If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter; for high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them.
Ecclesiastes 5:8 (NKJV)
There is a great deal of political outrage today. I regularly hear otherwise calm, quiet people give vent to disgust toward our leaders and their policies. I too have done my share of venting. My poor wife has had to deal with my rhetorical questions during the evening news: “How can they do that!” “What are they thinking!” “Who do they think they are!” She still doesn’t know if she’s supposed to answer or not.
Ecclesiastes 5:8 is a good text to reflect on in these times.
While it’s easy to think we live in times of unprecedented corruption and cronyism, the preacher reminds us that this state of affairs is nothing new. High officials have always watched over each other while consolidating and advancing their power at the expense of others. Some leaders make it a science, but most do it to some degree. “Do not marvel at the matter,” says the preacher.
It’s hard to decide whether this observation is comforting or disquieting. On one hand, the world has continued according to God’s purposes in spite of all the corruption that has gone before us, and the world will still turn when we are gone. It is comforting to know that political corruption, though constant, is a mere “tempest in a teapot” in light of eternity. On the other hand, the preacher suggests that some corruption is bound to be the status quo here in life under the sun, and our expectations should be tempered accordingly. It’s not all that comforting to hear that our prospects for integrity and justice in politics seem dim at best.
Comforting or not, it’s honest, and that is what is so refreshing about the preacher of Ecclesiastes. Politicians of all stripes never cease to promise their versions of utopia. To hear them one would think there is nothing at all they can’t fix, improve or conjure into existence for the good and happiness of all. It’s quite ridiculous to listen to them, actually. They talk in sound bites with no substance and promise things that can not possibly be delivered. Each of them claims to be different from the rest but very little changes as they cycle through the political scene. In contrast, the preacher is refreshingly (and brutally) honest. He reminds us not to expect too much from mere men, nor to expect a political savior. In fact, he characterizes corrupt politicians in much the same way that Christ characterized the poor…they will always be with us.
I think Christians should enthusiastically support biblical policies and politicians, if such can be found, but even when we do we should bear Solomon’s warning in mind. Corruption is subtle, no political platform will solve the world’s problems, and sometimes the best we can expect from a leader is to not make things worse. If the preacher’s point sounds defeatist it is probably because we are so accustomed to the glowing, unrealistic promises of modern politics, and always so hopeful that the next guy will be different. The preacher is relentlessly honest as he describes politics (and all things) under the sun, and in our political atmosphere we can use a dose of such honesty.
The preacher’s purpose in Ecclesiastes is to show us the futility of all paths but one. In this text we are reminded of the disappointment we will ultimately have in all leaders but One. Solomon’s greater son, the King of Kings, is the one faithful ruler to whom we can look for justice and righteousness. The observation of Ecclesiastes 5:8 should direct our hope to Christ and make us ardent proponents of His cause and kingdom. Then our political participation will be meaningful. As for politicians, there’s little else we can do but support those who support Christ; beyond that “do not marvel” at what corrupt men are capable of doing. Christ is king even now and He will have His justice. All the corruption in high places is not enough to bump the world off its axis, let alone thwart the unfolding plan of a good, sovereign God. It’s enough to know that even the worst politicians are simply men of the moment in a world that Christ rules. Their evil is not unexpected, but more importantly, it is not permanent. That’s reason enough not to marvel at them nor be overly perturbed by them. Our energy is better spent rejoicing in and serving the righteous King at God’s right hand.