Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
Solomon is writing about the evil that exists in the world. When I read these verses I wrote the following note to myself: “Evil always has and always will exist in the world.” Solomon writes that those who are dead and those who have not been born are better off than the living. Why does he say this? Because from birth to death we will always come in contact with evil. Only those who no longer exist or those who never existed will be void of evil.
The next line I wrote in the note to myself was this: “It is foolish how today and throughout time we have laid the blame on each other for the evil that exists in the world. We convince ourselves if it weren’t for this person or people evil wouldn’t exist.”
Of course my first thoughts on that note go to politics. Each side is determined to convince you that if you just gave them all the power, their definition of evil would no longer be a part of the world. It’s the other guy to blame, not me. We are your salvation.
Solomon knows that evil will always exist. It’s a fact of life and the only way to avoid it is to not exist.
In Ecclesiastes 4:4, Solomon explains the catalyst for the evil and sin that exist.
Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Envy of your neighbor, which is covetousness, which leads you up through the chain of sin and evil. (See my previous post: Covetousness, The Gateway Drug.)
What follows in verse 5, as Solomon further elaborates on the evil in the world, has been interpreted in many different ways.
The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.
My thoughts on verse 5 are this. The fool is the person who believes that someone else will deal with the evil. They think that by just sitting and doing nothing someone else will take care of their oppression. They say; I choose not to toil in life, I choose not to deal with the evil in my life and I choose not to be responsible for my life. I choose to give my life over to the oppressor who is telling me they will deliver me from evil.
By making these choices they have become indebted to others, others who are driven by covetousness. The fool’s life is left to others who will not and cannot feed the soul of the fool and so the fool devours their own flesh, their family, their life.
In verse 6 Solomon concludes these thoughts.
Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
Solomon tells us that moderation is the key to dealing with the evil in man. There is the constant striving for what others have or wanting more than what others have which is coveting. That leads to sin and evil. Then there is the other extreme, doing nothing. Doing nothing and expecting others to deal with evil while you waste away your life. To waste the gift of life is evil.
Solomon says find the point where you put aside your toil and striving to reflect on the gift of life that God has given you. The gift of life that possesses the tools to deal with the evil that will always be there.
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