Ecclesiastes 3:16-2: Letter 12 – Even the Ugly Things Have Meaning

“God has made everything beautiful in his time.”

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

{Good is…} “for a man to rejoice and do good…”


We read those statements and something in us joins the cynic who rebels and says, “Nonsense!  A purpose for everything?  Nonsense!  Everyone will find good by joyfully doing good?  Nonsense!  Everything beautiful?  Baloney!”

And then for proof the cynic points to all the unfair things that happen in this life.  Is it fair when one man has rain and another has drought?  Is it fair if a church puts into office someone who is living in adultery?  Is it fair if those in courts of justice accept bribes and misuse their office to condemn the innocent person and release the guilty person?  There’s no beauty, no sovereign rhyme or reason to these things, he says:  at least, not if there’s a righteous God!

Because these situations are real and because we all see countless examples of man’s cruelty, this needs an answer!  Is God in control when men do these wicked deeds?  Is He fair?

Answering these kinds of questions is the purpose of the last seven years of Chapter 3.  Solomon knows that the suffering heart as well as the cynical heart will ask the question of God’s fairness.  We need to see that even in ugly circumstances like these, God is still in control and that all things are beautiful from the viewpoint of eternity.

Let’s look at these verses now and see how Solomon teaches us the fairness of God’s control also in these ugly dealings of men with men.


“Even the Ugly Things Have Meaning”


1. The Example of Wickedness, verse 16.

2. God’s Purpose in the Wickedness of Men, verses 17-21.

a. Its two-fold purpose (17).

b. Its purpose already on earth (18-21).

(1) To reveal the real depravity of man.

(2) To humble men to see their wretched condition.

(Man’s condition as it appears without God, 19-21).

3. The Comfort, then, for the Righteous Man, verse 22.


(3:16) “And, moreover, I saw under the sun

the place of judgment,

that wickedness was there;

and the place of righteousness,

that iniquity was there.”


“The place of judgment” is the government and the courts, and perhaps by extension also the false or departing churches.  If there should be any place where a man finds justice and righteousness on earth, it should be in these places!  But no…apart from God, men in these places easily accept bribes and pervert justice, misapplying the law or twisting the facts to condemn the innocent person and to release the criminal.  It has happened since time began and will continue until Christ returns.  Gross wickedness in high places!


(3:17) “I said in mine heart,

God shall judge the righteous and the wicked:

for there is a time for every purpose

and for every work.”


The believer, seeing this wickedness, finds a prompt response in his heart.  By faith he realizes that God allows these wicked things for two reasons:  (1) to judge them; and (2) to manifest their real character.  In the final day of judgment, when Christ returns, everything will be equalized and made fair as the wicked are sent to hell and the righteous enter into the blessed favor of their Redeemer forever.


(18) “I said in mine heart

concerning the estate (“situation”, CB)

of the sons of men,

that God might manifest them,

and that they might see

that they themselves are beasts.”


Verse 17 showed the believer’s faith that God would equalize all things in judgment.  Verse 18 shows that in their sinfulness God makes men reveal their true character in order to make clear His righteousness in that day of judgment.

What do wicked men manifest in their wickedness?  First, their essential depravity apart from grace; and Second, the fact of their creatureliness, that they are “only men,” only creation, similar to beasts!

When Solomon says that they are beasts, he means that if what they say would be true, if there were no God above, if this life were all there is and death ended everything, then they would be merely beasts.  He explains their likeness to animals, apart from God now, in verses 19-21.


(19) “For that which befalleth the sons of men

befalleth beasts;

even one thing befalleth them:

as the one dieth, so dieth the other!

yea, they have all one breath;

so that a man hath no preeminence

above a beast:  for all is vanity.”


(20) “All go unto one place;

all are of the dust,

and all turn to dust again.”

How is man like a beast?  It is only his “breath” that keeps him alive on the earth and, if that is taken away, he is dead just like any animal.  (Notice how today’s scientists play right into Solomon’s hands when they label man “scientifically” as an animal!)

Now notice the reason man classifies himself as an animal.  It is because he denies God and so cannot see or discover that he has an eternal soul which at death goes “upward” to God!  That’s verse 21:


(3:21) “Who knoweth the spirit of man

that goeth upward

and the spirit of the beast

that goeth downward to the earth?”


Apart from God’s revelation, the sons of men who live under the sun cannot know this difference!

And so, that brings us again to the proper conclusion of faith.  Although men are wicked, God is in control and will make everything fair!  It is still true that it is man’s calling to labor for God, that nothing is better for him than to be faithful in this calling.


(3:22) “Wherefore I perceive

that there is nothing better

than that a man should rejoice

in his own works;

for that is his portion;

for who shall bring him to see

what shall be after him?”




(1) There is nothing better than this.

(2) God gives us this assignment

(3) We cannot see the future but must trust that God will make all things right in His own time.

May God give us, each day again, the faith to “trust and obey,” believing that He knows what is best and works all things for our blessing in Christ.



1. To which verse would you refer to show:

a. It’s a fact of life that courts practice injustice, often punishing the upright.

b. God allows injustice in order to condemn the wicked.

c. God allows injustice in order to reveal the real wickedness of the wicked.

d. From the earthly viewpoint, man dies just like any animal.

e. Apart from Revelation (the Bible), man cannot know that man’s soul is eternal.

f. The best conclusion is:  fearing God, WORK AND ENJOY YOUR WORK!

2. What three reasons does verse 22 give us for enjoying our work?