In our study of Ecclesiastes chapter four, we continue our search for the purpose of life by looking at the philosophy of living for self.
Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed - and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors - and they have no comforter.
In chapter 3, Solomon showed us the futility of chasing earthly things and missing out on the spiritual things of God. Now, he looks at what happens when nations and their governments chase the physical. Here, we see that these nations and their leaders oppress the poor in their quest for money and power. We also see that, when the people look to the government for help, there is none. This reminds us that our comfort comes from God and not man or an earthly government. It is the job of the church to bring comfort to the people and to especially look out for the poor. Sadly, a big part of the church has attempted to turn that responsibility over to the government.
And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.
Solomon's conclusion about this state of oppression is that it is good to die and escape but it is better to have not been born. Does this not describe the feeling in our world today as there seems to be a bigger gap than ever between the rich and powerful and the poor? As bad as it appears to be now, it is going to get much worse. To prepare, the church must return to its roots of service just as the early church did in following Jesus. The second thing, is that God's people must tell people the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Solomon found, focusing on the temporary physical without the lasting spiritual is pointless.
And I saw that all labor and achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Now, Solomon turns from looking at nations that are living for themselves to individual men. He reminds us of the fact that chasing after the riches of this world is a race that we cannot win because there is always a neighbor that has more than we do. Without a restored relationship with God, our hearts can never be satisfied with the things of this earth.
The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.
Now, he contrasts the lazy with those that are chasing after the riches of the world. Solomon's conclusion is that it is better to work and have peace with what you have than to be lazy or to always be chasing for more. This is what the apostle Paul was talking about when he described his contentment (see Philippians 4).
Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. 'For whom am I toiling,' he asked, 'and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?' This too is meaningless - a miserable business!
Now, he shows us that it is meaningless to acquire wealth and have nobody to share it with. As it was in the garden, man was not created to be alone like an island in the ocean.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Solomon gives us examples of how two are better than one but then ends the passage speaking of a three stranded cord. This makes us wonder what he is talking about and we find the answer in Genesis 2. There we see that a woman was created to be with a man and they were to work together. The third cord is God as they were designed to work together with God to fulfill His plan for their lives. A man and woman walking and working together for the glory of God is the only way that a life has lasting meaning.
Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning.
You can almost feel the sorrow as Solomon looks back at his younger days and the wisdom that he was granted by God. He contrasts that to where he is now which was that he had disobeyed God and married women he was told that he could not.
The youth may have come from prison to kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom.
Solomon recounts the fact that God chooses the king and often He does not choose the ones we would expect. His father David was the least of his brothers and yet God chose him to be the king.
I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king's successor. There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Because of his disobedience, God had told Solomon that his kingdom would be divided and that is what he speaks of here. The king had tried to build up the kingdom to pass on to his son and yet it was destined to be divided. The same type of thing happens today in that many people work all the time and hope to build up a fortune to leave to their kids. Often the business or money that is left to them is wasted or thrown away. In the end, their hard work to build it up was no more than chasing after the wind.