Ecclesiastes 4


 In this chapter Koheleth proceeds to give further illustrations of mans inability to

be the architect of his own happiness. There are many things which interrupt or

destroy it.  First of all (vs. 1-3), he adduces the oppression of man by his fellowman.


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.” So I returned, and considered all

 the oppressions that are done under the sun. This is equivalent to, “again I saw,”

as v. 7, with a reference to the wickedness in the place of judgment which he had

noticed in ch.3:16. Ashukim, “oppressions,” is found in Job 35:9 and Amos 3:9,

and, being properly a participle passive, denotes oppressed persons or things, and

so abstractedly “oppressions.Ta<v sukofanti>av - tas sukophantias - (Septuagint);

calumnias (Vulgate). The verb is used:


  • of high-handed injustice,
  • of offensive selfishness,
  • of the hindrances to his neighbor’s well-being caused by a man’s careless

disregard of  aught but his own interests (compare I  Samuel 12:4; Hosea 12:8).


Beheld the tears of such as were oppressed; tw~n sukofantoume>nwn – ton

 sukophantoumenon –-  of those that were oppressed; defraud; accuse

falsely; take by false accusation  - Septuagint); innocentium (Vulgate). He notes

now not merely the fact of wrong being done, but its effect on the victim, and intimates

his own pity for the sorrow. And they had no comforter. A sad refrain, echoed again

at the end of the verse with touching pathos. Oujk e]stin aujtoi~v parakalw~n

 ouk estin autois parakalonthey  had no comforter - (Septuagint); they had no

earthly friends to visit them in their affliction, and they as yet knew not the soothing

of THE HOLY GHOST, THE COMFORTER -  (Para>klhtov Paraklaetos

 of the New Covenant). There was no one to wipe away their tears (Isaiah

25:8) or to redress their wrongs. The point is the powerlessness of man in

the face of these disorders, his inability to right himself, the incompetence

of others to aid him. On the side of their oppressors there was power

(koach), in a bad sense, like the Greek bi>a bia -  equivalent to “violence.” Thus

the ungodly say, in the Book of Wisdom 2:11, “Let our strength be the law

of justice.” Vulgate, Nec posse resistere eorun violentiae, cunctorum

auxilio destitutes. It is difficult to suppose that the state of things revealed

by this verse existed in the days of King Solomon, or that so powerful a

monarch, and one admired for “judgment and justice” (I Kings 10:9),

would be content with complaining of such disorders instead of checking

them. There is no token of remorse for past unprofitableness or anguish of

heart at the thought of failure in duty. If we take the words as the utterance

of the real Solomon, we do violence to history, and must correct the

existing chronicles of his reign. The picture here presented is one of later

times, and it may be of other countries. Persian rule, or the tyranny of the

Ptolemies, might afford an original from which it might be taken.



The Oppressed and the 0ppressor (v. 1)


Liberty has ever been the object of human desire and aspiration. Yet how

seldom and how partially has this boon been secured during the long period

of human history! Especially in the East freedom has been but little known.

Despotism has been and is very general, and there have seldom been states

of society in which there has been no room for reflections such as those

recorded in this verse.




Ø      This implies power, which may arise from physical strength, from

hereditary authority, from rank and wealth, or from civil and political

position and dignity. Power will always exist in human society; drive

it out at one door, and it will re-enter by another. It may be checked

and restrained; but it is inseparable from our nature and state.


Ø      It implies the misuse of power. It may be good to have a giant’s

strength, but “tyrannous to use it like a giant.” The great and powerful

use their strength and influence aright when they protect and care for

those who are beneath them. (Thus how wonderful that God loves,

cares for, and protects those under Him!  - CY – 2013).  But our

experience of human nature leads us to believe that where there is

power there is likely to be abuse. Delight in the exercise of power is

too generally found to lead to the contempt of the rights of others;

hence the prevalence of oppression.




Ø      The sense of oppression creates grief and distress, depicted in the tears

of those suffering from wrong. Pain is one thing; wrong is another and a

bitterer thing. A man will endure patiently the ills which nature or his own

conduct brings upon him, whilst he frets or even rages under the evil

wrought by his neighbor’s injustice.


Ø      The absence of consolation adds to the trouble. Twice it is said of the

oppressed, “They had no comforter.” The oppressors are indisposed,

and fellow-sufferers are unable, to succor and relieve them.


Ø      The consequence is the slow formation of the habit of dejection, which

may deepen into despondency.




Ø      No right-minded person can look upon instances of oppression without

discerning the prevalence and lamenting the pernicious effects of sin. ‘To

oppress a fellow-man is to do despite to the image of God Himself.


Ø      The mind is often perplexed when it looks, and looks in vain, for the

interposition of the just Governor of all, who defers to intervene for the

rectification of human wrongs. “How long, O Lord!” (Revelation 6:10)

is the exclamation of many a pious believer in Divine providence, who

looks upon the injustice of the haughty and contemptuous, and upon the

woes of the helpless who are smitten and afflicted.


Ø      Yet there is reason patiently to wait for the great deliverance. He who

has effected a glorious salvation on man’s behalf, who has visited and

redeemed His people” (Luke 1:68), will in due time humble the selfish

tyrant, break the bonds of the captive, and let the oppressed go free.


2 “Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the

living which are yet alive.” In view of these patent wrongs Koheleth loses all

enjoyment of life. Wherefore (and) I praised the dead which are already dead;

or, who died long ago, and thus have escaped the miseries which they would

have had to endure. It must, indeed, have been a bitter experience which

elicited such an avowal. To die and be forgotten an Oriental would look

upon as the most calamitous of destinies. More than the living which are

yet alive. For these have before them the prospect of a long endurance of

oppression and suffering (compare ch. 7:1; Job 3:13, etc.). The Greek gnome

says :


Krei~sson to< mh< zh~|n ejsti<n h} zh~|n ajqli>wv


Kreisson to mae zaen estin hae zaen athlios


“Better to die than lead a wretched life.”


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.” Yea, better is he than

 both they, which hath not yet been.  Thus we have Job’s passionate appeal

(Job 3:11), “Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost

when I came forth,” etc.? And in the Greek poets the sentiment of the text is

reechoed. Thus Theognis, Paroen.,’ 425 —


Pa>ntwn me<n mh< fu~nai ejpicqoni>oisin a]riston

Mhd ejsidei~n aujga<v ojxe>ov hjeli>ou

Fu>nta d o[pwv w]kista pu>lav jAi`>dao perh~sai

Kai< kei~sqai pollh<n gh~n ejpamhsa>menon


Panton men mae phunai epichthonioisin Ariston

Maed esidein augas oxeos aeeliou

Phunta d hopos okista pulas Aidao peraesai

Kai keisthai pollaen gaen epamaesamenon



“‘Tis best for mortals never to be born,

Nor ever see the swift sun’s burning rays;

Next best, when born, to pass the gates of death

Right speedily, and rest beneath the earth.”


(Comp. Soph., ‘(Ed. Colossians,’ 1225-1228.) Cicero, ‘Tusc. Disp.,’ 1:48,

renders some lines from a lost play of Euripides to the same effect —


“Nam nos decebat, caetus celebrantes, domum

Lugere, ubi esset aliquis in lucern editus,

Humanae vitae varia reputantes mala;

At qui labores metre finisset graves,

Hunc omni amicos lauds et laetitia exsequi.”


Herodotus (5. 4) relates how some of the Thracians had a custom of

bemoaning a birth and rejoicing at a death. In our own Burial Service we

thank God for delivering the departed “out of the miseries of this sinful

world.” Keble alludes to this barbarian custom in his poem on’ The Third

Sunday after Easter.’ Speaking of a Christian mother’s joy at a child’s

birth, he says —


“No need for her to weep

Like Thracian wives of yore,

Save when in rapture still and deep

Her thankful heart runs o’er.

They mourned to trust their treasure on the main,

Sure of the storm, unknowing of their guide:

Welcome to her the peril and the pain,

For well she knows the home where they may safely hide.”


(See on ch.7:1; compare Gray’s ode ‘On a Distant Prospect of Eton

College;’ and for the classical notion concerning life and death, see Plato,

Laches,’ p. 195, 1), sqq.; ‘Gorgias,’ p. 512, A.) The Buddhist religion

does not recommend suicide as an escape from the evils of life. It indeed

regards man as master of his own life; but it considers suicide foolish, as it

merely transfers a man’s position, the thread of life having to be taken up

again under less favorable circumstances. See ‘A Buddhist Catechism,’ by

Subhadra Bhikshu (London: Redway, 1890). Who hath not seen the evil

work that is done under the sun. He repeats the words, “under the sun,”

from v. 1, in order to show that he is speaking of facts that came under

his own regard — outward phenomena which any thoughtful observer

might notice (so again v. 7).



Two Pessimistic Fallacies (vs. 1-3)


  • THE FIRST FALLACY. That the dead are happier than the living.


Ø      Even on the assumption of no hereafter, this is not evident.

The already dead are not praised because they enjoyed better times

on earth than the now living have. But”


o       if they had better times when living, they have these no more,

having ceased to be; while

o       if their times on earth were not superior to those of their

successors, they have still only escaped these by subsiding into

cold annihilation, and it has yet to be proved that “a living dog”

is not “better than a dead lion”  (ch.9:4). Besides,

o       it is not certain there is no hereafter, which makes them pause and

hesitate to jump the life to come. When they discuss with themselves

the question —


“Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?”


     they generally come to Hamlet’s conclusion, that it is better to


“Bear the ills we have,

Than fly to others that we know not of.”


Ø      On the assumption that there is a hereafter, it is less certain that the

dead are more to be praised than the living. It depends on who the dead

are, and what the kind of existence is into which they have departed.


o       If they have lived unrighteously on earth, it will not be safe, even on

grounds of natural reason, to conclude that their condition in the

unseen land into which they have vanished is better than that of the

living who are yet alive, even should these also be wicked; since for

these there are still time and place for repentance, which cannot

be affirmed of the ungodly dead.

o       If their lives on earth have been pious — e.g., if as Christians they

have fallen asleep in Jesus — it need hardly be doubted that

their condition is better even than that of the godly living, who are

still dwellers in this vale of tears, subject to imperfections, exposed

to temptations, and liable to sin.


  • THE SECOND FALLACY. That better than both the living and the

dead are the not yet born.  (This is a lie that abortionists, those who have

had abortions and the proponents of “abortion on demand” will have

to deal with!  I cannot imagine the hellish consequences, I cannot fathom

THE DEPTH OF DEPRAVITY  to which these have fallen, THOSE

WHO deny life to the unborn.  Personally, I have never experienced

anything that can compare with LIFE, LIGHT, and LOVE, all which

come from “THE FATHER OF LIGHTS, with whom is no

variableness, neither shadow of turning!”  - James 1:17 – CY – 2013)


Ø      On the assumption that this life is all, it is not universally true

 that not to have been born would have been a preferable lot to

having been born and being dead. No doubt it is sad that one born

into this world is sure, while on his pilgrimage to the tomb,


“my heart like a muffled drum,

   is beating funeral marches.

                        (Charles Baudelaire)


to witness spectacles of oppression such as the Preacher describes;

and sadder that many before they die will be the victims of such

oppressions; while of all things, perhaps the saddest is that a man

may even live to become the perpetrator of such cruelties; yet

no one can truly affirm that human life generally contains nothing but

oppression on the one side and tears upon the other, or that in any

individual’s life naught exists but wretchedness and woe, or that in the

experiences of most the joys do not nearly counterbalance, if not

actually outweigh, the griefs, while in that of not a few the pleasures

far exceed the pains.


Ø      On the assumption of a hereafter, only one case or class of cases

can be pointed to in which it would have been decidedly better

not to have been born, viz. that in which one who has been born,

on departing from this world, passes into AN UNDONE

ETERNITY!   Christ instanced one such case (Matthew 26:24);

and if there be truth in the representations given by Christ and His


DIE IN UNBELIEF AND SIN!   (Matthew 11:22; 13:41-42;

22:13; 24:51; John 5:29; II Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 21:8),

it will not be difficult to see that in their case also the words of the

Preacher will be true.


Ø      In every other instance, but chiefly in that of the good, who

 does not see how immeasurably more blessed it is to have

 been born? For consider what this means. It means:


o       to have been made in the Divine image,

o       endowed with an intellect,  and

o       a heart capable of holding fellowship with and

serving God.


And if it also signifies to have been born into a state of

sin and misery in consequence of our first parents’ fall, it should

not be forgotten that it signifies, in addition, to have been born into

a sphere and condition of existence in which GOD’S

GRACE HAS BEEN BEFORE ONE and is waiting to lift

one up, completely and for ever, OUT OF SIN AND

MISERY,  if one will.  (“Whosoever shall call upon the

name of the Lord will be saved”  (Romans 10:13).

“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.  And let him

that heareth say, Come.  And let him that is athirst

come.  And whosoever will, let him take the water of

life freely”  (Revelation 22:17).  NO ONE accepting that grace

will ever afterwards deem it A MISFORTUNE THAT HE

WAS BORN!   Thomas Halyburton, the Scottish theologian

(A.D. 1674-1712), did not so regard his introduction to this lower

world, with all its vicissitudes and woes. “Oh, blessed be God

that I was born!” were his dying words. “I have a father and a

mother, and ten brothers and sisters, in heaven, and I shall be the

eleventh. Oh, blessed be the day that ever I was born!”




  • The existence of sin and suffering no proof that life is an evil thing.
  • The wickedness of undervaluing existence under the sun.
  • The folly of over-praising the dead and underrating the living.
  • A worse thing than seeing “evil work” beneath the sun is

doing it yourself!



Pessimism (vs. 2-3)


It would be a mistake to regard this language as expressing the deliberate

and final conviction of the author of Ecclesiastes. It represents a mood of

his mind, and indeed of many a mind, oppressed by the sorrows, the

wrongs, and the perplexities of human life. Pessimism is at the root a

philosophy; but its manifestation is in a habit or tendency of the mind, such

as may be recognized in many who are altogether strange to speculative

thinking. The pessimism of the East anticipated that of modern Europe.

Though there is no reason for connecting the morbid state of mind

recorded in this Book of Ecclesiastes with the Buddhism of India, both

alike bear witness to the despondency which is naturally produced in the

mental habit of not a few who are perplexed and discouraged by the

untoward circumstances of human life.





Ø      The unsatisfying nature of the pleasures of life. Men set their hearts

upon the attainment of enjoyments, wealth, greatness, etc. When they

gain what they seek, the satisfaction expected does not follow. (I best

understand it as “Human nature wants what it can’t get, and then

when it is obtained, it is not what is wanted after all!” – CY –

2013)    The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with

 hearing  (ch. 1:8).  Disappointed and unhappy, the votary of pleasure

is “soured” with life itself (Is this not the bane of many a drug addict

and alcoholic? – CY – 2013), and asks, “Who will show us any

good?”  (Psalm 4:6)


Ø      The brevity, uncertainty, and transitoriness of life. Men find

that there is no time for the acquirements, the pursuits, the aims,

which seem to them essential to their earthly well-being. In many

cases life is cut short; but even when it is prolonged, it passes like

the swift ships (Job  9:26). It excites visions and hopes which in the

nature of things cannot be realized.


Ø      The actual disappointment of plans and the failure of efforts.

Men learn the limitations of their powers; they find circumstances too

strong for them; all that seemed desirable proves to be beyond their





Ø      It comes to be a steady conviction that life is not worth living. Is life a

boon at all?  Why should it be prolonged, when it is ever proving itself

insufficient for human wants, unsatisfying to human aspirations? The

young and hopeful may take a different view, but their illusions will

speedily be dispelled. There is nothing so unworthy of appreciation

and desire as life.


Ø      The dead are regarded as more fortunate than the living; and, indeed,

it is a misfortune to be born, to come into this earthly life at all. “The

sooner it’s over, the sooner asleep.” Consciousness is grief and misery;

they only are blest who are at rest in the painless Nirvana of eternity.





Ø      It is assumed that pleasure is the chief good. A great living philosopher

deliberately takes it for granted that the question — Is life worth living?

Is to be decided by the question — Does life yield a surplus of agreeable

feeling? This being so, it is natural that the disappointed and unhappy

should drift into pessimism. But, as a matter of fact, the test is one

altogether unjust, and can only be justified, upon the supposition that

man is merely a creature that feels. It is the hedonist who is

disappointed that becomes the pessimist.


Ø      There is a higher end for man than pleasure, viz. spiritual cultivation and

progress. It is better to grow in the elements of a noble character than

to be filled with all manner of delights. Man was made in the likeness

of God, and His discipline on earth is to recover and to perfect that



Ø      This higher end may in some cases be attained by the hard process of

distress and disappointment. This seems to have been lost sight of in the

mood which found expression in the language of these verses. Yet

experience and reflection alike concur to assure us that it may be good

for us to be afflicted.  The psalmist said:  “It is good for me to be

afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”  (Psalm 119:71).  It not

infrequently happens that

“The soul

                                          Gives up a part to take to it the whole.”


As there are times and circumstances in all persons lives which are naturally conducive

to pessimistic habits, it behooves us to be, at such times and in such circumstances,

especially upon our guard lest we half consciously fall into habits so destructive

of real spiritual well-being and usefulness. The conviction that Infinite Wisdom

and Righteousness are at the heart of the universe, and not blind unconscious

fate and force, is the one preservative; and to this it is the Christian’s privilege to add

an affectionate faith in God as the Father of the spirits of all flesh, and the benevolent

Author of life and immortal salvation to all who receive His gospel and confide in the

mediation of His blessed Son.  (Numbers 16:22; 27:16; Hebrews 12:2, 9; I Timothy 2:5).



In vs. 4-6, success meets with envy, and produces no lasting good to the worker;

yet, however unsatisfactory the result, man must continue to labor, as idleness is ruin.


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.”  Again, I considered all travail, and every right work. The

word rendered “right” is kishron (see on ch.2:21), and means

rather “dexterity,” “success.” Koheleth says that he reflected upon the

industry that men exhibit, and the skill and dexterity with which they ply

their incessant toil. There is no reference to moral rectitude in the

reflection.  That for this a man is envied of his neighbor. Kinah may mean

either “object of envy” or “envious rivalry;” i.e. the clause may be translated as

above, or, as in the Revised Version margin, “it cometh of a man’s rivalry with

his neighbor.” The Septuagint is ambiguous, [Oti aujto< zh~lov ajndro<v ajpo<

tou~ eJtai>rou aujtou~ - Hoti auto zaelos Andros apo tou etairou autou

 that is the envy of a man’s neighbor;  that this is a man’s envy from his

 comrade; Vulgate, Industrias animadverti patere invidiae proximi, “Lay

open to a neighbor’s envy.” In the first case the thought is that unusual skill and

success expose a man to envy and ill will, which rob labor of all enjoyment.

In the second case the writer says that this superiority and dexterity arise

from a mean motive, an envious desire to outstrip a neighbor, and, based

on such low ground, can lead to nothing but vanity and vexation of

spirit, a striving after wind. The former explanation seems more in

accordance with Koheleth’s gloomy view. Success itself is no guarantee of

happiness; the malice and ill feeling which it invariably occasions are

necessarily a source of pain and distress.



Envy (v. 4)


There is no vice more vulgar and despicable, none which affords more painful evidence

of the depravity of human nature, than envy.  (An old English proverbs says “Envy

shoots at others but wounds herself” – CY – 2013).   It is a vice which Christianity

has done much to discourage and repress; but in unchristian communities its power is

mighty and disastrous.




Ø      Generally, the inequality of the human lot is the occasion of envious

feelings, which would not arise were all men possessed of an equal

and a satisfying portion of earthly good.

Ø      Particularly, the disposition, on the part of one who is not possessed of

some good, some desirable quality or property, to grasp at what is

possessed by another.



We do not say that a man is envious who, seeing another strong or healthy,

prosperous or powerful, wishes that he enjoyed the same advantages.

Emulation is not envy. The envious man desires to take another’s

possessions from him — desires that the other may be impoverished in

order that he may be enriched, or depressed in order that he may be

exalted, or rendered miserable in order that he may be happy.

(There seems to be a lot of malice in envy  – CY – 2013).




Ø      It may lead to unjust and malevolent action, in order that it may secure

its gratification.

Ø      It produces unhappiness in the breast of him who cherishes it; it gnaws

and corrodes the heart.

Ø      It is destructive of confidence and cordiality in society.




Ø      It should be considered that whatever men acquire and enjoy is

attributable to the Divine favor and loving-kindness.

Ø      And that all men have blessings far beyond their deserts.

Ø      It becomes us to think less of what we do not or do possess,

and more of what we do.

Ø      And to cultivate the spirit of Christ — the spirit of

self-sacrifice and benevolence.


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

The connection of this verse with the preceding is this: activity, diligence, and

skill indeed bring success, but success is accompanied by sad results. Should we,

then, sink into apathy, relinquish work, let things slide? Nay, none but the fool (kesil),

the insensate, half-brutish man, doth this. The fool foldeth his hands together.

The attitude expresses laziness and disinclination for active labor, like that

of the sluggard in Proverbs 6:10-11. And eateth his own flesh. Ginsburg, Plumptre,

and others take these words to mean “and yet eats his meat,” i.e. gets that

enjoyment from his sluggishness which is denied to active diligence. They refer,

in proof of this interpretation, to Exodus 16:8; 21:28; Isaiah 22:13; Ezekiel 39:17,

in which passages, however, the phrase is never equivalent to “eating his food.”

The expression is really equivalent to “destroys himself,” “brings ruin upon

 himself.” Thus we have in Psalm 27:2, “Evildoers came upon me to eat up my

flesh;” and in Micah 3:3, “Who eat the flesh of my people” (compare Isaiah 49:26).

The sluggard is guilty of moral suicide; he takes no trouble to provide for his necessities,

and suffers extremities in consequence. Some see in this verse and the following an

objection and its answer. There is no occasion for this view, and it is not in

keeping with the context; but it contains an intimation of the true

exposition, which makes v. 6 a proverbial statement of the sluggard’s

position. The verbs in the text are participial in form, so that the Vulgate

rendering, which supplies a verb, is quite admissible: Stultus complicat

manna suas, et comedit carnes suas, dicens: Melior est, etc.


“Idleness is the bane of body and mind, the nurse of naughtiness, the

chief author of all misery, one of the seven deadly sins, the cushion upon

which the devil chiefly reposes, and a great cause not only of melancholy,

but of many other diseases, for the mind is naturally active; and if it be

not occupied about some honest business, it rushes into mischief or

sinks into melancholy.”   (Richard E. Burton – 1861-1940?)

This reinforces the old maxim:  “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”

6 “Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with

travail and vexation of spirit.”  Better is a handful with quietness; literally,

better a hand full of rest. Than both the hands full with travail and vexation

of spirit; literally, than two hands full of travail, etc. This verse, which has been

variously interpreted, is most simply regarded as the fool’s defense of his

indolence, either expressed in his own words or fortified by a proverbial

saying. One open hand full of quietness and rest is preferable to two closed

hands full of toil and vain effort. The verse must not be taken as the

writer’s warning against sloth, which would be out of place here, but as

enunciating a maxim against discontent and that restless activity which is

never satisfied with moderate returns.



The Handful with Quietness (v. 6)


The lesson here imparted is proverbial. Every language has its own way of

conveying and emphasizing this practical truth. Yet it is a belief more

readily professed than actually made the basis of human conduct.









Ø      This appears from a consideration of human nature. “A man’s life

consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he

possesses.”  (Luke 12:15)


Ø      And experience of human life enforces this lesson; for every observer

of his fellow-men has remarked the unhappiness and pitiable moral

state of some wealthy neighbors, and has known cases where narrow

means have not hindered real well-being and felicity. 




VEXATION.  So it seemed even to Solomon in all his glory, and

similar testimony has been borne by not a few of the great of this

world, Nor, on the other hand, is it uncommon to find the healthy,

happy, and pious among the poor rejoicing in their lot AND


which they were born, and for the work to which they are called.

(The bottom line is :  “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich,

and He addeth no sorrow with it.” – Proverbs 10:22 – CY – 2013)


Vs. 7-12 describe how avarice causes isolation and a sense of insecurity,

and brings no satisfaction.


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

Another reflection serves to confirm the uselessness of human efforts. The

vanity under the sun is now avarice, with the evils that accompany it.


8 “There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither

child nor brother: yet is there 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.” There is one alone, and there is not a second; or, without a

second — a solitary being, without partner, relation, or friend. Here, he

says, is another instance of man’s inability to secure his own happiness.

Wealth indeed, is supposed to make friends, such as they are; but

miserliness and greed separate a man from his fellows, make him suspicious

of every one, and drive him to live alone, churlish and unhappy. Yea, he

hath neither child nor brother; no one to share his wealth, or for whom

to save and amass riches. To apply these words to Solomon himself, who

had brothers, and one son, if not more, is manifestly inappropriate. They

may possibly refer to some circumstance in the writer’s own life; but of

that we know nothing. Yet is there no end of all his labor. In spite of this

isolation he plies his weary task, and ceases not to hoard. Neither is his

eye satisfied with riches; so that he is content with what he has (compare

ch.2:10; Proverbs 27:20). The insatiable thirst for gold, the dropsy of the mind,

is a commonplace theme in classical writers. Thus Horace, ‘Caxm.,’ 3:16. 17 —


Crescentem sequitur cura pecuniam, Majorumque fames.”


And Juvenal, ‘Sat.,’ 14:138 —

Interea pleno quum turget sacculus ore,

Crescit amor nummi, quantum ipsa pecunia crevit.”


Neither, saith he, For whom do I labor, and bereave my soul of good?

The original is more dramatic than the Authorized Version or the Vulgate,

Nec recogitat, dicens, Cui laboro, etc.? The writer suddenly puts himself in

the place of the friendless miser, and exclaims, “And for whom do I labor,”

etc.? We see something similar in v. 15 and ch.2:15. Here we cannot find any

definite allusion to the writer’s own circumstances. The clause is merely a lively

personification expressive of strong sympathy with the situation described

(compare ch. 2:18). Good may mean either riches, in which case the denial to

the soul refers to the enjoyment which wealth might afford, or happiness and

comfort. The Septuagint has ajgaqwsu>nhv agathosunaesgoodness;

kindness — which gives quite a different and not so suitable an idea. Sore travail;

a sad business, a woeful employment.




The Pain of Loneliness (v. 8)


The picture here drawn is one of pathetic interest. It cannot have originated

in personal experience, but must have been suggested by incidents in the

author’s wide and varied observation. A lonely man without a brother to

share his sorrows and joys, without a son to succeed to his name and

possessions, is represented as toiling on through the years of his life, and as

accumulating a fortune, and then as awaking to a sense of his solitary state,

and asking himself for whom he thus labors and endures? It is vanity, and a

sore travail!




PROVIDENCE. There are cases in which men are called upon to deny

themselves such companionship, and there are cases in which they have

been, by no action of their own, but by the decree of God, deprived of it.

But the constitution of the individual’s nature and of human society are

evidence that the declaration regarding our first father holds good of his

posterity — that is, in normal circumstances — “It is not good for the man

to be alone.”  (Genesis 2:18)



RECOMPENSE FOR TOIL. A man can work better, more efficiently,

perseveringly, and happily, when he works for others than when he works

only for himself. Many a man owes his habits of industry and self-denial,

his social advancement and his moral maturity, to the necessity of laboring

for his family. He may be called upon to maintain aged parents, to provide

for the comfort of a sickly wife, to secure the education of his sons, to save

a brother from destitution. And such a call may awaken a willing and

cheerful response, and may, under God, account for a good work in life.





pressure of loneliness, a man may relax his efforts, or he may fall into a

discontented, desponding, and cynical frame of mind. He may lose his

interest in life and in human affairs generally. He may even become

misanthropic and skeptical.





SYMPATHY AND BENEVOLENCE. No one need be lonely who can

call his Savior his Friend; and Christ’s friendship is open to every

believer.  And all Christ’s disciples and brethren are of the spiritual kindred of

him who trusts and loves the Redeemer. Where kindred “according to the

flesh” are wanting, there need be no lack of spiritual relatives and

associates. All around the lonely man are those who need succor, kindly

aid, education, guardianship, and the heart purifies and refines as it takes in

new objects of pity, interest, and Christian affection. And the day shall

come when the Divine Savior and Judge shall say to those who have

responded to His appeal, “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the

 least of these my brethren, YE DID IT UNTO ME.”


9 “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their

labor.”  Koheleth dwells upon the evils of isolation, and contrasts with

them the comfort of companionship. Two are better than one. Literally,

the clause refers to the two and the one mentioned in the preceding verse

(jAgaqoi< oiJ du>o uJpe<r to>n e]na - - Agathoi hoi duo huper ton ena  -

two are better than one - Septuagint); but the gnome is true in

general. “Two heads are better than one,” says our proverb. Because

(asher here conjunctive, not relative) they have a good reward for their

labor. The joint labors of two produce much more effect than the efforts of

a solitary worker. Companionship is helpful and profitable. Ginsburg

quotes the rabbinical sayings,, Either friendship or death;” and “A man

without friends is like a left hand without the right.” Thus the Greek gnome

“Man helps his fellow, city saves.”


Cei<r cei~ra ni>ptei da>ktulo>v te da>ktulon.

Cheir cheira niptei daktulos te daktulon

“Hand cleanseth hand, and finger cleanseth finger.”


(Compare Proverbs 17:17; 27:17)  - So Christ sent out His apostles two and two

(Mark 6:7).


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.”

Koheleth illustrates the benefit of association by certain familiar examples.

For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow. If one or the other fall, the

companion will aid him. The idea is that two travelers are making their way over

a rough road — an experience that every one must have had in Palestine.

Vulgate, Si unus ceciderit. Of course, if both fell at the same time, one could

not help the other. Commentators quote Homer, ‘Iliad,’ 10:220-226, thus

rendered by Lord Derby —


“Nestor, that heart is mine;

I dare alone Enter the hostile camp, so close at hand;

Yet were one comrade giv’n me, I should go

With more of comfort, more of confidence.

Where two combine, one before other sees

The better course; and ev’n though one alone

The readiest way discover, yet would be

His judgment slower, his decision less.”


Woe to him that is alone. The same interjection of sorrow, yai, occurs in

ch.10:16, but elsewhere only in late Hebrew. The verse may be applied to

 moral  falls as well as to stumbling at natural obstacles. Brother helps

brother to resist temptation, while many have failed when tried by isolation

who would have manfully withstood if they had had the countenance

and support of others.


“Clear before us through the darkness

Gleams and burns the guiding light;

Brother clasps the hand of brother,

Stepping fearless through the night.”


11 “Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be

warm alone?”  The first example of the advantage of companionship spoke of

the aid and support that are thus given; the present verse tells of the

comfort thus brought. If two lie together, then they have heat. The

winter nights in Palestine are comparatively cold, and when, as in the case

of the poorer inhabitants, the outer garment worn by day was used as the

only blanket during sleep (Exodus 22:26-27), it was a comfort to have

the additional warmth of a friend lying under the same coverlet. Solomon

could have had no such experience.


12 “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold

cord is not quickly broken.”  The third instance shows the value of the protection

afforded by a companion’s presence when danger threatens. If one prevail against

him, two shall withstand him; better, if a man overpower the solitary

one, the two (v. 9) will withstand him. The idea of the traveler is

continued. If he were attacked by robbers, he would be easily overpowered

when alone; but two comrades might successfully resist the assault. And a

threefold cord is not quickly broken. This is probably a proverbial

saying, like our “Union is strength.” Hereby the advantage of association is

more strongly enforced. If the companionship of two is profitable, much

more is this the case when more combine. The cord of three strands was

the strongest made. The number three is used as the symbol of

completeness and perfection. Funiculus triplex diffcile rumpitur, the

Vulgate rendering, has become a trite saying; and the gnome has been

constantly applied in a mystical or spiritual sense, with which, originally

and humanly speaking, it has no concern. Herein is seen an adumbration of


ONE,  of the three Christian virtues, faith, hope, and charity, which go

 to make the Christian life; of the Christian’s body, soul, and spirit, which

 are consecrated as a temple of the Most High.



A Threefold Cord (v. 12)


Many bonds of many kinds bind us in many ways. Of these some are hard

and cruel, and these we have to break as best we can; the worst of them

may be snapped when we strive with the help that comes from Heaven. But

there are others which are neither hard nor cruel, but kind and beneficent,

and these we should not shun, but gladly welcome. Such is the threefold

cord which binds us to our God and to his service. It is composed of:


  • DUTY. To know, to reverence, to love, to serve God, is our supreme

obligation, For we came forth from Him; we are indebted to Him for all that

makes us what we are, owing all our faculties of every kind to His creative

power. We have been sustained in being every moment by His Divine

visitation; we have been enriched by Him with everything we possess, our

hearts and our lives owing to His generous kindness all their joys and all

their blessings; it is in Him that we live and move and have our being

(Acts 17:28); we sum up all obligations, we touch the height and depth of

exalted duty, when we say that “He is our God.” Moreover, all this natural

obligation is enhanced and multiplied manifold by all that He has done for us,

and all that He has endured for us  in the salvation which is in Jesus

Christ, His Only Begotten Son.,


  • OUR BEST INTEREST. To know, to love, to serve God, this is our

highest and truest interest.


Ø      It means the possession of His Divine favor; and that surely is much,



Ø      It constitutes our real, because our spiritual, well-being; it causes us

thereby and therein to realize the ideal of our humanity; we are at our very

best imaginable when we are in fellowship with God and are

possessing His likeness.


Ø      It secures to us a happy life below, FILLED WITH CONTENTMENT

and charged with sacred joy, while it conducts to a future which will be

crowned with IMMORTAL GLORY!


  • AFFECTION. To live in the service of Jesus Christ is to act as our

human relationships demand that we should act. It is to give the deepest

and purest satisfaction to those from whom we have received the most

self-denying love; it is also to lead those for whom we have the strongest

affection in the way of wisdom, in the paths of honor, joy, eternal life!



The Advantages of Fellowship (vs. 9-12)


There is a sense in which we have no choice but to be members of society.

We are born into a social life, trained in it, and in it we must live. “None of

us liveth unto himself”  (Romans 14:7).  But there is a sense in which it rests

with us to cultivate fellowship with our kind. And such voluntary association,

we are taught in this passage, is productive of the highest benefits.



reward for their labor.” If this was so in the day of the writer of

Ecclesiastes, how much more strikingly and obviously is it so today!

Division of labor and cooperation in labor are the two great principles

which account for the success of industrial enterprise in our own time.

There is scope for such united efforts in the Church of Christ — for

unity and brotherly kindness, for mutual help, consideration, and




are together, he who falls may be lifted up, when if alone he might be left

to perish. This is a commonplace truth with reference to travelers in a

strange land, with reference to comrades in war, etc. Our Lord Jesus sent

forth His apostles two and. two, that one might supply his neighbor’s

deficiencies; that the healthy might uphold the sick; and the brave might

cheer the timid. The history of Christ’s Church is a long record of

mutual succor and consolation. To raise the fallen, to cherish the weakly,

to relieve the needy, to assist the widow and fatherless, — this is true religion

(James 1:27).  Here is the sphere for the manifestation of Christian




AND HAPPINESS. “How can one be warm alone?” asks the Preacher.

Every household, every congregation, every Christian society, is a proof

that there is a spirit of mutual dependence wherever the will of the great

Father and Savior of mankind is honored and obeyed. The more there

is of brotherly love within the Church, the more effective will be the Church’s

work of benevolence and missionary aggression upon the ignorance and sin

of the world.



POWER OF RESISTANCE. Two, placing themselves shoulder to

shoulder, can withstand an onset before which one alone would fall. “The

threefold cord is not quickly broken.” It must be remembered that the work

of religious men in this world is no child’s play; there are forces of evil to

resist, there is a warfare to be maintained. And in order to succeed, two

things are needful: first:


Ø      dependence upon God; and

Ø      secondly, brotherhood with our comrades and fellow-soldiers

in the holy war.


Vs. 13-16 emphasizes that high place offers no assurance of security. A king’s

popularity is never permanent; he is supplanted by some clever young

aspirant for a time, whose influence in turn soon evaporates, and the

subject-people reap no benefit from the change.


13 “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who

will no more be admonished.”  Better is a poor and wise child than an

old and foolish king. The word translated “child” (yeled), is used sometimes

of one beyond childhood (see Genesis 30:26; 37:30; I Kings 12:8), so here

it may be rendered “youth.” Misken, penh<v penaespauper -  (Septuagint),

(Vulgate), “poor,” is found also at ch.9:15-16, and nowhere else; but the root,

with an analogous signification, occurs at Deuteronomy 8:9 and Isaiah 40:20. The

clause says that a youth who is clever and adroit, though sprung from a sordid origin,

is better off than a king who has not learned wisdom with his years, and who, it is

afterwards implied, is dethroned by this young man. Who will no more be

admonished; better, as in the Revised Version, who knoweth not how to

receive admonition any more. Age has only fossilized his self-will and

obstinacy; and though he was once open to advice and hearkened to

reproof, he now bears no contradiction and takes no counsel. Septuagint,

[Ov oujk e]gnw tou~ proe>cein e]ti Hos ouk egno tou proechein eti -  Who

 knows not how to take heed any longer;” which is perhaps similar to the

Vulgate, Qui nescit praevidere in posterum, “Who knows not how to look

forward to the future.” The words will bear this translation, and it accords with

one view of the author’s meaning (see below); but that given above is more suitable

to the interpretation of the paragraph which approves itself to us. The sentence is

of general import, and may be illustrated by a passage from the Book of

Wisdom of Solomon (4:8-9), “Honorable age is not that which standeth in length of

time, nor that is measured by length of years. But wisdom is the grey hair

unto men, and an unspotted life is old age.” So Cicero, ‘De Senect.,’

18:62, “Non cant nee rugae repente auctoritatem arripere possunt, sod

honeste acta superior aetas fructus capit aactoritatis extremes.” Some have

thought that Solomon is here speaking of himself, avowing his folly and

expressing his contrition, in view of his knowledge of Jeroboam’s

delegation to the kingdom — the crafty youth of poor estate (I Kings

11:26, etc.), whom the Prophet Ahijah had warned of approaching

greatness. But there is nothing in the recorded history of Solomon to make

probable such expression of self-abasement, and our author could never

have so completely misrepresented him. Here, too, is another proof that

Ecclesiastes is not written by Solomon himself.


14 “For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born

in his kingdom becometh poor.”  The ambiguity of the pronouns

has induced different interpretations of this verse. It is plain that the

paragraph is intended to corroborate the statement of the previous verse,

contrasting the fate of the poor, clever youth with that of the old, foolish

king. The Authorized Version makes the pronoun in the first clause refer to

the youth, and those in the second to the king, with the signification that

rich and poor change places — one is abased as the other is exalted.

Vulgate, Quod de carcere catenisque interdum quis egrediatnr ad regnum;

et alius natus in regno inopia consummatur. The Septuagint is somewhat

ambiguous, [Oti ejx oi]kou tw~n desmi>wn elxeleu>setai tou~

basileu~sai o[ti kai>ge ejn basilei>a| aujtou~ ejgenh>qh pe>nhv,

Hoti ex oikou ton desmion elxeleusetai tou

 Basileusai hoti kaige en basileia autou egenaethae penaes.

“For from the house of prisoners he shall come forth to reign,

because in his kingdom he [who?] was born [or, ‘became’] poor.”

It seems, however, most natural to make the leading pronouns in both clauses

refer to the youth, and thus to render: “For out of the house of prisoners goeth

he forth to reign, though even in his kingdom he was born poor.” Beth hasurim

 is also rendered “house of fugitives,” and Hitzig takes the expression as a

description of Egypt, whither Jeroboam fled to escape the vengeance of

Solomon. Others see here an allusion to Joseph, who was raised from

prison, if not to be king, at least to an exalted position which might thus be

designated. In this case the old and foolish king who could not look to the

future is Pharaoh, who could not understand the dream which was sent for

his admonition. Commentators have wearied themselves with endeavoring

to find some other historical basis for the supposed allusion in the passage.

But although many of these suggestions (e.g. Saul and David, Joash and

Amaziah, Cyrus and Astyages, Herod and Alexander) meet a part of the

case, none suit the whole passage (vs. 13-16). It is possible, indeed, that

some particular allusion is intended to some circumstance or event with

which we are not acquainted. At the same time, it seems to us that, without

much straining of language, the reference to Joseph can be made good. If it

is objected that it cannot be said that Joseph was born in the kingdom of

Egypt, we may reply that the words may be taken to refer to his cruel

position in his own country, when he was despoiled and sold, and may be

said metaphorically to have “become poor;” or the word nolad may be

considered as equivalent to “came,” “appeared,” and need not be restricted

to the sense of “born.”



Folly a Worse Evil than Poverty (vs. 13-14)


This is no doubt a paradox. For one man who seeks to become wise, there are a

hundred who desire and strive for riches. For one man who desires the friendship

of the thoughtful and prudent, there are ten who cultivate the intimacy of the prosperous

and luxurious. Still, men’s judgment is fallible and often erroneous; and it is so in this

particular situation.



always bring wisdom, which is the gift of God, sometimes — as in the case

of Solomon — conferred in early life. True excellence and honor are not

attached to age and station. Wisdom, modesty, and trustworthiness may be

found in lowly abodes and in youthful years. Character is the supreme test

of what is admirable and good. A young man may be wise in the conduct

of his own life, in the use of his own gifts and opportunities, in the choice

of his own friends; he may be wise in his counsel offered to others, in the

influence he exerts over others. And his wisdom may be shown in his

contented acquiescence in the poverty of his condition and the obscurity of

his station. He will not forget that the Lord of all, for our sakes, became

poor, dwelt in a lowly home, wrought at a manual occupation, enjoyed few

advantages of human education or of companionship with the great.

(II Corinthians 8:9)


  • FOLLY DEGRADES AGE AND ROYALTY. In the natural order of

things, knowledge and prudence should accompany advancing age. It is

years that bring the philosophic mind.” In the natural order of things, high

station should call out the exercise of statesmanship, thoughtful wisdom,

mature and weighty counsel. Where all these are absent, there may be

outward greatness, splendor, luxury, empire, but true kingship there is not.

There is no fool so conspicuously and pitiably foolish as the aged monarch

who can neither give counsel himself nor accept it from the experienced

and trustworthy. And the case is worse when his folly is apparent in the

mismanagement of his own life. It may be questioned whether Solomon, in

his youth, receiving in answer to prayer the gift of wisdom, and using it

with serious sobriety, was not more to be admired than when, as a splendid

but disappointed voluptuary, he enjoyed the revenues of provinces, dwelt

in sumptuous palaces, and received the homage of distant potentates, but

yet was corrupted by his own weaknesses into connivance at idolatry, and

was unfaithful to the Lord to whose bounty he was indebted for all he



This is a word of encouragement to thoughtful, pure minded, and religious youth.

The judgment of inspiration commends those who, in the flower of their age, by God’s

grace rise above the temptations to which they are exposed, and cherish that

reverence toward the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom.  (Proverbs 1:7)


15 “I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the

second child that shall stand up in his stead.”  I considered all the

 living which walk under the sun; or, I have seen all the population.

The expression is hyperbolical, as Eastern monarchs speak of their dominions

as if they comprised the whole world (see Daniel 4:1; 6:25). With the second

child that shall stand up in his stead. “With” (μ[i) means “in company with,”

“on the side of;” and the clause should be rendered, as in the Revised Version,

That they were with the youth, the second, that stood up in his stead. The

youth who is called the second is the one spoken of in the previous verses, who

by general acclamation is raised to the highest place in the realm, while the old

monarch is dethroned or depreciated. He is named second, as being the

successor of the other, either in popular favor or on the throne. It is the old

story of worshipping the rising sun. The verse may still be applied to

Joseph, who was made second to Pharaoh, and was virtually supreme in

Egypt, standing in the king’s place (Genesis 41:40-44).


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.”  There is no end of all the people,

even of all that have been before them. The paragraph plainly is carrying on

the description of the popular enthusiasm for the new favorite. The Authorized

Version completely obscures this meaning. It is better to translate, Numberless

were the people, all, at whose head he stood. Koheleth places himself in the

position of a spectator, and marks how numerous are the adherents who

flock around the youthful aspirant. “Nullus finis omni populo, omnibus,

quibus praefuit” (Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Volck). Yet his popularity was

not lasting and his influence was not permanent. They also that come

after shall not rejoice in him. In spite of his cleverness, and

notwithstanding the favor with which he is now regarded, those of a later

generation shall flout his pretensions and forget his benefits.


            “like a name engraved with the point of a pin

              on the tender rind of a young oak;

            The wound will enlarge with the tree, and

              posterity read it in full grown characters.”

                                    (Thomas Paine, Common Sense)


If we still continue the allusion to Joseph, we may see here in this last clause

a reference to the change that supervened when another king arose who

knew him not (Exodus 1:8), and who, oblivious of the services of this

great benefactor, heavily oppressed the Israelites. This experience leads

to the same result; it is all vanity and vexation of spirit.



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