On to Ecclesiastes 4:1-8
v1: Returned and considered: This verse ushers in a major change. Solomon has pursued knowledge and wisdom. They didn’t satisfy him. He then pursued pleasure. That too left him empty. Up to this point, his pursuits have been self-centred. Now he sets his attention on all the affliction in the world, those who are suffering (possibly the equivalent of today’s social justice movements – Solomon is now more outwardly focused and outward thinking).
Note 1: He looks at oppression from two perspectives – from the perspective of those who are being oppressed or exploited (“the tears”) and from the perspective of those who are the oppressors (what would they gain from oppressing others?).
Note 2: Solomon had pursued plenty and now he was looking at those who were in lack – not only did these people have very little but they were also being oppressed by society and had no one to help them (“they have no comforter”).
- There was power: The oppressors had power and the means to carry out exploitation but, like the oppressed, they too had no comforter (this was common to both groups of people).
v2: I praised the dead: When we look at this world and see all the pain, suffering, oppression, crime, the barbaric things that people do to one another etc it is very depressing and has the potential to take away our hope if we focus on it.
- Already dead: Solomon, here, is not thinking about the afterlife. He is still seeing things from a worldly perspective – what he can see, touch, feel etc. Although these people have been cut off from all of the pain and suffering in this world, we need to think about the afterlife from a Scriptural perspective. We know that those who have died have gone to one of only two possible places – either they are in the Kingdom of G-d or in the place of eternal judgment. Obviously, those who are in this place of judgement are worse off than those who are still alive in this world (no matter how oppressed they are here or how much suffering they are going through).
v3: He who has never existed: Solomon concludes here thinking it is better just to be disconnected from this world – to have never been a part of it.
- Evil work: Things done against the will of G-d.
- Under the sun: Solomon is thinking from an earthly standpoint.
v4: Skillful work: Talent.
- All toil and every skillful work: What is a man’s motivation for doing these things? He wants to be envied by his neighbour. Hard work and talents exalt him or put him over/ahead of his neighbour. These individuals aren’t loving their neighbours. They’re not making sacrifices for them in order to be a blessing to them or to help them. On the contrary, they want to exalt themselves over them (Mark 12:30-31).
- Vanity: It is futile (and produces no good thing) when we covet, are jealous, envious, and always trying to outdo someone else (insecure by what they have and what we don’t have).
v5: All people are classified in only one of two ways – wise or foolish. A fool is someone who knows the truth (he might be brilliant intellectually), but he rebels against truth and rejects it. He knows what is right, but he wilfully chooses to do the opposite.
- Folds his hands: Stands by idly. He does not get involved in executing justice (Micah 6:8) or in being a power for righteousness in this world.
- Consumes his own flesh: When we do not act to aid other people, it eats at our flesh; meaning, it has a negative effect on us.
v6: Quietness: Within a Jewish context this is a word that alludes to the joy that is derived from seeing the success of others (especially our children, grandchildren etc).
- Both hands full: Doing so much work that we cannot stop to enjoy the simple pleasures or joys in life. This is futile and will leave us empty at the end of the day.
v7: I returned and I saw: In Eccl 3:1 Solomon had considered or thought about the plight of other people. Here he is not thinking about it but is seeing it first-hand (He’s getting involved).
v8: One alone: This individual is not married; he has no father or sons to provide for. He is living for himself, and wealth doesn’t satisfy him.
- There is no end to his labours: He has no one to provide for and yet he just continues to work and work and work.
- Nor is his eye satisfied with riches: He feels like he never has enough wealth or possessions etc.
- He never asks: ‘For whom…”: He’s alone because he doesn’t want to invest in other people – he doesn’t want to give of his time, energy, thoughts, or resources.
- Deprive myself: He has a shortage/lack in his soul. He has no pleasurable return from all of his labour. It doesn’t satisfy him.
- Grave misfortune: Evil affliction. To work in this unsatisfying way is against the will of G-d.
Note: Solomon knewfailure because he was pursuing the wrong things. He was not thinking about building the Kingdom of G-d but was thinking about building his own kingdom – for his own name, pleasure and glory.