Online Bible Commentary
The Secret of Life
Ecclesiastes 4:1 Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun: And look! The tears of the oppressed, But they have no comforter-- On the side of their oppressors there is power, But they have no comforter. 2 Therefore I praised the dead who were already dead, More than the living who are still alive. 3 Yet, better than both is he who has never existed, Who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun. 4 Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind. 5 The fool folds his hands And consumes his own flesh. 6 Better a handful with quietness Than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind. 7 Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun: 8 There is one alone, without companion: He has neither son nor brother. Yet there is no end to all his labors, Nor is his eye satisfied with riches. But he never asks, "For whom do I toil and deprive myself of good?" This also is vanity and a grave misfortune. (NKJV)
Solomon, son of David, was the king of Israel for some forty years (1 Kings 11:42) from 970 B.C. until his death at the age of fifty-nine in 931 B.C. He wrote the book of Ecclesiastes likely near the end of his life, about 935 B.C.
Solomon, being the son of a king, had received the best education known to man at the time. He learned the best of human wisdom. He also was blessed by God with true wisdom, the wisdom from God. He was considered to be the wisest man ever to live.
In this passage, Solomon continues to look at life through the eyes of men. He is seeking to explain the meaning of life while leaving God out of the equation, which is what most people attempt to do.
He begins by thinking of “all the oppression that is done under the sun”, in this life on earth (v. 1a). He sees the “tears of the oppressed”, those who are under the thumb of their oppressors, with no comfort in sight (v. 1b).
Because of these inequalities, he contends that it is better to be dead, than alive (v. 2). Or perhaps it is better to never have been born at all, as George Bailey would say in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life (v. 3). But we all know that George later realized how selfish that was because he would be letting down his loved ones and others in society that he could help just by being there for them.
Then he thinks of the hard worker and skilled man who works not for the enjoyment of his work but to be envied by others for his success (v. 4a). But even his riches are like “grasping for the wind”, as he finds no satisfaction from life (v. 4b).
In contrast to the rich man, there is the “fool”, according to some. This “fool” does not work hard, and as a result does not enjoy the lavish lifestyle of the rich man (v. 5). Ah, but who is the fool? It is better to have “a handful”, with peace, than two handfuls with “toil” and “grasping for the wind” (v. 6).
Then Solomon turns back to the folly of the rich man (v. 7). He is so devoted to his work that he has no family life (v. 8a). He is alone. He either never took the time to have a family or he lost them through neglect. There is “no end” to his hard work, and yet he is not satisfied by his riches (v. 8b).
The rich man never asks himself why he is doing this and depriving himself from enjoying life (v. 8c)? His life is all in vain, and “a grave misfortune” (v. 8d).
It is interesting that these insights were written by the most powerful and richest man on earth. Solomon, more than anyone, realized that monetary riches alone do not make us happy. Without loved ones to share our blessings, we will not be satisfied. Without time to enjoy life, we will never be satisfied.
However, even if we have all that, without a relationship with God, we will never be satisfied. God completes our life. We are born with a hole in our spirit that only God can fill. That, is the secret of life.