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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 4

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 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.

So I returned - namely, to the thought set forth in Ecclesiastes 3:16; Job 35:9.

On the side of their oppressors (there was) power. Maurer, not so well, 'violence.'

They had no comforter. Twice said, to express continued suffering without any to give comfort (Isaiah 53:7).

Verse 2

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

Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead, more than the living. A profane sentiment if severed from its connection; but just in its bearing on Solomon's scope. If religion were not taken into account (Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 3:19), to die as soon as possible would be desirable, so as not to suffer or witness "oppressions;" and still more so, not to be born at all (Ecclesiastes 7:1). Job (Job 3:13; Job 3:20; Job 21:7), David (Psalms 73:3, etc.), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 12:1; Jeremiah 20:18), Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:13), all passed through the same perplexity, until they went into the sanctuary, and looked beyond the present to the "judgment" (Psalms 73:17; Habakkuk 2:20; Habakkuk 3:17-18). Then they saw the need of delay, before completely punishing the wicked, to give space for repentance, or else for accumulation of wrath (Romans 2:15); and before completely rewarding the godly, to give room for faith and perseverance in tribulation (Psalms 92:7-12). Earnests, however, are often even now given, by partial judgments, of the future complete one, to assure us, in spite of difficulties, that God governs the earth. The aspect of life here is merely from one stand-point-namely, in view of the wrongs suffered on earth. Compare a different aspect (Ecclesiastes 9:4; Ecclesiastes 11:7), "God giveth songs in the night" to His people (Job 35:10; Psalms 73:2). They can enjoy even the present (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). They look for the coming righteous judgment (Ecclesiastes 3:17), and recognize in the permission of temporary oppression the wholesome means of divine chastisement and probation of character.

Verse 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.

Who hath not seen - nor experienced.

Verse 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.

Every right work ... for this a man is envied - rather (as note, Ecclesiastes 2:21, "equity," prosperity), prosperous. Prosperity, which men so much covet, is the very source of provoking oppression (Ecclesiastes 4:1) and "envy," so far is it from constituting the chief good. Hengstenberg translates skill.

Of his neighbour. It aggravates the baseness of the envy, that it is on the part of one's own neighbour. So the tenth commandment.

This is also vanity. Even success by skill brings no solid satisfaction.

Verse 5

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

Still the indolence which 'folds the fool's hands together' is to be reprobated, because such a one ruins himself - "eateth his own flesh" (Isaiah 9:20; Isaiah 49:26).

Verse 6

Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit. Better (is) an handful (with) quietness, than both the hands full (with) travail. Hebrew, 'one open hand (palm) full of quietness, than both closed hands (fists) full of (what seems wealth, but which is really) travail.' "Quietness" (tranquillity flowing from moderate labour) is the happy mean between ruinous indolence on the one hand (Ecclesiastes 4:5), and laborious acquisition of wealth, and with it envy, on the other (Ecclesiastes 4:4; Proverbs 15:16-17; Proverbs 16:8).

Verse 7

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

I saw vanity - a vanity, described in Ecclesiastes 4:8.

Verse 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.

There is one (alone) and (there is) not a second - no partner. He might have one, but it is the nemesis of his greatness that he has not. He stands alone in the world, without object for his avarice, and without friend to break his dreary isolation.

Child - `son or brother,' put for any heir (Deuteronomy 25:5; Deuteronomy 25:10).

Neither is his eye satisfied - (Ecclesiastes 1:8.) The miser would not be able to give an account of his infatuation.

Verse 9

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

Two (are) better than one. Two-opposed to "one" (Ecclesiastes 4:8). Ties of union, marriage, friendship, religious communion, are better than the selfish solitariness of the miser (Genesis 2:18).

Because they have a good reward - advantage accrues from their efforts being conjoined. They afford one another help, protection, and society. The Talmud says, 'A man without a companion is like a left land without the right.'

Verse 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.

If they fall - if the one or other fall, as may happen to both-namely, into any distress of body, mind, or soul.

Verse 11

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

If two lie together ... they have heat - (1 Kings 1:4.) The image is taken from man and wife, but applies universally to the warm sympathy derived from social ties. So Christian ties (Luke 24:32; Acts 28:15). Advantages accrue from fellowship which a solitary life does not afford. He who would have friends "must show himself friendly" (Proverbs 18:24).

Verse 12

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

If one prevail against him. One = the enemy. Rather, join "one" with "him." 'If (an enemy) prevail against him, the one'-him in his isolation-because of his standing alone. So the Vulgate. But the Syriac and Septuagint, favour the English version.

A threefold cord - proverbial for a combination of many, e.g., husband, wife, and children (Proverbs 11:14); so Christians (Colossians 2:2; Colossians 2:19). Christ sent forth the seventy by pairs, not singly (Luke 10:1), and promised, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:18; Matthew 19:1-30). Untwist the cord and the separate threads are easily "broken."

Verse 13

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

Better (in respect to condition; not moral character) (is) a poor and a wise child that an old and foolish king. The "threefold cord" of social ties suggests the subject of civil government. In this case, too, he concludes that kingly power confers no lasting happiness. The "wise" child, though a supposed case of Solomon, answers, in the event foreseen by the Holy Spirit, to Jeroboam, then a poor but valiant youth, once a "servant" of Solomon and (1 Kings 11:26-40) appointed by God, through the prophet Ahijah, to be heir of the kingdom of the ten tribes about to be rent from Rehoboam. The "old and foolish king" answers to Solomon himself, who had lost his wisdom, when, in defiance of two warnings of God (1 Kings 3:14; 1 Kings 9:2-9), he forsook God.

Who will no more be admonished - knows not yet how to take warning, (see margin.) God had by Ahijah already intimated the judgment coming on Solomon (1 Kings 11:11-13).

Verse 14

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

For out of prison he (the poor and wise child) cometh to reign. Solomon uses this phrase of a supposed case-e.g., Joseph raised from a dungeon to be lord of Egypt. His words are at the same time so framed by the Holy Spirit that they answer virtually to Jeroboam, who fled, to escape a "prison" and death from Solomon, to Shishak of Egypt (1 Kings 11:40). This unconscious presaging of his own doom, and that of Rehoboam, constitutes the irony. David's elevation from poverty and exile, under Saul (which may have been before Solomon's mind), had so far their counterpart in that of Jeroboam.

Whereas also (he that is) born in his kingdom becometh poor - whereas the old king (in the person of his son. "the second child," Ecclesiastes 4:15), who came to the kingdom by birth (by hereditary right) becometh poor. So the Vulgate.

Verse 15

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

I considered all the living - all the present generation of subjects. With the second child that shall stand up in his stead - in relation to ("with") the "second youth" (the legitimate successor of "the old king," as opposed to the "poor youth," the one first spoken of, about to be raised from poverty to a throne) - i:e., Rehoboam.

In his stead - the old king's.

Verse 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.

(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. Notwithstanding that "all the people" ("all the living which walk under the sun," Ecclesiastes 4:15) now worship the rising sun, the heir- apparent, I reflected that 'there were no bounds (no stability; as even in the days of so great a king as David, Absalom and Sheba son of Bichri successively found it easy to steal away the hearts of the people to rebel, 2 Samuel 15:6; 2 Samuel 20:1), no check on the caprice and love of innovation, "of all that have been before them," i:e., the past generation; so "they also that come after," i:e., the next generation, "shall not rejoice in him," namely, Rehoboam. The parallel, "shall not rejoice," fixes the sense of 'no bounds,' no permanent adherence, though now men rejoice in him. So De Dieu explains. The English version means, There is no end to the number of all the people who, before both kings, the old and the young one, have been ready to become tired of the reigning king, and to court his successor. Hope and novelty combine to recommend the successor-two powerful springs in human nature.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/ecclesiastes-4.html. 1871-8.
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