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Background Considerations

How are we to relate to painful experiences we sometimes have to go through? Can they teach us some profound dimensions of life? American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote: “Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.”

Chapter 4 of Ecclesiastes is short and it deals with the dark side of life in which oppression, toil and loneliness reign. It can teach us some very deep lessons about life that come from the world of suffering and pain.

Relevant Biblical Passages

  1. Ecclesiastes 4:1-4. Isn’t this a grim picture of life of the oppressed? Was it normal for a king to take notice of the less privileged members of society?
    Explain the presence of hyperbole in verse 3! It is true that many achievements in our world spring from sheer envy?
  2. Ecclesiastes 4:7-8. Compare these verses with Ecclesiastes 5:15 that says:
    Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb,
    and as he comes, so he departs.
    He takes nothing from his labor
    that he can carry in his hand.
    How many material goods will we be able to take with us when we die?
  3. Ecclesiastes 4:13-16. To tie wisdom to the concepts of poverty and young age was not customary in the author’s culture. How did he find courage to do that? Proverbs 23:10-11 says: “Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take their case against you.”

Lessons for Life

The author of Ecclesiastes was a king and as such he must have been the most privileged member of society. Yet, since he was a wise king his high status did not prevent him from having a deep interest in the lives of the least fortunate citizens of his kingdom. As such, the author reminds us of God whose titles include the one mentioned in Psalm 68:5 where it says: “A father to the fatherless and a defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling.”

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