Introduction: Have you noticed in American politics that everyone –
even those who have been at the seat of government power their entire
life – like to run for office as if they were an “outsider?” “I
promise to bring fresh air and a new perspective to the government!”
How many times have you heard that? Well, proving that he is right
that nothing is new, we hear that same thing from King Solomon!
Let’s plunge into our lesson and learn more!
- The Nasty Oppressor
- Read Ecclesiastes 4:1. Solomon looked around and saw a
lot of oppression. The government did nothing! Where do
you think Solomon was looking since he was the King of all
that he surveyed?
- Do you see oppression around you? (My job is to
litigate against oppression. I fight the employer and
union all the time. Often, the employer is the
government at some level. However, the most my
clients can lose is their job. Jobs are important,
but they are not like losing your life! I’m sure some
who read this live in a country with real oppression,
but I suspect most readers do not face real
- Read Ecclesiastes 4:2. What is the most severe form of
oppression? (We might have a debate between torture and
death. But, death is more final.)
- What is Solomon’s solution to oppression? (Death!
His argument makes no logical sense. If oppression
brings death, he argues that we should just run right
to the end game.)
- Read Ecclesiastes 4:3. What is the real solution to living
an oppressed life? (Never being born.)
- For a fellow who has all the money, women and power
he could ever use, Solomon seems like a real fun guy.
A guy who squeezes every last drop of enjoyment out
- What does this teach us about money, power and
women? (You can have all of these and still
blather on about how you wish you had never been
- What is your opinion of Solomon? (I’m not a
psychologist or a psychiatrist, but Solomon
seems to present depression.)
- Why would God put this in the Bible? (To
give encouragement to those who suffer
from depression. The smartest, richest,
most powerful fellow around was not immune
- Do you agree with what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes
4:3? (No! Abortion is the worst sort of oppression.
Solomon at least gets to choose, based on his
perception of life. Someone who was never born never
gets to choose. The most important choice, of course,
is for eternal life.)
- Read Ecclesiastes 9:4. Does Solomon agree with
Solomon on the “benefit” of being dead?
- Adam Smith
- Read Ecclesiastes 4:4. What causes society to prosper?
(Solomon says: Envy.)
- Do you agree?
- Adam Smith, a serious Christian, wrote the economic
classic “The Wealth of Nations.” His theory, in a
nutshell, is that if government leaves people free to
build, farm and trade, people will seek to maximize
their own wealth. In this free market system, when
all can maximize their own wealth without any central
government planning, they end up maximizing the
wealth of others. An example today is computers and
the Internet. Some individuals have become extremely
wealthy in a short time by unregulated computer
development and the Internet. This enriched all of us
through inexpensive computers, software and
information on the Internet.)
- Would Solomon and Adam Smith agree? (Yes, except
that Solomon puts a negative spin on the nature
of our incentive for wealth.)
- Read Ecclesiastes 4:5-6. What does it mean to “fold your
hands?” (Do nothing – or do very little.)
- How many approaches to work do you find in these two
verses? (Three. There is the “fool” who does nothing
or very little. There is the workaholic who has his
two hands filled with toil. Then there is the middle
of the road guy who works with one hand and creates
tranquility with the other.)
- Which approach does Solomon endorse? (He says
the middle of the road guy has the best life.)
- Solitary Man
- Read Ecclesiastes 4:7-8. The commentary “Be Satisfied,”
quotes Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth
living.” When this solitary man examines his life, what
does he decide about his endless quest for more wealth?
(He decides that he is working endlessly for no reason.)
- Have you examined your life? Your goals? Where is
life taking you?
- Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. What do these verses suggest
- What do they suggest about partnerships?
- What do they suggest about friendships?
- My late uncle was a minister. I asked him what change
he saw in the church over his many years of ministry.
He said that when he was young the church was the
social center of the community. Members would get
together with fellow members when they wanted to have
something interesting to do. Today, my uncle said
television is the social center of the community.
People gather around their televisions. What would
Solomon say about this change in the church? (We are
becoming individuals, and not friends and partners.
This weakens us.)
- What can you do in your life to become a “cord of
- Foolish Old King
- Read Ecclesiastes 4:13. Why would the foolish old king not
take warning? (He thought he knew it all. This is a
pattern that I have observed in my practice of law. Old,
powerful lawyers are not as well prepared in court. I
remember once arguing against the former attorney general
of a state. The former attorney general was citing a case
that had been reversed on appeal. He apparently did not
take the time to check whether it had been reversed! Even
when I pointed out in oral argument that his case had been
reversed, he still continued to argue it! Just recently, I
was arguing against a former state supreme court justice.
His argument was mostly that it was not his fault that his
client violated the law! As I get older, I hope not to
fall into the pit of overconfidence and lack of
- Read Ecclesiastes 4:14-15. What kind of background does
the young competitor to the old king possess? (Prison or
- Why is this good? (Solomon suggests that hardship
makes you wise.)
- Is that true?
- Why did the people follow the youth instead of the
old king? (The text is not clear, but it seems
Solomon is saying that the young king learned from
his past and put those lessons to work in his life.
The old king no longer was willing to learn anything
or listen to others.)
- What is the lesson for your life?
- If you are a leader in your church, what is the
lesson for your leadership? (Do not become too
set in your ways. Listen to the advice of others
and take it seriously.)
- Read Ecclesiastes 4:16. Who is the “them” in “all the
people who came before them?” (“Them” refers to the old
king and his young successor.)
- What happens to the young king? (This text is a
warning. The old king and the new king ruled a large
number of people. But a day came when most of the
subjects were “new” – young people came on the scene
and the old subjects died. The young king also aged
and it seems that he had not learned the lesson to
continue to take advice and continue to learn. Thus,
he, too, was rejected by the new subjects.)
- Friend, Solomon tells us to make friends, take advice, and
be diligent in our work. It is good advice, will you
incorporate it into your life?
- Next week: Rich Man, Poor Man.