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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 4

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 4:1

It is a great principle, and not to be lost sight of, the weakness of oppression, the terrible strength of the oppressed. And though Solomon felt so perturbed by the prosperous cruelty he witnessed, had he bent his eye a little longer in the direction where it eventually rested, he would have found a Comforter for the oppressed, and would have seen the impotence of the oppressor. On the side of the oppressed is Omnipotence, and the most deathless of foes is a victim. Still liberty, or exemption from man's oppression, is a priceless blessing; and it may be worth while to ask, What can Christians do for its culture and diffusion?

I. Yourselves be free. Seek freedom from fierce passions and dark prejudices. If you are led captive by the devil at his will, you are sure to become an oppressor.

II. Beware of confounding liberty with licence. One of the greatest blessings in a State or in a Christian Church is good government; but, from mistaken notions of independence, it is the delight of some to "speak evil of dignities." The man who is magnanimous in obeying is likely to be mighty in command.

III. Cultivate a humane and gentle spirit. Here it is that the mollifying religion of Jesus comes in as the great promoter of freedom and the great opponent of oppression. By infusing a benevolent spirit into the bosom of the Christian, it makes him the natural guardian of weakness and the natural friend of innocence.

J. Hamilton, The Royal Preacher, Lecture IX.

Verses 1-16

Ecclesiastes 4:1-5:7

I. In the fourth chapter Koheleth comes to the conclusion that life is essentially and irretrievably wretched wretched not because (as he had formerly thought) it would so soon be over, but wretched because it lasted too long. All that pleasure did for him was thus to increase his gloom. There was one thing he had forgotten in making out his programme: he had forgotten the miseries of other people. The prosperity he secured for himself did not remove their adversity, but only brought it out into more startling relief. He was infected by their wretchedness, for in the midst of all his dissipation he had preserved a kindly heart. "I considered," he says, "the tears of those who are oppressed, and who have no comforter." The oppression of the poor by the rich was one of the most characteristic phases of Oriental society. To be poor was to be weak, and to be weak was to be reduced more or less into the condition of a slave.

II. In Ecclesiastes 5:4 Koheleth makes a new departure. He remarks that greed is at the bottom of a good deal of human misery. All work, he says, and all dexterity in work, is due to envy, to a jealous determination to outstrip our neighbours, to what Mallock calls the "desire for inequality." In contrast to the career of selfish isolation, Koheleth describes the advantages of sympathetic co-operation with one's fellow-men. We should not, he says, strive against one another, each for his own good; we should strive with one another, each for the good of the whole. Co-operation is preferable to competition.

III. It now occurs to Koheleth that we may perhaps find some help in religious observances. He has already pointed out to us how we are hemmed in on all sides by limitations and restrictions. It must evidently be important what attitude we assume towards the Power which thus checks and thwarts us. Take care, he says, how you go into the house of God, how you perform your sacrifices, and prayers, and vows. He teaches us, as wise men have always taught, that obedience is better than sacrifice. Again, the value of prayer depends not on its length, but on its sincerity. Speak only out of the fulness of your heart. God is not to be trifled with. He cannot be deluded into mistaking for worship what is mere idle talk.

A. W. Momerie, Agnosticism, p. 204.

References: Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 . J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 174; T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 101.Ecclesiastes 4:1-8 . R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 136. Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 . J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 196. Ecclesiastes 4:5 , Ecclesiastes 4:6 . J. H. Cooke, The Preacher's Pilgrimage, p. 54.Ecclesiastes 4:9 , Ecclesiastes 4:10 . R. D. B. Rawnsley, Sermons for the Christian Year, p. 512; C. J. Vaughan, Memorials of Harrow Sundays, p. 16. Ecclesiastes 4:9-16 . R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons; p. 150. Ecclesiastes 4:12 . J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, 1875, p. 9; J. Keble, Sermons from Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 395.Ecclesiastes 4:13 . J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 234; New Manual of Sunday-school Addresses, p. 1. 4 C. Bridges, An Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 79. 4, 5 G. G. Bradley, Lectures on Ecclesiastes, p. 79.

Verses 1-16

Ecclesiastes 4:1-5:7

I. In the fourth chapter Koheleth comes to the conclusion that life is essentially and irretrievably wretched wretched not because (as he had formerly thought) it would so soon be over, but wretched because it lasted too long. All that pleasure did for him was thus to increase his gloom. There was one thing he had forgotten in making out his programme: he had forgotten the miseries of other people. The prosperity he secured for himself did not remove their adversity, but only brought it out into more startling relief. He was infected by their wretchedness, for in the midst of all his dissipation he had preserved a kindly heart. "I considered," he says, "the tears of those who are oppressed, and who have no comforter." The oppression of the poor by the rich was one of the most characteristic phases of Oriental society. To be poor was to be weak, and to be weak was to be reduced more or less into the condition of a slave.

II. In Ecclesiastes 5:4 Koheleth makes a new departure. He remarks that greed is at the bottom of a good deal of human misery. All work, he says, and all dexterity in work, is due to envy, to a jealous determination to outstrip our neighbours, to what Mallock calls the "desire for inequality." In contrast to the career of selfish isolation, Koheleth describes the advantages of sympathetic co-operation with one's fellow-men. We should not, he says, strive against one another, each for his own good; we should strive with one another, each for the good of the whole. Co-operation is preferable to competition.

III. It now occurs to Koheleth that we may perhaps find some help in religious observances. He has already pointed out to us how we are hemmed in on all sides by limitations and restrictions. It must evidently be important what attitude we assume towards the Power which thus checks and thwarts us. Take care, he says, how you go into the house of God, how you perform your sacrifices, and prayers, and vows. He teaches us, as wise men have always taught, that obedience is better than sacrifice. Again, the value of prayer depends not on its length, but on its sincerity. Speak only out of the fulness of your heart. God is not to be trifled with. He cannot be deluded into mistaking for worship what is mere idle talk.

A. W. Momerie, Agnosticism, p. 204.

References: Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 . J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 174; T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 101.Ecclesiastes 4:1-8 . R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 136. Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 . J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 196. Ecclesiastes 4:5 , Ecclesiastes 4:6 . J. H. Cooke, The Preacher's Pilgrimage, p. 54.Ecclesiastes 4:9 , Ecclesiastes 4:10 . R. D. B. Rawnsley, Sermons for the Christian Year, p. 512; C. J. Vaughan, Memorials of Harrow Sundays, p. 16. Ecclesiastes 4:9-16 . R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons; p. 150. Ecclesiastes 4:12 . J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, 1875, p. 9; J. Keble, Sermons from Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 395.Ecclesiastes 4:13 . J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 234; New Manual of Sunday-school Addresses, p. 1. 4 C. Bridges, An Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 79. 4, 5 G. G. Bradley, Lectures on Ecclesiastes, p. 79.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/ecclesiastes-4.html.