Life under the sun is a hot mess. You can't make it on your own.
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Ecclesiastes 4 (ESV)
1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun.
And behold, the tears of the oppressed,
and they had no one to comfort them!
On the side of their oppressors there was power,
and there was no one to comfort them.
2 And I thought the dead
who are already dead
more fortunate than the living who are still alive.
3 But better than both is he
who has not yet been
and has not seen
the evil deeds
that are done under the sun.
4 Then I saw that
all toil and all skill in work
come from a man’s envy of his neighbor.
This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
5 The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.
6 Better is
a handful of quietness
than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
7 Again, I saw vanity under the sun:
8 one person who has no other,
either son or brother,
yet there is no end to all his toil,
and his eyes are never satisfied with riches,
so that he never asks, “For whom
am I toiling
and depriving myself of pleasure?”
This also is vanity and an unhappy business.
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good reward for their toil.
10 For if they fall,
one will lift up his fellow.
But woe to him
who is alone when he falls
and has not another to lift him up!
11 Again, if two lie together,
they keep warm,
but how can one keep warm alone?
12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone,
two will withstand him—
a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice.
14 For he went
from prison to the throne,
though in his own kingdom he had been born poor.
15 I saw
all the living who move about under the sun,
along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place.
16 There was no end of all the people,
all of whom he led.
Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him.
Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
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Definitions of key terms in Ecclesiastes which make it much easier to understand.
Ecclesiastes 4 Summary
Once again, we need to be reminded that the Preacher is looking at life under the sun (v1, 3, 7, 15). This is the hopeless worldview that all people who have not been raised in Christ must have, although many still chase after the wind in hopes of finding meaning in life.
But the Preacher, who is modeled after the life of King Solomon, had the unlimited resources needed to try everything there is to try, yet after experiencing it all, he concludes that those who are already dead are more fortunate than the living who are still alive (v2).
Under the sun, innovation & inventions are the product of envy and coveting as people try to out do their neighbors. People work away their entire lives, yet their eyes are never satisfied with riches (v8). Kings sacrifice to build entire kingdoms, yet those who come later will not rejoice in him (v16).
Certainly the Preacher is right... everything in life is meaningless and a striving after wind (v16).
Or is it?
One of the overarching themes of chapter 4 is the emptiness of being alone. The oppressed have nobody to comfort them; people with no family have nobody to share their wealth with; the king who can't take advice is not remembered by subsequent generations.
But once again there's hope in the hopelessness.
Verses 9-12 tell of the benefits that two have over one. This is a passage that we often read at weddings as we celebrate the love of the newly married couple. But the Preacher probably didn't have a young lovers in mind as he wrote this, but rather the protection that companionship & community brings to ancient near east travelers facing danger in the open desert.
But what about the famous threefold cord (v12)? Isn't this a prophecy of the fellowship Christians have with the Holy Spirit in their lives?
Certainly we do have the constant presence of the Spirit with us at all times, adding strength and protection. It is good to use passages like this as a springboard to the gospel, in this case pointing us to the beauty of life beyond the sun.
But don't be too quick to bypass the lesson the Preacher wants you to learn here, that you must live your life in relationship with others in the context of a broader Christian community whether you're single or married. The more cords the better.
But certainly the Preacher would agree that no matter how many strands your cord has, it's all meaningless if all you have is what's under the sun.
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our eternal Father gives meaning to life.
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that God will lead you to a strong Christian community.
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: