Compassion International

Interested in sponsoring a child through Compassion in our target areas of Brazil and The Dominican Republic? This month you can text VINTAGE to 83393 to receive more information.

Discussion questions

– Could someone read Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:3 for us?

– What does the Teacher seem to be saying about justice and injustice in the world?

– Could someone read Psalm 73 for us?

– How does this capture some of the feeling of our Ecclesiastes passage?

– How did the psalmist find hope?

– When we’re confronted by injustice in the world, how can these two passages help us respond?

– What are some ways you think God has specifically called you to help people in need?

– Close in prayer over these things.


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