Ecclesiastes 4:1-8

Ecclesiastes 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.


Then Solomon brings to light that injustices are a part of this world system and will be till the end of time.  There are always going to be those who oppress whether it be a country oppressing its own citizens or individuals oppressing other individuals.  Then he saw the sorrows of those who were oppressed which is expressed by their tears and since they were the weaker of the two, they had no comforter or anyone who would commiserate with them fearing that the oppressor would persecute them.  Then on the side of those doing the oppressing, they had power behind them whether it be military, government, or individual personal strength and even though they seemed to be the victor, they also had no comforter either because to maintain their authority, they had to continue the oppression constantly and that left them no comfort because if they stopped, then they could be susceptible to persecution.  So both those who are oppressed and the oppressor has no rest or comfort.


Ecclesiastes 4:2

Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.


The dead have seen the end of war and they have also seen the end of struggles which pervade this life.  Solomon is stating that the dead are better off than the living who have to continue the struggles and wars associated with everyday living.  Each new day brings new struggles and the majority of times we never know from where those struggles come from.  This verse is speaking of the physical aspect of death.  The troubles of the unsaved have just begun when they die and then face the Judgment.


Ecclesiastes 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.


In this verse Solomon is stating that those who are not yet born are better than the dead and the living since both of them have tasted of the evils of this world but the unborn have not tasted any of those things yet.  Job also spoke about not being born so he would not have seen the evils of this world.  {17} There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.  {18} There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.  (Job 3:17-18)  Job 3:17 covers both the oppressor who ceases from troubling and those oppressed are at rest.  Even the prisoners do not hear the voice of the oppressors.  To gain full context of the chapter read Job 3.


Ecclesiastes 4:4

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


Then Solomon considers all the effort or travail that is put into work and also the right work which means a successful work which may yield a person much wealth and this success is envied by his neighbor.  This would also raise the competitive spirit which could also lead to bad relations with his neighbor.  Solomon sees success and the envy it creates as vanity and vexation of spirit simply because the wrong motivations of work are in view thus creating a hostility with his neighbor or friend which can also lead to physical violence among them because jealousy is a great motivator for crime.


Ecclesiastes 4:5

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


Here is a picture of a very lazy man who envies his neighbor’s success but will not even lift a hand to work for himself.  Normally it is the lazy people who envy the success of others.  The man in this verse is so lazy, he won’t even get his own food instead he will fold his hands and eat his own flesh in a symbolic way. 


{9} How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?  {10} Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:  {11} So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.  (Proverbs 6:9-11)


A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again.  (Proverbs 19:24)


The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour.  (Proverbs 21:25)


Ecclesiastes 4:6

Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.


The lazy person would rather have a handful of food which is given to him in quietness which means he would rather settle for a little than go out and work which would yield him more than just a handful of food.  The lazy man sees his neighbor prosper but refuses to do any work to attain anything near his neighbor because he feels the effort is not worth it.  Instead of using his hands to work, he would rather fold them as he did in verse 5.


Ecclesiastes 4:7

Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun.


Then Solomon goes from seeing the foolish lazy man to another illustration of vanity which was the direct opposite of the lazy man.


Ecclesiastes 4:8

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 labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.


Then Solomon gives another fool who was opposite of the lazy man.  This man is a single man who does not have a wife nor any family.  This man continues to labor day and night and as he does this he is building all the wealth he can.  His life is dedicated to making money and he does not ask the question for whose benefit am I working since he is single and has no family, then he needs to ask the question why am I working day and night to amass wealth to give it to someone who is not even related to me.  All the work he is doing is causing him to have his life bereft of any good because all he does is have his eye on the goal of wealth.  This incessant working without enjoying any of the benefits takes its toll on the body which affects the outlook of the person causing them to live in a depression.  I worked with people who would live for the company and when they die, the company sends flowers and their job is listed the next day.  I once interviewed for a job where the interviewer asked me if I was one of those who went home at 5:00.  In other words, if they hired me I would work 80 hours for 40 hours pay and the company would become my god.  Just a bit of advice, work to live not live to work because you too will experience vanity and vexation of spirit.