Miseries from oppression. (1-3) troubles from envy. (4-6) The folly of covetousness. (7,8) The advantages of mutual assistance. (9-12) the changes of royalty. (13-16)
Verses 1-3 It grieved Solomon to see might prevail against right. Wherever we turn, we see melancholy proofs of the wickedness and misery of mankind, who try to create trouble to themselves and to each other. Being thus hardly used, men are tempted to hate and despise life. But a good man, though badly off while in this world, cannot have cause to wish he had never been born, since he is glorifying the Lord, even in the fires, and will be happy at last, for ever happy. Ungodly men have most cause to wish the continuance of life with all its vexations, as a far more miserable condition awaits them if they die in their sins. If human and worldly things were our chief good, not to exist would be preferable to life, considering the various oppressions here below.
Verses 4-6 Solomon notices the sources of trouble peculiar to well-doers, and includes all who labour with diligence, and whose efforts are crowned with success. They often become great and prosperous, but this excites envy and opposition. Others, seeing the vexations of an active course, foolishly expect more satisfaction in sloth and idleness. But idleness is a sin that is its own punishment. Let us by honest industry lay hold on the handful, that we may not want necessaries, but not grasp at both hands full, which would only create vexation of spirit. Moderate pains and gains do best.
Verses 7-8 Frequently, the more men have, the more they would have; and on this they are so intent, that they get no enjoyment from what they have. Selfishness is the cause of this evil. A selfish man cares for nobody; there is none to take care of but himself, yet he will scarcely allow necessary rest to himself, and the people he employs. He never thinks he has enough. He has enough for his calling, for his family, but he has not enough for his eyes. Many are so set upon the world, that in pursuit of it they bereave themselves, not only of the favour of God and eternal life, but of the pleasures of this life. The distant relations or strangers who inherit such a man's wealth, never thank him. Covetousness gathers strength by time and habit; men tottering on the brink of the grave, grow more grasping and griping. Alas, and how often do we see men professing to be followers of Him, who, "though he was rich, for our sakes became poor," anxiously scraping money together and holding it fast, excusing themselves by common-place talking about the necessity of care, and the danger of extravagance!
Verses 9-12 Surely he has more satisfaction in life, who labours hard to maintain those he loves, than the miser has in his toil. In all things union tends to success and safety, but above all, the union of Christians. They assist each other by encouragement, or friendly reproof. They warm each other's hearts while they converse together of the love of Christ, or join in singing his praises. Then let us improve our opportunities of Christian fellowship. In these things all is not vanity, though there will be some alloy as long as we are under the sun. Where two are closely joined in holy love and fellowship, Christ will by his Spirit come to them; then there is a threefold cord.
Verses 13-16 People are never long easy and satisfied; they are fond of changes. This is no new thing. Princes see themselves slighted by those they have studied to oblige; this is vanity and vexation of spirit. But the willing servants of the Lord Jesus, our King, rejoice in him alone, and they will love Him more and more to all eternity.
Ecclesiastes 4:1-16 .
1. returned--namely, to the thought set forth ( Ecclesiastes 3:16 , Job 35:9 ).
power--MAURER, not so well, "violence."
no comforter--twice said to express continued suffering without any to give comfort ( Isaiah 53:7 ).
2. 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 3:12 , 21:7 ), David ( Psalms 73:3 , &c.), Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 12:1 ), 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 Habakkuk 3:18 ). 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, to assure us, in spite of difficulties, that God governs the earth.
3. not seen--nor experienced.
4. right--rather, "prosperous" 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.
5. Still the
fool, the wicked oppressor who "folds his hands together" ( Proverbs 6:10 , 24:33 ), in idleness, living on the means he wrongfully wrests from others, is not to be envied even in this life; for such a one
eateth his own flesh--that is, is a self-tormentor, never satisfied, his spirit preying on itself ( Isaiah 9:20 , 49:26 ).
6. Hebrew; "One open hand (palm) full of quietness, than both closed hands full of travail." "Quietness" (mental tranquillity flowing from honest labor), opposed to "eating one's own flesh" ( Ecclesiastes 4:5 ), also opposed to anxious labor to gain ( Ecclesiastes 4:8 , Proverbs 15:16 Proverbs 15:17 , 16:8 ).
7. A vanity described in Ecclesiastes 4:8 .
8. not a second--no partner.
child--"son or brother," put for any heir ( Deuteronomy 25:5-10 ).
eye--( Ecclesiastes 1:8 ). The miser would not be able to give an account of his infatuation.
9. 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 ).
reward--Advantage accrues from their efforts being conjoined. The Talmud says, "A man without a companion is like a left hand without the right.
10. if they fall--if the one or other fall, as may happen to both, namely, into any distress of body, mind, or soul.
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
threefold cord--proverbial for a combination of many--for example, husband, wife, and children ( Proverbs 11:14 ); so Christians ( Luke 10:1 , Colossians 2:2 Colossians 2:19 ). Untwist the cord, and the separate threads are easily "broken."
13. The "threefold cord" ( Ecclesiastes 4:12 ) 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 Ghost, 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 , 9:2-9 ), he forsook God.
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 ).
14. out of prison--Solomon uses this phrase of a supposed case; for example, Joseph raised from a dungeon to be lord of Egypt. His words are at the same time so framed by the Holy Ghost 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 . . . becometh poor--rather, "though he (the youth) was born poor in his kingdom" (in the land where afterwards he was to reign).
15. "I considered all the living," the present generation, 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), that is, Rehoboam.
in his stead--the old king's.
16. Notwithstanding their now worshipping the rising sun, the heir-apparent, I reflected that "there were no bounds, no stability ( 2 Samuel 15:6 , 20:1 ), no check on the love of innovation, of all that have been before them," that is, the past generation; so
also they that come after--that is, 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.