Ecclesiastes Lesson Seven: Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 – Mystery of Injustice and Death

I also observed under the sun: there is wickedness at the place of judgment and there is wickedness at the place of righteousness. 17 I said to myself, “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, since there is a time for every activity and every work.” 18 I said to myself, “This happens concerning people, so that God may test them and they may see for themselves that they are like animals.” 19 For the fate of people and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath. People have no advantage over animals since everything is futile. 20 All are going to the same place; all come from dust, and all return to dust. 21 Who knows if the spirit of people rises upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? 22 I have seen that there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities because that is his reward. For who can enable him to see what will happen after he dies? (HCSB)

I’ll deal with this passage in one section, as there is one theme that runs through it. The teacher is wrestling with a question that plagues us today; how can God be in control when there is so much wickedness in the world? Now, let’s dig deeper into this passage.

  • In this passage, the teacher seems to be saying that time passes swiftly for humans.
    • We often look back and wonder about or regret decisions we’ve made. 
    • At the same time, God keeps track of everything we do, and at the end of time, we’ll answer for our actions. The teacher makes this very statement in the final verse of Ecclesiastes 12:14 For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.
  • The teacher ponders this very thought in the first two verses of this passage.
    • He witnessed wickedness and injustice.
    • He wondered why the judgment was delayed.
  • Now we circle back to the theme of this passage; how can God allow so much evil in the world?
    • The teacher wasn’t the first to wrestle with this question, nor was he the last. I’m sure that everyone who reads this ponders the same question.
    • However, the teacher comforts himself with two assurances.
      • God has a time for everything.
        • Ecclesiastes 8:6 For every activity there is a right time and procedure, even though man’s troubles are heavy on him.
        • Ecclesiastes 8:11 Because the sentence against a criminal act is not carried out quickly,  the heart of people is filled with the desire to commit crime.
      • God is working out His eternal purposes in and through the actions of mankind, even those who are wicked.
    • Verse seventeen should also be viewed with the eschatological judgment in mind.
      • Psalm 14:5 Then they will be filled with terror, for God is with those who are  righteous.
      • Although the teacher was not a prophet, he did speak of a coming judgment.
      • He acknowledged that political oppression was a universal phenomenon, but he offered hope, even though it was abstract, of a divine judgment and vindication.
  • God will judge everyone when the current earth has passed away, but He is also judging everyone now.
    • Verse eighteen tells us that God is testing man.
    • This testing reveals the character of each person.
    • When humanity leaves God out of their lives, they are no different than animals.
      • Psalm 32:9 Do not be like a horse or mule, without understanding, that must be controlled with bit and bridle or else it will not come near you.
      • Proverbs 7:22-23 He follows her impulsively like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer bounding toward a trap 23 until an arrow pierces its liver, like a bird darting into a snare he doesn’t know it will cost him his life.
      • 2 Peter 2:19-20 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them. 20 For if, having escaped the world’s impurity through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in these things and defeated, the last state is worse for them than the first.
  • As we read verses nineteen and twenty, we need to be careful and not draw the wrong conclusion. The teacher is not saying there is no difference between humans and animals. He is merely pointing out they have two things in common.
    • Both groups die.
    • The bodies of both groups will return to the dust. 
    • Humanity has a distinct advantage and difference over animals; mankind was created in the image of God.
    • However, both groups die and return to “dust.”
  • The Bible tells us that death happens when the spirit leaves the body.
    • James 2:26a For just as the body without the spirit is dead.
    • Luke 8:55a Her spirit returned, and she got up at once.
  • The teacher seems to be indicating that humans and animals don’t have the same experience at death.
    • Man’s spirit goes to God. Ecclesiastes 12:7 And the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
    • The animal’s spirit ceases to exist. Read Psalm 49.
  • Once again, Ecclesiastes focuses on the mortality of humanity. Each of us is destined to have a physical death. But the real emphasis is whether or not we’ll experience spiritual life or death.
  • We also need to remember that mankind’s spirit, which is eternal, will exist in one of two places.
    • Those who have professed faith in, and submitted to the lordship of Jesus, will go to heaven.
    • Those who never professed faith in Jesus will be condemned to hell.
  • In the final verse of this passage, the teacher reaches two conclusions.
    • Neither possessions nor accomplishments are eternal.
      • We can’t take them with us when we die.
      • We should properly use them and enjoy them while we’re alive.
    • We will all pass from our physical bodies and live eternally as a spirit.
      • Our hope of eternal life is founded on God and not ourselves.
      • Those who have rejected God will face eternal punishment.
      • Those who have placed their faith in Jesus will experience eternal life in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “There is no resurrection of the dead”? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith. 15 In addition, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified about God that He raised up Christ—whom He did not raise up if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. 19 If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

As we reflect on this passage, let’s consider the following points.

  • God controls “time.” We see this vividly illustrated when we look at Israel’s early history.
    • The Bible doesn’t focus primarily on the social, political, or heroes of Israel.
    • It does focus on God shaping Israel through grace and judgment, moving Israel towards His goal.
    • When we reflect on what’s in 1-2 Kings, we read a narrative about what God is doing in this period of Israel’s history.
      • The prophets were the most important figures in these books, announcing and interpreting God’s actions.
      • The kings thought they were in control of the country and its people. However, it was God who was in control.
    • The same is true in the prophetic books of the Old Testament.
      • God reveals Himself as sovereign, who ruled the past but is also in control of the present and future.
      • Humans may have schemes and ideas, but God’s plans are the ones that will be fulfilled.
      • The book of Daniel contains one of the best examples.
        • King Nebuchadnezzar thinks he’s a god, requiring worship.
        • Daniel tells him that he’s not in control, and to reinforce that point, the king lives for a period of time among the animals.
    • The New Testament continues this theme.
      • At the appointed time, Jesus is born, announcing the kingdom of God and dying for our sins.
      • Jesus declares the various times of God’s plans.
        • His crucifixion.
        • The witness or apostasy of the disciples.
        • His second coming.
        • Divine judgment and salvation.
  • As Christians, we are to live our lives considering the fact that God controls time.
    • 1 Timothy 6:13-16 In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and of Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you 14 to keep the command without fault or failure until the appearing  of our Lord  Jesus Christ. 15 God will bring this about in His own time. He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, 16 the only One who has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; no one has seen or can see Him, to Him be honor and eternal might. Amen.
    • 1 Peter 1:3-5 Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
    • Revelation 1:3 The one who reads this is blessed, and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it are blessed, because the time is near!
    • Revelation 22:10 He also said to me, “Don’t seal the prophetic words of this book, because the time is near.
    • 2 Peter 3:8 Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
  • Our relationship with God will determine how we view the fact that God controls time.
    • For the faithful, it should provide comfort.
    • For those without a relationship with God, it will be unsettling as they try and manipulate time to their own advantage, acting as if they were “gods.”
  • We live in a world that is skeptical and confused about what occurs after we die.
    • Many search for verifiable truth about what happens.
    • Too often, in this search, they ignore the truth of the resurrection.
      • They are like Thomas in John’s Gospel.
      • They want to see it themselves, or they won’t believe it.
  • It’s a symptom of self-centeredness and paranoia.
    • The only “truth” is what they choose to believe.
    • This has led to the rapid increase in “spiritualities” in the Western world.
    • These “leaps of faith” will never lead them anywhere without being founded on the Truth, which came in the form of a man over two thousand years ago.


  • Accept and embrace the truth that regardless of what occurs around us, God is in control and He knows what is best. This is true even when we are going through difficulties. During those moments, press into God and try and discern His will, but also walk in faith and the knowledge that He will sustain you through those difficulties.
  • Accept that each of us is mortal. Our physical bodies will die, but our spirit will live forever. There are only two destinations for our spirit. We’ll either spend eternity in heaven in God’s presence or eternity in hell, forever separated from His love and grace.
  • Enjoy the pleasures of life in accordance with God’s will and plan. God wants us to enjoy life as we walk in fellowship with Him. If we are truly walking in step with Him, we shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s