If you see the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter…
From the follies only too prevalent in the religious world, the Preacher turns to the disorders of the political; and although he admonishes his readers in a later section of the book (Ecclesiastes 8:2) to be mindful of the duties to which they are pledged by their oath of allegiance, it is very evident that he felt keenly the misery and oppression caused by misgovernment. For these evils he could suggest no cure; a hopeless submission to the inevitable is his only counsel. Like Hamlet, his heart is wrung by the thought of evils against which it was almost useless to strive-
"The oppressor's wrong,
the proud man's contumely... the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes." The subordinate magistrates tyrannized over the people, those who were higher in office watched their opportunity for oppressing them. From the lowest up to the very highest rank of officials the same system of violence and jealous espionage prevailed. Those that were in the royal household and had the ear of the king, his most intimate counselors, who were in a sense higher than any of the satraps or governors he employed, were able to urge him to use his power for the destruction of any whose ill-gotten riches made him an object of envy (romp. Ecclesiastes 10:4, 7, 16, etc.). The whole system of government was rotten to the core, the same distrust and jealousy pervaded every part of it. "Marvel not," says the Preacher, "at oppression and injustice in the lower departments of official life, for those who are the superiors of the tyrannical judge or governor, and should be a check on him, are as bad as he." Such seems to be the sense of the words. At first sight, indeed, the impression left on one's mind is that the Preacher counsels his readers not to be perplexed or unduly dismayed at the wrong they are forced to witness, on the ground that over and above the highest of earthly tyrants is the power of God, and that it will in due time be manifested in the punishment of the evil-doer. As though he had said, God who is "higher than the highest regardeth," beholds the wrong-doing; and when he comes to judgment, the proudest will have to submit to his power (comp. Ecclesiastes 3:17). But this interpretation, though very ancient, is not in harmony with the general character of the utterance. The thought of God's power and justice is indeed calculated to give some consolation to the oppressed, but not to explain why they are oppressed. The latter part of the verse is assigned as a reason for not marveling at the prevalence of evil. If, therefore, reference be made to the power of God, by which the evil might be restrained or abolished, the marvel of its prevalence would only be increased. We are, therefore, to understand his words as meaning, "Do not be surprised at the corruption and baseness of the lower officials, in so much as the same corruption prevails among those in far higher positions." He is not here seeking to cheer up the sufferer by bidding him look higher; he is describing the evil state of affairs everywhere existing in the empire in his own day (Wright). There is nothing very heroic or inspiring in the counsel. It is simply an admonition, based on prudence, to escape personal danger by stolidly submitting to evils which one's own power can do nothing to abolish or alleviate. To those who under an Oriental despotism had become hopeless and dispirited, the words might seem worthy of a wise counselor; but surely there is a servile ring about them which ill harmonizes with the love of freedom and intolerance of tyranny which are native to a European mind. There is but one relieving circumstance in connection with them, and that is that submission to oppression is not commanded in them or asserted to be a duty; and therefore those in whose hearts the love of country and of justice burns brightly, and who find that a pure and devoted patriotism moves them to make many sacrifices for the good of their fellows, violate no canon of Scripture when they rise superior to the prudential considerations dwelt upon here. Granted that submission to the inevitable is the price at which material safety and happiness may be bought, it is still a question at many times whether the patriot should not hazard material safety and happiness in the attempt to win for his country and for himself a higher boon. - J.W.
Parallel VersesKJV: If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.
WEB: 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.