(1) Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun:
And look! The tears of the oppressed,
But they have no comforter—
On the side of their oppressors there is power,
But they have no comforter.
(2) Therefore I praised the dead who were already dead,
More than the living who are still alive.
(3) Yet, better than both is he who has never existed,
Who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
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Solomon marvels at the injustice occurring without anything being done about it by those in a position to turn these sad affairs in a right direction. We know why these evil things occur because God has shown us, but that is not Solomon's interest at this juncture. His overall interest is still on the frustrating meaninglessness of life lived by the vast bulk of the citizenry. It so amazes him because, even all the way back then, the knowledge that would greatly improve people's lives was readily available in God's Word.
The head-shaking reality that disturbs Solomon continues to this day. To some degree, his mind is still on his disappointment over the evil “justice” system, what caused it, and possible solutions for it. Are we not experiencing similar problems? Where is God? In our culture it appears that almost nobody makes a sincere effort to seek God and His way.
This reality fills Solomon with a high degree of frustration because God gave Israel an adequate court system based on His own laws. Thus, he reaches the arresting conclusion that a person is better off dead because his struggles against what is occurring without change would be over. Better still, he says, is never to have been born!
Let's review what God gave Israel regarding a court system:
Listen to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness, and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. (Exodus 18:19-22)
The overview is given in this simplified way to let us know that administration of their courts was well-organized. They began with an adequate system for spreading the workload so disputes could be settled quickly. This was implemented even before Israel reached Mount Sinai and the formal giving of God's law. Verse 16 reveals that God's laws were to be the basis for their judgments. It also suggests that some already had a considerable knowledge of God's laws. Verse 21 sets the qualification standards for the judges, which are based in God's character standards.
In Deuteronomy 1:9-18, Moses reiterates and further details what is given in Exodus 18, but now it is forty years later, during the last month of Israel's journey as they prepared to enter the Promised Land.
As for Solomon, the Bible shows him to have been a good administrator, despite taxing the people heavily to pay for the massive building projects he initiated. Despite his leadership, his words point to a reality: It is impossible to guarantee the integrity of every officer of the kingdom.
Solomon apparently had gone into a courtroom to watch a trial. What he witnessed in the hall of so-called justice was exploitation and oppression, the pain and sorrow of the innocent, and the unconcern of those who could have brought comfort to them. What he saw so disturbed him that it led him to declare that it was better to be dead than alive and oppressed, and better yet, not to have been born. In such cases, an individual would never have to experience or even see this grasping, rapacious covetousness.
Edward Gibbon, the historian who authored The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, says about more modern times, “Political corruption is the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty.” He means that, if a country has a constitution that guarantees freedom to obey, there is also freedom to disobey. He implies that people, regardless of their office, selfishly disobey. This is exactly what we are experiencing in this nation today.
For the citizenry to obey a nation's constitution, it is required to believe firmly in it and to be disciplined in character. If the nation's people do not have these qualities, some will certainly be corrupt and disobey. This is exactly what the founders of the American Republic feared. John Adams, a foremost founder of this nation, wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
— John W. Ritenbaugh