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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 4

Everett's Study Notes on the Holy ScripturesEverett's Study Notes

Verses 1-3

The Vanity of Oppression on Earth In Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 the Preacher makes an observation about the vanity of oppression in this life. It is man’s depravity, discussed in Ecclesiastes 3:16-22, that causes him to oppress one another. The Preacher notes his observation in Ecclesiastes 4:1 that there is much oppression over those who cannot defend themselves and find a comforter. In Ecclesiastes 4:2-3 he makes his conclusion that the dead are better than the living, and those who are not yet born are better than the both.

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.

Ecclesiastes 4:2 Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.

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.

Ecclesiastes 4:3 Comments - Testimonies of those who have visited heaven say that heaven receives all unborn babies. These children who have never been born will never know the sufferings of this world. These children are raised in nurseries under the care of guardian angels and told the story of redemption. Their eternal destiny is sure and certain. In this respect, the unborn are better off than those who are born.

Verses 1-16

The Preacher Explains His Conclusion In Ecclesiastes 4:1 thru Ecclesiastes 6:12 the Preacher uses illustrations from life and from creation to support his theme that mankind is depraved. In this section, he discusses the overall condition of mankind in his fallen state of depravity. However, this time he makes his evaluation from the perspective of divine judgment.

We see a progressive order of events in this passage of Scripture. Man’s fall in the Garden of Eden resulted in his mortality. Mortal man became depraved by his sin. This depravity led man into a state of unrightousness. He now oppresses the weak, labours without rest, toils selfishly all the days of his life, and struggles to gain ascendancy over others. Thus, those who reach positions of power, wealth and leadership over others are no better than those they rule over. This is the Preacher’s way of reasoning with us to see his point of view that our mortal lives are full of vanity.

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

1. The Vanity of Oppression on Earth Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

2. The Vanity of Toil on Earth Ecclesiastes 4:4-6

3. The Vanity of Selfish on Earth Ecclesiastes 4:7-12

4. The Vanity of Nobility on Earth Ecclesiastes 4:13-16

5. The Vanity of External Religion (Fear God) Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

6. The Vanity of Riches Ecclesiastes 5:8 to Ecclesiastes 6:12

Verses 4-6

The Vanity of Toil on Earth - The man who toils for substance creates envy from his neighbor (Ecclesiastes 4:4). Yet, the lazy fool destroys himself because of his laziness (Ecclesiastes 4:5). Neither choice seems good. There must be a balance in work. The Preacher concludes that a man should work quietly to meet his basic needs only, and not chase after an abundance of riches, so that he can have a peaceful life (Ecclesiastes 4:6).

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.

Ecclesiastes 4:4 Comments - In Ecclesiastes 4:4 the Preacher observes that the man who toils for substance creates envy from his neighbor, thus creating hardship for himself. Note a similar verse in Ecclesiastes regarding man’s envy that results in him trying to get the wealth of others:

Ecclesiastes 5:11, “When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?”

Ecclesiastes 4:5 The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh.

Ecclesiastes 4:5 Comments - After noting that too much toil is not good, in Ecclesiastes 4:5 the Preacher observes that total avoidance of toil is also bad, because the lazy person destroys himself. A man’s hands are used to toil for his substance. Thus, the folding of the hands represents a ceasing from toil. Note a similar verse in Proverbs 6:10-11, “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.” (see also Proverbs 24:33-34)

Ecclesiastes 4:6 Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.

Ecclesiastes 4:6 Comments - In Ecclesiastes 4:6 the Preacher brings a balance to both extremes. We are to neither be over burdened with toil, nor are we to be lazy and avoid toil. We are to find a middle ground so that we can find peace and happiness in this life.

Verses 7-12

The Vanity of Selfish Toil on Earth In Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 the Preacher comments on the vanity of selfish toil in this world. It is futile to labour without end for oneself; for ultimately, there is no reward and joy in such labour.

Ecclesiastes 4:7 Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun.

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.

Ecclesiastes 4:8 Comments - Endless labor for self-gain is vain. The greater benefit is to work for the mutual benefit of others, which he states in the next verses (Ecclesiastes 9-12).

Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.

Ecclesiastes 4:10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

Ecclesiastes 4:11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?

Ecclesiastes 4:12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Verses 13-16

The Vanity of Nobility on Earth In Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 the Preacher comments on nobility and kingship. Even when it appears that a person has achieved a life of rest from toil by becoming a king, yet there is vanity his life also.

Ecclesiastes 4:13 Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.

Ecclesiastes 4:14 For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.

Ecclesiastes 4:15 I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead.

Ecclesiastes 4:16 There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Bibliographical Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 4". Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghe/ecclesiastes-4.html. 2013.
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