Tonight as we enter into chapter 4, let us not forget that Solomon is writing most of the time from the perspective without God being in the picture, but scattered throughout this book are also praise and love for the hope that God gives us. As we start our study tonight in Ecclesiastes 4, Solomon starts out with view of God not being in our lives.
Ecclesiastes 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 was no stranger to oppression because he had slaves and he was even hard on his own people. We can know that he was hard on his own people because when Solomon died and his son Rehoboam took over as king. Notice the request of the people:
1 Kings 12:4"Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you."
Solomon had also seen those who were oppressed by evil men whose power had corrupted them. There yoke on the people was so heavy that it caused them weep and they felt helpless. Without God, they have no one to provide them with comfort. Without being able to seek comfort from God and only being able to rely on yourself for comfort, Solomon says that the dead are better off simply because they are no longer having to experience the yoke of the oppressors. Better than that would be not to have ever been born that way, you would not ever have to experience the cruelty of men or to have to live a life where all is vanity without God in the picture.
However, in contrast to this, when we bring God back into the picture, it changes everything. Yes, Godís people can still be oppressed and beaten. Yes, we will still cry tears of sadness when bad things happen to us, but we will not remain in that state because with God in the picture we have hope. We can know that God cares and that He is always there for us. As Paul said:
Philippians 4:12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.† 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Like Asaph expressed in Psalm 73, it might seem that wicked are doing good and are suffering nothing from the oppression they inflict on others, but one way or another they will face the judgment of God. As Paul said:
Romans 12:19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.†
While living a hard life may at first might seem better than not living at all, we can rest assured that life is worth living no matter how short or hard it might be when God is our comforter and our strength. As Paul said:
2 Corinthians 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.† 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,† 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.†
You and I as faithful Christians should embrace the life we have whether good or bad because we can know that as long as we endure and remain faithful to God that we will have a home in heaven, and those who chosen the evil way will receive justice by the hand of God, and they will not be with you in heaven because God will not allow such people into His glorious kingdom.
Ecclesiastes 4:4 Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.† 5 The fool folds his hands And consumes his own flesh.† 6 Better a handful with quietness Than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind.
This is the classic case of one neighbor being jealous of the success of another. Instead of being happy for his neighbor, his envy causes him to despise his neighbor and in some cases do evil things to his neighbor.
For example, I think of King Ahab who had more than most men would ever have, yet he wanted the vineyard that belonged Naboth.
1 Kings 21:1 And it came to pass after these things that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard which was in Jezreel, next to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.† 2 So Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, "Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near, next to my house; and for it I will give you a vineyard better than it. Or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its worth in money."† 3 But Naboth said to Ahab, "The LORD forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!"† 4 So Ahab went into his house sullen and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he had said, "I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers." And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food.
This vineyard had been in Nabothís family for a long time. Each of them had worked hard to maintain it and passed it on to the next generation. King Ahab did not care about the history of the vineyard and what work went into it, he just wanted it because it was close to him. His envy caused this king to cry like and baby and throw a royal temper tantrum. Of course, if you continue reading the story, you learn that his wife Jezebel makes it to where Naboth is put to death so that king Ahab can have his vineyard. While Ahab would have his neighbors vineyard, God did not allow this envious act to pass because he has Elijah tell him that he too will die for this murderous act.
From this example we can see how it is vanity to be jealous of your neighbor and how will not work out well for you especially if you do something evil like king Ahab did.
The second thing Solomon talks about is the fool:
†5 The fool folds his hands And consumes his own flesh.
In others words, the lazy man is a fool and will do nothing to help himself out. This saying is similar to what he wrote in:
Proverbs 24:33 A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest; 34 So shall your poverty come like a prowler, And your need like an armed man.
The third thing Solomon says has to do with achieving a middle ground:
6 Better a handful with quietness Than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind.
Basically, I see him saying, donít be a lazy fool nor be a one that works all the time. Find a balance. This certainly something we need to learn today. Far to many Christians spread themselves to thin with worldly and social activities that they leave very little time for God and growing spiritually. We must never forget that God is our first priority and sometimes we have to learn to say no to getting involved in too many things, so we can make time for God and growing His kingdom.
Ecclesiastes 4:7 Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun:† 8 There is one alone, without companion: He has neither son nor brother. Yet there is no end to all his labors, Nor is his eye satisfied with riches. But he never asks, "For whom do I toil and deprive myself of good?" This also is vanity and a grave misfortune.†
Here the workaholic is described. This is a person that has no one in his life so he makes work his passion. Since he has no one to share his life with, he continues to work and tries to feel his life with riches, but the problem is that the riches will never satisfy because they only bring temporary pleasure. Solomon certainly understood this.
When people continue to make their riches their priority they are missing out on enjoying life and being able to share their time they have with others. They are missing out on opportunities to serve God. It is kind of like the rich farmer we read about in:
Luke 12:16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.† 17 "And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?'† 18 "So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.† 19 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry." '† 20 "But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'† 21 "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
Solomon said it best when he said:
This also is vanity and a grave misfortune.†
Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor.† 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up.† 11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone?† 12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Here we learn the benefits of companionship. Two are better than one in many ways. When two people labor together, they can get a whole lot more accomplished in shorter amount of time. Also, each person can encourage and motivate the other to get the work done. When two work together, it will make it to where there is more time to enjoy the life God has blessed us with.
As Solomon said if one person falls the other can lift him up. When there is work to be done and one of them is sick the work can still be done by the other, but the person who is alone does not have that benefit. They must allow the work to go undone,and they have no one to help them or motivate them. This is sad condition to be in.
From verse 11 we can see the benefit of how a companion can help keep you warm. This could include having a spouse to sleep next to, but it also has in mind of those who traveled together would sleep close to each other to help each other stay warm. The person who is alone cannot share body heat with anyone.
Then we have the idea of strength in numbers in verse 12. Yes one man has a good chance of overpowering another, but if you have a friend or two, then it would be very difficult for someone to overpower you.
Now think about this from the perspective of Christianity. When two Christians work together for the Lord, they will be able to accomplish a lot more than what they could do alone. For example, when it comes to doing door knocking, one person might get discouraged, but when your companion is there pushing you forward it help motivate you to press on. Most of the time in the Bible, we see that the disciples worked in pairs.
Mark 6:7 And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits.††
When Paul went on his missionary journeys he almost always had one or more companions. The more Christian friends we have and the more we work together, the stronger we will be. When one of us gets weak, our fellow Christian can be there to encourage us to get stronger. While the weak are recovering, the work for the Lord can continue through our companions.
While the world man be able to consume one person and bring them down, if that person has one or two good Christian friends to help back him up, then the world will have a very difficult time taking them over. So, let us always strive to be there for each other so that we can be as spiritual strong as we can be. When we work together in unity, the ole devil will have hard time making one us fall. Even if he makes us fall it will be easier for us to stand back up and back on the righteous path.
One last thought. Even if we find ourselves alone with no fellow Christians to help us or work with us, we are never really alone because God is with us and nothing can separate Him from His love.
As Paul said:
Romans 8:38 †For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,† 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ecclesiastes 4:13 Better a poor and wise youth Than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more.† 14 For he comes out of prison to be king, Although he was born poor in his kingdom.†
Regarding verse 13, Solomon also said:
Proverbs 19:1 Better is the poor who walks in his integrity Than one who is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.
Proverbs 28:6 Better is the poor who walks in his integrity Than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich.
It does not matter if you are poor and do not have the influence of a king, if you are using wisdom and allowing yourself to grow from the instructions of others, you are far better off than some rich king who things he knows it all and refuses to learn from those around him.
No matter how old we get or how much education we have, we should never get to the point in our life where we think we know it all and that no one can teach something new. When we get to that point, we become unteachable and we will start to wither away. So, let us never stop growing until the day we die.
Verse 14 tells us that young poor man who is wise has all the potential in world to be successful. This young man was able to eventually become king because he was willing to listen to others and add to his wisdom. So, do not ever underestimate what you might be able to accomplish in this life for you and for God regardless of whether you have money or not. Wisdom is the key.
Proverbs 8:11 For wisdom is better than rubies, And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.†
Finally Solomon writes:
Ecclesiastes 4:15 I saw all the living who walk under the sun; They were with the second youth who stands in his place.† 16 There was no end of all the people over whom he was made king; Yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and grasping for the wind.
It is not clear, but most believe that this second youth mentioned here is referring to that same poor youth that became king. It does not really matter if it is referring to him or to another, the basic thought is that the people were with this young king and they were proud of him, but when the next generation came along, they were dissatisfied with him. Whether this means the new generation has a different way of looking at things or if the king became like the last one, we do not know, but in either case, Solomon says it is vanity and grasping for the wind.
Based on Solomonís reasoning from what we have read so far since we began this study, it seems to me that Solomon is once again focus on how things repeat themselves such one king falling and another king rising. With God out of the picture, the cycle of life we live would be vanity, but thankfully God is not out the picture and the normal things we go through that other generations have went through are not meaningless when we remain faithful to God. So, let never forget to enjoy our lives knowing that God is with us and that we have the hope of eternal life.