4 Teacher: Then I looked again and saw all the oppression that happens under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, and no one offered to help and comfort them. The oppressors exercise all the power, while the powerless have no one to help and comfort them. 2 It struck me that the dead are actually better off than the living who must go on living; 3 and, even better, are those who were never born in the first place. At least they have never had to witness all of the injustices that take place under the sun.
The imbalance of power creates many victims. Worldly power, sourced in corrupt systems “under the sun,” is on the side of the oppressor. Few are in the ditches with the broken and poor.
Teacher: 4 Then I saw yet another thing: envy fuels achievement. All the work and skills people develop come from their desire to be better than their neighbors. Even this is fleeting, like trying to embrace the wind.
5 As the saying goes:
The fool folds his hands to rest
and lets his flesh waste away.
6 And it is better to have one handful of peace
than to have two hands full of hard work
and a desire to catch the wind.
7 Again I observed another example of how fleeting life is under the sun: 8 a person who is all alone—with no child, no sibling—yet he works hard his entire life. Still he is never satisfied with the wealth he gains. Does he stop to ask, “Why am I working so hard?” or “Why am I depriving myself of life’s simple pleasures?” This, too, is fleeting, like trying to catch hold of a breath; it’s a miserable situation.
9 Two are better than one because a good return comes when two work together. 10 If one of them falls, the other can help him up. But who will help the pitiful person who falls down alone? 11 In the same way, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm. But how will the one who sleeps alone stay warm against the night? 12 And if one person is vulnerable to attack, two can drive the attacker away. As the saying goes, “A rope made of three strands is not quickly broken.”
13 A poor, wise youth is better off than an old, foolish king who no longer accepts advice. 14 For example, once a young man marched out of prison to become king; it had not mattered how poor he once had been in his kingdom. 15 I saw all those who live out their lives under the sun flock to the side of a second youth who took the king’s place. 16 There seemed to be no limit to all the people who were under his authority. Yet those who will come later will not be happy with him and will refuse to follow him. Even this, you see, is fleeting—power and influence do not last—like trying to pursue the wind.[a]
- 4:13-16 Meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.