1 So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.
He turns his mind to oppression - man's inhumanity to man - the pattern from the beginning - never more apparent than in this enlightened, so-called, day and age - a further emphasis on the tragedy and vanity of all things human.*
Human philosophies mix in ameliorating notions
Where they do not deny God altogether, they deny that His face is averted, and speak of His moral government, and of compensations and of Nemesis and all the rest; by which they mean that things are pretty right at the bottom, however rough they may be on the surface; that injustices are avenged in the working out of things in the long run, and the tears of the oppressed are wiped away somehow; that, take it all in all, it is a good sort of a world in which all things come to a level; that in brief, all is not vanity and fatuity, but all is conducive to ultimate good in some way or other.
Such a view will be found thoroughly artificial.
Experience will contradict it at every step and in every phase. It will be found at the last, and in the solitude of every mans actual individual experience if his range of knowledge be sufficiently wide, that Solomons picture is the true one; that life as it now is among the ...inhabitants of the earth is a welter and a turmoil with no issue and no incentive that adequately appeals to the aspirations that slumber dimly in the human breast.
It remains for us but to ask why? and how long?
These questions we ask in vain at every source but one. The Bible only tells us that the misery of man which is great upon him is the result of a break in his relations with God. Man is made for the glory of God. At the very start he refused his mission; and the refusal has been perpetuated in all the lines of his generation. In such a state of things it cannot be that God should openly manifest Himself to man and guide his affairs for him.
The law of Moses is an elaborate inculcation of this in all its ritual. Man is cast off and left to take care of himself. God has suffered all nations to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16). They are dreadful ways, as all history shows, where no light from God has come to bear. The spectacle may distress; the theory may appal; but such are the facts, and such is their Bible explanation. What other is there?
2 Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.
3 Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work [ma'aseh] that is done under the sun [shemesh].
Wrongs, injustice, and oppression. These are basic characteristics of the way of man. There is no worthwhile happiness or satisfaction to be wrought within the limits of this framework.
All natural human activities not related to the divine purpose are futile and vain, like sand castles on the seashore, for the great tide of oppression and injustice and wickedness in power keeps flowing over them and sweeping them away.
Bro Growcott - This is the whole man..
4 Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
5 The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh.
6 Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
7 Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun.
8 There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.
All man's labour is for rivalry and envy. This is how most translators render this. It is a sweeping generalization, but wisdom will perceive it to be true. Most human satisfaction is having or being something better than someone else - a very shallow juvenile motive. How people crave admiration and notoriety and fame and power! But how silly it all is, like squabbling infants in the playpen! Solomon is showing how pitifully foolish are the ways of man.*
9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.
10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?
12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Solitude and society. Men labour selfishly for themselves and their own. How much better to labour selflessly for the common good. Man alone is a selfish cipher. Man in society begins to have meaning - the divine mutually serving society in God is man's highest destiny. "How can one be warm alone?" Each at last has his own cold lonely box in the earth.*
13 Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.
The doddering old king going down, the bright poor young man coming up-What a commentary on the endless human scene! What does every glory and power and privilege mean, when physical decrepitude makes it all a mockery? But the wheel turns on, and each strong youth in his turn stumbles at last into the same weakness in the grave.*
14 For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.
15 I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead.
16 There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.