-Solomon turns his attention back at all the acts of oppression which are being done under the sun. He noted the tears of the oppressed, and that they had no one to comfort them in this sad and unloving world. On the side of their oppressors was worldly power. It was grievous to contemplate this greedy situation leading the king to congratulate the dead whose suffering had ended. In fact, he considers those who have never existed to be better off than the living and the dead because of all the evil in this world. This is an impossibility indeed, but the hyperbole accentuates the problem of a marred creation with great effect. Solomon next makes an astute observation as to why these awful conditions exist in human society. He states, “I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry (qin'ah- ardor, zeal, jealousy) between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after the wind (Ecclesiastes 4:1-4).”
-*Application* Paul will later state in Philippians that we as Christians should do NOTHING from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but instead do EVERYTHING with humility of mind regarding others as more important than ourselves like Christ did (Philippians 2:3-8). We should not merely look out for our own personal interests, but truly care about the interests of others, especially those who are suffering and oppressed. Rivalry is still a huge problem in our world, and unfortunately, I’ve seen it exceptionally strong even in the American church. Satan is excellent at dividing the brethren, and all humanity, by means of jealousy, greed, and lust for power. God’s true Kingdom is a whole lot different than that. God’s law revolves around loving Him and our neighbor as much as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14).
-Solomon goes on from his lamenting over the problem of evil in the world to a statement on a foolish person who folds his hands and consumes his own flesh with the wanton practices of a sluggard. But, he concludes that one hand full of rest is better off than two fists of anger and full of labor, which amounts to striving after the wind. He looked again at the vanity under the sun to see certain men without dependents, having neither son nor a brother to share their inheritance. These types of people had no end to their labor because of their dissatisfaction and ambition for fading riches. They just kept laboring and depriving themselves of pleasure, or enjoyment, in life, which was vanity and a grievous task (Ecclesiastes 4:5-8).
*Application* The answer for us to consider is to work hard, but use moderation and enjoy life at appropriate times. As they say, we must, “Stop and smell the roses.” Life is too short to be overly ambitious for temporal things.
-Unity becomes the next theme as Solomon rightly concludes that two are better than one as to having a good return for their labor. If one falls, the other can lift up his companion. He pronounces woe to the one who falls alone with no one to help him up. Furthermore, when two lie down together they can keep warm, but it is much more difficult alone. Any survival tactic will agree with this scientific fact. A person can be overpowered if he/she is alone, but two can resist much more effectively. “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).”
*Application* We all need each other, and close friends are often hard to find. When we can get connected to righteous people that we can trust, we have found a treasure. Let’s take time to appreciate our real companions today and tell them how much we love them. They strengthen and encourage us more than we often give them credit for.
-Receiving instruction is so important as the Preacher continues. It is better to be a poor yet wise lad than to be an old, cynical, foolish king that thinks he knows it all. There is definitely some ambiguity to the next verse in fourteen as the pronoun he could refer to one of the previous individuals in verse thirteen, or it could be a rival to the throne of some other sort. Whoever the “he” is, he comes from out of prison to ascend to the throne as king, even though he was poor beforehand in his kingdom. Solomon sees the masses throng to the side of this second lad who replaces him, whoever that may be. Whatever the case, there is no end to the people, to all who were before them, and even the ones who will come later that are not happy with him. This ambiguous situation is vanity and chasing after the wind too (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16).
*Application* Advancement to the top in whatever situation is meaningless without the understanding of why the LORD has advanced us. Position, popularity, and prestige are all poor goals in and of themselves for a person’s life work. People are fickle and change their minds on a whim. To get true direction we are to place our identity in Christ. His love never changes, and He declares us worthy of sacrifice.
Verses to Memorize: Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12-13