Ecc 4:9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. (KJV)
Today, we continue our look at the book of Ecclesiastes. By my count, we are in chapter 4 this week. My focus in this chapter summary will be relationships. The beginning of this chapter opens with The Preacher feeling compassion for those who are/were oppressed (and dismay at the strength of their oppressors). This really shouldn't surprise us about Solomon, because the Lord did give him (as the KJV translates) "largeness of heart" (I Kings 4:29). Among his first petitions to God was that he would be given an understanding heart (I Kings 3:9).
Suffering is a reality in this present age. Most of us come to terms with the concept that life isn't fair at some point or another. Regardless of our stature or standing in this world, we ought to never lose the capacity to feel compassion for those who are oppressed. For all of Solomon's faults (and yes, he had a few), this is certainly something for which he should be commended. And it is a great lesson for all who are in leadership or places of authority.
Next, Solomon contrasts two types of people. Those who are obsessed with work, and those who are obsessed with avoiding it. We'll start with the latter and then discuss the former. The bible, and in particular the book of Proverbs, takes a harsh position against slothfulness or laziness. The sluggard is often characterized as someone who hates work so badly, he can't stand to lift a fork to even put food in his mouth. One of my favorite excuses that people use to avoid work is also found in the book of Proverbs:
Pro 22:13 The sluggard says, "There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!" (ESV)
Why not try that excuse next time you feel like taking a day off from work? No seriously, don't try it! And please don't tell the boss that I told you to do it. But while the lazy man is starving himself by refusing to work, the overly ambitious man is starving himself of something just as important as food- meaningful relationships! The bible commends the man or woman that works to make an honest living. But there is a point at which we are no longer working to provide a living for our families. We can become consumed with working simply to acquire more "stuff". It is not for me (or anyone else for that matter) to judge what an appropriate amount of labor is for an individual. But here is a helpful gauge; when you reach the place that you no longer have any meaningful interaction with friends and family (or God) because you are "too busy", then you are indeed "too busy". One of the most difficult challenges in life is to find a place of balance.
The Preacher goes on to describe what life is like for the man who is consumed with his work and leaves room for nothing (or no one) else:
Ecc 4:8 Here is someone who lives alone. He has no son, no brother, yet he is always working, never satisfied with the wealth he has. For whom is he working so hard and denying himself any pleasure? This is useless, too---and a miserable way to live. (GNB)
Sounds like a certain character from a Charles Dickens novel doesn't it? There is a tragic irony for the man (or woman) in this predicament. He is working hard- but never has enough; he has acquired a certain lifestyle- but he can't enjoy it- he may be working to earn the respect of his peers- but has no one to share his accomplishments with- how tragic!!!
God created us for community. The Garden of Eden was an earthly paradise of sorts. Adam had the whole pristine world to himself. There was no death, no sickness, disease, or any other tragedy or anxiety to weigh down Adam's soul. He could fellowship with God and enjoy what many would consider an ideal situation. But God looked upon it, and thought "something's wrong":
Gen 2:18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. (KJV)
Eden was not complete for Adam until he had someone to share it with. And we need meaningful interaction with other people too. I worry about the isolation of society and how we have become so individualized. I enjoy dabbling with social media and networking with friends over the internet. But that is no substitute for "real life" interactions. Some of us may have thousands of "friends" or "followers" on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. etc., but how many of those relationships involve meaningful interaction? No doubt, some of those friendships are genuine and do involve interactions beyond "liking" someone's status update or tagging them in a photo. The point is not to bash social media (I enjoy a good status update as much as the next guy!) but to make sure that we are intentional about having deep connections with other human beings- especially those closest to us.
The final thoughts of this chapter revolve around the fickleness of humanity (honestly, I'm not sure if fickleness is a word....I think it is). Today's rising stars will be the "back page" news of tomorrow. Solomon advises us not to become unteachable. He says that a poor and wise young person is better off than a king who refuses to learn anything or take advice (verse 13). I remember when I used to know everything. It happened twice I think- once when I was 16, and then again the first year I started preaching on a regular basis. Now, I'm far less sure of myself. Oh, I'm sure of God's word. But I'm less sure that I know everything. And I think that's probably a good thing. At least Solomon seems to think so. And he was the wisest man of his day, so I think he was right when he told us to maintain (what I call) a "teachable spirit".
Verses 15 and 16 really resonate with me for some reason. I think I'll post them here, just in case some people actually read my blog but don't check the scriptures to see if I'm telling the truth:
15 I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king's successor.
16 There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (NIV)
No matter how irreplaceable we think we are.....someone is going to replace us. It may seem as if that company won't be able to continue in your absence, but they will likely continue to operate and do business just fine without your assistance. There may be a time when some consider you a hero for your leadership. But if you stay around long enough, you may live to see yourself become the villain (in their eyes). If you live your life for the approval and applause of men, you will eventually be disappointed. There's a reason they have a "flavor of the month" at your local ice cream store. Next month, the people will want something different. We are approaching "Palm Sunday" on the liturgical calendar. Many were hailing the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem with cries of "Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the LORD" (Matt 21:9, Mark 11:9, John 12:13). Just a little while later He would hear these awful words:
Luk 23:18 And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas:
Luk 23:19 (Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.)
Luk 23:20 Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them.
Luk 23:21 But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. (KJV)
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