Focal Passages: Ecclesiastes 3:16-17; 4:1; 8:2-13
“I looked … I
saw under the sun … And all this I have seen …” The testimony of the Preacher
continues as he wrestles with the piercing reality of injustice and oppression
that saturates his culture (and the world). He looks to the place of justice
and judgment, but finds wickedness.
He looked for integrity, but found oppression. He looked for
prompt judgment, but found delay and a resultant greater boldness to evil
“I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place
under the sun…” (4:1). One wonders whether there was any respite for the
sufferer? The Preacher replies, “I saw the tears of the oppressed-and they have
In order to emphasize this reality, he repeats himself —
“and they have no comforter.”
His statements logically continue his remark about man’s
inhumanity to man and his comparison of man with beast (3:16ff., see also 8:9).
It has been said that Gautama Buddha taught that if all the
tears of sorrow shed were confluent, they would fill the seas (O.S. Rankin).
Sadly, for Buddha the only escape is the cessation of
desire; for the Preacher the only escape is death (4:2-3) and finally to “stand
in awe of God” (5:7b).
Oppression. The Preacher’s comments are about the
exploitation by wealthier classes of those who have lived on the land for
generations and those hardworking individuals who dwell in the city. It is a
debt system that quickly becomes enslavement — slavery or monopoly. The typical
situation was one of families who have to put all members who were able to work
at the disposal of the creditor, then the mortgaging of homes and finally “the
brutal sale of people into slavery in foreign countries” (Norbert Lohfink). And
they have no comforter!
Though a span of several thousand years separates us from
the Preacher’s world, the exploitative crisis he describes is a daily reality
for the many of us.
There are those who live just on the razor sharp edge of
survival and disaster financially.
They live and move gingerly along day by day, paying bills,
working hard, tying to keep their heads above water — and then the financial
institutions on the other side of their world collapse and suddenly it is all
that they can do to succumb to radical enslavement and crumble under the strain
And they have no comforter!
Where is the community of faith as comforter? Is there hope?
“And Jesus found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit
of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the
poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of
sight for the blind, to release the oppressed’” (Luke 4:17b-18).