Ecclesiastes 4:1
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.
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(1) Having dwelt on the instability of human happiness, the Preacher now turns to contemplate the actual misery of which the world is full.

Oppressions.—Job 35:9; Amos 3:9.

No comforter.—If Solomon were the writer, one asks, What was the king about? Could he do nothing but express helpless despair?

Ecclesiastes 4:1. So I returned, and considered — I considered again more seriously; all the oppressions — under the sun — Whether by princes, magistrates, or other potent persons; and the tears of such as were oppressed — Their grievous sufferings, sighs, and groans. And they had no comforter — None afforded them either pity or succour. For such was the greatness and power of their oppressors, that, as they could not defend themselves against them, so none else durst express their compassion toward them, much less plead for them, for fear of being made to suffer in the same way themselves.4:1-3 It grieved Solomon to see might prevail against right. Wherever we turn, we see melancholy proofs of the wickedness and misery of mankind, who try to create trouble to themselves and to each other. Being thus hardly used, men are tempted to hate and despise life. But a good man, though badly off while in this world, cannot have cause to wish he had never been born, since he is glorifying the Lord, even in the fires, and will be happy at last, for ever happy. Ungodly men have most cause to wish the continuance of life with all its vexations, as a far more miserable condition awaits them if they die in their sins. If human and worldly things were our chief good, not to exist would be preferable to life, considering the various oppressions here below.So I returned, and considered - Rather, And I returned and saw. He turns to look upon other phenomena, and to test his previous conclusion by them.

Oppressed - See the introduction to Ecclesiastes.


Ec 4:1-16.

1. returned—namely, to the thought set forth (Ec 3:16; Job 35:9).

power—Maurer, not so well, "violence."

no comforter—twice said to express continued suffering without any to give comfort (Isa 53:7).The vanity of oppression, by reason of which the dead and the unborn are better than the living, Ecclesiastes 4:1-3. Of envy, sloth, quarrel, Ecclesiastes 4:4-6. Of covetousness and selfishness, Ecclesiastes 4:7,8. The advantage of society and friendship, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. The poor better than foolish kings, Ecclesiastes 4:13. He is advanced, whilst one born king is made poor, Ecclesiastes 4:14. The people never contented, but rejoicing in changes, Ecclesiastes 4:15,16.

I considered again more seriously

all the oppressions that are done under the sun, whether by supreme magistrates or judges, of which he spake Ecclesiastes 3:16, or by any other potent persons.

They had no comforter; none afforded them either pity or succour, either out of a selfish and barbarous disposition, or for fear of exposing themselves thereby to the same injuries.

There was power, both in themselves, and because most men were ready to join with the strongest and safest side. So they were utterly unable to deliver themselves, and, as it follows, none else could or would do it.

They had no comforter; which is repeated as an argument both of the great inhumanity of men towards others in calamity, and of the extreme misery of oppressed persons.

So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun,.... The wise man, according to Aben Ezra, returned from the thought, which he had expressed in the latter part of the preceding chapter, that it was good for a man to rejoice in his works, and called it in; since he could not rejoice, when he considered the oppression and violence that were in the world; but it does not appear that he did call it in, for he afterwards repeats it: or rather he returns to his former subject, the abuse of power and authority, mentioned Ecclesiastes 3:16; and from whence he had digressed a little by the above observation; and takes a review of all kinds of oppressions which are done, and of all sorts of "oppressed" (x) ones, as some render it, which become so, under the sun; subjects by their prince; the stranger, widow, and fatherless, by unjust judges; the poor by the rich; servants and labourers by their masters; and the like. Moreover, he saw by the Holy Ghost, as Jarchi paraphrases it, all oppressions by a spirit of prophecy; he foresaw all the oppressions that would be done under the sun; as all the injuries done to the people of Israel in their several captivities; so to the church of Christ in Gospel times; all the persecutions of Rome Pagan, and also of Rome Papal; all that has or will be done by antichrist, the man of the earth, who before long will oppress no more, Psalm 10:18; the Targum restrains these oppressions to those which are done to the righteous in this world: and it is well observed by the wise man, that they are such as are under the sun, for there are none above it, nor any beyond the grave, Job 3:17;

and behold the tears of such as were oppressed; which their eyes poured out, and which ran down their cheeks, and were all they could do, having no power to help themselves: it is in the singular number, "and behold the tear" (y); as if it was one continued stream of tears, which, like a torrent, flowed from them; or as if they had so exhausted the source of nature by weeping, that the fountain of tears was dried up, and scarce another could drop; or it was as much as could be, that another should drop from them: and this the wise man could not well behold, without weeping himself; it being the property of a good man to weep with them that weep, especially with good men oppressed;

and they had no comforter; to speak a comfortable word to them; not so much as to do that which would be some alleviation of their sorrow, much less to help them, no human comforter; and this is a very deplorable condition, Lamentations 1:2; indeed, when this is the case, good men under their oppressions have a divine Comforter; God comforts them under all their tribulations; one of the names of the Messiah is "the Consolation of Israel", Luke 2:25; and the Spirit of God is "another Comforter", John 14:16; and such are well off, when all other comforters are miserable ones, or other men have none;

and on the side of their oppressors there was power; to crush them and keep them under, or to hinder others from helping or comforting them: or there was no "power to deliver them out of the hand of their oppressors" (z); so some render and supply the words; with which sense agrees the Targum,

"and there is none to redeem them out of the hand of their oppressors, by strength of hand and by power.''

It may be rendered, "out of the hand of their oppressors comes power", or violence; such as the oppressed are not able to withstand; so the Arabic version;

but they had no comforter: which is repeated, not so much for confirmation, as to excite attention and pity, and to express the affliction of the oppressed, and the cruelty of others; and this following on the other clause, leads to observe, that the power of the oppressor is what hinders and deters others from comforting. Jarchi interprets this whole verse of the damned in hell, punished for their evil works, weeping for their souls oppressed by the destroying angels; and so, he says, it is, explained in an ancient book of theirs, called Siphri.

(x) "oppressos", Montanus, Junius & Tremellius, Drusius, Schmidt, Rambachius, so Broughton; "fraudatos", Cocceius. (y) "lachryma", Montanus, Tigurine version, Cocceius, Rambachius. (z) "et quia deest facultas se vindicandi e manu opprimentium ipsos", Tigurine version; "aut evadendi e manu opprimentium se virtus", Junius & Tremellius; "nec vires ad evadendum a manu opprimentium ipsos", Piscator.

So {a} 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.

(a) He makes here another discourse with himself concerning the tyranny of them that oppressed the poor.

1. So I returned, and considered] The thought that follows is the same in substance as that of chap. Ecclesiastes 3:16, but, in the speaker’s wanderings of thought he passes once again, after the manner of the ἐποχὴ, or “suspense” of Pyrrho, he looks at the same facts, the “oppressions” and disorders of the world as from another stand-point, and that standpoint is the negation of immortality, or, at least, the impossibility of being sure of it. It may be noted that the tone is that of a deeper compassion than before. He sees the tears of the oppressed and sighs at their hopelessness: “Oh, the pity of it! the pity of it!” We can see in this new element of despair, that which was the beginning of a better life. The man was passing, to use modern terms, from egoism to altruism, thinking more of the misery of others than of his own enjoyment.

they had no comforter] The iteration rings like a knell of doom. The words have sometimes been taken as if they meant “they had no advocate, none to plead their cause,” but there is no sufficient reason for abandoning the more natural meaning. It was the bitterest drop in their cup, that men met with no sympathy, no visits of consolation such as Job’s friends paid him. They found none to pity or to comfort them. So the absence of comforters is the crown of sorrow in Psalm 69:20; Lamentations 1:2; Jeremiah 16:7, as its presence was one of the consolations of the bereaved household of Bethany (John 11:19). It may be noted, that, as far as it goes, this picture of the social state in which the Debater found himself is in favour of a later date than that of Solomon. The picture of that king’s reign was, like that of the days of “good Queen Bess” in our own history, one of almost proverbial prosperity; the people “eating, drinking and making merry” (1 Kings 4:20), and his administration, as far as his own subjects were concerned, one of “judgment and justice” (1 Kings 10:9). It was probably equally true of the Persian kings and of the Ptolemies that their rule was cruel and oppressive. The picture which Justin gives of the state of Egypt under Ptolemy Philopator (xxix. 1) and Ptolemy Epiphanes exactly corresponds with that drawn by Koheleth.Verses 1-16. - Section 5. Koheleth proceeds to give further illustrations of man's inability to be the architect of his own happiness. There are many things which interrupt or destroy it. Verses 1-3. - First of all, he adduces the oppression of man by his fellow-man. Verse 1. - So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun. This is equivalent to, "again I saw," as ver. 7, with a reference to the wickedness in the place of judgment which he had noticed in Ecclesiastes 3:16. Ashukim, "oppressions," is found in Job 35:9 and Amos 3:9, and, being properly a participle passive, denotes oppressed persons or things, and so abstractedly "oppressions." Τὰς συκοφαντίας (Septuagint); calumnias (Vulgate). The verb is used of high-handed injustice, of offensive selfishness, of the hindrances to his neighbor's well-being caused by a man's careless disregard of aught but his own interests (comp. 1 Samuel 12:4; Hosea 12:8, etc.). Beheld the tears of such as were oppressed; τῶν συκοφαντουμένων (Septuagint); innocentium (Vulgate). He notes now not merely the fact of wrong being done, but its effect on the victim, and intimates his own pity for the sorrow. And they had no comforter. A sad refrain, echoed again at the end of the verse with touching pathos. Οὐκ ἔστιν αὐτοῖς παρακαλῶν (Septuagint); they had no earthly friends to visit them in their affliction, and they as yet knew not the soothing of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter (Παράκλητος). There was no one to wipe away their tears (Isaiah 25:8) or to redress their wrongs. The point is the powerlessness of man in the face of these disorders, his inability to right himself, the incompetence of others to aid him. On the side of their oppressors there was power (koach), in a bad sense, like the Greek βία equivalent to "violence." Thus the ungodly say, in the Book of Wisdom 2:11, "Let our strength be the law of justice." Vulgate, Nec posse resistere eorun violentiae, cunctorum auxilio destitutes. It is difficult to suppose that the state of things revealed by this verse existed in the days of King Solomon, or that so powerful a monarch, and one admired for "judgment and justice" (1 Kings 10:9), would be content with complaining of such disorders instead of checking them. There is no token of remorse for past unprofitableness or anguish of heart at the thought of failure in duty. If we take the words as the utterance of the real Solomon, we do violence to history, and must correct the existing chronicles of his reign. The picture here presented is one of later times, and it may be of other countries. Persian rule, or the tyranny of the Ptolemies, might afford an original from which it might be taken. "I said in mine heart: God shall judge the righteous as well as the wicked: for there is there a time for every purpose and for every work." Since "the righteous" stands first, the word ישׁפּט has here the double sense of judging [richtens equals setting upright] equals acting uprightly, justly by one, as in the shofteni of Psalm 7:9; Psalm 26:1, etc., and of judging equals inflicting punishment. To the righteous, as well as to the wicked,

(Note: The lxx (in Aquila's manner): σὺν τὸν δίκαιον καὶ σὺν τὸν ἀσεβῆ - according to the Talm. hermeneut. rule, that where the obj. is designated by את, with that which is expressly named, something else is associated, and is to be thought of along with it.)

God will administer that which of right belongs to them. But this does not immediately happen, and has to be waited for a long time, for there is a definite time for every undertaking (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and for (על, in the more modern form of the language, interchanges promiscue with אל ht and ל, e.g., Jeremiah 19:15; Ezekiel 22:3; Ewald, 217i) every work there is a "time." This שׁם, defended by all the old interpreters, cannot have a temporal sense: tunc equals in die judicii (Jerome, Targ.), cf. Psalm 14:5; Psalm 36:13, for "a time of judgment there is for all one day" is not intended, since certainly the שׁם (day of judgment) is this time itself, and not the time of this time. Ewald renders שׁם as pointing to the past, for he thus construes: the righteous and the unrighteous God will judge (for there is a time for everything), and judge (vav thus explicat., "and that too," "and indeed") every act there, i.e., everything done before. But this שׁם is not only heavy, but also ambiguous and purposeless; and besides, by this parenthesizing of the words וגו עת כּי for there is a time for everything, the principal thought, that with God everything, even His act of judgment, has its time, is robbed of its independence and of the place in the principal clause appropriate to it. But if שׁם is understood adverbially, it certainly has a local meaning connected with it: there, viz., with God, apud Deum; true, for this use of the word Genesis 49:24 affords the only example, and it stands there in the midst of a very solemn and earnest address. Therefore it lies near to read, with Houbig., Dderl., Palm., and Hitz., שׁם, "a definite time ... has He (God) ordained;" שׂום (שׂים) is the usual word for the ordinances of God in the natural world and in human history (Proverbs 8:29; Exodus 21:13; Numbers 24:23; Habakkuk 1:12, etc.), and, as in the Assyr. simtuv, so the Heb. שׂימה (שׂוּמה), 2 Samuel 13:32, signifies lot or fate, decree.

(Note: Vid., Schrader's Keilsch. u. A. T. p. 105, simtu ubilsu, i.e., fate snatched him away (Heb. simah hovilathhu), cf. Fried. Delitzsch's Assyr. Stud. p. 66f.)

With this reading, Elster takes exception to the position of the words; but at Judges 6:19 also the object goes before שׂם, and "unto every purpose and for every work" is certainly the complement of the object-conception, so that the position of the words is in reality no other than at Ecclesiastes 10:20; Daniel 2:17. Quite untenable is Herzfeld's supposition (Frst, Vaih.), that שׁם has here the Talm. signification: aestimat, taxat, for (1) this שׁוּם equals Arab. sham, has not על, but the accus. after it; (2) the thought referring to the tie on which Ecclesiastes 3:18 rests is thereby interrupted. Whether we read שׂם, or take שׁם in the sense of עמּו (Job 25:2; Job 23:14, etc.), the thought is the same, and equally congruous: God will judge the innocent and the guilty; it shall be done some time, although not so soon as one might wish it, and think necessary, for God has for every undertaking and for every work its fixed time, also its judicial decision (vid., at Psalm 74:3); He permits wickedness, lets it develope itself, waits long before He interposes (vid., under Isaiah 18:4.).

Reflecting on God's delay to a time hidden from men, and known only to Himself, Koheleth explains the matter to himself in the following verse: -

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