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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 4

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

Verses 1-16

Ecclesiastes 4. A Gloomy Survey.— The chapter falls into four parts, which treat respectively of oppression ( Ecclesiastes 4:1-3), rivalry ( Ecclesiastes 4:4-6), isolation amounting to self-torture ( Ecclesiastes 4:7-12), and a paragraph on a young king’ s popularity ( Ecclesiastes 4:13-16).

Ecclesiastes 4:1. Man’ s inhumanity to man awakens Qoheleth’ s compassion; they had no comforter must refer in both cases to the oppressed; the words are repeated for the sake of emphasis.

Ecclesiastes 4:2 f. No man can be accounted happy till he is dead ( cf. Ecclesiastes 7:1, contrast Ecclesiastes 9:4); indeed better than life and even death is not to be born ( cf. Ecclesiastes 6:3 and Job 3:11-16, also Sophocles, Œ d. Col. 1225, “ Non-existence is better than highest fame” ).

Ecclesiastes 4:4 . Note mg. Competition is as inhuman as tyranny, it is only another form of oppression. But ( Ecclesiastes 4:5) laziness is no virtue, the idle man starves. The verse is perhaps a current proverb; it might mean the idler somehow manages to get a living without the worry of the toiler. The best thing is to follow the golden mean ( Ecclesiastes 4:6). The words for handful are different— the first denotes the open palm, the second the grip. Another woe is avarice ( Ecclesiastes 4:7 f.) ; the life of the lonely miser is a sore travail.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 , proverbial sayings on the advantages of comradeship. The setting is that of a journey with its perils from bad roads, chilly nights, and brigands. And if two are better than one, three are better still. The section is often taken as a parable of friendship; Charles Wesley built up a hymn on it, “ Two are better far than one, For counsel or for fight.” The allegorists make the threefold cord a reference to the Trinity or to the union of Faith, Hope, and Love.

Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 . There have been as many interpretations of the personage here referred to as of the number of the Beast in the Apocalypse. The most obvious illustration is that of Joseph and Pharaoh, the one that best fits the date of the book Ptolemy V, who at the age of five succeeded his aged father, Ptolemy IV in 205. Others see a reference to Antiochus Epiphanes and Alexander Balas, who was of humble origin and popular with the Jews ( cf. pp. 416, 608), but this is perhaps too late. No certainty is attainable.

Ecclesiastes 4:15 . the second is perhaps a gloss; in any case it can only mean a second youth.— The moral is driven home in Ecclesiastes 4:16: the popular favourite of to-day is forgotten, and perhaps execrated, to-morrow. It was so with the young Ptolemy (Epiphanes), whose advisers were a bad lot, so that when Antiochus III (perhaps “ the second” of Ecclesiastes 4:15) annexed Palestine to Syria (p. 62) in 198 the Jews welcomed the change.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 4". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/ecclesiastes-4.html. 1919.
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