It was the one time I knew I would not get into trouble at home.
One of the standing rules in my parents’ home growing up was very simple: get in trouble at school; get in trouble at home. My brothers and I knew it fully. Anything we were dumb enough to try at school had better not resulted in us getting into trouble because it was going to be worse when we got home!
There were, however, two exceptions. If we were getting picked on and defended ourselves OR if we were defending someone else (especially someone being bullied).
I saw a smaller fellow junior high student getting picked on by boys my size and I knew this was a time I wouldn’t get in trouble at home when I knew full well I would probably get into trouble at school. Without going into all the details, the boys stopped picking on the smaller fellow junior high student and that boy and I stayed friends until I moved away.
And I didn’t get into trouble.
Have you ever been told those with power also have responsibility? It’s true. Any power we have comes with a responsibility to wield it well. And for a Christian, this is infinitely more true because we represent the King of Kings who is the defender of the defenseless. We are being like Him when we use our power and influence to help others.
But as adults we learn we can’t help everyone and there’s so much more power “out there” than what we hold. It’s enough to make you mad. And anger is just what the author of Ecclesiastes felt as he penned Ecclesiastes 4:1–6 (NIV):
Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed— and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.
In the Bible, oppression is typically defined as cheating someone out of something. This could be robbery, fraudulent activity, or lying. This was especially difficult on people who were already poor as they didn’t have the financial or political resources to mount a strong defense of themselves or their property. Biblically, oppression is associated with physical violence—not because they were associated together, but because oppressing someone by cheating them was the same “injury” as physically assaulting them.
Solomon’s statement of “power was on the side of the oppressors” (verse 1), is literally, “and from the hand of the oppressors is power”. Not only do the oppressors possess power, they have unrestrained freedom to exercise that power without restraints. We might say this: “might makes right”.
Like all people of faith should be, King Solomon is furious by this behavior. He’s so outraged by it he declares the dead are better off than the oppressed. More than that: the teacher claims it’s better for stillborn children than for the oppressed!
Where does this oppression come from in the human heart? Verse 4 provides the answer: our own inferiority complex. Because we feel inferior, we want what others have because we perceive it as better than what we already possess. So we fight, push, step on, scrape, claw, and even kill (emotionally) others to get to the top.
This is the same idea expressed by the wisdom of the half-brother of our Lord who wrote in James 4:1–3 (NIV): 1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Solomon concludes it’s better to have less but be at peace than have so much and only desire to have more. Know this, dear one: the relentless pursuit of “stuff” will only leave you wanting more. Acquisition can quickly become a drug whose addiction is unyielding.
What are your motivations when it comes to “stuff”? What are your attitudes towards others who have more stuff? I’ve often been told (and I’ve said it myself!): “A ‘rich person’ is someone who has a little bit more than you.” How do you feel towards the “rich people” of your life? What’s your attitude towards those who are “poor”?
As you go about your day today, how can you use your power to help someone who’s “poor”? Make an eternal difference with your temporal involvement.