Summary: 9th in a series from Ecclesiastes. God created man to live in community with God and with others.
In April 1969, the group Three Dog Night had their first top ten hit with a song titled “One”. That song included these lyrics:
One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
Two can be as bad as one
It’s the loneliest number since the number one
No is the saddest experience you’ll ever know
Yes, it’s the saddest experience you’ll ever know
`Cause one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
One is the loneliest number, worse than two
The idea behind that song certainly isn’t new. In fact, as we’ll see in a moment, we can trace its origins all the way back to the book of Genesis. And it is also a theme that Qoheleth picks up as we continue with our journey through Ecclesiastes.
1 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. 2 Therefore I praised the dead who were already dead, More than the living who are still alive. 3 Yet, better than both is he who has never existed, Who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun. 4 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. 5 The fool folds his hands And consumes his own flesh. 6 Better a handful with quietness Than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind. 7 Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun: 8 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. 9 Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. 10 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. 11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. 13 Better a poor and wise youth Than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more. 14 For he comes out of prison to be king, Although he was born poor in his kingdom.15 I saw all the living who walk under the sun; They were with the second youth who stands in his place.16 There was no end of all the people over whom he was made king; Yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and grasping for the wind.
Ecclesiastes 4:1-16 (NKJV)
As with much of Ecclesiastes, this chapter appears at first glance to contain a bunch of unrelated ideas. But after a closer look, we find that there is indeed a common thread that runs throughout the chapter. It is a theme that we first find in the Bible in the opening chapters of Genesis:
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone…
Genesis 2:18 (NIV)
That thought reflects the nature of God Himself. In creation, all three persons of the Godhead worked together in complete harmony in order to form this world and all that it contains and then God crowned that creative process by creating man in His own image. So just like God exists in community, He has created man to exist in community. That theme runs throughout the Scriptures, from the creation of man in Genesis to the vision of the multitudes worshipping before God in the new earth, which by the way, we’ll be focusing on in our Night of Worship this evening.
But when sin entered into the world it changed all that. Not only did it affect man’s relationship with God, it also impacted his relationships with others. Sin destroyed the community that God intended for His creation. And it is that sin-infested world of life “under the sun” that Qoheleth is commenting on in Chapter 4.
Except for a brief respite in verses 9-12, this entire chapter is a description of what happens when man lives alone, apart from the community that God intends for him to be a part of. There are several common features in verses 1-8 and verses 13-16 that tie these sections of life in isolation together:
• We find that the person in this situation has no one else to turn to. He has no comforter, a reality that is emphasized by repeating it twice in verse 1. He has no relationship with his neighbors. He has no companions or family. Even the king has no one else with him in the end.