|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
4:4-6 Solomon notices the sources of trouble peculiar to well-doers, and includes all who labour with diligence, and whose efforts are crowned with success. They often become great and prosperous, but this excites envy and opposition. Others, seeing the vexations of an active course, foolishly expect more satisfaction in sloth and idleness. But idleness is a sin that is its own punishment. Let us by honest industry lay hold on the handful, that we may not want necessaries, but not grasp at both hands full, which would only create vexation of spirit. Moderate pains and gains do best.
Verse 6. - Better is a handful with quietness; literally, better a hand full of rest. Than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit; literally, than two hands full of travail, etc. This verse, which has been variously interpreted, is most simply regarded as the fool's defense of his indolence, either expressed in his own words or fortified by a proverbial saying. One open hand full of quietness and rest is preferable to two closed hands full of toil and vain effort. The verse must not be taken as the writer's warning against sloth, which would be out of place here, but as enunciating a maxim against discontent and that restless activity which is never satisfied with moderate returns.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Better is a handful with quietness,.... These are the words of the fool, according to Aben Ezra; and which is the sense of other interpreters, particularly Mr. Broughton, who connects this verse with Ecclesiastes 4:5 by adding at the end of that the word "saying"; making an excuse or an apology for himself and conduct, from the use and profitableness of his sloth; that little had with ease, and without toil and labour, is much better
than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit; than large possessions gotten with a great deal of trouble, and enjoyed with much vexation and uneasiness; in which he mistakes slothful ease for true quietness; calls honest labour and industry travail and vexation; and supposes that true contentment lies in the enjoyment of little, and cannot be had where there is much; whereas it is to be found in a good man in every state: or else these words express the true sentiments of Solomon's mind, steering between the two extremes of slothfulness, and too toilsome labour to be rich; that it is much more eligible to have a competency, though it is but small, with a good conscience, with tranquillity of mind, with the love and fear of God, and a contented heart, than to have a large estate, with great trouble and fatigue in getting and keeping it, especially with discontent and uneasiness; and this agrees with what the wise man says elsewhere, Proverbs 15:16. The Targum is,
"better to a man is a handful of food with quietness of soul, and without robbery and rapine, than two handfuls of food with robbery and rapine;''
or with what is gotten in an ill way.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
6. Hebrew; "One open hand (palm) full of quietness, than both closed hands full of travail." "Quietness" (mental tranquillity flowing from honest labor), opposed to "eating one's own flesh" (Ec 4:5), also opposed to anxious labor to gain (Ec 4:8; Pr 15:16, 17; 16:8).
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