Having arrived Ecclesiastes 3:22 at a partial answer to his question Ecclesiastes 1:3; namely, that there is positive good (a portion) in that satisfaction which is found in working, Solomon now turns to the case of such happiness being interrupted and reduced to vanity by various contingencies - by oppression Ecclesiastes 4:1-3; by envy Ecclesiastes 4:4-6; by loneliness Ecclesiastes 4:7-12; and by decay of working power Ecclesiastes 4:13-16. The first two instances seem taken from the lower ranks of life, and the last two derived from the higher ranks of life.
So I returned, and considered - Rather, And I returned and saw. He turns to look upon other phenomena, and to test his previous conclusion by them.
Oppressed - See the introduction to Ecclesiastes.
Every right work - Rather, every success in work.
For this - i. e., “This successful work makes the worker an object of envy.” Some understand the meaning to be, “this work is the effect of the rivalry of man with his neighbor.”
Foldeth his hands - The envious man is here exhibited in the attitude of the sluggard (marginal references).
Eateth his own flesh - i. e., “Destroys himself:” compare a similar expression in Isaiah 49:26; Psalm 27:2; Micah 3:3.
Either the fool‘s sarcasm on his successful but restless neighbor; or the comment of Solomon recommending contentment with a moderate competence. The former meaning seems preferable.
The spectacle of a prosperous man whose condition is rendered vain by his brotherless, childless isolation.
A second - Any one associated or connected with him.
Compare a saying from the Talmud: “A man without companions is like the left hand without the right.”
These verses set forth the vanity of earthly prosperity even on a throne. Opinion as to their application is chiefly divided between considering them a parable or fiction like that of the childless man in Ecclesiastes 4:8: or as setting forth first the vicissitudes of royal life in two proverbial sayings Ecclesiastes 4:13-14, and then Ecclesiastes 4:15-16, the vicissitudes or procession of the whole human race, one generation giving place to another, Which in its turn will be forgotten by its successor. On the whole, the first appears to have the better claim.
Child - Rather, young man.
Rather: For out of the house of bondage he goes forth to be a king; although he was born poor in his kingdom, i. e., in the country over which he became king.
I considered - literally, I saw “all the population of the young man‘s kingdom.”
The second child - This second youth is generally understood to be identical with the one mentioned in Ecclesiastes 4:13.
There is - Rather: There was.
That have been before them - Rather, before whom he was, i. e., at the head of whom the young king was. Compare Micah 2:13.
They also that him - i. e., The next generation shall forget this chosen king.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany