Through references to pairs of things, the Preacher moves the reader’s attention to how people commonly relate to each other, or should. He observed that many people consider life as a contest to be won over another. One’s neighbor is a ready target for envy, which says nothing constructive about life and is to be pitied (4:4).
Foolish people work very little and accomplish even less due to laziness, but taking some time for rest and recreation is necessary to a balanced life. It is better occasionally to rest from labor than to waste life by laboring hand over fist (4:5-6). The Preacher could see how fostering relationships compared favorably to unrelenting labor.
Constant toil for the sole benefit of oneself was not the way to view work (4:7). A person living solely for himself will never find satisfaction in life because that view of life had no goal or purpose – just work (4:8a). Accumulated wealth can only support life; accumulating it must not define life. Driving oneself in constant work-related activity betrays an unreflective life. What is there of lasting value in that way of life? That is “a miserable way to live” (4:8b, GNB).
He observed that companionship is to be preferred over life alone. Companionship is more efficient labor-wise (4:9). More importantly, companionship offers benefits far more personally beneficial. There is mutual support when life trips you up (4:10). Companionship offers mutual comfort during “cold and lonely” times (4:11). And far beyond value is knowing you can rely on a friend when your life or integrity are at risk (4:12).
The Preacher saw that a person who needs no one else pays a heavy price for his independence. Verses 13 through 16 portray the picture of two men who became kings. One was born in poverty and spent time in prison, but grew wise and replaced the older one. The older one progressively became more and more foolish because he neglected to heed sound advice.
The Preacher offers several lessons from this story. The old king was replaced by a king who continued to learn. The old king epitomizes self-reliance and rugged individualism, but “rigid individualism” is something else (4:13). Wisdom can foster real success in life, even out of the worst of circumstances (4:14). Position does not guarantee respect from people (4:15). Position and success, however, do not guarantee people will never again become fickle (4:16).
Dr. David Moore is a university online Bible and theology instructor. Email: email@example.com
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