Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
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).
Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.
2. A profane sentiment if severed from its connection; but just in its bearing on Solomon's scope. If religion were not taken into account (Ec 3:17, 19), to die as soon as possible would be desirable, so as not to suffer or witness "oppressions"; and still more so, not to be born at all (Ec 7:1). Job (Job 3:12; 21:7), David (Ps 73:3, &c.), Jeremiah (Jer 12:1), Habakkuk (Hab 1:13), all passed through the same perplexity, until they went into the sanctuary, and looked beyond the present to the "judgment" (Ps 73:17; Hab 2:20; 3:17, 18). Then they saw the need of delay, before completely punishing the wicked, to give space for repentance, or else for accumulation of wrath (Ro 2:15); and before completely rewarding the godly, to give room for faith and perseverance in tribulation (Ps 92:7-12). Earnests, however, are often even now given, by partial judgments of the future, to assure us, in spite of difficulties, that God governs the earth.
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.
3. not seen—nor experienced.
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.
4. right—rather, "prosperous" (see on Ec 2:21). Prosperity, which men so much covet, is the very source of provoking oppression (Ec 4:1) and "envy," so far is it from constituting the chief good.
The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh.
5. Still the
fool (the wicked oppressor) is not to be envied even in this life, who "folds his hands together" in idleness (Pr 6:10; 24:33), living on the means he wrongfully wrests from others; for such a one
eateth his own flesh—that is, is a self-tormentor, never satisfied, his spirit preying on itself (Isa 9:20; 49:26).
Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
6. Hebrew; "One open hand (palm) full of quietness, than both closed hands full of travail." "Quietness" (mental tranquillity flowing from honest labor), opposed to "eating one's own flesh" (Ec 4:5), also opposed to anxious labor to gain (Ec 4:8; Pr 15:16, 17; 16:8).
Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun.
7. A vanity described in Ec 4:8.
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.
8. not a second—no partner.
child—"son or brother," put for any heir (De 25:5-10).
eye—(Ec 1:8). The miser would not be able to give an account of his infatuation.
Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.
9. Two—opposed to "one" (Ec 4:8). Ties of union, marriage, friendship, religious communion, are better than the selfish solitariness of the miser (Ge 2:18).
reward—Advantage accrues from their efforts being conjoined. The Talmud says, "A man without a companion is like a left hand without the right.
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.
10. if they fall—if the one or other fall, as may happen to both, namely, into any distress of body, mind, or soul.
Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?
11. (See on 1Ki 1:1). The image is taken from man and wife, but applies universally to the warm sympathy derived from social ties. So Christian ties (Lu 24:32; Ac 28:15).
And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
threefold cord—proverbial for a combination of many—for example, husband, wife, and children (Pr 11:14); so Christians (Lu 10:1; Col 2:2, 19). Untwist the cord, and the separate threads are easily "broken."
Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.
13. The "threefold cord" [Ec 4:12] of social ties suggests the subject of civil government. In this case too, he concludes that kingly power confers no lasting happiness. The "wise" child, though a supposed case of Solomon, answers, in the event foreseen by the Holy Ghost, to Jeroboam, then a poor but valiant youth, once a "servant" of Solomon, and (1Ki 11:26-40) appointed by God through the prophet Ahijah to be heir of the kingdom of the ten tribes about to be rent from Rehoboam. The "old and foolish king" answers to Solomon himself, who had lost his wisdom, when, in defiance of two warnings of God (1Ki 3:14; 9:2-9), he forsook God.
will no more be admonished—knows not yet how to take warning (see Margin) God had by Ahijah already intimated the judgment coming on Solomon (1Ki 11:11-13).
For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.
14. out of prison—Solomon uses this phrase of a supposed case; for example, Joseph raised from a dungeon to be lord of Egypt. His words are at the same time so framed by the Holy Ghost that they answer virtually to Jeroboam, who fled to escape a "prison" and death from Solomon, to Shishak of Egypt (1Ki 11:40). This unconscious presaging of his own doom, and that of Rehoboam, constitutes the irony. David's elevation from poverty and exile, under Saul (which may have been before Solomon's mind), had so far their counterpart in that of Jeroboam.
whereas … becometh poor—rather, "though he (the youth) was born poor in his kingdom" (in the land where afterwards he was to reign).
I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead.
15. "I considered all the living," the present generation, in relation to ("with") the "second youth" (the "legitimate successor" of the "old king," as opposed to the "poor youth," the one first spoken of, about to be raised from poverty to a throne), that is, Rehoboam.
in his stead—the old king's.
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.
16. Notwithstanding their now worshipping the rising sun, the heir-apparent, I reflected that "there were no bounds, no stability (2Sa 15:6; 20:1), no check on the love of innovation, of all that have been before them," that is, the past generation; so
also they that come after—that is, the next generation,
shall not rejoice in him—namely, Rehoboam. The parallel, "shall not rejoice," fixes the sense of "no bounds," no permanent adherence, though now men rejoice in him.