Verses 1–3

Solomon had a large soul (1 Kgs. 4:29) and it appeared by this, among other things, that he had a very tender concern for the miserable part of mankind and took cognizance of the afflictions of the afflicted. He had taken the oppressors to task (Eccl. 3:16, 17) and put them in mind of the judgment to come, to be a curb to their insolence; now here he observes the oppressed. This he did, no doubt, as a prince, to do them justice and avenge them of their adversaries, for he both feared God and regarded men; but here he does it as a preacher, and shows,

I. The troubles of their condition (Eccl. 4:1); of these he speaks very feelingly and with compassion. It grieved him, 1. To see might prevailing against right, to see so much oppression done under the sun, to see servants, and labourers, and poor workmen, oppressed by their masters, who take advantage of their necessity to impose what terms they please upon them, debtors oppressed by cruel creditors and creditors too by fraudulent debtors, tenants oppressed by hard landlords and orphans by treacherous guardians, and, worst of all, subjects oppressed by arbitrary princes and unjust judges. Such oppressions are done under the sun; above the sun righteousness reigns for ever. Wise men will consider these oppressions, and contrive to do something for the relief of those that are oppressed. Blessed is he that considers the poor. 2. To see how those that were wronged laid to heart the wrongs that were done them. He beheld the tears of such as were oppressed, and perhaps could not forbear weeping with them. The world is a place of weepers; look which way we will, we have a melancholy scene presented to us, the tears of those that are oppressed with one trouble or other. They find it is to no purpose to complain, and therefore mourn in secret (as Job, Job 16:20; 30:28); but Blessed are those that mourn. 3. To see how unable they were to help themselves: On the side of their oppressors there was power, when they had done wrong, to stand to it and make good what they had done, so that the poor were borne down with a strong hand and had no way to obtain redress. It is sad to see power misplaced, and that which was given men to enable them to do good perverted to support them in doing wrong. 4. To see how they and their calamities were slighted by all about them. They wept and needed comfort, but there was none to do that friendly office: They had no comforter; their oppressors were powerful and threatening, and therefore they had no comforter; those that should have comforted them durst not, for fear of displeasing the oppressors and being made their companions for offering to be their comforters. It is sad to see so little humanity among men.

II. The temptations of their condition. Being thus hardly used, they are tempted to hate and despise life, and to envy those that are dead and in their graves, and to wish they had never been born (Eccl. 4:2, 3); and Solomon is ready to agree with them, for it serves to prove that all is vanity and vexation, since life itself is often so; and if we disregard it, in comparison with the favour and fruition of God (as St. Paul, Acts 20:24; Phil. 1:23), it is our praise, but, if (as here) only for the sake of the miseries that attend it, it is our infirmity, and we judge therein after the flesh, as Job and Elijah did. 1. He here thinks those happy who have ended this miserable life, have done their part and quitted the stage; “I praised the dead that are already dead, slain outright, or that had a speedy passage through the world, made a short cut over the ocean of life, dead already, before they had well begun to live; I was pleased with their lot, and, had it been in their own choice, should have praised their wisdom for but looking into the world and then retiring, as not liking it. I concluded that it is better with them than with the living that are yet alive and that is all, dragging the long and heavy chain of life, and wearing out its tedious minutes.” This may be compared not with Job 3:20, 21, but with Rev. 14:13; where, in times of persecution (and such Solomon is here describing), it is not the passion of man, but the Spirit of God, that says, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. Note, The condition of the saints that are dead, and gone to rest with God, is upon many accounts better and more desirable than the condition of living saints that are yet continued in their work and warfare. 2. He thinks those happy who never began this miserable life; nay, they are happiest of all: He that has not been is happier than both they. Better never to have been born than be born to see the evil work that is done under the sun, to see so much wickedness committed, so much wrong done, and not only to be in no capacity to mend the matter, but to suffer ill for doing well. A good man, how calamitous a condition soever he is in in this world, cannot have cause to wish he had never been born, since he is glorifying the Lord even in the fires, and will be happy at last, for ever happy. Nor ought any to wish so while they are alive, for while there is life there is hope; a man is never undone till he is in hell.