Ecclesiastes 4:4 – 12
Last week we emphasized that Teacher in 4:1-3 reveals in the voice of the covenant breaker
I.) The Inevitable End Of All Social Order Arrangements Apart From God — Oppressor & Oppressed (4:1)
We spent some time explaining how it is that when men build social orders apart from God, conclusions can be easily arrived at that find men affirming that the dead have it better then the living. (2-3)
We chronicled such social order oppression we have in our world today that could easily confirm the despair articulated by the Teacher.
We emphasized then that the only reality that can cure the dilemma of Oppressor and Oppressed is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only men who have peace with God can create social orders that reflect that peace with God thus yielding peace among men. Only as men redeemed by Jesus Christ can they walk in terms of God’s standard and so find a harmony of interest that as a byproduct yields social order tranquility. Only as men bow to the Lordship of Jesus Christ can God’s justice be implemented among men.
A failure to trust Christ alone not only bring personal individual alienation but it also creates social order alienation.
This week we continue on picking up where we left off in vs. 3.
II.) Social Order Problems As It Pertains To Work In Communities Built Apart From God (4:4-12)
Apart from God there is no “good life” to be found in the social order man builds. Looking for “justice” in such a godless social order causes one to see only Oppressors and Oppressed. And looking for the “good life” in one’s work in such a godless social order doesn’t bring any relief because of the problem of Envy.
This attempt to build community then is thwarted at every turn as man seeks to build community apart from God.
Here the Godless social order / community that is built generates envy against those who do work or laziness and discontentment among others.
The following is distilled from,
Helmut Schoeck’s “Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour”
Gonzalo Fernandez de la Mora’s “Egalitarian Envy: The Political Foundations of Social Justice”,
Definition of Envy — Envy is the sin of jealousy over the blessings, prosperity, character, and achievements of others, but more than jealousy it is the positive anguish over the good of others and joy at the anguish and misery of others even if that anguish and misery does the envious no discernible positive good. While being indignant might find its roots in the injustice of the well being of evil persons, envy finds its roots in the happiness of good people. In brief envy is pain at the good in others, and it is most commonly found in those whom wish to lower others, even if that lowering of others does not mean that they will rise.
Well we can understand why God says in Proverbs that it is a rottenness to the bones.
Envy is wounded by our neighbors prosperity. Envy finds pleasure in the ruin or harm of those of whom we are envious. Envy is sickened at hearing praises of those of whom are envied and recoils at the virtues of those upon whom our envy is pointed. Envy only grows more intense the more it is assuaged by those who are being envied. That is to say, that should the envied seek to practice charity towards the envious, with thoughts of reducing their reasons to be envious, the envious envy them all the more because of the their own sense that as being inferiors they had to be assisted by those they believe to be their superiors. The envious hate those who help them because it confirms, in their minds, their lower position. If the envious receive favor from the fortunate the envious suffers even more and the envy grows because the one in the favored position has the power to dispense favor while the envied does not. Envy is not concerned so much with reaching the happiness of others as it is in making everyone as miserable as the envious. Envy is complicated by the fact that it is slow to be self-diagnosed or confessed because of the shame involved in this vice.
Envy is a malevolent feeling towards a person, people group, society, or culture perceived to be superior in one or more ways. Envy is vindictive, inwardly tormenting, displeasure. It arises from a feeling of impotence and inferiority. Envy is anguish from the real or perceived prosperity or advantages of others.
Schoek informs us of the universal nature of envy,
“Not all cultures possess such concepts as hope, love, justice and progress, but virtually all people, including the most primitive, have found it necessary to define the state of mind of a person who cannot bear someone else’s being something, having a skill, possessing something or enjoying a reputation which he himself lacks, and who will therefore rejoice should the other lose his asset, although that loss will not mean his own gain.” (page 12)
We must understand that Godless social orders / communities have such a problem with envy because envy is not the desire to have what the other person has but to be what the envied person is as that is coupled with the knowledge that, that cannot be. Therefore every effort on the part of the superior to eliminate the feelings of inferiority in the one who is envying is seen as condescension, and such condescension on the part of the person envied only works within the one who is envying a magnification of the very thing their work of envy was seeking to remove, and that is the real inferiority of the envious. Because of this the only way that the envious can find satisfaction is by destroying those upon whom their envy is aimed. The possessing of the goods of the envious will not satisfy because the envious still knows that a dispossessed superior remains superior.
The only cure for envy [apart from Christ] is the destruction of the superior.
This envy then may well explain the genocide of the White Boers in S. Africa. They have already been greatly dispossessed by the ANC Marxists but that seems to be not enough. They must be genocided.
Well, then can we understand why the Teacher laments the presence of envy.
Christianity embraces and teaches the truth that men are different with different skills and abilities. As such Christianity alone can build a social order / community where people with differing skills and abilities, gifts and talents, and varying degrees of superiority and inferiority in a multitude of areas can compliment one another thus creating a harmony of interests instead of the destructiveness found in envy.
Only the Gospel can liberate the envier from his ultimately self-destructive envy, and to alleviate the envied of his self imposed false guilt.
We looked at this briefly last week but just a few more words here.
As God’s people we were created for work. It is an interesting tidbit to understand that the Hebrew word from which we get the idea of Worship is also where we derive the idea of work. The Hebrew root word means to work or to serve. The cluster of words derived from the root give us insight into the nature of both worship and work.
Both work and worship is about service and serving. In worship we are serving God in Christ with our heart felt praise and adoration. In work we are serving God by taking godly dominion over whatever he has called us to. Laziness then is a affront to God because it is a unwillingness to take up our responsibilities as God’s creatures.
A favor from the Protestant Reformation was the restoration of the importance of work (vocation). All that man was called to could be done to the glory of God.
Luther could write,
“The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays — not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
Work is not something that resulted from the Fall of man into sin so that if our first parents had not sinned we would not have had to work. Adam was called to work in the Garden, to serve and protect it (Gen. 2:15). Adam was to do the work of taking dominion. So, work is an part of what it means to be human and to embrace the folding of one’s hands as the fool does is to deny our creatureliness.
Labor thus is not merely something we must do but something we get to do as those who labor under Sovereign God to extend His Kingdom. Man is called to be a King under the Sovereign Christ to take dominion for God’s glory through his appointed calling and work.
Work thus is not primarily about bringing home a paycheck, though that certainly is one important aspect of work. Work is about glorifying God and laziness thus is an attempt to steal God’s glory.
Of course in ungodly social orders laziness is characteristic because man is seeking not to glorify God in all he does but to glorify himself and one way that man seeks to glorify himself is by escape from work.
In verse 6 the Teacher makes a observation in his covenant keeping voice.
Better a handful with quietness then both hands full together with toil and grasping for the wind
This sentiment is echoed in the Proverbs
16 Better a little with the fear of the Lord
than great wealth with turmoil.
17 Better a small serving of vegetables with love
than a fattened calf with hatred.
8 Better a little with righteousness
than much gain with injustice.
The wisdom here is not only to be content but also there is a warning against unwise ambition.
In ungodly social orders you not only have the problem of laziness but you also have the problem of those who never have enough and so there is this constant drive for more with the result that they have no rest (quietness).
They are the discontent and those who never will be content. They have acquired but they can never enjoy what they have acquired for they are always toiling for more.
Here the Teacher reminds us of the importance of godliness with contentment.
d.) Avarice (4:7)
In vs. 7. the Teacher speaks again with his covenant breaking voice and I believe he is still examining the faults of a godless community life in the context of labor. This time he speaks of the consequence of a single-minded devotion to fulfill an all consuming lust for wealth (avarice). He is describing for us someone whose unwise ambition has brought him to the point where he has no family or community life in order to share his life with. His single minded covetousness for wealth has deprived him of companionship. Like some kind of ancient Ebenezer Scrooge the one described here is content with the companionship of wealth.
The Teacher mocks such a person by noting that they never pause long enough to ask the larger questions of life. Here I am gaining all this wealth and I have no one to share it with. Note the “good” that the teacher speaks of in vs. 8 is the good of companionship, friendship and family. The acquiring of wealth at the cost of genuine community is vanity and a grave misfortune.
Here we see what ungodly social order does. Whether it is in envy, laziness, discontentment, or avarice, ungodly social order either destroys community life or it produces the community life of the war of all against all.
III.) The Contrast To Isolationist Social Orders
The Teacher speaking in his covenant keeping voice speaks of the importance of companionship – true friendship.
We must say at the outset here that this kind of genuine friendship can only be found among Christians. Men who are not right with God can have no hope in being right with one another. Men who are seeking to be their own gods can only go so far in being companions. It is true, those outside of Christ can, relatively speaking, be a friend, but we must understand that those outside Christ have themselves for their own gods and as such their friendship will only go so far.
“Me against my brother; me and my brother against our father;
my family against my cousins and the clan;
the clan against the tribe; the tribe against the world
and all of us against the infidel”
The Teacher speaks with the voice of the Covenant keeper on the importance of godly social order. It is hell to have a social order where it is the oppression that comes with,
Or where it is the one of the isolated individual who is himself against the world.
Here the Teacher sings of the virtues of the Covenant community. Cooperation and reciprocal interdependence can produce success and harmony and yield a sense of satisfaction.
This should be descriptive of the community of the Redeemed.
Three fold cord — Fasces
Social Orders not founded on Christ can at best give us temporary alliances constructed in order to take down someone else.