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Ecc 4:1 Then I returned and saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold, the tears of those who were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter-
“Surely oppression maketh a wise man foolish” (Ecc. 7:7 RV), he commented at the end of his life- even though right then he was chastising the people with whips, oppressing them (1 Kings 12:11). 1 Kings 5:13-16 reveals that Solomon  had  153,000  full  time  and  90,000  part  time  male servants.  Israel's  complaint  that  Solomon  had  whipped them implies  that  he  treated them like slaves, with himself as the slave-driver.  600,000  adults came out of Egypt (Ex.12:37), and assuming  the  population  only  rose  slightly over the next 550 years,  we  have  the picture of an Israel where almost half the males  (i.e. probably the majority of the working population) were pressganged into slavery to a despotic King Solomon. 

He knew the true wisdom, he saw his reflection so accurately in the mirror, but resigned from its personal implications. He could even write that “I returned and considered all the oppression that are done under the sun [by himself!]: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power [Solomon was king and had set up the tax system in a clever and biased way]; but they had no comforter” (Ecc. 4:1; 5:8). It was a real case of spiritual schizophrenia- he sorrowed for the people he oppressed. He even seems to say that there is nothing to be surprised at in the poor being oppressed, because the whole hierarchy of officialdom above them do the same (Ecc. 5:2). He saw his sin as inevitable, as part of his participation in humanity- he didn’t own up to his own desperate need for grace. Yet he also knew that “man lords it over man [cp. Solomon’s oppression of the people] to his own hurt” (Ecc. 8:9 RSV). But still he did so.

"Oppression" in Ecc. 4 is the same word used by Hezekiah about his suffering and illness (Is. 38:19 "I am oppressed"). If the verses in Ecc. 4:1-4 are relevant to Hezekiah, then it is as if he is regretting having been given 15 years extra to live. He concludes life is meaningless, despite having been given 15 years extra. Ecclesiastes stresses that death is inevitable- and who more than Hezekiah during his last 15 years to appreciate that? He thinks that death is preferable to life (Ecc. 6:3; 7:1). Because he saw no point in life as he saw the inevitable end approaching, at the end of the 15 years. Ecclesiastes has an obsession with death- and that fits Hezekiah perfectly.

Ecc 4:2 Therefore I praised the dead who have been long dead more than the living who are yet alive-
For all his wealth, power and the ability to enjoy it, Solomon sees life and existence as a bad thing. And this is the final end of those who live life for themselves and not for God. I noted on Ecc. 2:17,18 that Solomon "hated life" just as he hated his own works; because he was a human doing rather than a human being.

Ecc 4:3 Yes, better than them both is him who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun-
I suggested on :2 that Solomon included himself in this bitter regret of life and existence. Life is God's great gift; but Solomon despises it. What he says here is really blasphemous. Because he sees no possibility of eternity (see on Ecc. 3:11), he therefore considers existence futile. If he had believed as David his father had, then the perspective of the Kingdom would have changed his entire outlook.

Ecc 4:4 Then I saw all the labour and achievement that is the envy of a man’s neighbour. This also is vanity and a striving after wind-
Solomon has much to say about the evil of envy (e.g. Prov. 14:30; 23:17; 24:1,19; 27:4). And indeed, envy is so bitter that one may as well not labour or achieve more than our neighbour, because the resultant envy makes all our apparent success but vanity. But true as his condemnations of envy are, he surely has in mind the way that Ephraim envied Judah, and envied his throne (s.w. Is. 11:13). This all came to full term after his death, when Ephraim departed from Judah under Jeroboam. Again, Solomon is harnessing Divine truth to his own agenda of self justification. And we who claim to hold His truths must take warning. But as he faced death, he came to realize that all such envy is as nothing before the reality of death, which he understood as the end of life, as he had assumed this life was the time for reward and expresses no personal hope in a resurrection of the body (Ecc. 4:4; 9:6). 

Ecc 4:5 The fool folds his hands together and ruins himself-
LXX "and eats his own flesh". This caricature continues the kind of mockery of the poor as being lazy and foolish which Solomon indulges in throughout Proverbs. He never totally quits his works based attitude, and justification of his own native personality type as a hard worker.

Ecc 4:6 Better is a handful, with quietness, than two handfuls with labour and chasing after wind-
LXX "waywardness of spirit". This continues Solomon's theme of :4 that excessive labour isn't worth the grief. Whilst absolute laziness is wrong (:5), Solomon urges a quiet life, with moderate effort, with quietness and ability to enjoy what you have as the important thing. This all reflects his nihilism and refusal to lift his spiritual horizons higher. The idea of working with God and for His glory was quite out of his mind.

Ecc 4:7 Then I returned and saw vanity under the sun-
"Returned" is the standard word used for changing the mind. I suggested on Ecc. 3:17,18 that Solomon is now changing his mind in his old age, rejecting the Divine truths he earlier held, in accordance with how we read that his heart turned away from Yahweh and to idols (1 Kings 11:3). 

Ecc 4:8 There is one who is alone, and he has neither son nor brother. There is no end to all of his labour, neither are his eyes satisfied with wealth. For whom then, do I labour, and deprive my soul of enjoyment? This also is vanity. Yes, it is a miserable business-
The Lord surely built His parable of the lonely, rich fool on this. His punchline was "And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Lk. 12:19-20), alluding to "For whom then do I labour?". But the Lord's parable was not just wallowing in the folly of hard work when you can't long enjoy it. It connects with His teaching that correct use of wealth [giving it away] results in "treasure in heaven", a reward to be given to us when the Lord returns in judgment (Mt. 6:19; Mk. 10:21).


The Lord appears to have this character in mind when He frames the parable of the rich fool. And yet Solomon has himself in view. He laboured for yet more wealth, when God had given him huge wealth. And he sees his problem; his eyes could never be satisfied. And indeed, the Millionaire always wants another million… Solomon had lost his brothers, whom he saw as competitors to the throne and had constantly criticized in the Proverbs. And he had no son he appeared confident of as his successor. Solomon really sounds like the spoilt child he was. He complains that his soul was 'deprived of enjoyment' because he had wanted too much wealth.

The lack of "satisfaction" is a major theme in the descriptions of condemnation for those who break the covenant (s.w. Lev. 26:26). And it is the principle we must live by today; that the only satisfaction is in the things of God's Kingdom. Even in this life, the eye is not "satisfied" with seeing or wealth (s.w. Prov. 27:20; Ecc. 1:8; 4:8; 5:10). And those who seek such satisfaction from those things will find that dissatisfaction is the lead characteristic of their condemnation (Ps. 59:15). Tragically Solomon knew the truth of all this but lived otherwise; just as so many do who give lip service to the idea that the things of the flesh cannot satisfy.

Solomon later concludes that despite having every material blessing, a man can still not be satisfied (s.w. Ecc. 4:8; 6:3). But in Proverbs he thinks that the righteous do satisfy their souls in this life (Prov. 13:25). But he thought that this would be experienced in this life, rather than in any future Kingdom of God on earth. As he got closer to death, he realized that he had not satisfied his soul despite all his wealth. And so he concluded that righteousness was vain, and turned away from Yahweh. This is what happens when we lose the perspective of the future Kingdom of God.

It is possible to see Solomon as an anti-Christ, as well as a type of Christ; like Saul, he was both a type of Christ, and also the very opposite of the true Christ. This point is really brought out in Is. 53:11, where the true Messiah is described as being “satisfied” with the travail or labour of his soul, and will thereby bring forth many children. The Hebrew words used occur in close proximity in several passages in Ecclesiastes, where Solomon speaks of how all his “travail” or “labour” has not “satisfied” him, and that it is all the more vain because his children may well not appreciate his labour and will likely squander it (Ecc. 1:8; 4:8; 5:10; 6:3). Likewise the ‘Babylon’ system of Revelation, replete with its feature of 666, is described in terms which unmistakably apply to Solomon’s Kingdom. This feature of Solomon- being both a type of Christ and yet also the very opposite of the true Christ- reflects the tragic duality which we will observe at such length in our later studies.

In Ecc. 2:18,19 he laments that  his  labours will achieve nothing; doubtless alluding back to  his  words in Prov. 5:10, where he says that the Gentile wife will make the young Israelite's labours meaningless. Sin never satisfies. “Hell and destruction are never satisfied, and the eyes of man are never satisfied” (Prov. 27:20 RV), Solomon wrote in his youth; and then in old age, he came to basically the same conclusion, having spent his life working back to the truth that he had been taught in his youth (Ecc. 1:8; 4:8). And there are many men and women who have done the same. We all tend to be empirical learners; and yet this is the great power of God’s word, that through it we need not have to learn everything through our failures; but we can receive His Truth, trust it, and simply live by it. Otherwise we shall be like Solomon… 

Ecc 4:9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labour-
Despite having 1000 wives and every relationship he fancied, Solomon complains in :8 of the existential loneliness which faced him. He wishes for just one good friend, and surely he has in view the Genesis language of one man and one woman, two people, being joined as one by God. He hankers too late for just one wife. But instead of repenting for his unbridled lust and moving forward in God's grace, he just hankers for what he cannot now have. The good reward for the labour of the two people would refer to children which the two of them have raised (Ps. 127:3).

Koheleth often alludes to early Genesis, and here we have another example- to Gen. 2:18, "It is not good that the man should be alone", and the "labour" refers to the curse of how man would labour with sweat until he returns to dust. But he considers this as an example of "vanity under the sun" (:7). Whatever blessings there are in life, even ones from God, and no matter how Divine wisdom might make life more endurable, all is dwarfed beneath the shadow of death as the ultimate, final end. Paul really does have koheleth in mind when he writes that we are most miserable, if in this life only we have hope in Christ with no perspective of resurrection.

Ecc 4:10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls, and doesn’t have another to lift him up-
Solomon felt alone in his wealth (:8), and seems to accept he has fallen in some sense. Perhaps he means spiritually; and he complains he has nobody to help him up. He had married hundreds of Gentile women, despite the warning that they would turn away his heart. And yet instead of repenting and asking for God to "lift him up", as David asked (s.w. Ps. 41:10; 113:7), he just continues complaining that he has nobody to lift him up.

Ecc 4:11 Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one keep warm alone?-
Solomon's whining that he didn't have a single wife, as a result of his polygamy, is now starting to sound pathetic and irritating. Poor Solomon is cold because he has no wife to lie next to him. He has become bitter with them all, and is unlike his father David, who in his old age was kept warm by Abishag lying with him (1 Kings 1:1-4). But Solomon seems to allude to this and lament that in his old age, he didn't have anyone to do this for him.

Ecc 4:12 If a man prevails against one who is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken-
Solomon still has himself in view, as the one left existentially alone because of his wealth (see on :8). And now in :13 he again has himself in view; Ecclesiastes truly is Solomon's autobiography and lament over his own old age. The sense in this verse seems to be that Solomon felt weak and alone, and had nobody supporting him. Just one other would make two of them, and even better would be just one more, making a threefold cord.

Ecc 4:13 Better is a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who doesn’t know how to receive admonition any more-
Solomon has so much to say about "correction" or instruction coming from the possession of wisdom (Prov. 8:10,33; 10:17; 12:1; 13:1,24; 15:5,10,32; 16:22; 19:20,27; 22:15; 23:12,13). But in the end he chastised or corrected his people by whipping them (s.w. 1 Kings 12:11,14). Solomon initially asked for wisdom in order to guide his people, but he ended up whipping / physically chastising them into conformity with his wishes rather than allowing wisdom to correct. Again, he was playing God; for it is God through His wisdom who chastises, and not man. But Solomon thought he was effectively God to his people. This is why Solomon argues that servants cannot be corrected by words (Prov. 29:19 s.w.), and a child must be physically chastised (s.w. Prov. 19:18; 29:17 cp. Prov. 13:24; 23:13), regardless of his screams of pain. This kind of thing is a denial of his claims elsewhere that it is Divine wisdom which chastises / corrects, and such correction is from God and not man. Solomon's final description of himself as an old and foolish king who refuses to be admonished says it all (Ecc. 4:13); he admonishes others (s.w. Ecc. 12:12), but refuses to be admonished or corrected by his own wisdom. He failed to personalize it.  

Ecclesiastes  is in many ways Solomon's self-examination; and it was accurate. He indicates that the temple had actually made him stumble,   and   that  his  numerous  sacrifices  had  been  the sacrifices  of  a fool, rather than the wise man he had appeared to  be (Ecc. 5:1); and surely he was casting a sideways glance at himself when he spoke of the wise child (cp. Solomon initially, 1 Kings 3:7) being grea    ter than the old and foolish king who would no  longer  be  admonished  (Ecc. 4:13;  even  though Solomon had advisers, 1  Kings 12:6). Yet he chose to do absolutely nothing about this; once again, his accurate spiritual knowledge had no real  practical influence upon him. For he had urged in Prov. 15:22 the need to take admonishment from others.

Ecc 4:14 For out of prison he came forth to be king; yes, even in his kingdom he was born poor-
He writes here of catastrophe overtaking the obstinate old king who will learn nothing. Revolution sweeps him away and brings to the throne a young claimant who has been kept in prison (cp. Jeroboam in Egypt). In spite of his rank the new monarch has grown up in relative poverty; and in the end, “all the living”, the people of the land, at first serve with the first king but later forget him. This was Solomon’s fear, his fantasy… so piercingly accurate in his self-understanding.

LXX "because he also that was in his kingdom has become poor" implies that the new king would arise because of the poverty of the people in the kingdom. Ordinary people in Solomon's later reign were enslaved to him and beaten by him (1 Kings 12:11). Solomon so precisely understands the situation in his own kingdom, and how therefore a new king will arise. This is a feature of Ecclesiastes; Solomon so well understands his position, but refuses to do anything about it. Again we see that understanding of "truth" alone will not save, but rather drive into depression and nihilism unless it is personalized and believed. And this is seen in so many in Protestant groups devoted to 'finding Bible truth'. 

Ecc 4:15 I saw all the living who walk under the sun, that they were with the youth, the other, who succeeded him-
Solomon's premonitions about the successful revolt of Jeroboam were correct, but he exaggerates them hugely into almost apocalyptic scales, with "all the living under the sun" following this "youth". He was only young compared to Solomon. Solomon had never entertained much hope of the future Messianic kingdom promised to David, seeing his kingdom as that promised Kingdom of God. And the result was that he starts to have deeply irrational fears about the future of his own kingdom. These fears and even accurate imaginations reflect his lack of faith in the Kingdom of God. 

Ecc 4:16 There was no end of all the people, even of all them over whom he was- yet those who come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a chasing after wind
To rejoice in a person was to politically follow or support them (Is. 8:6). Solomon sees the new king as having apparently endless support from people, and yet this too would fade away- as all things do. Again, Solomon's premonitions were so accurate.

Hezekiah had traded 15 years of personal peace for his descendants being eunuchs in captivity, and his people going into exile in Babylon. He knew full well that those who came after him would not rejoice in him. But he considered death to be so final that even that was but vanity. And seeking to have a good name after death was also a mere chasing after wind. We see here how totally limited were his horizons, bounded by his belief that death was the final limit and boundary to human existence. The tragedy is that he need not have seen life like that.