Reading this chapter outside the context of the whole book, one might conclude that Solomon found work frustrating and devoid of merit. This is not the case.
Previously he wrote that work was a source of pleasure, joy, and satisfaction (Ecclesiastes 2:10, 3:13, 22). And Solomon noted that God gave this enjoyment as a gift (2:24-26, 3:13). Later he wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (8:10, ESV). So what was Solomon’s point?
Motive defines work. Your motive for working will decide whether you receive joy and satisfaction. Motive, not success, determines the level of fulfillment you receive from work.
Ecclesiastes 4 Outline
The oppressed suffer alone
Work, achievement, and contentment
Self-centered, covetous work
Advantages of companionship
Changes of Royalty
The “better than” passages first appear in this chapter. This structure enabled the proverb writer to contrast a superior condition with an inferior condition. The better condition usually possessed some counter-intuitive irony.
For example, Proverbs 15:16 states, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.”
Cycle of Leadership
This reading concludes with a surprising political allegory. An old, hardened king is compared to a receptive youth.
The king is a closed-minded man who refuses the advice of others. Despite his lack of status and wealth, the young man succeeds the old king because he is receptive to instruction.
Time ultimately robs the new king of his popularity. Failed hopes lead his subjects to discontentment.