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Injustice in the world (3:16-4:3)
Having acknowledged God’s order in human events, the writer now observes that the ‘order’ is, at times, not very orderly. For example, injustice abounds (16). Maybe, thinks the writer, God will put everything right in a judgment day in the afterlife (17). On the other hand, thinks he, there may not be an afterlife. He observes that people die the same as animals, as if God is trying to show that they are no different from the beasts. Also, he asks, can it be proved that people have life after death? The best they can do, concludes the writer, is to enjoy life while they can (18-22).
Although the enjoyment of life is a desirable goal, the world has so much cruelty and oppression that many people have no way of finding any sort of enjoyment. It would be better for these sufferers if they were dead; better still if they had never been born (4:1-3).
The uselessness of achievement (4:4-16)
Several examples illustrate how useless much human activity is. Some people drive themselves in their work but can never relax and enjoy it, because they are always worrying about being ahead of everyone else. Others do not work at all and so ruin themselves. Both extremes should be avoided. People should work for a living and enjoy it, but they should not be so ambitious that they create trouble for themselves (4-6).
Other unhappy people are those who spend all their time making money which they neither use themselves nor give to others (7-8). Those who cut themselves off from others, such as these rich misers, really harm themselves, for cooperation with others increases personal security (9-12).
Probably no one experiences the worthlessness of success and fame more than the great man who falls from power. He may have risen from poverty to fame, from prison to the throne, but if he refuses to listen to advice, any intelligent youth could rule better than he (13-14). In fact, among the thousands of people over whom a king rules there may just happen to be such an intelligent youth, who will overthrow the king and seize the throne for himself. But he, like the former king, will soon be forgotten (15-16).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 4". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany