What Did the Wise Man Mean?
Be Balanced in Work
A person’s being willing to work hard, doing so with skill, is certainly commendable. But hard work and proficiency do not necessarily bring satisfaction. Wise King Solomon wrote: “I myself have seen all the hard work and all the proficiency in work, that it means the rivalry of one toward another; this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.”—Eccl. 4:4.
A person may work hard and skillfully, not merely to accomplish something worth while, but to surpass others in proficiency and productivity. When people working side by side are spurred on by a desire to prove themselves better than their fellow workers, competition and rivalry replace friendly cooperation. Feelings of ill will and envy may develop. Improper judgments may be made that totally ignore others’ limitations. Thus all working with a view to outshining others is a ‘striving after wind,’ after emptiness. The end result is most undesirable. The wise person avoids this.
Yet another extreme to be shunned is outright laziness. “The stupid one,” said Solomon, “is folding his hands and is eating his own flesh.” (Eccl. 4:5) Instead of making use of his hands in productive work, the lazy person folds his hands, doing as little as possible. He is stupid in that his inactivity brings him into want. Deprived of proper food and other necessities due to his indolence, he endangers his health and may, therefore, die prematurely. In thus injuring himself he ‘feeds on his own flesh.’
Since both competitive toiling and laziness are undesirable, what is the balanced view of work? Solomon stated: “Better is a handful of rest than a double handful of hard work and striving after the wind.”—Eccl. 4:6.
The wise course is to avoid getting so wrapped up in toil that there is no time for enjoying the fruit of one’s labor. This means being content with what one has. The person who is never satisfied simply has no rest. His life is filled with cares and anxieties about his material attainments and how he might get still more.
Far better off is the person who is content with less. He is not afraid to make use of his resources in enjoying food and drink as well as wholesome recreation. He is also concerned about others and is glad to help those in real need. This is in harmony with the Scriptural counsel: “Let him do hard work, doing with his hands what is good work, that he may have something to distribute to someone in need.” (Eph. 4:28) Are you among those who are enjoying “a handful of rest” as a result of this balanced view of work?
Man’s Inhumanity to Man
The human family has long experienced terrible oppression and injustice. Based on his observations made nearly 3,000 years ago, King Solomon wrote: “I myself returned that I might see all the acts of oppression that are being done under the sun, and, look! the tears of those being oppressed, but they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power, so that they had no comforter. And I congratulated the dead who had already died rather than the living who were still alive. So better than both of them is the one who has not yet come to be, who has not seen the calamitous work that is being done under the sun.”—Eccl. 4:1-3.
Evidently Solomon had, at first, given only passing notice to man’s inhumanity to man. However, ‘upon returning,’ that is, reconsidering the matter, he was appalled at how great the oppression really was. Because the oppressors had the power or authority, the oppressed were forced to bear their sorrowful plight without anyone’s offering sympathy or comfort. So distressing was the situation that Solomon concluded that the dead were better off, as they no longer had to undergo the hurtful effects of injustice. Viewed from this standpoint, the one who has not been born is still better off in that he does not have to see or experience this terrible calamity at all.
How forcefully this illustrates man’s inability to eradicate injustice and tyranny! Even King Solomon, with all his wisdom and authority, could not straighten out the misery stemming from human imperfection. Only Jehovah God, through Jesus Christ, can do this. It is good news indeed that he has promised to bring about liberation from distress at the most appropriate time for all concerned.—Rev. 21:3, 4.