Ecclesiastes 4:7
Again, I saw futility under the sun.
An Old Portrait of Modern MenHomilistEcclesiastes 4:4-8
EnvyH. E. Nolloth, B. D.Ecclesiastes 4:4-8
How the Success of Others Should Affect UsJ. Bonnet.Ecclesiastes 4:4-8
Friendship a Gain in LifeJ. Willcock Ecclesiastes 4:7-12

A new thought dawns upon our author. In his observation of the different phases of human life, he notes much that is disappointing and unsatisfactory but he also perceives some alleviations of the evils by which man is harassed and disturbed. Amidst all his depreciation of the conditions under which we live, he admits positive blessings which it is our wisdom to discern and make the most of. Amongst these latter he counts friendship. It is a positive gain, by which the difficulties of life are diminished and its enjoyments increased. In vers. 8-12 he describes an isolated life wasted in fruitless, selfish toil, and dilates with something like enthusiasm upon the advantages of companionship. In order, I suppose, to make the contrast between the two states more vivid, he chooses a very pronounced case of solitariness - not that of a man merely isolated from his fellows, say living by himself on a desert island, but that of one utterly separate in spirit, a miser intent only on his own interests. We may call the passage a description of the evils of a solitary life and the value of friendship.

I. THE EVILS OF A SOLITARY LIFE. (Vers. 7, 8.) The picture is drawn with a very few touches, but it is remarkably distinct and vivid. It represents a "solitary, friendless money-maker - a Shylock without even a Jessica; an Isaac of York with his faithful Rebecca." He is alone, he has no companion, no relative or friend, he knows not who will succeed him in the possession of his heaped-up treasures; and yet he toils on with unremitting anxiety, from early in the morning till late at night, unwilling to lose a moment from his work as long as he can add anything to his gains. "There is no end of all his labor." The assiduity with which he at first applied himself to the task of accumulating riches distinguishes him to the end of life. At first, perhaps, he had to force himself to cultivate habits of industry and application, but now he cannot tear himself away from business. His habits rule him, and take away from him both the ability and the inclination to relax his labors and to enjoy the fruit of them. Have we not often seen instances of this folly in our own experience? Those who have lived a laborious life, and have been successful in their undertakings, toiling on to the very last, afflicted with an insatiable avarice, never satisfied with their riches, and only enjoying the mere consciousness of possessing them? Have we not noticed how such a man gets to be penurious and fretful and utterly unfeeling? He gathers in eagerly, and often unscrupulously, and gives out reluctantly and sparingly. He starves himself in the midst of abundance, grudges the most necessary expenses, and denies himself and those dependent upon him the commonest comforts. The misery he inflicts upon himself does not open his eyes to the folly of his conduct; he grows gradually callous to discomforts, and finds in the sordid gains which his parsimony secures an abundant compensation for all inconveniences. And not only does he doom himself to material discomfort and to intellectual impoverishment by setting his desires solely upon riches, but he degrades his moral and spiritual character. If he must keep all he has to himself, he must often ignore the just claims of others upon him; he must steel his heart against the appeals of the poor and needy, and. he must look with scorn and contempt upon all those who are generous and liberal in helping their fellows. And so we find such men gradually growing harsher and more unsympathetic, until it seems at last as if they regarded every one about them with suspicion, as seeking to wrest from their hands their hard-earned gains. And what is the pleasure of such a life? How is it such men do not say within themselves, "For whom do I labor, and bereave my- soul of good?" The folly of their conduct springs from two causes.

1. They forget that unremitting, fruitless toil is a curse. As a means to an end, toil is good, as an end in itself it is evil. It was never contemplated, even when man was innocent, that he should be idle. He was placed in the garden of Eden to dress and to keep it. But it is either his fault or his misfortune if he is all his life a slavish drudge. It may be that he is forced by the necessities of his position to labor incessantly and to the very end, to make a livelihood for himself and for those dependent upon him, but his condition is not an ideal one. If he could secure a little leisure and relaxation, it would be all the better for him in every sense of the word. And therefore for the miser to toil like a mere slave, when he might save himself the trouble, is an evidence of how blinded he is by the vice to which Be is addicted.

2. A second cause of the miser's folly is his ignoring the fact that riches have only value when made use of. The mere accumulation of them is not enough; they must be employed if they are to be of service. No real, healthy enjoyment of them is to be obtained by merely contemplating them and reckoning them up. Used in that way they only feed an unnatural and morbid appetite.

II. Over against the miseries of a selfish, solitary life, our author sets THE loyalties OF COMPANIONSHIP. (Vers. 9-12.) Friendship affords considerable mitigation of the evils by which life is beset, and a positive gain is secured by those who cultivate it. Three very homely figures are used to describe these advantages. The thought which connects them all together is that of life as a journey, or pilgrimage, like that which Bunyan describes in his wonderful book. If a man is alone in the journey of life, he is liable to accidents and discomforts and dangers which the presence of a friend would have averted or mitigated. He may fall on the road, and none be by to help him; he may at night lie shivering in the cold, if he has no companion to cherish him with kindly warmth; he may meet with robbers, whom his unaided strength is insufficient to beat off. All these figures illustrate the general principle that in union there is mutual helpfulness, comfort, and strength, verification of which we find in all departments of life - in the family, in the intercourse of friends, and in the Church. The benefits of such fellowships are undeniable. "It affords to the parties mutual counsel and direction, especially in seasons of perplexity and embarrassment; mutual sympathy, consolation, and care in the hour of calamity and distress; mutual encouragement in anxiety and depression; mutual aid by the joint application of bodily or mental energy to difficult and laborious tasks; mutual relief amidst the fluctuations of worldly circumstances, the abundance of the one reciprocally supplying the deficiencies of the other; mutual defense and vindication when the character of either is injuriously attacked and defamed; and mutual reproof and affectionate expostulation when either has, through the power of temptation, fallen into sin. 'Woe to him that is alone when he so falleth-and hath not another to help him up!' - no one to care for his soul, and restore him to the paths of righteousness" (Wardiaw). So far as the application of the principle to the case of ordinary friendship is concerned, the wisdom of our author is instinctively approved of by all. The writings of moralists in all countries and times teem with maxims similar to his. Some have thought that this virtue of friendship is too secular in its character to receive much encouragement in the teaching of Christianity; that it is somewhat overshadowed, if not relegated to comparative insignificance, by the obligations which a highly spiritual religion imposes. The fact that the salvation of his soul is the one great duty of the individual might have been expected to lead to a new development of selfishness, and the fact that devotion to the Savior is to take precedence of all other forms of affection might have been expected to diminish the intensity of love which is the source of friendship. And not only have such ideas existed in a speculative form, but they have led, in many cases, to actual attempts to realize them. The ancient hermits sought to cultivate the highest form of Christian life by complete isolation from their fellows; they fled from society, dissevered themselves from all the ties of blood and friendship, and shunned all association with their kind as something contaminating. And in our own time, among many to whom the monastical life is specially repulsive, the very same delusion which lay at the root of it is still cherished. They think that love of husband, wife, child, or friend conflicts with love of God and Christ; that if the human love is too intense it becomes a form of sin. And along with this is generally found a cruel and dishonoring conception of the Divine character. God is thought of as jealous of those who take his place in the affections, and the loss of those loved is spoken of as a removal by him of the "idols" who had usurped his rights. That such teaching is a perversion of Christianity is very evident. The New Testament takes all the forms of natural human love as types of the Divine. As the father loves his children, so does God love us. As Christ loved the Church ought a husband to love his wife, ought his followers to love one another. No bounds can be set to affection; he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God." The one great check, that our love for another should not be allowed to lead us to do wrong or condone wrong, is not upon the intensity, but upon the perversion of affection, and leads to a purer, holier, and more satisfying exercise of affection. That Christ, whose love was universal, did not discourage friendship is evident from the fact that he chose twelve disciples, and admitted them to a closer intimacy with himself than others enjoyed, and that even among them there was one whom he specially loved. It was seen, too, in the affection which he manifested to the family in Bethany - Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. In the time of his agony in Gethsemane he chose three of the disciples to watch with him, seeking for some solace and support in the fact of their presence and sympathy. The truth of Solomon's statement that "two are better than one" was confirmed by Christ's sending out his disciples "two and two together" (Luke 10:1), and by the Divine direction given by the Holy Ghost when Barnabas and Saul were set apart to go together on their first great missionary enterprise (Acts 13:2). But over and above these instances of Christ's example in cultivating friendship, and of the advantages of mutual co-operation in Christian work, the peat principle remains that true religion cannot come to any strength in an isolated life. We cannot worship God aright if we "forsake the assembling of ourselves together;" we cannot cultivate the virtues of which holiness consists - justice, compassion, forbearance, purity, and love - if we isolate ourselves; for all these virtues imply our conducting ourselves in certain ways in all our relations with others. We lose the opportunity of helping the weak, of cheering the disheartened, and of co-operating with those who are striving to overcome the evils by which the world is burdened, if we withdraw into ourselves and ignore others. So far, then, from the wisdom of Solomon in this matter being, in comparison with the fuller revelation through Christ, of an inferior and almost pagan character, it is of permanent and undiminished value. Our acquaintance with Christian teaching is calculated to lead us to form quite as decided a judgment as Solomon did as to the evils of a solitary life, and the advantages of friendship. - J.W.

Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
The "quietness" here spoken of is not the inactivity of sloth, but that restfulness of spirit which an industrious man may enjoy when his industry is pervaded by a cheerful contentment. Now, here is one of those maxims with which Ecclesiastes sought to comfort the hearts and to direct the conduct of his countrymen. Many of them might be disposed to murmur because the times were adverse to their acquisition of wealth. But he wishes them to remember that, even if the times had been more prosperous, they themselves would not necessarily have been more happy. He directs their attention away from quantity to quality of possession. One man may get more real satisfaction out of a little than another man gets out of much. Two handfuls are not necessarily better than one. It depends on what is in the hands. One handful of grain is better than two handfuls of chaff. It depends also on what kind of man has the handful or handfuls. Happiness, in its degree and quality, varies with the man who enjoys, as welt as with the means of enjoyment. Yea, and even the same man may possibly get more satisfaction out of one handful than out of two handfuls of the same thing. It depends on whether the additional handful does not bring with it something else as well. In human life it often happens that a plus involves a minus; a gain in one direction means a loss in another. This, indeed, is no argument for "folding the hands" in sloth or indifference; for there is no weariness like the weariness of idleness, and there is no more prolific source of cares than carelessness. But it is an argument against that spirit of envious rivalry and selfish, restless ambition, which lessens the capacity, in the very act of increasing the means, of enjoyment. This maxim of Ecclesiastes is well worth pondering. It is pitched in the same key as the maxim of the Apostle Paul: "Godliness with contentment is great gain": and it reminds us of the still more inclusive maxim of our Lord Himself: "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."

(T. C. Finlayson.)

Example, Purpose, Returned, Vain, Vanity
1. vanity is increased unto men by oppression
4. by envy
5. by idleness
7. by covetousness
9. by solitariness
13. by willfulness

Dictionary of Bible Themes
Ecclesiastes 4:7-8

     5845   emptiness
     5907   miserliness

The Order of Thought which Surrounded the Development of Jesus.
As the cooled earth no longer permits us to understand the phenomena of primitive creation, because the fire which penetrated it is extinct, so deliberate explanations have always appeared somewhat insufficient when applying our timid methods of induction to the revolutions of the creative epochs which have decided the fate of humanity. Jesus lived at one of those times when the game of public life is freely played, and when the stake of human activity is increased a hundredfold. Every great part,
Ernest Renan—The Life of Jesus

In making the following thread to the rich literature on Constantine the plan has been to confine almost wholly to Monographs, since to refer to all histories, encyclopædias, and the like which treat of him would be endless. Only such few analyzed references are introduced as have special reasons. Even with this limit it cannot be at all hoped that the list is exhaustive. Considerable pains has been taken, however, to make it full, as there is no really extended modern list of works on Constantine,
Eusebius Pamphilius—The Life of Constantine

And for Your Fearlessness against them Hold this Sure Sign -- Whenever There Is...
43. And for your fearlessness against them hold this sure sign--whenever there is any apparition, be not prostrate with fear, but whatsoever it be, first boldly ask, Who art thou? And from whence comest thou? And if it should be a vision of holy ones they will assure you, and change your fear into joy. But if the vision should be from the devil, immediately it becomes feeble, beholding your firm purpose of mind. For merely to ask, Who art thou [1083] ? and whence comest thou? is a proof of coolness.
Athanasius—Select Works and Letters or Athanasius

The Upbringing of Jewish Children
The tenderness of the bond which united Jewish parents to their children appears even in the multiplicity and pictorialness of the expressions by which the various stages of child-life are designated in the Hebrew. Besides such general words as "ben" and "bath"--"son" and "daughter"--we find no fewer than nine different terms, each depicting a fresh stage of life. The first of these simply designates the babe as the newly--"born"--the "jeled," or, in the feminine, "jaldah"--as in Exodus 2:3, 6, 8.
Alfred Edersheim—Sketches of Jewish Social Life

Letter xxxvi (Circa A. D. 1131) to the Same Hildebert, who had not yet Acknowledged the Lord Innocent as Pope.
To the Same Hildebert, Who Had Not Yet Acknowledged the Lord Innocent as Pope. He exhorts him to recognise Innocent, now an exile in France, owing to the schism of Peter Leonis, as the rightful Pontiff. To the great prelate, most exalted in renown, Hildebert, by the grace of God Archbishop of Tours, Bernard, called Abbot of Clairvaux, sends greeting, and prays that he may walk in the Spirit, and spiritually discern all things. 1. To address you in the words of the prophet, Consolation is hid from
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux—Some Letters of Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux

Scriptures Showing the Sin and Danger of Joining with Wicked and Ungodly Men.
Scriptures Showing The Sin And Danger Of Joining With Wicked And Ungodly Men. When the Lord is punishing such a people against whom he hath a controversy, and a notable controversy, every one that is found shall be thrust through: and every one joined with them shall fall, Isa. xiii. 15. They partake in their judgment, not only because in a common calamity all shares, (as in Ezek. xxi. 3.) but chiefly because joined with and partakers with these whom God is pursuing; even as the strangers that join
Hugh Binning—The Works of the Rev. Hugh Binning

It is not surprising that the book of Ecclesiastes had a struggle to maintain its place in the canon, and it was probably only its reputed Solomonic authorship and the last two verses of the book that permanently secured its position at the synod of Jamnia in 90 A.D. The Jewish scholars of the first century A.D. were struck by the manner in which it contradicted itself: e.g., "I praised the dead more than the living," iv. 2, "A living dog is better than a dead lion," ix. 4; but they were still more
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

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