No Satisfaction Eccl. 4-6
Justice and oppression fill the world. But there is a way to find contentment.
In the 1960s, the English rock group The Rolling Stones shot to stardom with a song titled “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” This thought easily could be considered the theme of the book of Ecclesiastes.
Wise King Solomon reflected on the fact that life apart from God is hopeless, like chasing the wind; it’s unsatisfying and meaningless. Solomon pointed out three specific futilities: the injustice of oppression (Eccl. 4:1–3), the mockery of casual worship (5:1–7), and the uselessness of wealth without enjoyment (6:1–2).
The Injustice of Oppression
Simon Wiesenthal, a Jewish-Austrian Holocaust survivor, dedicated his life to hunting down and prosecuting Nazi war criminals. When asked about his motivation, he replied, “I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it.”1
Oppression is unjust. But the world is filled with it: “Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun,” said Solomon. “And look! The tears of the oppressed, but they have no comforter” (4:1).
Jewish people have endured horrific oppression, and today Christians suffer severely. According to the opendoorsusa.org “World Watch List,” the top 10 oppressors of Christians are India (#10), Iran (#9), Yemen (#8), Sudan (#7), Eritrea (#6), Pakistan (#5), Libya (#4), Somalia (#3), Afghanistan (#2), and Communist North Korea—which still ranks as the worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.
Eventually, Christian persecution will permeate the world. Yet the Lord promises that He “will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Ps. 9:9–10).
Even Jesus was oppressed. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
But unlike most of us, Jesus suffered willingly. He suffered on our behalf as our final sacrifice for sin. He also arose from the dead because He is God. The author of Hebrews wrote, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).
Jesus understands what it means to be oppressed, which is why He is a sympathetic advocate for us with the Father (1 Jn. 2:1) and why we can cast all our care on Him because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7).
The Mockery of Casual Worship
The Israelites were commanded to love God with all their hearts and to keep His commandments: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Dt. 10:12; cf. 1 Chr. 16:29).
God does not want us merely to perform religious rituals. He wants us to love Him, and loving Him means obeying Him (Jn. 14:15). King Solomon saw the casual worship being offered in the Temple and warned the Israelites, “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil” (Eccl. 5:1).
Bible scholar John Gill (1697–1771) explained what it means to walk prudently and fear God: “to walk in the ways he directed, to be under an awe of his majesty, a fear of offending him, and a reverential affection for him, such as children have to a father.”2
The Hebrew word for “hear” is shema. While it literally means to hear, it emphasizes the need to respond in obedience to what is heard. It carries the same nuance as Jesus’ admonishment in Matthew 11:15: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” The idea is to let God’s Word permeate the mind and heart, provide understanding, and generate a response. As James wrote, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (Jas. 1:22).
The Uselessness of Wealth Without Enjoyment
Howard Hughes Jr. (1905–1976) was an American billionaire whose success in the film and aviation industries made him famous, as well as rich. Later in life, however, he became an eccentric recluse who let his appearance deteriorate to such an extent that the U.S. Treasury Department had to use fingerprints to confirm his identity at his death.
If only he had heeded Ecclesiastes 6:1–2: “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: A man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself of all he desires; yet God does not give him power to eat of it, but a foreigner consumes it. This is vanity, and it is an evil affliction.”
Solomon disputed the popular view of equating wealth with happiness. Prosperity apart from God never satisfies. As Bible commentator Matthew Henry (1662–1714) wrote,
Riches and wealth commonly gain people honour among men. Though it be but an image, if it be a golden image, all people, nations, and languages, will fall down and worship it. Riches, wealth, and honour, are God’s gifts, the gifts of his providence, and not given, as his rain and sunshine, alike to all, but to some, and not to others, as God sees fit. Yet they are given to many that do not make a good use of them, to many to whom God does not give wisdom and grace to take the comfort of them and serve God with them. The gifts of common providence are bestowed on many to whom are denied the gifts of a special grace, without which the gifts of providence often do more hurt than good. He wants nothing for his soul of all that he desires. Providence has been so liberal to him that he has as much as heart could wish, and more, Ps. 73:7. He does not desire grace for his soul, the better part; all he desires is enough to gratify the sensual appetite.3
British preacher and Bible scholar G. Campbell Morgan (1863–1945) commented,
Ecclesiastes is an inspired confession of failure and pessimism, when God is excluded, when man lives under the sun, and forgets the larger part, which is always over the sun, the eternal and abiding things. If you want to know what a man of great privilege, and of great learning and great wisdom can come to, read this record of a man who has put God out of count in his actual life.4
Life is futile if we don’t fear God—which involves loving Him, first and foremost (Dt. 6:5); keeping His commands (Eccl. 12:13); and loving one another (1 Jn. 3:23). Without God, we’ll get no satisfaction. But with God, we can find hope and contentment, no matter what we do.
- “Simon Wiesenthal: 1908–2005,” Simon Wiesenthal Center (wiesenthal.com/about/about-simon-wiesenthal).
- John Gill, “John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible: Deuteronomy 8,” Bible Commentaries, StudyLight.org (tinyurl.com/study-light-JG).
- Matthew Henry, “Ecclesiastes 6,” Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, biblestudytools.com (tinyurl.com/MtHnry-Eccl).
- G. Campbell Morgan, “Ecclesiastes Commentaries,” preceptaustin.org (tinyurl.com/precept-GCM).