The Inequalities of Life are Vanity
King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 - "Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun: And look! The tears of the oppressed, but they have no comforter--on the side of their oppressors there is power, but they have no comforter. Therefore I praised the dead who were already dead, more than the living who are still alive. Yet, better than both is he who has never existed, who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun."

Although there is certainly power on the side of the oppressors, neither the oppressors nor the oppressed have a comforter. The inequality of power between them is futile in this respect. Those who are dead rest physically, and in that sense they find comfort.

In 4:3, Solomon affirmed - "Better than both is he who has never existed." This statement (as well as the preceding verses) can only be true from a purely secular viewpoint. From such a perspective, it is true that man is better off not knowing about all of the evil (i.e., oppression) done by men. However, for the faithful few who will enjoy the delights of a heavenly home, certainly they would not agree that the one who has never existed is in the best position.

4:4-8 reads - "Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind. The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh. Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind. Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun: There is one alone, without companion: He has neither son nor brother. Yet there is no end to all his labors, nor is his eye satisfied with riches. But he never asks, 'For whom do I toil and deprive myself of good?' This also is vanity and a grave misfortune."

In every age, there are those blessed with certainly abilities, and those who lack such talents are often led to envy. However, this inequality of life is also vain. What good does envy accomplish? One would be much better served by using his time improving his own abilities rather than feeding futile thoughts of jealousy.

In this section, Solomon seems to be calling for a balance between working too hard physically and working too little. This is yet another inequality of life. The wise king observed that the one who works himself to death is never satisfied (even when he has no dependents) and isn't any better off really than the fool who is so lazy he "consumes his own flesh." Friends, we too must learn to be content (cf. Phil. 4:11). Let us find satisfaction in the simple things in life and not waste our days striving to get "both hands full" with materialistic pursuits. Such is like trying to catch the wind and sure to lead one down the path of destruction (cf. I Tim. 6:6ff).

Solomon wrote in 4:9-12 - "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken."

Good companionship will help reduce the difficulties in life. Solomon mentions several benefits of such. Primarily, work is more productive and there is mutual care, warmth, and safety.

The chapter closes with some thoughts on leadership and the temporary nature of public approval. The amount of respect that leaders receive is another inequality in life. No leaders are self-sufficient, though some think they are. Such a one will be replaced by one who is younger and wiser, though probably not as wealthy. Of course, even this leader cannot please everyone. Those who come along later will find fault with him. This truth emphasizes another vanity of life--trying to please everyone! Friends, how much better off we will be if we lay aside hopes of pleasing men and resolve to please God to the best of our ability! This, like true companionship, is certainly not vain!

We will continue this study tomorrow.