Friday, February 13, 2015

Ecclesiastes, chapter 4, comments

1 ¶  So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. 2  Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. 3  Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

Life is full of oppressions committed by the powerful upon the weak. Even where a system is set up to avenge and assist the oppressed there is often corruption, even if only behind the scenes. As Stalin supposedly said that it doesn’t matter who votes but only who counts the votes so it is a logical thing to imagine that where there are great sums of money at stake and great power that the disposal of them is not going to be left any more to chance by those who have both than absolutely necessary.

In America many people have been bought off with a relatively comfortable standard of living so they are apathetic about the freedoms taken from them. What good is freedom if you are hungry and sick, it can be said. Other Americans are paid off by being offered a minimal standard of living from taxpayer funded government coffers where there is little or no opportunity to earn a living wage, as is often the case in Appalachia or the inner cities.

Over the last century or so we have come up with many laws and regulations to try to keep the common Joe or Josephine from being ripped off, manipulated, and exploited at work or in dealings with the business community. But, you can’t change human nature and wickedness and corruption are endemic even in countries with strong laws to protect the weak. Whether it be banks that foreclose on the homes of unsophisticated working people who have hit hard times and yet help criminals launder and hide money and avoid taxes or employers who cheat workers out of overtime or make them work in unsafe conditions it will just go on and on. Those are oppressed also who, by a culture of helplessness, are taught by government action to spend their lives with their hands out demanding payment just for existing without taking any action to better their own plight.

Solomon was aware in his time that it was impossible to stop oppression. Solomon, in the depths of his despair over the human condition, says that people are better off dead due to the oppressions of life and then goes on to even say those who had never been born in the first place are even more fortunate. I don’t think you can get any more negative than this.

4 ¶  Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit. 5  The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh. 6  Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.

Solomon goes on to discuss envy. An honest man, by toil and effort, lifts himself up and creates a business or is successful in his own trade, and people are envious of him.

Proverbs 27:4  Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?

In an America that has been so corrupted by Marxist social theory it is often assumed that any man who achieves success is a crook, a charlatan, and cheat. Americans don’t think this of an actor whose livelihood depends on pretending to be someone he’s not, or a musician who can bang out almost any kind of trash if he can get someone’s ear, but they often think this of a businessman who has worked hard to be successful. Meanwhile, the fool in verse 5 is so unwilling to help himself, as he thinks badly of others who will help themselves, that he is likened to someone who eats his own flesh. So, he brings himself to ruin. In verse 6 Solomon says that it is better to have a little bit than to have much with overwork and stress. Another danger is expressed in the following;

Proverbs 30:7 ¶  Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: 8  Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: 9  Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.

7 ¶  Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun. 8  There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail. 9  Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10  For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. 11  Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? 12  And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Here, Solomon points out, as Matthew Henry says in his commentary, the selfishness of a man who seeks only his own wealth and has no one in his close personal relations to depend on him. He is alone but greedy and never satisfied, the classic definition of the miserable miser.

Solomon expresses the ideal that a man should not be alone. Even in paradise being alone was not sufficient.

Genesis 2:18  And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet [meet = worthy, compare Matthew 3:8 with Luke 3:8 for word substitution] for him.

Having a fellow-laborer in life, in any endeavor, is always more helpful than going it alone. Two of us together working together are stronger than one alone.

One caution here can be brought up about a Christian who will not unite with even two or three other Christians in worship and Bible study regularly and thinks they can go it alone, just praying and reading their Bible. If you are alone, without the counsel of others, it is easy to fall into heresy, even to doubt your salvation. Whether you are attending a modern church, a face-to-face Bible study, or an internet discussion group speaking with other Christians, being taught and teaching, is important. It is difficult to go it alone.

A famous poet once wrote;

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. (2)

Paul, as well, speaks at great length about the unity of Christians in the body of Christ and their separate abilities all joining together to form the body as he discusses spiritual gifts of the early church in 1Corinthians, chapter 12.

(2) John Donne, “No Man is an Island”, Poem Hunter, (accessed 2.11.2015).

13 ¶  Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. 14  For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor. 15  I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead. 16  There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

For Solomon poverty and youth are to be preferred to foolishness in an old man who will not be corrected, who cannot be taught. This is particularly a tragedy if he is a ruler of his people. As Matthew Henry said in his widely available commentary on this section, “Nothing is more slippery than the highest post of honour without wisdom and the people’s love.”

Imagine that Solomon is referring here to Joseph, coming out of the Pharaoh’s prison, to rule.

Psalm 113:7  He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; 8  That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people.

A king that is raised in the throne can become poor by his foolishness and refusal to concede to wise counsel. Think of Solomon’s own son, Rehoboam, in 1Kings, chapter 12.

A king must have an heir, as Matthew Henry noted, either his own son, who might be a fool, or the poor man who rises out of prison.

Solomon comments that a great many people have gone before and there will be a great many that come after. The people are fickle and those whom they admire and adore one day are despised the next. Note how the people welcomed Christ;

John 12: 12 ¶  On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,13  Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.

And how quickly the people turned on Him;

John 19:14  And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! 15  But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.

Solomon laments again as he does often that this is another empty, troubling of the spirit.

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