Solomon now descends to his depths:
is it possible that it’s better never to be born than to be
born anything but into the upper, oppressor class?
Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 NASB
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
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.
It is an ironic observation which must be made about this passage:
Solomon is an advocate of the “sociological viewpoint.”
That viewpoint, so common in modern academia, says that one
must NEVER make a moral judgment on a situation; only report on its
effects. All cultures
are equally valid, you know.
Of course, it seldom is used to expose the perils of modern
humanism. After all,
that wouldn’t be impartial.
Solomon has a similar view here:
remember – he’s the king.
He is the chief of the oppressors.
His system of creating public works, for example, relied on
Forced labor – people were drafted to do the backbreaking work.
Remember, no power equipment in those days.
Bullwhip management – no thought given to the feelings or
presumed rights of the laborers other than the necessity of the
bullwhip. After all, they
certainly weren’t going to volunteer for this.
For most Americans it seems that Solomon must have been exaggerating
a bit. But the truth is
There is a lot of oppression on this planet.
It seems to be the first instinct of rulers to quash any
dissent or disagreement, and one of the finest ways to do this
is to round up the dissidents and put them to hard labor and
Despite artwork to the contrary, the oppressed are not happy
peasants, glowing joyfully.
For such people, there is in their minds no hope for the future
and no comfort in the present.
We are the exceptions, folks.
Most of the rest of the world expects dictatorship by those
who are lining their pockets at the expense of the oppressed.
It is almost comic:
while Solomon no doubt enjoys his life of luxury, vain though he
knows it to be, he sees nothing for the oppressed.
In fact, his conclusion is rather startling:
it’s better to be dead than to be one of the oppressed.
Best of all is to never have been born in the first place.
This is the low point of Solomon’s search – and it is a Death Valley
Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 NASB
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.
The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh.
One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor
and striving after wind.
sin of envy
What’s Solomon talking about here?
It’s envy – or, to use an older word, covetousness.
Today it goes by a much more respectable name:
Amongst Republicans, it’s a virtue.
Amongst liberals, it’s just the human version of Darwinian
struggle. Both agree:
And that’s a good thing, too.
You think not? Let me
share with you the experience of my daughter.
She earns a living as a copy editor, often correcting student
papers for grammar and for logic.
A professor at a local university, who teaches a course in
Business Ethics, has sent a lot of business her way.
The professor seems to have some sense of ethics as
Christians might understand ethics.
Her students almost uniformly do not.
When my daughter finally gets it through their heads that
ethics implies a moral imperative, their universal response is that
the moral imperative they follow is making more money for the
company. Anything that
accomplishes that is, by definition, good.
can we do about it?
Solomon saw this problem too:
we envy, we want, we compete.
What can be done about this yearning?
Like the business student, we can give in and make competition
our top priority.
Like the fool we can decline to participate at all – just quit,
and in Solomon’s day starve.
Or beg. Or go on
Or we can work, and enjoy the little we have.
May I point out why this is so common?
We have made assumptions in our society – some not new to us
– which cause this. In
“More” is better. A
bigger house is better, a faster car, a larger TV – on and on it
“I am what I buy.” The
modern American is defined by his possessions.
I am better than you are – and pride is a virtue.
Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 NASB
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
Two are better than one because they have a good return for
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.
Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how
can one be warm alone?
And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist
him. A cord of three strands
is not quickly torn apart.
Solomon now gives us an example.
May I give you a personal counterpart?
My wife’s father is (at this writing) 95 years old.
He has disinherited his kids.
He is very rich, arrogant – and profoundly lonely.
He goes to his office six days a week; if he doesn’t, he will
die for lack of purpose.
And for what?
Why is this such a lonely life?
Because it is based on pride and competitiveness.
Everyone else around him must be treated as an inferior so
that his pride may be maintained.
Solomon points out the obvious advantages of cooperation
If you personally do all the thinking because you personally
have all the brains, you just missed an awful lot of brain
power. Two people working
together are more productive, physically and mentally, than
Can you really “handle it”
by yourself? Is it
really true that you have no need for family, friends, church or
the society around you?
What does this attitude say for our society?
Is competition always
a blessing? For example,
should automobile manufacturers be allowed to cooperate in
developing safer cars?
(It’s a violation of antitrust statutes – competition is always
Is competition always
morally right? And would
you feel that way if you’re the one being laid off, with your
job going to India?
Man Who Has It Made
Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 NASB
A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king
who no longer knows how to
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.
So far we’ve been talking about the peons – the poor, the oppressed,
the laid off. But what
about the guy who has it made?
In their world, what about the king?
Being king is good, right?
Solomon points out here that just because you’re king doesn’t mean
that you’re not a victim of your own success.
“I got to the top because of my drive and intelligence – and
the lessons I learned along the way are going to keep me here.
I don’t listen to anybody.”
In short, I don’t need to change.
I’m on top.
Everybody else should change to please me.
Better to be the new kid
Perhaps Solomon was thinking about his father, David.
But the point remains the same:
it’s better to be the new kid, because wisdom is better than
that kid will replace the king – and it feels so good to him when he
does. Being the new
winner is great – or is it?
next new kid
Just remember, new kid, that there’s another new kid waiting in the
wings. He will take your
place. And just as the
people tired of you, they will tire of him.
And just as your works will be forgotten, so will his.
Future generations won’t care.
You think not? As of
this writing, the state of North Carolina is revising its high
school curriculum in U.S. history.
History now starts in 1877 – right after reconstruction.
Pilgrims, colonies, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln – all
are now just unimportant.
See why I said this chapter is the low point?
Aztecs who practiced human sacrifice.
As did many ancient civilizations.
Ask me about the
$100 hoodie sometime.