Ecclesiastes 3:16–4:16: Vanity in Life and in Death
As the Preacher continues his exploration of life under the sun, he turns next to evaluate core aspects of the original goodness of God’s creation. God is a just and righteous God, so the Preacher seeks to see the extent of justice under the sun. God created work as a good activity for Adam to do, so the Preacher evaluates the goodness of work under the sun. God declared that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18), and created for Adam a woman to be his companion, so the Preacher explores the value of companionship under the sun. As he does this, the Preacher’s goal is to give proper perspective. On the one hand, these are truly good gifts from God under creation, and we should value them as such. On the other hand, though, we must know that sin corrupts God’s good gifts.
1) To what degree does the Preacher find justice in this world, under the sun (3:16)? Why are even the public courts for justice not capable of establishing true justice in this world? Why does God delay his bringing of final justice until some time in the future (3:17)? What is God’s testing of us meant to accomplish (3:18)? In what important way, though, are human beings different from the beasts (3:21)? Even so, what should we expect regarding oppression in the world (4:1–3)?
2) What motivation does the Preacher identify behind our reasons for working so hard (4:4)? As you think about your own work, how does the “craving to outshine or not to be outshone” (Kidner) affect your own motivations and approach? Why, though, is laziness and sloth a false solution to the vicious competition of the world (4:5)? What does the Preacher recommend as a good approach to work in this world under the sun (4:6)? How does that address your own work ethic?
3) For the person who does not have “a second,” how might the absence of companionship drive him or her to workaholism (4:7–8)? Why does the Preacher think that “two” are better than one (4:9–12)? Who are the companions in your life? In an age of individualism, have you been tempted to try to live apart from the companionship of others? In a digital age, have you been tempted to neglect direct, personal interaction? How does the Preacher’s wisdom address these issues?
4) What are the limitations to companionship—at least, in the sense of power over people, and popularity (4:13–16)? Why should we be suspicious of the fickleness of the approval of the crowd? What is the difference between seeking companionship and seeking to be popular? Why does the Preacher commend to us the one, and warn us away from the other? Are you more tempted to neglect companionship, or to seek popularity? What sticks out to you from this section?