For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4


Ecclesiastes 4

A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

4:1.  “So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.”


Next he turned to consider oppression, and found that the oppressed had no comforter, no one to deliver them out of the hand of their oppressors who were powerful so that none could stand against them.


4:2.  “Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead, more than the living which are yet alive.”


He praised, congratulated, saluted those who had finished their lives on earth, for from the view point of the infidel, their troubles were over.  By leaving God out of the reckoning, he refused to believe that man exists for ever, either in the bliss of heaven, or the eternal torment of the lake of fire, his eternal state depending on whether he had accepted or rejected the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.


From his erroneous perspective the troubles of the dead were over, while the living still had to contend with the vicissitudes of life, part of their misfortune being to suffer at the hand of  unscrupulous powerful oppressors.


4:3.  “Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.”


He considered those not yet born as being better than either the dead or those still living, for such had no awareness of all the evil that was done on the earth.


4:4.  “Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbor.  This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.”


“... right” is also translated skilful, excellent.  Solomon observed that such work, instead of evoking the admiration of others, only provoked their jealousy, so that success or achievement of excellence was as worthless as chasing the wind.


4:5.  “The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh.”


Clearly the eating of his own flesh is not to be taken literally.  It is the metaphoric announcement of the truth that the man who sits with folded hands, i.e., who refuses to work, brings himself to penury by consuming all that he has, instead of meeting his living expenses out of income earned by toil.  By refusing to work he ruins himself.


4:6.  “Better is a handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.”


The truth being expressed here is that one is better being content with what is sufficient to meet his daily needs, than to be robbing himself of tranquility of mind by attempting to accumulate riches, such effort being likened to chasing the wind.


4:7.  “Then I returned, and saw vanity under the sun.”


“... vanity” here means vain thing, to no purpose, as worthless as chasing the wind.


4:8.  “There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet there is no end of all his labor; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labor, and bereave my soul of good?  This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.”


What he saw was a man without child or brother, i.e., without one with whom he might share his wealth or to whom he might leave it, yet he toiled incessantly to lay up more and more riches, never reaching the point where he would cease the pursuit of wealth, and say, I have enough, realizing that since he had no family, strangers would be the beneficiaries of all his toil.  Such activity is also as worthless as chasing the wind.


4:9.  “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.”


Two working together are almost invariably more productive than one working alone.


4:10.  “For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.”


A further advantage from working together is that the one can help the other when difficulties arise, as the old adage says, “Two heads are better than one” when it comes to solving problems, or overcoming difficulties.


4:11.  “Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?”


Even in the matter of sleep two will generate more heat than one, and thus both will sleep more comfortably.


4:12.  “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threeford cord is not quickly broken.”


This is another way of saying that there is safety in numbers.  An assailant may successfully attack one, but he will be very unlikely to be able to overcome two.  The same truth is declared in the fact that three cords twisted together are much more difficult to break than a single strand.


The Liberty Bible Commentary makes the following observation relative to this verse, “The three threads may symbolize the man, the friend, and the God who has brought them both together and given birth in their spirits to the burden for companisonship.”


4:13.  “Better is a poor and wise child, than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.”


“... admonished” here means that he refuses to take advice or accept any counsel from others, in spite of its being written that, “In the multitude of counsellers there is safety,” Proverbs 11:14.


4:14.  “For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.”


The first part of this verse is generally taken to mean, not that the poor wise child may sometimes emerge from a literal prison to become king, but that even though he may have been born under the tyrannous dominion of an old and foolish king, he may, in spite of that disadvantage, become king.


4:15.  “I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead.”


Solomon had seen all the people of a country side with, i.e., support such a young man who was destined to replace the old and foolish king.


4:16.  “There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him.  Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.”


Even though great multitudes may have eagerly followed such a young man, it is possible and unfortunate that many of the next generation may have no cause to rejoice as a result of his administration, because he may become a foolish or oppressive ruler, so that his reign proves ultimately to have been as worthless as chasing the wind.

[Ecclesiastes 5]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough