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Ecclesiastes 4

 

Chapter Four

OBJECTIVES IN STUDYING THIS CHAPTER

1) To reflect upon the Preacher's observations gleaned from his search
   for the purpose of life under the sun

2) To consider the vanity of skillful work, isolation, and popularity

3) To appreciate the value of friendship and working together

SUMMARY

The Preacher continues to share his observations gleaned during the
course of his search for the purpose of life under the sun.  Earlier he
related the injustice he saw (cf. 3:16).  Now we are told how he
considered those who were oppressed with no comforter.  In such a
state, he concluded the dead were better than the living, and better
than both was to never be born (1-4).

The Preacher then describes what he saw as the vanity of toil and
skillful work, especially when one is alone.  While one who does 
nothing is a fool and consumes his own flesh, it is better to have a 
little with quietness than a lot with much toil.  A grave misfortune is
the person with no companion, son, nor brother, who labors endlessly 
for riches that do not satisfy and does not consider who will receive 
that for which he deprives himself of much good in life.  On the other 
hand, the Preacher saw great value in friendship.  He illustrates the 
principle of synergy in their work and how they can help one another in
times of need (5-12).

The chapter closes with an illustration of the vanity of popularity.  
While a young and wise man who becomes king may be popular at first,
with the passing of time he is not appreciated by those who come along 
later (13-16).

OUTLINE

I. THE OPPRESSION OF MEN (4:1-3)

   A. WHAT THE PREACHER REVIEWED (1)
      1. He considered the oppression done under the sun
      2. He saw the tears of the oppressed, who had no comforter
      3. He observed power on the side of the oppressors

   B. WHAT THE PREACHER REASONED (2-3)
      1. He praised the dead more than the living
      2. Better than both is the person who:
         a. Has never existed
         b. Has not seen the evil work done under the sun

II. THE VANITY OF TOIL AND SKILLFUL WORK (4:4-6)

   A. IT BREEDS ENVY IN OTHERS (4)
      1. He saw that toil and skillful labor is envied by others
      2. This too is vanity and grasping for wind

   B. TWO WAYS TO REACT TO THIS VANITY (5-6)
      1. The fool does nothing, and consumes his own flesh
      2. It is better to have a little with quietness

III. THE VANITY OF ISOLATION (4:7-12)

   A. THE VANITY OF BEING ALONE (7-8)
      1. He saw more vanity under the sun
      2. A person who was alone, without companion, son, or brother
         a. With no end to his labors, with no satisfaction with his
            riches
         b. Who does not consider for whom he labors and deprives
            himself of good
      3. This was vanity and a grave misfortune

   B. THE VALUE OF FRIENDS (9-12)
      1. Two are better than one, for they have good reward for their
         labor
      2. If one falls, the other can lift him up
      3. Their combined body heat can keep them warm
      4. They can withstand one who would seek to overpower them
      5. A threefold cord is not quickly broken

IV. THE VANITY OF POPULARITY (4:13-16)

   A. A TALE OF TWO MEN (13-15)
      1. It is better to be a poor and wise youth, than an old and
         foolish king who will not accept criticism
      2. For the young man, though born poor, comes out of prison to
         become king and the living were with him

   B. YET POPULARITY IS SHORT-LIVED (16)
      1. The young king might rule over a populous nation
      2. But another generation will arise that will not rejoice in him

REVIEW QUESTIONS FOR THE CHAPTER

1) What are the main points of this chapter?
   - The oppression of men (1-3)
   - The vanity of toil and skillful work (4-6)
   - The vanity of isolation (7-12)
   - The vanity of popularity (13-16)

2) What did the Preacher observe regarding oppression? (1)
   - Power was on the side of the oppressor, the oppressed had no
     comforter

3) What did this observation prompt the Preacher to do? (2-3)
   - Praise the dead more than the living
   - Reason that better than both was never to be born

4) What did he observe about toil and skillful work? (4)
   - It prompted envy from one's neighbor
   - It too was vanity and grasping for the wind

5) How does he describe the fool who doesn't work? (5)
   - As one who folds his hands and consumes his own flesh

6) What is better than both hands full, but with toil and grasping for
   the wind? (6)
   - A handful with quietness

7) What is described as vanity and a grave misfortune? (7-8)
   - One who is alone, who labors endlessly for riches that do not
     satisfy
   - Who never considers for whom he is toiling and depriving himself
     of much good

8) How does the Preacher illustrate the value of friendship? (9-12)
   - Two working together accomplish more (the principle of synergy)
   - Having someone to help you if you fall
   - Surviving a cold night by sharing body heat
   - Two can withstand one
   - A threefold cord is not easily broken

9) How does the Preacher illustrate the vanity of popularity? (13-16)
   - With the example of a youth who becomes king, but as he gets older
     he is not appreciated by the people who come afterward

Eccesiastes 4

[Ecc 4:1-16 NKJV] 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.

The vanity of selfish toil

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.

The value of a friend

9 Two [are] better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him [who is] alone when he falls, For [he has] no one to help him up. 11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm [alone]? 12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Popularity passes away

13 Better a poor and wise youth Than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more. 14 For he comes out of prison to be king, Although he was born poor in his kingdom. 15 I saw all the living who walk under the sun; They were with the second youth who stands in his place. 16 [There was] no end of all the people over whom he was made king; Yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him. Surely this also [is] vanity and grasping for the wind.

 

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