Solomon continues to develop his under the sun philosophy. As you read this passage, you see the reasons for his oppression. Leaving God out of the equation leads to greater and greater negativism. Those who start with God begin pessimistically (sin, hell, judgment) and end optimistically (peace, salvation, heaven, eternal life). Those who run from God begin optimistically (the party-life, freedom, thrills and adventure) and end pessimistically (disaster, ruin, disease, sorrow). What a difference the God-view makes!
But even in Solomon’s under the sun philosophy, we see some practical wisdom that can be helpful in this life. After all, “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). The wisdom in this chapter can be seen in four comparisons that build on the word better.
- Better are the dead than the living or unborn. Since neither the oppressed nor the oppressors have a comforter (v.1), the dead are better off than both the living (v.2) and those not yet born (v.3). This pessimistic view contains a lot of truth. The dead no longer suffer. They can no longer sin. If they know God, they are much better off. Even Paul stated that to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). To this day, the Jews celebrate the anniversary of a great mans death and not the day of his birth.
- Better is poverty with peace than prosperity with torment. Or, as our passage says it, Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit (v.6). Riches and power only bring greater troubles. Do you really want them?
- Two are better than one (v.9). We accomplish more in cooperation with others than we ever can by isolating ourselves from others (v.9). We are less likely to quit when working with others (v.10). Many advantages and encouragements are gained by cooperation (v.11-12). Though practical in nature, this is also the foundation of the New Testament Church (see Ephesians 4:11-16).
- Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king (v.13). If a wise child is better than a foolish king, then wisdom is better than age, than power, than riches. Wisdom is much to be desired and should be sought at all costs.
Each of these comparisons contains much truth. Yet, add the concepts of God, heaven and eternity to them and they are much greater. The best the world has to offer can only be perfected in the precepts of God’s word. Are you able to judge between the good, the better and the best? Let God teach you His discernment and you will be blessed.