What Did the Wise Man Mean?
The Value of a Friend
The “loner” who works hard in piling up riches certainly has an empty life. Wise King Solomon wrote: “There exists one, but not a second one [that is, a lone man without a friend or companion]; also no son or brother does he have, but there is no end to all his hard work. Also, his eyes themselves are not satisfied with riches: ‘And for whom am I working hard and causing my soul to lack in good things?’ This too is vanity, and it is a calamitous occupation.” (Eccl. 4:8) How meaningless is the life of a miser who has no friend, son or brother and does not even reap the benefits from his hard work! He just keeps piling up riches, not wanting to spend any money on things that could make his life more comfortable and enjoyable. At death, however, he is forced to leave everything behind. What futility!
Far better off is the person who labors with a good friend. The wise man continues: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their hard work.” (Eccl. 4:9) Their working together brings benefits, “a good reward,” in the form of assistance, comfort and protection. King Solomon states: “If one of them should fall, the other one can raise his partner up. [This is because it is not likely that both will fall at the same time.] But how will it be with just the one who falls when there is not another to raise him up? Moreover, if two lie down together [as when having to stay overnight in the cold during a trip], they also will certainly get warm; but how can just one keep warm? And if somebody could overpower one alone [who might be traveling over a dangerous road], two together could make a stand against him. And a threefold cord [which is stronger than one consisting of one or two strands] cannot quickly be torn in two.”—Eccl. 4:10-12.
Are you living in harmony with the spirit of these words? There definitely is much value in having dependable friends.
Even the Topmost Position Is Vanity
Among humans popularity is often fleeting. The famous person is quickly forgotten when someone else captures the heart of the people. Even those who attain the topmost position are no exception.
Wise King Solomon realistically described what can happen to rulers. We read: “Better is a needy but wise child than an old but stupid king, who has not come to know enough to be warned any longer. For he [evidently the child] has gone forth from the prison house itself to become king, although in the kingship of this one he had been born as one of little means.”—Eccl. 4:13, 14.
A man might feel that his having the topmost position, kingship, backed up by his age and experience, should assure him public respect or support. But, despite his position and age, a king will not be granted heartfelt honor if he acts unwisely, refusing to heed the sound counsel of others. Position and age, in themselves, do not guarantee respect. That is why a needy but wise child is better off than a king who once ruled wisely but who in old age becomes set in his ways and pays no attention to good counsel. Through mismanagement the old king may plunge the whole kingdom into hopeless debt, alienate his subjects and may even be deposed and die in disgrace. The youth who continues to act wisely, on the other hand, may earn the very respect that is not accorded an old but stupid king.
As Solomon noted, such a wise youth might even be elevated from the prison house to the kingship. This is what happened to Joseph. So impressed was Egypt’s Pharaoh that he said to him: “There is no one as discreet and wise as you are. You will personally be over my house, and all my people will obey you implicitly. Only as to the throne shall I be greater than you.” (Gen. 41:39, 40) Thus Joseph was exalted to second ruler of Egypt.
Next, focusing attention on the people’s capricious reaction to a change of rulers, Solomon writes: “I have seen all those alive who are walking about under the sun, how it goes with the child, who is second, that stands up in the other one’s place. There is no end to all the people, to all those before whom he happened to be; neither will people afterward rejoice in him, for this too is vanity and a striving after the wind.”—Eccl. 4:15, 16.
What did Solomon mean by the expression “the child, who is second”? Evidently he was referring to the king’s successor. “Those alive” are all excited about having a new ruler. “There is no end to all the people” before whom he stands as king. This means that they are all behind him, supporting his rulership. But his popularity does not continue indefinitely. The time soon comes when the one whom the people highly acclaimed no longer suits their fancy. Disenchanted now, they cease to rejoice in him.
Similarly, in modern times, one set of politicians is replaced by another. There may be initial enthusiasm for a certain governor, prime minister or president. But it does not take long for people to become displeased with the individual and his policies. Soon they begin looking for someone else to take hold of the reins of government.
Truly, then, even the topmost position proves to be but a bauble, “vanity.” How forcefully this emphasizes that in this world the most satisfying possession is, not position, but a good relationship with the eternal God, Jehovah!