Ecclesiastes 3:16–4:3 (NKJV)
16 Moreover I saw under the sun:
In the place of judgment,
Wickedness was there;
And in the place of righteousness,
Iniquity was there.
17 I said in my heart,
“God shall judge the righteous and the wicked,
For there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.”
18 I said in my heart, “Concerning the condition of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals.” 19 For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. 21 Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth? 22 So I perceived that nothing is better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his heritage. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?
4:1 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.
Solomon opens this passage with a stark observation: Wicked people are sitting in the place of judgment! But, he says, God will judge everyone in the end, for there will come a time for righteous judgment! He then goes on to compare men to animals, saying that men die just like animals die, and all creatures go back to the dust. The one difference is the destination of the spirit of each. Men’s spirits go up, and animals spirits go down to the earth. Men should rejoice in their heritage and works, for once you die, you will not see anything of what becomes of your works.
The Preacher then moves to a discussion of oppression. The oppressed weep, but have no comforter. Oppressors hold power over them. The dead may have a better existence, and the one who was never born has it best of all, because he or she never has to see the evil done on earth. While Solomon was possibly the wisest man on earth, he came to a point in his life where he seemed fatalistic and negative. He had experienced nearly everything on earth, and found most experiences meaningless. However, he also still has some hope in life, especially in God. I think many people feel hopeless at times, and feel like they have little in which to rejoice. However, the hope Solomon did have–in God–is the same hope to which those in despair today can cling. Lift your eyes above the fray, above the despair, and see the face of God looking down in care!