It’s a Wicked World (After All) – Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:16

Ecclesiastes 3:16 begins a new literary unit in the book, as the theme changes from the times and seasons that God has established, to the wickedness of this world. This theme is first raised here in our text, but is repeated often in Ecclesiastes (5:8, 8:10-15, 9:13-16, 10:5-7). The book’s author, “the Preacher,” who we have been calling by his Hebrew title, Qoheleth, also portrays God as judge for the first time in the book (3:17) – an important theme that will be revisited later on (11:9, 12:14). The conviction that after death, all “go to the same place,” will also be mentioned again later (6:6, 9:10). So this text provides an important introduction to the purpose, outlook, and theme of the entire book.

In this text, Qoheleth unveils the wickedness of the world as he continues his realistic observations of life “under the sun;” he makes four such observations: 1) That wickedness is found in the very place where one would expect to find justice (3:16-22); 2) That those in authority use their power to oppress those who are often left without anyone to comfort them (4:1-3); 3) That the source of the toil and skill in one’s labor is often found in inappropriate competition and envy (4:4-6); and 4) Many people work hard merely for their own gain, not caring to share it with anyone (4:7-12). It is useful to recall that Qoheleth’s original audience was most likely composed of young, upwardly mobile professionals, seeking to climb the ladder of success in an increasingly individualist urban society that was very different from the tribal, clan-based, villages of their ancestors. These sins of injustice, oppression, envy and greed were increasingly infecting the lives of God’s people as they assimilated into the wicked world around them; and Qoheleth is warning about the emptiness of their end. As such, this text is very relevant to our culture today, where we often find wickedness in our governments, worldwide oppression of the weak, cutthroat competition for jobs in the workplace, and an unparalleled, selfish individualistic mindset in our culture, which have all affected the church.

The antidote that Qoheleth offers in Ecclesiastes is found in an illustration in chapter 4 verses 13-16 about a young wise man who replaces an old foolish king. Even though the young man is counted as better than his predecessor, and a successful leader, in the end, he too will be forgotten. The text teaches us that this wicked world’s quest and thirst for power and authority which usually requires injustice, abuse, competition, and unaccountability, is pointless. It warns God’s people that we ought to check our own motives when it comes to seeking power and authority whether in the world or in the church, especially if it means not loving our neighbor as ourselves along the way. It teaches us that we really ought not to expect to find justice, kindness, compassion, and liberality for we live in a wicked world, after all. This provides a stark contrast to Christ, the King of kings, who used His authority on earth to bring justice, comfort, contentedness and love.

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One thought on “It’s a Wicked World (After All) – Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:16

  1. excellent, pointing out undeniable truths about mans depravity, the same today as then, pointing to the necessity of divine help and salvation or we perish in misery

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