The Importance of Justice

11When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong. 12Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. 13Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow. 14There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.

15So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.

16When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth—his eyes not seeing sleep day or night—17then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.

Solomon continues commenting on the "crooked" things in life: "When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong" (vs. 11). With fallible humans running things, there will always be injustices. Solomon points out that injustice is a dangerous thing, for injustice breeds evil, as "the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong."

Now, some would fault God in this area. They would say, "If God is just, why does He not immediately punish evil?" They may even use Solomon’s words to fault God: "When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong." And yet, at the same time, these same people should be very glad that God does not punish sin immediately. Where would they themselves be, if He did? We must all thank God that He is patient and longsuffering, that He does not punish us immediately for our sins, that He gives us time to repent from them, and, most of all, that He has provided a way through His Son Jesus that we may be forgiven for our sins. As Peter tells us: "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (II Pet. 3:9).

Also, we must make sure that we do not take improper advantage of God’s patience, that our "hearts" are not "filled with schemes to do wrong" because God does not immediately sentence us for our crimes. To do so is, as the Psalmist points out, to revile God: "Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, ‘He won’t call me to account’?" (Ps. 10:13). "What venom must there be in the corruption of our nature, that can suck such poison out of such a sweet attribute as the patience of God" [Cotton, in Bridges, 199].

Solomon realized that, in the end, God’s justice wins the day: "Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow" (vss. 12–13). Many times, the fulfillment of God’s justice will wait until the afterlife. As the sun sets on the wicked, they do not see their days lengthen like a shadow. Rather, they see the darkness of the shadow. For the godly, they can view the lengthening of the shadow as a symbol that their days will continue forever in the life beyond this one.

Despite the fact that Solomon realized that God’s justice will prevail, he was still frustrated with the injustice he saw: "There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless" (vs. 14). Alas, here on earth, injustice happens. This is how it will always be with fallible humans in charge of things. Such injustices should cause us to cry out for the day when the Lord’s righteous reign commences, when injustices will disappear forever.

Despite what is crooked here on earth, Solomon commends once again contentment with what God has given us: "So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun" (vs. 15). Contentment with what God has given us is a recurring theme in this book, contentment in spite of what is "crooked" and "meaningless" in this life. This is the fourth time that Solomon has commended enjoyment and satisfaction in this life (see also 2:24; 3:12–15; 5:18–20). These appeals by Solomon to enjoy life seem to get lost amidst his frustration at not being able to understand everything he saw in the world around him. But these appeals are an important part of the book. They give the book balance. They tell us that despite all the things we don’t understand in this life, happiness can be found in the blessings God has bestowed on each of us.

As for Solomon, he is at his end in his quest by human means to understand the things of life: "When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth—his eyes not seeing sleep day or night—then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it" (vss. 16–17). Solomon surrenders. He realizes that he does not have all the answers; moreover, he realizes that he is unable, by his own means, to discover all the answers. Furthermore, he realizes that it is beyond the grasp of any man to fully comprehend life. Anyone who thinks he knows all the answers to life deludes himself: "Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it." And indeed, it was rather presumptuous of Solomon to think that he could fully understand the workings of the creation of an all-knowing, all-powerful God. "It is no more unnatural that some [things in life] should overwhelm our understanding, than that the sun in full blaze should overpower our sight" [Bridges, 207].

It is quite important that we be humble concerning what we think we know about life, for only the humble can be taught the truth. "Too much attention cannot be bestowed on that important—yet much-neglected branch of learning—the knowledge of man’s ignorance" [Whately, in Bridges, 206]. There is much more that each of us needs to learn and understand. This is why it is so important for us continue diligently our study of God’s Word, so that we may continue the learning process. "Every secret that is disclosed—every discovery which is made—every new effect which is brought to view, serves to convince us of numberless more which remain concealed, and which we had before no suspicion of" [Butler, in Bridges, 208].

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