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Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #5 Life Just Isn’t Fair -Ecclesiastes 4

09 Mar

When Solomon first examined life “under the sun,” his viewpoint was detached and philosophical (1:4-11); his conclusion was that life was meaningless and monotonous. But when he examined the question again, he went to where people really lived and discovered that life was not that simple. As he observed real people in real situations, the king had to deal with some painful facts, like life and death, time and eternity, and the final judgment.

Phillips Brooks, Anglican Bishop of Massachusetts a century ago, told ministerial students to read three “books”: the Book of Books, the Bible; the book of nature; and the book of mankind. The ivory tower investigator will never have a balanced view of his subject if he remains in his ivory tower. Learning and living must be brought together.

In this chapter, Solomon recorded his observations from visiting four different places and watching several people go through a variety of experiences. His conclusion was that life is anything but monotonous, for we have no idea what problems may come to us on any given day. No wonder he wrote, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27:1, nkjv).

On June 17, 1966, two men strode into the Lafayette Grill in Paterson, NJ and shot three people to death. Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a celebrated boxer, and an acquaintance, were falsely charged and wrongly convicted of the murders in a highly publicized and racially charged trial. The fiercely outspoken boxer maintained his claim of innocence and became his own jailhouse lawyer. After serving nineteen years, Carter was released. Nevertheless, Carter lost the most productive years of his life, between the ages of twenty-nine and fifty. He was deprived of his career, his wife, and seeing his children grow up.109

This real-life account makes me angry. I hate injustice. I hate knowing that innocent men and women will go to prison. I hate knowing that 85% of convicted murderers will be released. I hate knowing that children are being forced into prostitution and slavery. I hate abortion. I hate knowing that women are being physically and verbally abused. I hate racism. I hate age discrimination. I hate death. Yet, tragically, our world is full of those things that you and I hate. Therefore, we need to talk about the unpopular topics of death, injustice, hopelessness, and judgment because they stare us in the face every day of our lives.

In Eccl 3:16-4:3,110 Solomon cries out for justice, yet his cry seems to fall on deaf ears. Therefore, he concludes life is harsh and then you die. Now you may be thinking, “Oh, great, another encouraging sermon from Pastor Bah Humbug! Maybe I should stop reading before I collapse in depression and pessimism.” I freely acknowledge that no pastor in his right mind would choose to preach this text. Yet, in this passage I actually find meaning and motivation to live life

1. Injustice should move us to humility (3:16-22).

In these seven verses, Solomon tells us that life’s injustices should break us and then shape us so that we are humble before God and others.111 In 3:16 he writes, “Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness.” The word “furthermore” connects this passage with 3:1-15, where Solomon stated that God’s timing is everything. “Furthermore” also marks a change in emphasis, for now Solomon is going to air a few grievances. Solomon’s observations are rather discouraging. He declares that life “under the sun” is filled with “wickedness.” The “place of justice” refers to the law courts.112 However, there Solomon sees injustice and oppression where the rights of the poor ought to be protected. Instead, the innocent are declared guilty and the guilty innocent. This is an application of Murphy’s Law: Although we may long for justice and righteousness, we inevitably end up with wickedness instead.

This hard truth is important for us to come to grips with. Sometimes bad guys win and good guys suffer. Johnny Christian doesn’t always score the touchdown and Paul Pagan doesn’t always fumble the ball. That’s a fact. Do you have a problem with that? Would you rather have a “perfect” universe? Wouldn’t it be great if, after a driver ran you off the road, his car would break down five minutes later? Or if someone cheated you in business, he would go bankrupt the next month? Or if someone got angry and yelled at you, her teeth would fall out that night? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? It certainly would be from a fleshly perspective, but unfortunately you’d have to live in that same “perfect” universe. So if you gossiped about someone, your tongue would turn green. Every time you lusted after another person, more of your hair would fall out. Every time you spent money on something you didn’t need to, the food in your refrigerator would rot overnight. Would you want to live in a world like that? None of us want that kind of instant justice from God. Yet, God’s patience with sin is an incredible blessing. If God was not so patient all of us would come under His immediate judgment.113 We would be wiped out in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, God grants us His mercy and grace. This should lead us to want to be more merciful and gracious with others, to have compassion for those who are in the grips of sin and under the influence of the curse. If these reminders don’t work, then remind yourself that life is harsh and then you die.

While wickedness seems to have run the score up on righteousness 105-0, ultimately, God gets His due because He is in control of the affairs of men. In 3:17 Solomon writes, “I said to myself, ‘God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,’ for a time for every matter and for every deed is there” (The word “there” is shorthand for God’s eternal judgment.114) Solomon informs us that God will judge. Sometimes He judges people in this life; sometimes He does not. But payday is coming someday! Wrong will not go unpunished, and right will not go unrewarded, forever. In the end, Jesus Christ will judge all people. Psalm 37:12-13 tells us, “The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He knows their day is coming” (NIV). God gets the last laugh. While we may not see it in time, justice will be carried out in eternity.

Unfortunately, that is not always very satisfying. We hate it when someone “gets away with it.” Solomon tells us that in truth, nobody gets away with it. Paul Harvey illustrated this point when he told about a man named Gary Tindle who was charged with robbery. While standing in the California courtroom of Judge Armando Rodriguez, Tindle asked permission to go to the bathroom. He was escorted upstairs to the bathroom and the door was guarded while he was inside. But Tindle, determined to escape, climbed up the plumbing, opened a panel on the ceiling, and started slithering through the crawl space, heading south. He had traveled some thirty feet when the ceiling panels broke under him, and he dropped to the floor—right back in Judge Rodriguez’s courtroom! When the guilty seem to have escaped judgment, it’s only for a short moment and a short crawl. They will find themselves before the Judge once again in time. Sooner or later, the wheels of God righteousness will right every wrong, balance every scale, and correct every injustice in the world.115

Turning his eyes back toward earth, Solomon imparts a principle: Injustice reminds us that we are mortal. In 3:18-20 he writes, “I said to myself concerning the sons of men, ‘God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.’ For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.” As you can imagine, these verses have been used to support the evolutionary theory. While some of us may think, look, and act like monkeys, that is not the point of these verses. Solomon is not making a blanket comparison between humans and animals. He is merely saying that we both die.116 A better translation of the word “tested” is “make clear.”117 The point is that God allows human injustice to exist in the world in order to make it clear to us that we are just like animals in the sense that we are going to die. Life is harsh and then you die.

When I was growing up, I had a soft spot for animals. My whole family has always loved animals. In fact, the year I was born, my dad was voted the best amateur nature photographer in the world.118 Consequently, I could never get myself to hunt and kill any animal. Now, don’t get me wrong or call me late for dinner; I am glad to eat the meat of hunters, I just don’t want to be the one to pull the trigger. Believe it or not, while I was growing up I also had a soft spot for insects. I found it hard to kill bugs with my bare hands and feet, so I just sucked them up with our vacuum cleaner. I recognize that I am walking contradiction: I am particularly fond of football, boxing, and mixed marital arts, yet I don’t want to kill any insects. Go figure! But I will tell you this: Today, whenever I accidentally squish an insect, I can’t help but think that my life is every bit as fragile. Life is harsh and then you die.

In 3:21 Solomon postulates, “Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?” Solomon here considers this question empirically, with only his senses and his three-pound brain to guide him. And with the brute facts before him and us, we can’t prove a thing. At best, it is a guess. If we are only to consider what we can see, taste, touch, hear, and smell, your guess is as good as mine. From Solomon’s perspective, maybe all dogs do go to heaven and all people go to be meat on a shishkabob. Who knows? Everyone has their own guess when left to their own finite brains.119

The point of 3:21 is this: Most of us behave as though we had endless time and close our eyes to the fact of death. God wants us to face that fact (3:18). Even in our Christian service of God there may be the underlying idea that there is still plenty of time tomorrow, and what we fail to do here can be made up in our service in paradise. So Solomon challenges those who live as though they are immortal and are never to be accountable to God (3:16-17).120

So “who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?” Who can know the truth about the resurrection? The answer is “No one can!” No one can “under heaven” or “under the sun.” So who knows? GOD KNOWS…So the question then becomes: do you know the one who knows? Today, the God of heaven and earth offers you a relationship with Himself through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. If you desire such a relationship, trust in Christ as your Savior from sin.

Just to summarize: You may be successful, powerful, wealthy, talented, and personable, and when all is said and done, you’re going to die just like Bootsie the dog or Gilbert the hamster—whatever pet your kids talked you into that you currently regret. Okay, so who cares what you do, because in the end there’s no difference between you and the animal. You both die. Remember, life is harsh and then you die.

Fortunately, in the closing verse of chapter 3, Solomon encourages us to enjoy life in spite of the world’s injustice. He observes, “I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him [his death]?” (3:22) I love this verse. I’ve checked the Hebrew word “happy” in several lexicons. I’ve considered its Aramaic cognate and I’ve discovered that “happy” literally means “happy.” God wants us to be happy in the midst of this miserable life. The word “lot” or “portion” conveys the sense of the limitations of life. The portion is like an inherited plot of land that one has to work. Toil is inevitable, it is part of the heritage of your portion, but from that very same lot you may find enjoyment.121 Your lot in life may be a small family, a small-fry job, and a small-time neighborhood, yet when you are gone there is no portion to enjoy. So you need to enjoy your life NOW, despite its injustices and trials.

In 2004, The Nation magazine profiled an Alabama woman who works as a nursing assistant at a nursing home for $700 a month. She works the night shift, emptying bedpans, tending the bedridden, mopping floors, and doing other tasks beyond her job description because the place is understaffed. She can’t afford a car, so she pays someone else to drive her thirteen miles to work. If that person doesn’t show up, she walks. Better to walk than to call in sick and probably lose her job, she says. She lives alone with her three children in a shack. There is no phone. The toilet is in the floor. The heater is broken. But she likes her work. She likes to make the residents smile.122

This story convicts me. It breaks me and humbles me to dust! It motivates me to ensure that I enjoy my life. After all, I have nothing to complain about.

  • What is your unjust disadvantage? Don’t answer with a list of petty irritations, but think in terms of major handicaps in your life that you feel have been inflicted upon you unfairly.
  • When do you plan to replace passive self-pity with active courage? If you have not already begun to turn from a destructive, woe-is-me attitude, to a constructive, enjoy-life now posture, then start today. The Lord will give you the power to make the change, but you must avail yourself of it through prayer and action.
  • Have you ever considered the impact your distinctive message could have on the world around you? The Lord can use your disadvantage—be it physical, emotional, mental, financial, or anything else—to positively impact the lives of others. The only thing that stands in the way is your attitude. Will you change it today?123

[Solomon has informed us that injustice should move us to humility. Now, in 4:1-3, he gives us another one of his favorite buckets of cold water…oppression.]

2. Oppression should move us to action (4:1-3).

(Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 NIV)  “Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed– and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors– and they have no comforter. {2} And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. {3} But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.”

Men and women are oppressed in every area of life: business, marriage, family, relationships, and church. Wherever there is power, there is the potential and likelihood that it will be abused. In 4:1-3 Solomon observes, “Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.” These three verses are depressing. Nevertheless, we must recognize that Solomon is using hyperbole (i.e., a deliberate exaggeration) to shake us to the core of our being. He uses forms of the word “oppressed” three times in three verses. He is deeply grieved by what he observes. This is the reason for his extreme language. These verses are not a call to suicide or abortion. They are simply the journal of a man expressing pain and devastation over all of the oppression in the world. Life is harsh and then you die. These words reverberate through my mind and soul.

Many of us as Americans have no idea of what it really means to be oppressed. We can be sure though, that in other parts of the world many know all too well what Solomon is talking about. Nowhere is heartbreaking oppression more evident than in the communist nation of North Korea. An estimated 100,000 Christians are being imprisoned and tortured at the hands of the ruthless Kim Jung II.124 There are 400,000 Christians in North Korea and one out of four are prison camps. This is brutal!

This past Monday, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Lori and I spent some time explaining to our kids who Dr. King was and why he was murdered. After sharing his life with our children, I was filled with frustration over the unrighteousness of mankind. To think that Americans have oppressed people over skin color is one of the most asinine things I have ever heard. It is an atrocity! What is worse is that many Christians were and are guilty of prejudicial behavior. Into the late 1960s, some Bible colleges and seminaries would not allow African-Americans to attend their schools. Today, various African-Americans are some of the greatest preachers on this planet.

Not only is there persecution and racism, there is also poverty. The Anchor Bible Dictionary catalogs six categories of the poor in the Old Testament and counts the number of references for each:

  • Peasant farmers, mentioned forty-eight times
  • Beggars, mentioned sixty-one times
  • The “lazy poor,” cited thirteen times, mostly in the book of Proverbs
  • Low-income laborers, mentioned twenty-two times
  • The politically exploited and oppressed, mentioned eighty times, the most in the Old Testament.125

In our country, 35% of individuals make less than $25,000. This is also true for 28% of households.126 Many people work for a low wage and no benefits. And many of these people aren’t lazy. They are just working jobs that do not pay well. They may also have recovered from some difficult circumstances along the way. There are many recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners, abuse victims, etc. Many of these people are trying to start over; however, it is not an easy road.

The above realities can prove to be overwhelming. Our temptation is to say, “Where do we even start?” It seems like we can’t make a dent into these oppressive problems. Indeed, it certainly does seem that way, doesn’t it? Even so, we are not responsible to do away with all the oppression of the world—only God can do that. We are merely responsible to do our little part.

One of my favorite cartoons shows two turtles in the midst of a conversation. One says, “Sometimes I’d like to ask God why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice when He could do something about it.” The other turtle says, “I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.”127

Ten years ago, a friend of mine and a former Green Beret gave me his beret pin, which in Latin reads:

De Oppresso Liber. This phrase means, “To free the oppressed.” Since he gave me this pin, I have kept it in my office to the left of my computer. I want to be reminded of the responsibility I bear.

Yes, we live in a world of injustice and oppression. Maybe you have been a victim of some form of abuse. Perhaps you were raped, molested, or fired from your job. Some of greatest movements have come from those who were cheated or treated unfairly. Candy Lightner founded MADD in 1980 after her daughter, Cari, was killed by a repeat drunk driving offender. Cindy Lamb whose daughter, Laura, became the nation’s youngest quadriplegic at the hands of a drunk driver soon joined Candy in her crusade to save lives. Consequently, thousands of lives have been saved.128 John Walsh and his wife, Revé, suffered the most horrendous loss that any parents could endure: the abduction and murder of their beautiful six-year-old son, Adam. Since that day in 1981, the founder of Americas Most Wanted has dedicated himself to fighting on behalf of children and all crime victims. As a result, thousands of victims have found justice, and dozens of abducted children have been safely brought home.129

You can make a difference in at least one person’s life. You can have a testimony, a ministry, an influence, and an impact. One of our church’s mission strategies is to “lead the world.” We do that by loving one lost person at a time toward Christ. Will you allow the injustices of this world to move you to action? Will you say, “Enough is enough! I want to make a difference in one person’s life?”

In the movie The Last Emperor, the young child anointed as the last emperor of China lives a life of luxury with 1,000 servants at his command. “What happens when you do wrong?” his brother asks. “When I do wrong, someone else is punished,” the boy emperor replies. To demonstrate, he breaks a jar, and one of the servants is beaten. In Christianity, Jesus reversed that ancient pattern: when the servants erred, the King was punished.130

In the courtroom (ECCL. 4:1-3)

“Politics” has been defined as “the conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” The nation of Israel had an adequate judicial system (Ex. 18:13-27; Deut. 17; 19), based on divine Law; but the system could be corrupted just like anything else (5:8). Moses warned officials to judge honestly and fairly (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17), and both the prophet and the psalmist lashed out against social injustice (Ps. 82; Isa. 56:1; 59:1ff; Amos 1-2). Solomon had been a wise and just king (1 Kings 3:16-28), but it was impossible for him to guarantee the integrity of every officer in his government.

Solomon went into a courtroom to watch a trial, and there he saw innocent people being oppressed by power-hungry officials. The victims wept, but their tears did no good. Nobody stood with them to comfort or assist them. The oppressors had all the power and their victims were helpless to protest or ask for redress.

The American orator Daniel Webster once called justice “the ligament which holds civilized beings and … nations together.” The “body politic” in Solomon’s day had many a torn ligament!

The king witnessed three tragedies: (1) oppression and exploitation in the halls of justice; (2) pain and sorrow in the lives of innocent people; and (3) unconcern on the part of those who could have brought comfort. So devastated was Solomon by what he saw that he decided it was better to be dead than to be alive and oppressed. In fact, one was better off if never having been born at all. Then one would never have to see the evil works of sinful man.

Why didn’t Solomon do something about this injustice? After all, he was the king. Alas, even the king couldn’t do a great deal to solve the problem. For once Solomon started to interfere with his government and reorganize things, he would only create new problems and reveal more corruption. This is not to suggest that we today should despair of cleaning out political corruption. As Christian citizens, we must pray for all in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-6) and do what we can to see that just laws are passed and fairly enforced. But it’s doubtful that a huge administrative body like the one in Israel would ever be free of corruption, or that a “crusader” could improve the situation.

Edward Gibbon, celebrated author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, said that political corruption was “the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty.” Perhaps he was right; for where there is freedom to obey, there is also freedom to disobey. Some of Solomon’s officials decided they were above the law, and the innocent suffered.

  1. In the marketplace (ECCL. 4:4-8)

(Ecclesiastes 4:4-8 NIV)  “And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. {5} The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. {6} Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. {7} Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: {8} There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless– a miserable business!”

Disgusted with what he saw in the “halls of justice,” the king went down to the marketplace to watch the various laborers at work. Surely he would not be disappointed there, for honest toil is a gift from God. Even Adam had work to do in the Garden (Gen. 2:15), and our Lord was a carpenter when He was here on earth (Mark 6:3). Solomon considered four different kinds of men.

The industrious man (v. 4).

It was natural for Solomon first to find a laborer who was working hard. For, after all, had not the king extolled the virtues of hard work in the Book of Proverbs? The man was not only busy, but he was skillful in his work and competent in all he did. He had mastered the techniques of his trade.

So much for the worker’s hands; what about his heart? It was here that Solomon had his next disappointment. The only reason these people perfected their skills and worked hard at their jobs was to compete with others and make more money than their neighbors. The purpose of their work was not to produce beautiful or useful products, or to help people, but to stay ahead of the competition and survive in the battle for bread.

God did not put this “selfishness factor” into human labor; it’s the result of sin in the human heart. We covet what others have; we not only want to have those things, but we want to go beyond and have even more. Covetousness, competition, and envy often go together. Competition is not sinful of itself, but when “being first” is more important than being honest, there will be trouble. Traditional rivalry between teams or schools can be a helpful thing, but when rivalry turns into riots, sin has entered the scene.

The idle man (vv. 5-6).

Solomon moved from one extreme to the other and began to study a man who had no ambition at all. Perhaps the king could learn about life by examining the antithesis, the way scientists study cold to better understand heat. It must have been difficult for him to watch an idle man, because Solomon had no sympathy for lazy people who sat all day with folded hands and did nothing. (See Prov. 18:9, 19:15, 24:30-34.)

Solomon learned nothing he didn’t already know: laziness is a slow comfortable path toward self-destruction. It may be pleasant to sleep late every morning and not have to go to work, but it’s unpleasant not to have money to buy the necessities of life. “‘Let me sleep a little longer!’ Sure, just a little more! And as you sleep, poverty creeps upon you like a robber and destroys you; want attacks you in full armor” (Prov. 6:10-11, tlb). Paul stated it bluntly: “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thes. 3:10).

The industrious man was motivated by competition and caught in the rat race of life. He had no leisure time. The idle man was motivated by pleasure and was headed for ruin. He had no productive time. Is there no middle way between these two extremes? Yes, there is.

The integrated man (v. 6).

Here was a man whose life was balanced: he was productive in his work, but he was also careful to take time for quietness. He did not run in the rat race, but neither did he try to run away from the normal responsibilities of life. A 1989 Harris survey revealed that the amount of leisure time enjoyed by the average American had shrunk 37 percent from 1973. This suggests that fewer people know how to keep life in balance. They are caught in the rat race and don’t know how to escape.

Why have both hands full of profit if that profit costs you your peace of mind and possibly your health? Better to have gain in one hand and quietness in the other. When a heart is controlled by envy and rivalry, life becomes one battle after another (James 3:13-4:4, and see Prov. 15:16). Paul’s instructions about money in 1 Timothy 6 is applicable here, especially verse 6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

The industrious man thinks that money will bring him peace, but he has no time to enjoy it. The idle man thinks that doing nothing will bring him peace, but his life-style only destroys him. The integrated man enjoys both his labor and the fruit of his labor and balances toil with rest. You can take what you want from life, but you must pay for it.

The independent man (vv. 7-8).

Then Solomon noticed a solitary man, very hard at work, so he went to question him. The king discovered that the man had no relatives or partners to help him in his business, nor did he desire any help. He wanted all the profit for himself. But he was so busy, he had no time to enjoy his profits. And, if he died, he had no family to inherit his wealth. In other words, all his labor was in vain.

The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” But the independent man never stopped long enough to ask himself: “For whom am I working so hard? Why am I robbing myself of the enjoyments of life just to amass more and more money?” The industrious man was at least providing employment for people, and the idle man was enjoying some leisure, but the independent man was helping neither the economy nor himself.

Solomon’s conclusion was, “This too is meaningless—a miserable business!” (v. 8, niv) God wants us to labor, but to labor in the right spirit and for the right reasons. Blessed are the balanced!

  1. On the highway (ECCL. 4:9-12)

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NIV)  “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: {10} If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! {11} Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? {12} Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Solomon’s experience with the independent man caused him to consider the importance of friendship and the value of people doing things together. He may have recalled the Jewish proverb, “A friendless man is like a left hand bereft of the right.” Perhaps he watched some pilgrims on the highway and drew the conclusion, “Two are better than one.”

Two are certainly better than one when it comes to working (v. 9) because two workers can get more done. Even when they divide the profits, they still get a better return for their efforts than if they had worked alone. Also, it’s much easier to do difficult jobs together because one can be an encouragement to the other.

Two are better when it comes to walking (v. 10). Roads and paths in Palestine were not paved or even leveled, and there were many hidden rocks in the fields. It was not uncommon for even the most experienced traveler to stumble and fall, perhaps break a bone, or even fall into a hidden pit (Ex. 21:33-34). How wonderful to have a friend who can help you up (or out). But if this applies to our physical falls, how much more does it apply to those times when we stumble in our spiritual walk and need restoration (Gal. 6:1-2)? How grateful we should be for Christian friends who help us walk straight.

Two are better than one when it comes to warmth (v. 11). Two travelers camping out, or even staying in the courtyard of a public inn, would feel the cold of the Palestinian night and need one another’s warmth for comfort. The only way to be “warm alone” is to carry extra blankets and add to your load.

Finally, two are better than one when it comes to their watchcare, especially at night (v. 12). “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves” (v. 12, niv). It was dangerous for anyone to travel alone, day or night; most people traveled in groups for fellowship and for safety. Even David was grateful for a friend who stepped in and saved the king’s life (2 Sam. 21:15-17).

Solomon started with the number one (v. 8), then moved to two (v. 9), and then closed with three (v. 12). This is typical of Hebrew literature (Prov. 6:16; Amos 1:3, 6, 9, etc.). One cord could be broken easily; two cords would require more strength; but three cords woven together could not be easily broken. If two travelers are better than one, then three would fare even better. Solomon had more than numbers in mind; he was also thinking of the unity involved in three cords woven together—what a beautiful picture of friendship!

  1. In the palace (ECCL. 4:13-16)

(Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 NIV)  “Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning. {14} The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. {15} I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. {16} There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

This is Solomon’s fourth “better” statement (4:3, 6, 9), introducing a story that teaches two truths: the instability of political power and the fickleness of popularity. The king in the story had at one time heeded his counselors’ advice and ruled wisely, but when he got old, he refused to listen to them. The problem was more than pride and senility. He was probably surrounded by a collection of “parasites” who flattered him, isolated him from reality, and took from him all they could get. This often happens to weak leaders who are more concerned about themselves than about their people.

There is a hero in the story, a wise youth who is in prison. Perhaps he was there because he tried to help the king and the king resented it. Or maybe somebody in the court lied about the youth. (That’s what happened to Joseph. See Gen. 39.) At any rate, the youth got out of prison and became king. Everybody cheered the underdog and rejoiced that the nation at last had wise leadership.

Consider now what this story says. The young man was born poor, but he became rich. The old king was rich but it didn’t make him any wiser, so he might just as well have been poor. The young man was in prison, but he got out and took the throne. The old king was imprisoned in his stupidity (and within his circle of sycophants) and lost his throne. So far, the moral of the story is: Wealth and position are no guarantee of success, and poverty and seeming failure are no barriers to achievement. The key is wisdom.

But the story goes on. Apparently the young man got out of prison and took the throne because of popular demand. “I have seen all the living under the sun throng to the side of the second lad who replaces him” [the old king] (v. 15, nasb). It looked like the new young king had it made, but alas, his popularity didn’t last. “He can become the leader of millions of people, and be very popular. But, then, the younger generation grows up around him and rejects him!” (v. 16, tlb) The new crowd deposed the king and appointed somebody else.

Oliver Cromwell, who took the British throne away from Charles I and established the Commonwealth, said to a friend, “Do not trust to the cheering, for those persons would shout as much if you and I were going to be hanged.” Cromwell understood crowd psychology!

Once again, Solomon drew the same conclusion: it is all “vanity and vexation of spirit” (see vv. 4 and 8).

No matter where Solomon went, no matter what aspect of life he studied, he learned an important lesson from the Lord. When he looked up, he saw that God was in control of life and balanced its varied experiences (3:1-8). When he looked within, he saw that man was made for eternity and that God would make all things beautiful in their time (3:9-14). When he looked ahead, he saw the last enemy, death. Then as he looked around (4:1-16), he understood that life is complex, difficult, and not easy to explain. One thing is sure: No matter where you look, you see trials and problems and people who could use some encouragement.

However, Solomon was not cynical about life. Nowhere does he tell us to get out of the race and retreat to some safe and comfortable corner of the world where nothing can bother us. Life does not stand still. Life comes at us full speed, without warning, and we must stand up and take it and, with God’s help, make the most of it.

If this chapter teaches us anything, it is that we need one another because “two are better than one.” Yes, there are some advantages to an independent life, but there are also disadvantages, and we discover them painfully as we get older.

The chapter also emphasizes balance in life. “Better is a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind” (v. 6, nkjv). It’s good to have the things that money can buy, provided you don’t lose the things that money can’t buy. What is it really costing you in terms of life to get the things that are important to you? How much of the permanent are you sacrificing to get your hands on the temporary?

Or, to quote the words of Jesus: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37).

Alone at the Top (Ecclesiastes 4:4-16)

Karoshi is a Japanese word which means “death from overwork.” The syndrome is now so common in Japan that it claims as many as 30,000 victims each year. Its increase has caused such concern that since 1990, the Japanese government has been forced to provide restitution to karoshi widows.132 As Americans, we hear this and we think to ourselves, “That’s crazy! What are these poor people thinking?” Yet, all the while many of us are working ourselves to death, either literally or figuratively. The question is, “Why?” What is driving us to work so hard and so long? Our natural temptation may be to claim, “I work hard and long to glorify God.” This may be true, but I would suggest for most of us it is only partially true. If the truth be known, many of us are working hard to climb the corporate ladder, to impress our boss, to meet our own expectations, and to make more money. However, working long and hard for these reasons can lead to bitter disappointment and possibly even a premature death. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Japanese people.

Fortunately, Solomon has a solution for us. In Eccl 4:4-16, he encourages us to work smarter not harder and longer. How do we work smarter not harder? We work smarter not harder by making three specific choices.

1. Choose contentment over achievement (4:4-6).

When I was growing, up my dad would always tell me, “Moderation in everything.” Solomon imparts this same truth in these first three verses. He discusses the workaholic, the lazy sluggard, and then strikes the biblical balance between these two extremes. In 4:4 he writes, “I have seen that every labor and every skill133 which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind.”134Solomon once again observes life. He is a student of human nature and activity. In his “people watching,” Solomon discovers that people compete with one another in everything. The twofold use of the word “every” undoubtedly means every type of labor and achievement rather than every individual instance of these things. The point is: much achievement is the result of a desire to be superior over others. We live in a constant state of competition. Research indicates that nine out of ten office workers suffer from “professional envy” of colleagues they perceive to have more glamorous or better paid jobs.135 What drives many people is to climb the corporate ladder and outdo others.

This quest to get ahead is also true in other areas of our lives. We want to be more successful than our neighbors and friends. The clothes that you’re wearing right now, you’re not wearing because you needed them but because you wanted others to see you in them. You didn’t purchase that new car because you needed a car; you purchased that car because you wanted to be seen in that vehicle. Solomon is saying that we all want to be noticed and we want to be the focus of attention. Therefore, we envy one another and compete with one another. Whether we care to admit it or not rivalry is a driving force in all of us.

Some of us realize the evils of envy and rivalry and determine that we will be different. We don’t want to be the kind of people who step on everyone else on our climb to the top so we drop out of any competitive endeavor. Yet, this is a dangerous extreme as well.136 In 4:5, Solomon shares a proverb:137“The fool folds his hands and consumes [lit. “eats”] his own flesh.” The language of this verse means lazy people eventually make cannibals of themselves.138 They will kill themselves with starvation. Of course, Solomon is being sarcastic and he is using hyperbole. He mocks the lazy! Since they do not raise any crops, they must eat their own flesh.139

In the 1960s, one generation got sick of the affluence of the 1950s. So this group bailed out and claimed the title of “flower children.” Everybody gave up ambition and the drive for financial success. They let their hair grow long, quit bathing, and just sat on the grass and hummed.140 Obviously, this is not the way to accomplish God’s purposes in the world. I would dare say this is sheer laziness and foolishness.

Reflecting on foolishness, please give careful attention to the word “fool” in 4:5. When we read the word “fool” in the Bible, it is natural to assume that the term means “idiot” or “buffoon.” After all, this is what our English word “fool” means. Yet, the biblical meaning of this word means something far worse. A fool is someone who denies God, scoffs at wisdom, and laughs at eternity. Foolishness is a theological stance, a show of contempt for God’s laws.141

God intends for mankind to work, particularly the church. This is why our church emphasizes the importance of a godly work ethic. We believe that everyone who is physically, mentally, and emotionally able should work. Paul said it best when he wrote to the church at Thessalonica, “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess 3:10). Elsewhere, Paul said, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col 3:23). The Bible is clear that we are to represent Christ in our work.

One day a mother walked in on her six-year-old son and found him sobbing. What’s the matter?” she asks. The boy replied, “I’ve just figured out how to tie my shoes.” “Well, honey, that’s wonderful. You’re growing up, but why are you crying?” “Because,” he says, “Now I’ll have to do it every day for the rest of my life.”142 Maybe you feel like this six-year-old boy. You’re a stay-at-home mom and you’ve recognized that you’re going to be doing the same tasks for what may seem the rest of your life. Perhaps you work a monotonous job, day in and day out, and it kills you to know that you may be working this job for the rest of your life. God wants you to know that there is glory in the grind. Shrug off laziness. Work like today is your last day of work, for it just might be. Work smarter not harder.

Solomon now strikes a balance between workaholism and laziness. His solution in 4:6 is: “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.” At first glance, it seems 4:6 contradicts 4:5; however, we must recognize that 4:6 like 4:5 is a proverb.143 The comparison is between anything with rest and anything with work.144 This is not an argument in favor of laziness but a call for balanced living.145 Blessed are the balanced! The wise person realizes that some things matter more than other things, that your career is not the measure of your self-worth, that having more money can’t replace the joy of spending time with people you love. Contentment means that you have everything you need right now. If you needed more, God would give it to you.146 Solomon is saying, “Rather than grasping for so much that you have to be a workaholic to get it, be content with less. It is better to have less and enjoy it more.” Our problem is not the high cost of living; it is the cost of high living. We want far too much. The cure is contentment, being willing to settle for less materially if it means we can have some “rest.”

A new store opened at Minnesota’s Mall of America, called MinneNAPolis. It rents comfy spots where weary shoppers can take naps for seventy cents a minute. The new store includes themed rooms such as Asian Mist, Tropical Isle, and Deep Space, and the walls are thick enough to drown out the sounds of squealing children outside. The company’s website says, “Escape the pressures of the real world into the pleasures of an ideal one.” Some guests will want to listen to music, put their feet up, watch the water trickling in the beautiful stone waterfall, breathe in the positive-ionization-filtered air, enjoy the full-body massager, and just take an enjoyable escape from the fast-paced lifestyle.147

Do you ever get tired of running in the rat race where only the rats win? A sign by the roadside carried this message: “I’m getting sick of the rat race. The rats keep getting bigger and faster.” How much more could we enjoy life if we were content with what the Lord has given us? How many families would cease to be divided and destroyed if parents stopped breaking their necks to give their kids a better life than they had? Let me close this section by giving you 4:6 in the Keith Krell Translation: “Rather than putting two hands in for eighty hours a week, why don’t you put in forty hours with one hand and with the other eat some bubble gum ice cream?”148 Work smarter not harder.

[Not only must we choose contentment over achievement, we must also…]

2. Choose relationships over riches (4:7-12).

These verses remind us that people should be our priority. If you are too busy for the people in your life that matter most, you are too busy. In 4:7-8 Solomon writes, “Then I looked again at vanity under the sun. There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, ‘And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?’ This too is vanity and it is a grievous task.” Do you know anyone like this? Of course you do! With that person in mind, I’d like to describe this person. This man believes in the value of hard work and the inherent dignity of a job well done. He’s probably married and has at least three children whose picture he carries in his wallet. He loves his wife and thinks about her more than she knows. It’s true he works long hours—often he’s gone by six in the morning and doesn’t come home until after seven at night. The pressures at work are so enormous that it takes him an hour or two to unwind, so he doesn’t spend much time talking in the evening. He’s so tired that it’s all he can do to read the paper, watch a little television, and then go wearily to bed. His blood pressure is too high, he knows he needs to exercise, his diet isn’t the best, and sometimes he’s irritable and snaps at his family—and regrets it later. It’s true that he works seventy hours a week, but he doesn’t think of himself as a workaholic. He simply loves his job—and he’s good at it. And thankfully, he is able to bring home a nice paycheck and provide good things for his family. One of these days he plans to slow down and smell the coffee—but not today. He gulps his coffee and heads for the door before his family knows he’s gone. One evening he comes home and his family is not there. While he was at work, the kids grew up, his wife went back to college and found a career of her own, his children moved out, and now the house is empty. He can’t believe it. The Board of Directors just named him CEO. Now there’s no one to share the good news with. He made it to the top—alone.149

Even if you are not a successful, high-powered CEO, you can probably relate to this man. It is so easy to become consumed with work. We all tend to suffer from the hurry syndrome. We are busy people…so busy that sometimes we miss the significant people right in front of us. How many mothers and fathers have shortchanged their children for $10,000 or $20,000 extra a year? How many young consultants make great money but don’t have friends because they travel every week? How many wealthy people have accumulated huge nest eggs but no friends?150 Do you have anyone to enjoy life with? Are you taking the time to smell the coffee? Are you truly enjoying your children? Do you have any trusted friends?

The need to have someone to enjoy life with prompts Solomon to touch on friendship and community. In 4:9-12, he lists several benefits of friendship.

  • Friends bring about good results in labor (4:9). Solomon writes, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.” Relationships grow out of shared work whether it is yard work, mission trips, service projects, or local church ministry. Two human souls combine their strength, creativity, talent, and ambition. There is something special about working together with at least one other person. There is a bond that takes place when people work or serve together. Who are you currently working with or serving with? Work smarter not harder.
  • Friends pick up one another in trouble (4:10). Solomon writes, “For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” America is the land of the lonely. We cultivate loneliness in our culture. We take pride in being independent and alone. We even have a Declaration of Independence. Men especially are raised with this sort of macho attitude. Yet, even men need other men. This is why I meet with two weekly men’s groups. In these two groups we have learned a number of truths about community: (1) relationships are valuable, (2) we need to trust one another, (3) real men share their feelings, (4) real men need accountability, and (5) real men need to learn from one another. Who are you currently encouraging and investing in? Work smarter not harder.
  • Friends warm one another in a cold world (4:11). Solomon writes, “Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?” If you are married, does your spouse have cold feet? My wife, Lori, has polar feet. One of my most difficult acts of service is to allow her to warm her feet on me. This is sheer unconditional agape love on my part. Of course, you may not be the sacrificial servant that I am, so you adjust the temperature on your waterbed or electric blanket. However, in Solomon’s time, cold was a much more serious issue. When forced to sleep in the open, or even in a tent, the more bodies that huddled together, the warmer all would be. So Solomon says that two are better than one in staying warm.151 Take two coals, heat them up and then separate them and what happens. Their heat will be extinguished. They cannot generate sufficient heat when they are alone. That is why it is so important for the church to meet together. We come together to create a bonfire of fellowship that we might set one another aflame with a zeal for serving the Lord. So who are you currently showing Christian love to? Work smarter not harder.
  • Friends hold up one another in adversity (4:12). Solomon closes his thoughts in this section with these words: “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” We need other people to give us strength in the midst of persecution and hardship. “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart” was a proverbial way of saying “there is strength in numbers.”152 We all face trials and tests of our faith. If you have no one to walk through these dark times with you, life will seem utterly impossible. Again, this is why involvement in a local church is so important. Are you currently bearing someone else’s burdens? Work smarter not harder.

[We must choose contentment over achievement and relationships over riches. Solomon now concludes by urging us to…]

3. Choose influence over popularity (4:13-16).

In this four verse parable, Solomon reminds us that popularity is fleeting; therefore, we are better to choose influence over popularity. The story goes like this: “A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction. For he has come out of prison to become king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom. I have seen all the living under the sun throng to the side of the second lad who replaces him. There is no end to all the people, to all who were before them, and even the ones who will come later will not be happy with him, for this too is vanity and striving after wind” (4:13-16). What is in view in this parable is a succession of kings, none of whom fully satisfies the populace. The point is that even though a young man may rise from the bottom of society to the top, not everyone will accept or appreciate him. Therefore, since it is impossible to achieve full acceptance it is foolish to spend one’s life seeking advancement and popularity. It is better to stay poor and wise. From this unimpressive position, it may be possible to influence more people than you ever thought possible. Influence must always trump popularity because popularity is temporal.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that life at the top is fleeting. Our attention span is short, our memories nonexistent, and our only question is, “What have you done for me lately?” Presidents and prime ministers may have extremely high approval ratings for a while, but they don’t last. Just ask President Bush. If the 18-0 Patriots lose today, their quarterback, Tom Brady, who is one of the greatest players in NFL history, will be a goat. Former Dallas Cowboy quarterback, Don Meredith, used to say about quarterbacks, “Today you are in the penthouse. Tomorrow you’re in the outhouse.”153 What is true of quarterbacks is also true of pastors, state workers, teachers, and small business owners. Popularity doesn’t last. Today’s heroes are tomorrow bums. Become president of the Rotary Club or PTA. Get elected chairman of your Homeowners Association. You’ll be doing great if more than half the people still like you when you’re done.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Winning the Super Bowl is the professional dream of every NFL player. It isn’t the money they make; a winner’s earnings from a Super Bowl appearance amount to less than a full game’s check for the average NFL player. It isn’t the Vince Lombardi trophy, which they don’t get to take home. It’s the fame, the respect, that moment of supreme glory. The players do receive a ring, and the Super Bowl ring is perhaps the most coveted prize of the world of sports—on par with an Olympic gold medal. But even such a ring may not last. Charlie Waters of the Dallas Cowboys found that out when his five Super Bowl rings were stolen from the closet in his home. Joe Gilliam won two Super Bowl rings as a member of the 1974 and 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers, but he pawned them off for a few dollars after being caught in a vicious cycle of drug addiction and homelessness. Another former Steeler, Rocky Bleier, sold his four rings to cover divorce and bankruptcy proceedings. The Cowboys’ Thomas Henderson had his Super Bowl XII ring seized to pay back taxes. Former Raiders All-Pro cornerback Lester Hayes sold his to pay for dental work. Mercury Morris of the Miami Dolphins sold his ring to raise money to clear his name during a drug-trafficking case.

That ring, symbolic of months and years of hard work crowned by a season at the top, is as fleeting as the glory it supposedly stands for. The hype may be spectacular, the TV ratings may be the biggest of the year, the commercial time a cost of millions…but the glory is fool’s gold. Its luster is quickly tarnished. As Houston sports writer Steve Campbell puts it, “One of the dirty secrets about the Super Bowl is that the winner’s high often has less of a shelf life than a container of cottage cheese.”154

Achievement, riches, and popularity can all expire on us like cottage cheese. These three pursuits are so temporary. In the end they are hebel—breath, vapor, mist, and utter futility. So work smarter not harder. Just trust God, love people, and enjoy life.


110 This precise passage breakdown is adopted by R.B.Y. Scott, Proverbs Ecclesiastes (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1995), 222-223.

111 Solomon returns to the theme of injustice in Eccl 5:8f.; 8:10-15; 9:13-16; 10:5-7; 10:16f.

112 Tremper Longman III, The Book of Ecclesiastes (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 125.

113 Tommy Nelson, The Problem of Life with God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 61.

114 Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (NAC; Nashville: Broadman, 1993).

See also the NET: “I thought to myself, ‘God will judge both the righteous and the wicked; for there is an appropriate time for every activity, and there is a time of judgment for every deed.’” See also Ps 14:5; Zeph 1:14.

115 David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 76.

116 Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes, 127.

117 Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament; Leicester, Eng., and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1983), 85-86. See also the NET: “I also thought to myself, ‘It is for the sake of people, so God can clearly show them that they are like animals.’”

118 The PSA (Photographic Society of America) awarded my dad, Richard Krell, for having the most pictures accepted for exhibition in international nature exhibitions throughout the world.

119 David Fairchild, “Justice Departed” (Eccl 3:16-4:3).

120 J. Stafford. Wright, “Ecclesiastes,” in Psalms-Song of Songs vol. 5 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), Electronic ed.

121 Choon Leon Seow, Ecclesiastes: A New Translation with Introduction (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1997), 176.

122 Ray Waddle, Against The Grain: Unconventional Wisdom From Ecclesiastes (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2005). 65.

123 Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge: Coming to Terms with Reality, Bible Study Guide (Fullerton, CA: Insight for Living, 1986), 35.

124 Open Doors, “North Korean Christians Being Tortured by the Thousands,” 24 January 2008.

125 Quoted in Waddle, Against The Grain, 64.

126 “Household Income in the United States”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United_States.

127 Peter John Kreeft quoted in Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 50.

128 “The History of MADD”: http://www.madd.org/About-us/About-us/History.aspx.

129 “About John Walsh”: http://www.amw.com/about_amw/john_walsh.cfm.

130 Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997),

132 Donald S. Whitney, “Rest for your Souls”: http://www.biblicalspirituality.org/weary.html.

133 Longman suggests the translation, “success or achievement.” Tremper Longman III, The Book of Ecclesiastes (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 136. The use of the Hebrew term kishron in Eccl 5:11 supports the translation “success.” See also NIV: “achievement.”

134 The phrase “vanity and striving after wind” (Eccl 4:4, 16) brackets this section.

135 Quoted in David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 87. See “Professional Jealousy Grips the Nation” 2 February 2004:

http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2004/02/02/22184/professional-jealousy-grips-the-nation.html.

136 Solomon’s words in 4:5 seems to be the opposite of 4:4. Thus, Eaton writes, “We pass from the rat-race with its hectic scramble for status symbols to the drop-out with his total indifference.” Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament; Leicester, Eng., and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1983), 93.

137 The phrase “folding of the hands” is used in Prov 6:10; 24:33.

138 Seow confirms the link to cannibalism and cites Lev 26:29; Deut 29:53; Jer 19:9; Ezek 39:28; Mic 3:3. Choon Leon Seow, Ecclesiastes: A New Translation with Introduction (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1997), 179.

139 See Prov 6:9-11; 10:4; 12:24; 19:15; 20:13; 24:30-34. Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes, 137.

140 Tommy Nelson, The Problem of Life with God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 65.

141 Ray Waddle, Against The Grain: Unconventional Wisdom From Ecclesiastes (Nashville: Upper Room, 2005). 68.

142 Preaching Today citation: John Ortberg, Leadership, Vol. 14, no. 3.

143 Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes, 138.

144 Seow, Ecclesiastes, 180.

145 If Solomon has to choose between the two options of workaholism and laziness, he would choose working hard with a contented heart. Elsewhere Solomon writes, “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov 17:1).

146 Ray Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun: Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living (Chicago: Moody, 1998), 123-124.

147 Sermon News: http://www.sermonnews.com/MembersOnlyStory.asp?ID=35.

148 Revised from Nelson, The Problem of Life with God, 66.

149 Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun, 125-126.

150 Nelson, The Problem of Life with God,67.

151 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 97.

152 Eccl 4:12 is often read at weddings with the threefold cord in marriage being understood as the bride, the groom, and Christ. However, jumping to such conclusions violates sound hermeneutical principles. The context of 4:9-12a (the value of “two” people in contrast to “one” and in climactic parallelism with “three”), correlated with similar teaching about two or three gathered together in Jesus’ name (Matt. 18:20), might legitimately suggest applying Eccl 4:12 to the importance of cooperation in the body of Christ. A careful distinction needs to be made between the primary interpretation and possible secondary applications today. William P. Brown, Ecclesiastes: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Interpretation; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 52-53.

153 Nelson, The Problem of Life with God, 69.

154 Quoted in Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 101.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2021 in Ecclesiastes

 

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