“I want to start by thanking God”, Daniel McArthur said after the court victory. “He has been with us during the challenges of the last four years. Through the Bible and the support of Christians he has comforted us and sustained us. He is our rock and all of his ways are just.” There is a great deal more behind this than evident depth of experience and relief. The Bible directs us to look to and depend on God whenever we suffer wrong or injustice. It is not only a matter of faith but conviction that He is the judge of all the earth. Ultimately, they were looking to a court more supreme than the Supreme Court or any earthly tribunal. Yet we also use means to seek justice and lawful protection. “We always knew we hadn’t done anything wrong in turning down this order”, Daniel said. “The Supreme Court has now recognised that and we’re very grateful. Grateful to the judges and especially grateful to God.” This was a case of compelled speech. The force of law was being applied to Ashers Bakery to force their conscience to endorse a message they knew was wrong. The consequences of this precedent were ominous indeed. How does the Bible give practical help for specific situations like this?
Ecclesiastes 5:8 speaks of this kind of situation. Oppression, particularly through the courts, and “violent perverting of judgement and justice”. But it reminds us to take strength from the fact that there is One who is “higher than the highest” who is taking account of these things. We are to submit to the powerful providence of God who orders all such sad events for the good of those who fear Him. Alexander Nisbet draws out the meaning of this verse and its practical implications in the following updated extract.
The verse speaks of the how God’s people (who may or may not be poor in this world) can suffer grievous oppression from the world. They can have what is their right taken from them. The word oppression in this verse means abusing justice and law. The injustices they experience are increased in the very place where the oppressed might expect redress of the wrongs they have experienced.
The same verse dissuades us from marvelling or being astonished at the perverse will and purposes of those who drive on such oppression and injustice. Neither should they marvel at the wise and good will of God in permitting and ordering this for good reasons. They are not to fret or be anxious by being ignorant of the Lord’s wise purposes in permitting it.
The verse gives three reasons for not being discouraged: (a) The Lord is supreme in His power, justice and other perfections, He is far above the highest oppressors on earth. (b) The Lord watches over all their wrongs to defend, preserve and reward those who hold fast to His way despite such opposition. (c) The Lord has a great multitude of means that He can use against proud and unjust oppressors.
1. Believers Can Expect to be Wronged
Those who walk most closely by the rule of the Word may expect the worst treatment in the world. They may be robbed of their outward comforts or else kept from possessing what belongs to them by right. Sometimes when they have recourse to those in power they see no hope of getting relief from them. Instead they have the wrongs done to them increased. They may get new wrongs from those who should be providing redress. This may happen in every place (“province”) of the country where they live.
2. Believers Tend to Be Astonished When they are Wronged
The Lord gives us forewarning of this in the Word (see Hebrews 11) and comforts us by telling us why it is permitted (Psalm 92:7; Romans 8:28). This gives us no reasons to marvel at such trials. His forewarnings are heeded so little by the best, however, because they promise themselves ease and prosperity (Hebrews 12:5; Psalm 30:6). They are so little acquainted with His wise and gracious ends in sad trials that they become astonished and perplexed, not knowing what to do (Psalm 36:6). Their proneness to be so affected with sad trials is implied in this counsel that we are not to marvel when we see oppression.
3. Believers Should Look to God When they are Wronged
If we want true peace and quietness of spirit we must be resolved to follow our duty despite the various injustices from the world then we do. Believers must learn to equip themselves with such thoughts of God’s greatness and care for His people as will help them not marvel at but manage their sufferings. True contentment comes from guarding the heart with suitable reasons from being encouraged in the face of the opposition they meet with in the world.
4. Believers Should Bear Such Wrongs Patiently
Believers are to bear such wrongs patiently in doing what is right, they are to honouring the Lord and submit to His gracious purpose. They should do this without being perturbed or marveling at them. This is a mark of a right worshipper of God acting out of the principle of the fear or God’s name. In the previous verse the fear of God and right worship in public and private is emphasised. This verse provides further evidence of those who worship God aright.
5. Believers Should Trust that God Takes Account of Such Wrongs
The godly who are oppressed are not ignored by the Lord, though they may be tempted to think otherwise (Isaiah 49:14). He watches (as the word “regard” means literally) carefully over all their wrongs so as to rectify them (Psalm 10:17-18). He watches over their oppressors to restrain and punish them (Psalm 76:10). He also watches over their patiently continuing to do what is right while suffering. He will graciously reward it in due time (Revelation 3:10-12). He who is higher than the highest takes account of it all.
6. Believers Should Trust in God’s Greatness
The Lord is incomparably eminent in all His perfections: His power, wisdom etc. This is strengthening to His People but intimidating to their enemies. He has the highest on earth under His feet as grasshoppers (Isaiah 40:22-23) and can easily bewilder and crush them with a look so that they will trouble His people no more (Exodus 14:24). Comparing God’s greatness against the lowness of the greatest on earth should sustain the hearts of those who know Him. It should keep them from sinking under discouragement and fainting in fear of trouble from the greatest. This high and lofty One has humbled Himself to become their’s by covenant; They should not fear men because He is “higher than the highest”.
7. Believers Should Strengthen Others with These Comforts
When we experience such comfort in trials we should comfort others with the comfort we have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:4). Such comfort drawn from the Lord’s greatness and concern for His suffering people has already been experienced by Solomon himself in the same situation (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17). This should guard the hearts of God’s people against temptations and discouragements in their way.
8. Believers Should Not Forget God’s Greatness in the Midst of Trouble
When the Lord’s people are troubled by oppression and harsh treatment in this world it is because they do not consider God’s greatness and care for His people as they ought. Both of these are meant to guard them from being astonished, this implies that they are ready to forget or fail to consider them believingly. When this happens, it causes their trouble and astonishment.