Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 – This chapter primarily deals with the issues of the abuse and use of power and how we should react to it. Solomon returns to the issue of injustice that was dealt with in Ecclesiastes 3:16-17. In those verses he acknowledges that God will bring justice to the unjust and that all will be brought to account. Solomon speaks to the feelings of some who find it hard to live each day as from the hand of God and enjoy them (Ecclesiastes 3:22).
It may be true that many who have a certain normalcy in their day can embrace this truth but the fact is that most of have our world upset from unjust rulers or leaders who misuse their power (Ecclesiastes 4:1).
There are times when we thank God for the home going of someone whose life has been tortured by such people (Ecclesiastes 4:2).
There are many who feels the same as Solomon at times and wish they had never been born into all the sufferings of the world (Ecclesiastes 4:3). Jesus speaks to this about those who misuse their power in Matthew 18:6-9; it is they, not their victims, who will wish that they had never been born.
Ecclesiastes 4:4 How can this abuse of power be fixed? In this verse Solomon observes that the source of progress in the world comes as a result of rivalry and jealousy or superiority. The psychologist Adler, taught that the desire for achievement is good, since God never intended man to be content with the status quo.
Breaking fresh ground always involves some rivalry of ideas and has led to scientific progress; but the flaw of that is that rivalry between men and nations sometimes gets sidetracked from healthy competition into bitter envy. Man many times envious of another man’s money or rank. So a healthy drive becomes another source of vanity.
Ecclesiastes 4:5-6 Envy often ruins relationships. Gore Vidal said, ‘Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.’ Accomplishment, that does not put God first, will leave you frustrated, because its motivating force is envy—and envy is never satisfied.
What makes it more frustrating is found in what follows in Ecclesiastes 4:5 which is a contrast to Ecclesiastes 4:4 and leads to the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 4:6. The folding of the hands was a traditional saying describing, someone who gives up and drops out. In Proverbs, Solomon uses this expression to describe how foolish it is term to highlight the foolishness of laziness or avoiding the pain of failure, which is the root of this word (Proverbs 6:10; 24:33).
He describes it as self-cannibalism. In Ecclesiastes 4:6 Solomon brings balance to either extreme of the drive for things and power motivated by envy and the other extreme of giving up. What Solomon is describing is the restful walk of faith and obedience to God’s Word that brings the works that God has prepared for us to walk in Ephesians 2:8-10.
(Ecclesiastes 4:7-8) Solomon now turns his attention to a person who is totally alone, without companion or progeny. His work has caused him to be wealthy but he is still not satisfied (as he said in Ecclesiastes 1:8). He then asks for whom is all this labor? This complements his comment in Ecclesiastes 2:18-22, where Solomon considered the very real possibility of his inheritance being given to a fool who will not use it wisely.
Here he is addressing the useless of all of his labor when there is no one to share his prosperity with. Also the desire for material success can also turn inward so that he becomes a miser. Accumulation of wealth can become an obsession, which kills sane thinking and prevents a person from following the advice of Ecclesiastes 3:22. The lust for wealth often times causes such a person to become worldly bringing destruction to ourselves and others. Solomon saw wealth as a gift than an acquisition (Ecclesiastes 5:19).
He also suggests that sometimes wealth comes as a result of “time and chance” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Scripture tells us that the accumulation of wealth is not to make a person richer but rather to serve others (Acts 20:35). Those who don’t have resources often times become bitter and jealous to ward those who have. For both, the result is a loss of life and joy in the Lord. In Jewish thinking the hope for meaning in life is not found in eternal life but in their name being passed on in their children through generations to come. We would do well to incorporate that mind set in our purpose in living as well as enjoying the benefits of eternal life and security in Messiah.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 – In these verses Solomon contrast the loneliness of one just pursuing wealth with the joys of having someone to share your resources with. It is a great blessing to have a partner in service so that there can be even greater fruit than working alone. A Jewish proverb says, ‘A friendless man is like the left hand bereft of the right.’
The disciples were sent out by Yeshua two by two and later Paul and Barnabas and then Paul and Silas worked together in ministry. We are called to ‘Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Travellers often slept together on cold nights and at the end of his life, Solomon’s father, David, slept with the virgin Abishag simply for the warmth of her body. It was also wise to travel in pairs for protection against thieves. If one companion is advisable, how much better to have two. The two who were on the road to Emmaus were joined by a third (Luke 24:15).
Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 Solomon now relates how the advantage of wisdom should be kept in perspective. They will help a king do well during his reign but can be short lived, once his successor takes over. As with wisdom and wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23), power can vanish with a change in leadership. Solomon describes the “foolish king” who loses his throne when he no longer heeds advice that would keep him out of trouble. Then he tells the story of a “wise youth’s” rise from “prison” and poverty to power in the “kingdom” (Ecclesiastes 4:14).
But then the people abandon the “wise youth” to lend their support to the next young king demonstrating how short lived popularity and loyalty is. The acclaim in Ecclesiastes 4:16 given to the newest ruler serve as a wake up call to Solomon knowing that the next generations will be no more happy in this king than his generation took in one who followed him. Fame and power are fickle and not even wisdom is strong enough to overcome the short memories of men.
And so once again Solomon reminds himself and us that life is a vapor and meaningless apart from a solid relationship with the Lord. It is “vanity,” (Ecclesiastes 1:2) and “grasping of the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17). Solomon deals with the ups and downs of life and how to deal with it’s injustices.
Our Messiah is a model of how to respond to these injustices in the Temple he confronted the money-changers who were cheating worshipers in the very place where prayer to the living God was to be offered, He went after them and turned them out.
Where He could not change the situation, as in His Crucifixion, He bore with the injustice, while praying for those who persecuted Him. Both acts were deeds of love. He did not condone injustice or despair over it. He acted in force and in love. He recognized its wrong and tried to help both those who were inflicting it and those who were afflicted by it.