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Written by Jim Jordal   
Monday, 28 December 2009

KING SOLOMON ON ECONOMIC JUSTICE

By Jim Jordal

Most theologians consider the wise and powerful Solomon to be the author of Book of Ecclesiastes. Most Christians don’t pay much attention to this book because it seems to a mainly a collection of the writer’s disillusionment with life in general—and especially life apart from the experience of God. When we do read the book it’s generally the beautiful rendition on "A Time for Everything" found in chapter 3.

But the Book of Ecclesiastes also contains a powerful message of radical equality expressed in terms of social and economic justice. It is this message that we investigate today.

Solomon first decried the folly of attempting to substitute money, pleasure, possessions, power or popularity for God. Early in the book he summarizes the futility of his search: "Whatever my eyes desired, I didn't keep from them. I didn't withhold my heart from any joy, for my heart rejoiced because of all my labor, and this was my portion from all my labor. Then I looked at all the works that my hands had worked, and at the labor that I had labored to do; and behold, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was no profit under the sun" (Ecc. 2:10-11, WEB).

He goes on to recognize oppression as a major factor in human existence. As he says, " Then I returned and saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold, the tears of those who were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter" (Ecc. 4:1, WEB).

Please notice especially that there was no one to comfort or relieve those who were oppressed. No one spoke out for them. They were ignored and marginalized by the power structure, so they suffered on—silently and eternally. Evidently nobody heeded other words of Solomon when he spoke of the necessity of advocating for the poor: "Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy" (Prov. 31:8-9, NKJV).

Solomon also notes that there was great power on the side of the oppressors. Shades of today! Economic pundits now crow over the gradual ending of the recession and a hopeful return to business as usual. The big banks and Wall Street are again paying massive bonuses, but where are the bonuses for Main Street Americans who continue to lose jobs, houses and decent retirements? Where indeed!

Supposedly our elected representatives speak out for their constituents, but in reality most of them (especially at the federal level) owe more allegiance to their wealthy financial backers than to their constituents—and the results prove it. Look at the legislative foot-dragging now occurring over attempts to increase regulations governing the activities of banks and investment houses. So Solomon was right—there is great power among the oppressors and few voices survive to speak for the victims.

Solomon’s third major foray is into the thorny question of who should profit from the wealth of the earth. He says, "If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent taking away of justice and righteousness in a district, don't marvel at the matter: for one official is eyed by a higher one; and there are officials over them.  Moreover the profit of the earth is for all" (Ecc. 5:8-9a, WEB).

I wonder if there is any issue that has caused more struggle and suffering down through the centuries than that of just who should profit from the earth’s largesse of resources. Think of the wars fought over resources or strategic geographical location. Think of the oppressions of early kings and feudal lords. Consider the Cold War with its emphasis on national economic power and position, and how much suffering this caused. Then ponder the issue today as big business lays claim to virtually everything, including bailouts and subsidies to save them from the results of their own folly, as well as a claim on the future earnings of all Americans to pay for these gifts.

Think of the shock waves that would arise if we began to even minimally institute God’s Jubilee requirements that all persons by virtue of their birth should have at least a reasonable claim to subsistence from the earth’s resources. Think of the howls from those who have far too much if they were required to contribute even a small amount to aid the two billion persons on this earth living in a family income of less the $2 daily.

That’s what Solomon was writing about in Ecclesiastes, and that’s why we ought to pay a bit more attention to his wisdom.