Ecclesiastes 4:1-16

We live in the Information Age. It is the day of instant news, instant entertainment, and instant communication.

Agricultural Age

Industrial Age

Technological Age

Information Age

Children worked at home & on the farms

People went to work in factories in the city

People working both at home & if offices

Information by word of mouth

Newspapers & books

Radio & Television

Multi-media: Internet, Cable TV

When my brother first moved to Germany to serve as a missionary pastor, we would write letters back and forth which would take weeks and sometimes months to make the crossing. Now we write E-mail back and forth in a single day. And yet, with this growing technology and its corresponding ability to communicate, people are finding themselves more alone than ever.



1 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.

2 So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living.

3 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. (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3).

The Preacher begins this section dealing with acts of oppression. He will speak more of oppression in the next chapter. But here is it a vehicle to speak of those who are ALONE in the face of oppression. It is bad enough to be oppressed. But it is much worse to be oppressed when you are alone.



Power is on his side

No one is on his side

As a result of the misery of oppression, the Preacher comes to the conclusion that it is better not to be alive than to be alive and to be so oppressed.

Those who were never born

Better off than

Those who have now died

Better off than

The Living Today

Job felt this way. In the midst of his sufferings, he said, "Let the day perish on which I was to be born" (Job 3:3). He asks, "Why did I not die at birth?" (Job 3:11).

Verse 1 says twice that they had no one to comfort them. The good news is that we have a Comforter. God Himself has sent to us His own Spirit so that we might be comforted in Him. He has promised to wipe away our tears. But that is not all. He has also given to us His own body - the Church.

I love the story of the little girl who had been sent to bed and who called out to her mother, "Mommy, I'm afraid to be all alone in my bedroom. I want someone to come and to be with me" Her mother replied, "It's okay, honey. The Lord is with you in your bedroom." And the little girl called back, "But I want someone with skin on!" The Church is Jesus with "skin on." We are here for one another.



4 I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind.

5 The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh.

6 One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:4-6).

The Preacher notices the spirit of rivalry and of competition that exists within man. Man is by nature competitive. He desires to be the best as what he does. And this spirit of competition can lead to covetousness.

The Preacher says that this is empty. It is empty because there is always someone who is just a little better. And even if you succeed and find yourself out to be the very best at what you have endeavored to accomplish, what did it get you? Your accomplishment is only temporary. And you find that it is lonely at the top.

What is the answer? One possible answer is to drop out. This is the answer of the fool. He says, "Because there is always someone better and because it is lonely at the top, I'll merely sit back and never try to accomplish anything." He "folds his hands and consumes his own flesh." This is given by way of a proverb. It is a matched set. These two proverbs take the two extremes of competition and set themselves over against one another.

Proverbs #1

Proverb #2

The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh (4:5).

One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind (4:6).

It is foolish to drop out of any competitive endeavor.

It is equally foolish to be so competitive that you never enjoy a rest.



7 Then I looked again at vanity under the sun.

8 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. (Ecclesiastes 4:7-8).

How do you define success? If it is defined only in terms of YOU, then you are going to be a failure. The Preacher takes the example of a man. This is a man alone. He has no dependents. No family. No brother or son or anyone to whom he can leave a family inheritance. Our hypothetical man works his entire life and amasses a fortune. But there is no one to whom he can leave it. For what has he labored? For the sake of work? For the sake of success? The truth is that success is NOT its own reward. And if you are working just to accumulate wealth, then you are in for a sad surprise.


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. You are portrayed to be a man if you can stand alone as a survivor and a winner and on top. But one of the very first decrees of God following the creation of man was that "it is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). Think about that! Loneliness in Paradise. Indeed, loneliness can take place anywhere - even in a crowd.

The Preacher lists four reasons why it is better not to be alone.





Two are better than one because...

Good results in labor

Pick up one another in trouble

Warm one another in cold

Hold up one another in adversity





1. Togetherness Increases the Reward.

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.(Ecclesiastes 4:9).

Two people working together can get more done than one alone. And two can live nearly as cheaply as one.

I'm told that during the Depression, there was a popular song that said, "Potatoes are cheaper, tomatoes are cheaper, now's the time to fall in love." Even the IRS recognizes the advantage of this by giving some tax breaks in that regard. But this principle is not limited to marriage. It relates to ANY type of partnership.

2. Togetherness Provides help in time of Trouble.

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. (Ecclesiastes 4:10).

In the fire service, we do everything in TEAMS. The number one rule of fire fighting is that you never freelance - you never go into anything alone. This way, if you get into difficulty, there is a partner to help you.

3. Togetherness Warms Body and Soul.

Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? (Ecclesiastes 4:11).

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.

I've noticed that my wife and I do a lot more cuddling when it's cold. Why? Because of shared bodily warmth. That is true both physically, emotionally and spiritually.

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.

4. Togetherness holds up under Attack.

And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

If two is better than one, then what is better than two? THREE! That is the definition of the Church - Jesus said, "Where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst" (Matthew 18:20).



13 A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction.

14 For he has come out of prison to become king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom.

15 I have seen all the living under the sun throng to the side of the second lad who replaces him.

16 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. (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16).

Now Solomon moves from the general to the specific. He gets personal. He uses HIMSELF as an example. After all, HE is the king. And here are the life lessons which he learned as king. They apply both to kings as well as to leaders in any endeavor.

1. Wisdom is very important to a leader.

It is better to be on the bottom and to be wise than to be on top and to be foolish. Why? Because if you are wise, then you will be able to make your own way to the top and then you will know what to do when you get there.

The king in Solomon's illustration is an old and foolish man. There is a lesson here. It is that age does not necessarily bring wisdom. The only thing that comes automatically with age is wrinkles. Age can be accompanied with a mule-headed stubbornness and there is no fool like an old fool.

2. Everyone admires the self-made man; the one who achieved success on his own.

No one admires the fellow who had it all handed to him. This is the contrast which Solomon presents.

Poor yet Wise Lad

Old and Foolish King

Comes from Prison

Comes from the throne room

He is admired as he rises to the kingship

He is not admired by anyone

But when we come to verse 16, we see that even the popularity of the wise boy who rose to become king is fleeting - the ones who will come later will not be happy with him. This brings us to our third point.

3. All Popularity is fleeting.

Today's stars are tomorrow's has-beens. This wise young man who rises through the ranks to become the king does not retain his popularity. Those who saw him climb to the top may admire him, but those who come later and who only see his success without seeing the effort it took for him to get there mistakenly conclude that it must have been handed to him in the same way of the first king.

Popularity is fleeting. It doesn't last. But a real and true friend DOES last. He is one who will take your part when everyone else is trying to take you apart. It was my older brother who introduced me to folk music. One of my favorite songs was a tune sung by Simon & Garfunklel in the early 1970's. It speaks of friendship:

When you're down and out,
When you're on the street.
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you.
I'll take your part - when darkness comes
And pain is all around,
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.

Jesus did that. He is the bridge to bring us across the chasm of our guilt and our sin. He is the bridge to bring us home. And He says, "No longer do I merely call you servants and disciples, but now I also call you friend."

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