Summary: Ecclesiiastes


Chapter four has a pointed, popular but painful phrase in the book – vexation of spirit. There are three “vexation of spirit” occurs seven times in the Bible, thrice in chapter four, in verses 4, 6, and 16, the most in any chapter of the book or the Bible. Spirit is more than wind in Hebrew, which is the normal translation nowadays besides KJV. The more popular translations include Spirit or spirit (232x), wind (92x), and breath (27x). Wind is too specific as compared to spirit, which is non-object, physical or mobile. Vexation is taken from the root raah, translated mostly as feed (75x), shepherd (63x), pastor (8x), herdmen (7x) in KJV. So the whole phrase could mean eating, consuming or digesting spirit, air or breath. It can mean endless, elusive, erratic, empty and exasperating. It could mean discouragement, desolation or deficiency.

Afflicted vv 1-6 Alone vv 7-12 Aging vv 13-16

Be Sensitive to Sufferers

1 Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed— and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter. 2 And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. 3 But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. 4 And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 5 Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves. 6 Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. 

My wife and I arrived in Hong Kong on Aug 18, 2008. After my wife passed away on May 22, 2016, Rev. So invited me for holiday dinner (July 1, 2016). I asked him, “How am I different from other coworkers whose wives passed away?” He said, “Different. You do not have any relatives in Hong Kong.” Other coworkers can go home to their parents’ place for dinner. My relatives were siblings on my wife’s side – two sisters in Hong Kong, and we had no children. So I know what is like to be alone and abandoned in Hong Kong, even though I do have a brother in Malaysia, a sister in USA and my mother in Singapore. Truth to be told, there are worse. There is at least three.

Preach to the suffering and you will never lack a congregation. There is a broken heart in every pew. British pastor Joseph Parker

There are at least five traditional groups in society that suffer oppression or are vulnerable to oppression: the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, the poor (Zech 7:10) and the hireling (Mal 3:5).

There are seven types of people up to verse 6: the fool strong. The verb “see” is a progression (vv 1, 3). The author first “saw” all the “oppressions” (Eccl 4:1), the tears (v 1), power (v 1), no comforter (v 1), then the “evil work” (v 3). The word “oppression” is a verb and not a noun, an act and no longer a discussion. The verb occurs merely five times in the Bible, of which verse 2 is its second occurrence in the Bible. The first occurrence is in Job 35:9, where the oppressed “cry out by reason of the arm of the mighty.” The verb is derived from another verb that is translated as deceive (Lev 6:2), defraud (Lev 19:13), wrong (1 Chron 16:21), drinketh up (Job 40:23), doeth violence (Prov 28:17), so it is an issue of might, money and morality. Are there worse things than suffer oppressions? What can be worse than oppression? Of course, there are worse things than wicked oppression, of which the first is without comfort. Twice the verse says “they have no comforter,” which is translated as ease (Isa 1:24), meaning no support, calm, consolation, care, Of course, there is something worse than wicked oppression, that is, without comfort, but crying, cruelty and coldness and casualness.

Power (v 1) is translated as strength (Gen 4:12), might (Gen 49:3) and ability (Ezra 2:69). It’s been said, “Power in the hands of a tyrant is a curse,” “Power in the hands of a tyrant is the most dangerous thing” and “Power in the hands of a tyrant always makes everybody cry.” The text underscores the absence or lack of comfort and compassion more than the presence of power and oppression. Sin and suffering will never die on earth, but strength, support, sharing and solidarity must increase and intensify.

The writer uses an intensive piel verb “declare” (v 2). He is not urging us to die, but to praise the dead. The dead does not have to see or suffer oppression where oppressors are forbidden. The dead are not “happy” (v 2), as in NIV, but “better” or “good” in Hebrew.

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