Ecclesiastes Lesson Nine: Ecclesiastes 4:7-16 – The Tears of the Lonely and Disillusioned

Again, I saw futility under the sun: There is a person without a companion, without even a son or brother, and though there is no end to all his struggles, his eyes are still not content with riches. “So who am I struggling for,” he asks, “and depriving myself from good?” This too is futile and a miserable task. 

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. 10 For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. 11 Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? 12 And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken. 

13 Better is a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer pays attention to warnings. 14 For he came from prison to be king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom. 15 I saw all the living, who move about under the sun, follow a second youth who succeeds him. 16 There is no limit to all the people who were before them, yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind. (HCSB)

I’ll be breaking this lesson into two parts.

  • The importance of family and friends – verses 7-12.
  • Poor and wise is better than foolish and powerful – verses 13-16.

The Importance of Family and Friends

In this section, the teacher observes the importance of family and friends and the uselessness of wealth and possessions for the lonely. Let’s take a deeper look at this section of the passage.

  • The teacher observed the struggles of a person without any family or friends.
    • In this example, the loneliness is self-inflicted.
      • People become slaves to their work.
      • They’re never satisfied with what they have.
      • Money and possessions are their family.
    • The drive to satisfy their “worldly appetite” ends up driving their family and friends away.
      • The preoccupation with “stuff” prevents them from establishing and cultivating relationships.
      • Or it drives others away because they see that “stuff” is all the person is concerned with.
    • This example is personified in the person who has achieved things in life, maybe even seemingly great things, but when they look around, they’ve left a trail of broken family ties and friendships behind.
    • Success is meaningless when it consumes the person, resulting in absolute loneliness.
    • At the same time, the teacher is not condemning a strong work ethic.
      • It’s good to have a strong work ethic.
      • But it must be balanced with the other aspects of life.
      • People must enjoy the fruits of their labor and leisure time.
  • After observing the struggles of those who choose to live in isolation, the teacher now turns to the importance of family and friends and living in community.
    • Working in groups is more efficient than working alone.
      • Two or more workers can accomplish more than a solitary worker.
      • Even after dividing the profits, the increased efficiency results in greater benefits.
      • Difficult jobs are also easier in groups.
        • Some jobs are very difficult or even impossible to do alone.
        • When the work is tiring or difficult, work partners can offer encouragement to each other.
    • The idea of falling should be viewed in two ways.
      • The first is the physical act of falling.
        • Depending on the situation, a person may need help in getting back up after falling. Maybe they’ve fallen into a hole (think of ancient civilization roads) or down an embankment.
        • They may have fallen and injured themselves. In this situation, they’re incapable of getting out of the situation themselves.
      • The second view is of spiritual falling.
        • A person may be struggling with sin or an addiction. One or more people to “lift them up” is invaluable in overcoming the temptation.
        • When believers live in community, they can mutually support each other through prayer and the use of their spiritual gifts.
      • Galatians 6:2 Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
    • Having companions will also prove beneficial when stranded in poor weather.
      • It’s a proven scientific fact that when people are stranded in cold conditions, and there isn’t a heat source or a way to make a fire, sharing body heat is the best solution.
      • The statement from the teacher doesn’t carry any sexual innuendo. It’s a practical application to survive in adverse conditions.
      • There is also a metaphorical understanding that emotional comfort is provided against the coldness of the world.
    • Finally, being in groups was a safety-conscious decision.
      • Traveling alone was dangerous, regardless of the time of day.
      • Even King David was grateful for a friend who stepped in during a time of need. 2 Samuel 21:15-17  The Philistines again waged war against Israel. David went down with his soldiers, and they fought the Philistines, but David became exhausted. 16 Then Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giant, whose bronze spear weighed about eight pounds and who wore new armor, intended to kill David. 17 But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to his aid, struck the Philistine, and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him: “You must never again go out with us to battle. You must not extinguish the lamp of Israel.”
  • The teacher followed a pattern that was typical in Hebrew literature.
    • He started with “one” in verse eight.
    • He moved to “two” in verse nine.
    • He finished with “three” in verse twelve.
    • One cord could be easily broken. Two provided more strength. But three cords were even better. Three cords required unity, a picture of friendship.

Poor and Wise is Better than Foolish and Powerful

This is the fourth time in chapter four that the teacher uses the term “better.” It introduces a story that teaches two timeless truths; the instability of political power and the variability of popularity. Let’s dig deeper into these last few verses.

  • The story in these verses is about a king and a wise young man who is poor.
    • Early in the king’s rule, he listened to his advisors’ advice and ruled with wisdom.
      • As he got older, the king no longer listened to his advisors.
      • It would be easy to assume the change was due to senility or inflated pride. However, the problem was likely deeper than this.
        • The king was probably surrounded by advisors who were more concerned with their position and making the king happy than they were about providing sound advice.
        • Their poor advice would isolate the king from what was actually happening around him.
        • In return, these advisors were able to live in comfort at the expense of the general populace.
        • This situation is common with weak leaders who are more concerned about themselves than they are about their people.
      • Regardless of traditional thought, neither age nor might ensure wisdom and success.
    • The youth is “better” than the king because he understands to pay attention to warnings.
    • This youth is also the person referenced in verse fifteen who succeeds the old king.
      • The first “youth” should be understood as the now old king.
      • This second youth now uses his energy and political cunning to steal the hearts of the people who have grown tired of the now distant, inflexible, and old king.
      • A perfect example of this situation is Absalom’s attempt to usurp the throne from David.
      • However, this is not the solution or end of the story.
  • The teacher is indicating the change in leadership will be a continuous loop, repeating itself endlessly throughout history.
    • Power is a fleeting commodity.
    • Being the leader is a temporary position.
    • Each one is just a timestamp in the historical timeline of the earth.

As we conclude our study of chapter four, there are a few principles the teacher is attempting to highlight.

  • Life doesn’t stand still. Regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, we must face life head-on, with God’s help, and make the most of it.
  • We need family and friends in life. We may think there are advantages to being independent, but there are also disadvantages. These disadvantages become heavier as we get older.
  • Everyone needs balance in their life. It’s good to have the things that money can buy as long as you don’t lose the things money can’t buy. Are you sacrificing what should be permanent to get what will end up being temporary?
  • Mark 8:36-37  For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life?  37 What can a man give in exchange for his life?


  • Take stock of the relationships you have with your family and friends. Have you placed the pursuit of “worldly” desires before those relationships? Our family should never suffer as a result of our jobs. There may be times when situations arise, causing financial hardship. However, as much as possible, those should be temporary in nature. Our spouses and children are gifts from God. They are more valuable than all the money in the world.
  • Be involved in mutually supportive relationships. Extend help to others in their times of need. Accept help from others when you need it. Don’t let pride prevent you from accepting help. 
  • No matter what stage of life we’re in, we need truthful friends who aren’t afraid to “tell it like it is.” At times that may ruffle our feathers, but it will also keep us on the “narrow road.” Don’t be the “foolish king” in your relationships. At the same time, if you have friends who are suffering from the “foolish king” syndrome, speak the truth in love to them. They may not thank you right away, but once the situation clears, it’s almost certain they will value what you said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s