Things That Are Better, Ecc 4:1-16

In Ecc 4:1-16, Solomon, by observation, shows us some things that are better under the sun.

Ecc 4:1-3 In oppression, the dead are better than the living.  In countries where the people are oppressed, it is better to die than to keep living.  In North Korea, for example, the people are oppressed.  They cry tears, yet there is no one to comfort them.  Their oppressors are so powerful that they kill or imprison all of their political dissidents.  It is literally better to be dead than to live under those conditions.  And even better than being already dead is not to have been born at all, Job 3:3, 11.

Ecc 4:4-6 An handful with quietness is better than both the hands full with travail.  Three scenarios are contemplated in this passage.  On the one side, there is the hard working man who succeeds by legitimate travail.  He’s described as a man having “both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit”.  For his efforts he is envied of his neighbor.  According to Prov 27:4, “who is able to stand before envy”?  Joseph, Moses, and Jesus didn’t.

On the other extreme, there is the fool who just folds his hands and won’t work, Prov 6:10-11.  All he’ll have to eat is his own flesh, as in Is 9:20.  Among the Thessalonians, Paul warned that “if any would not work, neither should he eat”, 1 Thes 3:10.

Between these two is the best place to be.  It is better to have a handful with quietness.  This is better than having so much that you are envied of your neighbor, or so little that you have nothing but your own flesh to eat.

Ecc 4:7-12 Two are better than one.  When you are just one, in an agrarian society, you never stop working, because there is no retirement.  You work “till thou return unto the ground”, Gen 3:18.  Your riches won’t satisfy you, because they never do, Ecc 5:10.  Enough is never enough.  And you have no one but yourself to work for.  It’s like, “for whom do I labor, and bereave my soul of good”?

Likewise, if you fall, you have no one to lift you up; if you’re cold, you have no one to warm you; and if one attacks you, you have no one to help defend you.

When there are two of you, though, you have a good reward for your labor.  With a good partner, you can often do “better” than working alone.  If one falls, the other is there to help him up.  If two can lie together, they have heat.  I am reminded of soldiers in foxholes huddling together in winter to survive freezing nights.  And if someone attacks, there are two of you to defend against him.  And three are an even stronger defense.  My dad’s older brother could whip him and their younger brother when they were alone.  But he was no match for them when they were together.

Ecc 4:13-14 A poor, wise child is better than an old, foolish king.   Solomon stated this truth in v. 13 and then illustrated it in v.14.  A poor, wise child that came out of prison to reign was Joseph.  He is an excellent example.  An old, foolish king who would no more be admonished was the Pharaoh who ruled during the Exodus.

Joseph was poor; he was a slave.  But he was wise. And when he came out of prison, he became the second ruler in all of Egypt.  By his wisdom he saved the lives of all the Egyptians and even all of his own family.

The Pharaoh in Exodus was foolish and he destroyed his country.  He would not be admonished by Moses or even by his own servants, Ex 10:7.  Those born in his kingdom, v.14, became poor.  The Lord destroyed their crops and grazing land, the angel killed their firstborn sons and animals, and the Jews spoiled them on their way out of the country, Ex 12:36.  They left with their silver and gold, Ps 105:37.

Ecc 4:15-16 The second child is better than the first.  You would think that God would choose the first child, because of the birthright and the blessing.  However, it is the second child that stands up in his stead.

Notice, in these pairs of brothers, that the second child is the one who stood up instead of his brother.

  • Cain and Abel.  Abel was the righteous one, 1 Jn 3:12.
  • Japheth and Shem.  Jesus came from Shem’s line, Gen 9:26, Lk 3:36.
  • Ishmael and Isaac.  God said, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”, Gen 21:12.
  • Esau and Jacob.  The elder served the younger, Gen 25:23-26.
  • Zarah and Pharez, Gen 38:27-30.  Jesus came through the line of Pharez, Lk 3:33.
  • Manasseh and Ephraim, Gen 41:51-52.  Ephraim rose above Manasseh and the ten northern tribes are even called Ephraim, Ezek 37:16-19.
  • Aaron and Moses.  Aaron was three years older than Moses, Ex 7:7.

Jesus Christ is the best example of “they also that come after shall not rejoice in him” (that is, in the second “child”).  Right now, the devil is the god of this world and will sit “in the temple of God shewing himself that he is God”, 2 Thes 2:4.  He is the first.  All the world will worship him, Rev 13:3-4.

But when the second “child”, the Son of God, appears “all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him”, Rev 1:7.

Right now, concerning Jesus Christ, “the heathen rage”, Ps 2:1.  “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the ruers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed”, Ps 2:2.  This is their attitude toward the one who “shall stand up in his stead”.

As Solomon wrote, “Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit”.

To study the prior lesson, see That They Might See.  To study the next lesson, see Fools in the House of God.