Justice on Earth and Beyond

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Ecclesiastes 3: 16-22

Our most excellent adventure now examines the state of judgment both here on earth, and in heaven. Before we look at the text, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that we are still within the context set in 2:26, within the thesis I stated a couple of posts back: Satisfaction in this life and thus true happiness can only be found when we are within the will of Almighty God.

As in the last two sections, the Teacher is making an argument, so we must keep this in mind as we read this section on justice. Verse 16 tells of something Solomon has seen “under the sun” so we know that he is again speaking in human terms. The courts of men are corrupt; it was true then and it is true now.

Verse 17 takes us back to a more heavenly view: God will ultimately judge both the wicked and the righteous, and of course this has been set up this way to beg an obvious, but unstated question: Why does God allow this wickedness to go on?

Many have given answers to this question, including me, but for the sake of the lesson, let’s see what the Teacher has to say:

I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (18-21)

Everything on this earth has an expiration date; our works, our dreams, our trials, our joys apart from God, even our very lives, for just like the animals, we will surely die. Yes, dear reader, there is a time for every season under heaven, including my season. The time for men to choose whether or not they will follow God’s ways is one of those seasons too, and the day is coming when that season of men choosing not to follow God’s ways will also pass away, and when it does, all of us will be called to give an account. That is the answer to the unwritten question.

I would like to mention one other thing before we continue, and that is about verse 21:

Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?

I hate to draw your attention away from Solomon’s point here, but I think that the NIV and most other modern translations have missed this one. I might be crazy, but there is no “if” in the Hebrew, nor is there the “that” that the NASB puts in this sentence. I can’t claim to be a great scholar of Hebrew, but the way I read the original is this: “Who knows the spirit of the man that goes upward and the spirit of the beast that goes down to the earth?”

To this question, there is a definite answer: God knows, and He will judge them accordingly when He sees fit to do so.

The chapter ends on this note, a summation of the entire section:

So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?

In thinking about this summation, recall that Solomon has linked happiness with work in one instance only: when we are working to accomplish God’s purpose. So, with this in mind, what is the Teacher telling us? The best way for all of us to proceed through this life is for us to dedicate ourselves to His service, for God has created us to do this; anything less is meaningless and futile.

Finally, here is the complete structure of the case the Teacher has made:

Thesis: Satisfaction in this life and thus true happiness can only be found when we are within the will of Almighty God.

First supporting point: God, in His infinite wisdom has ordained a season for every purpose of Man.

Second supporting point: The only things that last are the things ordained by God and our part in them, which brings happiness and satisfaction as His gift.

Third supporting point: God will rightly judge the works of all men to determine whether or not they have followed His ways, for the season of men will come to an end.

Conclusion: Satisfaction in this life and thus true happiness can only be found when we are within the will of Almighty God.

Now, our most excellent adventure will move back under the sun as we continue into chapter four…

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10 thoughts on “Justice on Earth and Beyond”

  1. Regarding verse 21: The 1984 NIV has a footnote, “Or, ‘Who knows the spirit of man, which rises upward, or the spirit of the animal, which…’ .” I wonder why the newer NIV version doesn’t have that.

  2. Don, here is a paste over of the translation and commentary from the Jewish Bible

    21Who knows that the spirit of the children of men is that which ascends on high and the spirit of the beast is that which descends below to the earth?

    Rashi’s commentary
    Who knows: Like (Joel 2: 14): “Whoever knows shall repent.” Who is it who understands and puts his heart to [the fact] that the spirit of the children of men ascends above and stands in judgment, and the spirit of the beast descends below to the earth, and does not have to give an accounting. Therefore, one must not behave like a beast, which does not care about its deeds.

    http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16464#showrashi=true

  3. I always wondered over the question why God let’s things go on as they are…because of freewill. There must be something so important about it and realizing who and what we are, that God gave it to us. The world and our actions are either our blessing or our curse; either way I think there is much learned from both.

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