Ecclesiastes 4

Evil Oppression on Earth

4:1 So I again considered all the oppression that continually occurs on earth.
This is what I saw:
The oppressed were in tears, but no one was comforting them;
no one delivers them from the power of their oppressors.
4:2 So I considered those who are dead and gone
more fortunate than those who are still alive.
4:3 But better than both is the one who has not been born
and has not seen the evil things that are done on earth.

Labor Motivated by Envy

4:4 Then I considered all the skillful work that is done:
Surely it is nothing more than competition between one person and another.
This also is profitless—like chasing the wind.
4:5 The fool folds his hands and does no work,
so he has nothing to eat but his own flesh.
4:6 Better is one handful with some rest
than two hands full of toil and chasing the wind.

Labor Motivated by Greed

4:7 So I again considered another futile thing on earth:
4:8 A man who is all alone with no companion,
he has no children nor siblings;
yet there is no end to all his toil,
and he is never satisfied with riches.
He laments, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?”
This also is futile and a burdensome task!

Labor is Beneficial When Its Rewards Are Shared

4:9 Two people are better than one,
because they can reap more benefit from their labor.
4:10 For if they fall, one will help his companion up,
but pity the person who falls down and has no one to help him up.
4:11 Furthermore, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm,
but how can one person keep warm by himself?
4:12 Although an assailant may overpower one person,
two can withstand him.
Moreover, a three-stranded cord is not quickly broken.

A three-stranded cord is not quickly broken – A favourite text at Christian weddings!  Jerome allegorised this saying, suggesting that it referred to the Holy Trinity.

Labor Motivated by Prestige-Seeking

4:13 A poor but wise youth is better than an old and foolish king
who no longer knows how to receive advice.
4:14 For he came out of prison to become king,
even though he had been born poor in what would become his kingdom.
4:15 I considered all the living who walk on earth,
as well as the successor who would arise in his place.
4:16 There is no end to all the people nor to the past generations,
yet future generations will not rejoice in him.
This also is profitless and like chasing the wind.