This is not the first time that Solomon has observed this. But he takes a look at all of the bad things that people have done to each other. Weighing the oppression and misuse of power he determines that the way people abuse other people is wrong. He determines that life isn’t worth these horrible relationships. It is better never to have been born than to deal with the evil that he observes under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 4:2-3).
What exactly makes life not worth it?
People crying under oppression, with no one to comfort them. (Ecclesiastes 4:1)
The oppressors have power, but they are misusing it (that’s why they are oppressors), not helping those in need. (Ecclesiastes 4:1)
Keeping up with the Joneses as the motivation for work, which is pointless because the Joneses just keep one upping your efforts. (Ecclesiastes 4:4)
Also, loneliness is a problem. And throwing oneself into workaholism? Not a cure for the condition. (Ecclesiastes 4:7-8)
Through all of this, Solomon recognizes that it is better to be content, than to keep pouring one’s life out for things that are unattainable and have no lasting value. (Ecclesiastes 4:6)
Yet the take away from the first part of Chapter 4 is that people are what make life not worth living.
But People Need People
And as soon as you realize this is the point Solomon is making, he changes lanes on us.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
That’s right. People working together, cooperating, are better than that lonely workaholic spending every waking hour trying to increase riches he will never get to enjoy or share with anyone else. The two can accomplish more, finish quicker, and enjoy the results together.
Cooperating has other practical advantages, like overcoming obstacles, keeping each other warm, and warding off would be attackers. (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12)
“A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
I have seen this verse frequently at weddings recently. But it applies to relationships outside of marriage too. We can have abysmal relationships with other people that are focused on self, abuse of power, and appearances. Or we can have cooperative relationships that are mutually beneficial and satisfying. Or, best of all, we can have those relationships with God as the third partner, and experience a bond that is virtually indestructible.
My take away from Ecclesiastes 4 is this: What kind of relationships do I encourage? Do I make life not worth it for someone else because of my use of power, or useless striving after perishable things? Or do I build others up, and include Christ to ensure that the relationship is strong? I pray its the latter, and I hope these are the kinds of relationships you experience too.