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Ecclesiastes 4-6

The Evils of Oppression

Then I looked again and considered all the acts of oppression that were being practiced under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated and thought more fortunate are those who are already dead than the living who are still living. But better off than either of them is the one who has not yet been born, who has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

I have seen that every [effort in] labor and every skill in work comes from man’s rivalry with his neighbor. This too is vanity (futility, false pride) and chasing after the wind. The fool folds his hands [together] and consumes his own flesh [destroying himself by idleness and apathy]. One hand full of rest and patience is better than two fists full of labor and chasing after the wind.

Then I looked again at vanity under the sun [in one of its peculiar forms]. There was a certain man—without a dependent, having neither a child nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, “For whom do I labor and deprive myself of pleasure?” This too is vanity (a wisp of smoke, self-conceit); yes, it is a painful effort and an unhappy task.

Two are better than one because they have a more satisfying return for their labor; 10 for if [a]either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and does not have another to lift him up. 11 Again, if two lie down together, then they keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? 12 And though one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

13 A poor yet wise youth is better than an old and foolish king who [b]no longer knows how to receive instruction and counsel (friendly reproof, warning)— 14 for the poor youth has [used his wisdom and] come out of prison to become king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom. 15 I have seen all the living under the sun join with the second youth (the king’s acknowledged successor) who replaces him. 16 There is no end to all the people; to all who were before them. Yet those who come later will not be happy with him. Surely this also is vanity (emptiness) and chasing after the wind.

Your Attitude Toward God

Guard your steps and focus on what you are doing as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the [careless or irreverent] sacrifice of fools; for they are too ignorant to know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty with your mouth [speaking careless words or vows] or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter before God. For God is in heaven and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort, and the voice of the fool through many words.

When you make a vow or a pledge to God, do not put off paying it; for God takes no pleasure in fools [who thoughtlessly mock Him]. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not allow your speech to cause you to sin, and do not say before the messenger (priest) of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry because of your voice (words) and destroy the work of your hands? For in a multitude of dreams and in a flood of words there is worthlessness. Rather [reverently] fear God [and worship Him with awe-filled respect, knowing who He is].

If you see the oppression of the poor and the denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight [of corruption]; for a higher official watches over another official, and there are higher ones over them [looking out for one another]. After all, a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land.

The Folly of Riches

10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its gain. This too is vanity (emptiness). 11 When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what advantage is there to their owners except to see them with their eyes? 12 The sleep of a working man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach (greed) of the rich [who hungers for even more] will not let him sleep.

13 There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being kept and hoarded by their owner to his own misery. 14 For when those riches are lost in bad investments and he becomes the father of a son, then there is nothing in his hand [for the support of the child]. 15 As he came naked from his mother’s womb, so he will return as he came; and he will take away nothing from all his labor that he can carry in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil—exactly as he was born, so he shall die. So what advantage has he who labors for the wind? 17 All of his life he also eats in darkness [cheerlessly, without sweetness and light], with great frustration, sickness, and anger.

18 Behold, here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat and drink, and to find enjoyment in all the labor in which he labors under the sun during the few days of his life which God gives him—for this is his [allotted] reward. 19 Also, every man to whom God has given riches and possessions, He has also given the power and ability to enjoy them and to receive [this as] his [allotted] portion and to rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God [to him]. 20 For he will not often consider the [troubled] days of his life, because God keeps him occupied and focused on the joy of his heart [and the tranquility of God indwells him].

The Futility of Life

There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God has not given him the power or capacity to enjoy them [all those things which are gifts from God], but a stranger [in whom he has no interest succeeds him and] enjoys them. This is vanity and it is a [cause of] great distress. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, however many they may be, but his soul is not satisfied with good things and he is not respected and is not given a proper burial [he is not laid to rest in the sepulcher of his fathers], then I say, “Better the miscarriage than he, for the miscarriage comes in futility (in vain) and passes into obscurity; and its name is covered in obscurity. It has not seen the sun nor had any knowledge; yet it has more rest and is better off than he. Even if the other man lives a thousand years twice over and yet has seen no good and experienced no enjoyment—do not both go to one place [the grave]?”

All the labor of man is for his mouth [for self-preservation and enjoyment], and yet the desire [of his soul] is not satisfied. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool [for being worldly-wise is not the secret to happiness]? What advantage has the poor man who has learned how to walk [publicly] among the living [with men’s eyes on him; for being poor is not the secret to happiness either]? What the eyes see [enjoying what is available] is better than [craving] what the soul desires. This too is futility and chasing after the wind.

10 Whatever exists has already been named [long ago], and it is known what [a frail being] man is; for he cannot dispute with Him who is mightier than he. 11 For there are many other words that increase futility. What then is the advantage for a man? 12 For who [[c]limited by human wisdom] knows what is good for man during his lifetime, during the few days of his futile life? He spends them like a shadow [staying busy, but achieving nothing of lasting value]. For who can tell a man what will happen after him [to his work, his treasure, his plans] under the sun [after his life is over]?

Footnotes:

  1. Ecclesiastes 4:10 Lit they fall.
  2. Ecclesiastes 4:13 God’s word calls on us to make our senior years a time of spiritual maturity and intellectual growth. A time to convert a lifetime of courageous morality, personal integrity, and character-building into a legacy that encourages and inspires the next generation.
  3. Ecclesiastes 6:12 The narrator is trying to prove that life is not worth living, but the Holy Spirit is using him to show that these conclusions are the tragic effect of living “under the sun”—ignoring the Lord, living apart from God the Father, oblivious to the Holy Spirit—and yet face to face with the mysteries of life and nature.
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2 Corinthians 12

Paul’s Vision

12 It is necessary to boast, though nothing is gained by it; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a [a]man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, [only] God knows—such a man was caught up to the [b]third heaven. And I know that such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, [only] God knows— was caught up into [c]Paradise and heard inexpressible words which man is not permitted to speak [words too sacred to tell]. On behalf of such a man [and his experiences] I will boast; but in my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. If I wish to boast, I will not be foolish, because I will be speaking the truth. But I abstain [from it], so that no one will credit me with more than [is justified by what] he sees in me or hears from me.

A Thorn in the Flesh

Because of the surpassing greatness and extraordinary nature of the revelations [which I received from God], for this reason, to keep me from thinking of myself as important, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan, to torment and harass me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might leave me; but He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you [My lovingkindness and My mercy are more than enough—always available—regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively] in [your] weakness.” Therefore, I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ [may completely enfold me and] may dwell in me. 10 So I am well pleased with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, and with difficulties, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak [in human strength], then I am strong [truly able, truly powerful, truly drawing from God’s strength].

11 Now I have become foolish; you have forced me [by questioning my apostleship]. Actually I should have been commended by you [instead of being treated disdainfully], for I was not inferior to those [d]super-apostles, even if I am nobody. 12 The signs that indicate a genuine apostle were performed among you fully and most patiently—signs and wonders and miracles. 13 For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches, except [for the fact] that I did not burden you [with my financial support]? Forgive me [for doing you] this injustice!

14 Now for the third time I am ready to visit you. I will not burden you [financially], because I do not want what is yours [not your money or your possessions], but you. For children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 But I will very gladly spend [my own resources] and be utterly spent for your souls. If I love you greatly, am I to be loved less [by you]? 16 But be that as it may, I did not burden you [with my support]. But [some say that] I was sly and took you by trickery. 17 Did I take advantage of you or make any money off you through any of the messengers I sent you? [Certainly not!] 18 I urged Titus to go, and I sent the brother with him. Titus did not take advantage of you, did he? [No!] Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk in the same steps? [Of course!]

19 All this time you have been thinking that we are [merely] defending ourselves to you. It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking [as one] in Christ; and everything, dearly beloved, is to strengthen you [spiritually]. 20 For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you not to be as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder; 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality and decadence which they formerly practiced.

Footnotes:

  1. 2 Corinthians 12:2 Paul had this experience prior to beginning his missionary journeys.
  2. 2 Corinthians 12:2 The dwelling place of God, called Paradise by Jesus and also by Paul (v 4).
  3. 2 Corinthians 12:4 Paul apparently uses “Paradise” as an equivalent of the third heaven, the dwelling place of God (cf Luke 23:43).
  4. 2 Corinthians 12:11 See note 11:5. If the false teachers were degrading Paul’s apostleship, they may have wrongly ascribed a “super-apostleship” to the Twelve, especially James, Cephas (Peter), and John. See Gal 2:9.
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