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Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 – Letter 16: The Miser’s Poverty

Some people do realize that there is no reward in laboring for the favor of other people and so they react by saying, “Okay, forget others. I’m living for myself! Me for me!”

Now, within this group of self-centered peo­ple there can be a large variety of personalities. All three groups of people from the last lesson could fit in here: the workaholics, the lazy peo­ple, the relaxed or easy-going people. But Solomon chooses to make his point by staying with one group of self-centered people, those who do labor hard but do it all for selfish ends.

We call such selfish workaholics “misers”, right? You could write a large “MISER” over all six of today’s verses.

(4:7) “Then I returned,

and I saw vanity under the sun.”

By now we are getting used to expressions like this. It always marks the introduction of a new observation by Solomon.

(4:8a) “There is one alone,

 and there is not a second,

yea, he hath neither child nor brother:

 yet is there no end of all his labor;

neither is his eye satisfied with riches. . .”

This is a classic picture of a miser. He has no one to work for but keeps on working endlessly, accumulating riches all for himself.

(4:8b) “. . . neither saith he,

For whom do I labor,

and bereave my soul of good?

This is also vanity yea,

 it is a sore travail.”

Here we can see how many people usually fail to look beyond their immediate goals. This man lived for himself but never stopped to ask what benefit there was in all his endless labor. As a matter of fact, although he was laboring for himself, he was actually hurting himself, “bereaving his soul of good”! And now Solomon gives a few examples of ways in which a person hurts himself by his self-centeredness.

(4:9) “Two are better than one;

because they have a good reward

for their labor.”

BENEFIT ONE OF WORKING WITH OTHERS: there is greater reward for the labor. If two work together in business they usually earn more money. If they can harmonize their thoughts, they can learn from each other and make fewer mistakes. While one is working, the other can take a break and relax. Working together has rewards!

(4:10) “For if they fall,

the one will lift up his fellow:

but woe to him that is alone when he falleth;

for he hath not another to help him up.”

BENEFIT TWO OF WORKING WITH OTH­ERS: they rescue each other in dire need. Every­one falls prey to despondency at times. Alone, a person may give up and overthrow his venture. But with a partner, he is encouraged to contin­ue. “Falling” is a picture of any desperate situa­tion in which one partner can rescue the other.

(4:11) “Again, if two lie together,

then they have heat:

but how can one be warm alone?”

BENEFIT THREE OF WORKING WITH OTH­ERS: they strengthen and support each other. The example given applies primarily to marriage. I’ve heard widow ladies discussing how they were never cold in bed while their husbands were alive but how they had trouble sleeping after their husbands’ deaths because of cold feet! Just so, in any relationship of good partnership, the partners help each other out constantly, making life more enjoyable for each other, strengthening each other.

(4:12) “And if one prevail against him,

two shall withstand him:

and a threefold cord in not quickly broken.”

BENEFIT FOUR OF WORKING WITH OTH­ERS: together two people form a stronger defense. One modern-day picture is the Labor Union, which (although wrong in essence) can accomplish almost anything workers want because the workers stand together, united. Other such examples include the many groups which send lobbyists to legislatures, working through laws they could never work through as isolated individuals. On an even smaller scale, the typical one which Solomon referred to in his day, a man alone would be unable to stand up against an adversary who attacked him physical­ly or some other way, whereas a man with a partner or friend could better counteract and win the attack.

When Solomon says “a threefold cord is not quickly broken”, he is referring to any larger number of people in unity, including such exam­ples as I mentioned. Some people have made this refer to Christ as a third party (husband and wife and Christ, for example), but that is not the intent here. Rather, if three people are friends – or any number in unity – they may have a strength that far exceeds not only one person alone but even two in partnership.

Being a miser or a loner is not the solution to the insensitivity of other people. The only answer is to labor not for people at all but for God alone. Then, though people may try to destroy our work, it still will last for all eternity.

There is an inescapable warning here also for Christians. Christians can easily dismiss fellow believers as unnecessary to them because of their various sins and weaknesses. A child of God also may be tempted to “go it alone”, feeling no need of the church or fellowship. He may either ignore the church altogether or else simply not associate within the church.

But God calls us also to live with and for His people. The four natural benefits discussed in this letter apply also within the church in a much richer way. The entire true church is Christ’s body of the redeemed and we need each other to share the fellowship of the redeemed. We need to be able to confess our salvation not only to God but also to other believers. We need also the communion and strengthening of saints found in marriage. Unless God in unusual ways Himself makes fellowship impossible (as may be true in the very last days before Christ’s return), it is wrong for a child of God to isolate himself from the other children of God.

May God forgive us when our motive in labor is anything other than love for Him and His peo­ple. May He in His grace lead us to love Him above all and our neighbor as ourselves.

 

Questions:

  1. Name the characteristics of the miser (4:8).
  2. What does it mean to “bereave my soul of good”?
  3. Name four benefits of companionship which are all missing to the miser.
  4. What are some dangers of being alone when you fall?
  5. Restate verse 12 to make clear who is meant by “one” and “him” and “him”.
  6. Can this lesson be applied within the church? How?