Ecclesiastes 4:12
And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
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4:9-12 Surely he has more satisfaction in life, who labours hard to maintain those he loves, than the miser has in his toil. In all things union tends to success and safety, but above all, the union of Christians. They assist each other by encouragement, or friendly reproof. They warm each other's hearts while they converse together of the love of Christ, or join in singing his praises. Then let us improve our opportunities of Christian fellowship. In these things all is not vanity, though there will be some alloy as long as we are under the sun. Where two are closely joined in holy love and fellowship, Christ will by his Spirit come to them; then there is a threefold cord.Compare a saying from the Talmud: "A man without companions is like the left hand without the right." 12. one—enemy.

threefold cord—proverbial for a combination of many—for example, husband, wife, and children (Pr 11:14); so Christians (Lu 10:1; Col 2:2, 19). Untwist the cord, and the separate threads are easily "broken."

Against him; against either of them.

A threefold cord is not quickly broken; if a man have not only one, but two or more friends, he is so much the safer and the happier. And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him,.... If an enemy, or a thief, or a robber, attack anyone of them, in friendship and fellowship together, and is more than a match for him; both joined together will be able to resist him; so that he shall not succeed in his enterprise, and do the mischief he designed; see 2 Samuel 10:11; Thus, when Satan attacks a single believer, which he chooses to do when alone; so he tempted Eve in the garden, and Christ in the wilderness; and one or more fellow Christians know of it, they are capable of helping their tempted friend, by their advice and counsel, they not being ignorant of Satan's devices; and by striving together in their prayers to God for him: so when false teachers make their efforts, as they usually do, Satan like, upon the weaker sex, and, when alone, they too often succeed; but when saints stand fast in one spirit, and strive together for the faith of the Gospel, they stand their ground, withstand the enemy, and maintain truth;

and a threefold cord is not quickly broken; or "in haste" (c); as two are better than one, so three or more united together, it is the better still; they are able to make head against an enemy; and to conquer him, "vis unita fortior est": if a family, community, city, or kingdom, are divided against themselves, they cannot stand; but, if united, in all probability nothing can hurt them. This doctrine is taught in the fable of the bundle of sticks the old man gave to his sons to break; which, while fastened together, could not be done; but, when art bound, and took out singly, were easily snapped asunder; teaching them thereby unity among themselves, as their greatest security against their common enemy. The same instruction is given by this threefold cord; while it remains twisted together, it is not easily broke, but if the threads are untwisted and unloosed, they are soon snapped asunder: so persons in religious fellowship, be they more or fewer, while they keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, they are terrible, as an army with banners, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against them. And if this is true of the united love and affections of saints, it must be much more so of the love of Father, Son, and Spirit; that threefold cord, with which the saints are drawn and held; and of which it may be said, that it not only is not quickly broken, but that it cannot be broken at all; and therefore those who are held by it are in the utmost safety. Some apply this to the three principal graces, faith, hope, and love, which are abiding ones; and, though they may sometimes be weak and low in their acts and exercise, can never be lost.

(c) "in festinatia", Montanus; "in celeritate", Vatablus; "in festinatione", Rambachius.

And if one prevaileth against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold {g} cord is not quickly broken.

(g) By this proverb he declares how necessary it is, that men should live in society.

12. if one prevail against him] Better, If a man overpowers him that is alone, yet two shall withstand. Another incident of travel is brought before us. The robber may lie in ambush. Against one his attack would be successful; the two friends defend each other and are saved.

a threefold cord is not quickly broken] Perhaps no words in Ecclesiastes are better known than this as a proverbial expression for the strength of unity. It differs from the previous illustration in suggesting the thought of a friendship in which more than two persons are joined. “Threefold” is chosen as an epithet, partly as carrying on the thought from two to three, as in Proverbs 30:15; Proverbs 30:18; Proverbs 30:21, from three to four, partly because “three” was for the Israelite the typical number for completeness, probably also because the rope of three strands was the strongest cord in use. The proverbial form has naturally led to manifold application of the maxim, and the devout imagination of the interpreters has seen in it a reference to the doctrine of the Three Persons in the unity of the Godhead, to the union of Faith, Hope and Charity in the Christian life, and so on. These, it need scarcely be said, lie altogether outside the range of the thoughts of the Debater.Verse 12. - The third instance shows the value of the protection afforded by a companion's presence when danger threatens. If one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; better, if a man overpower the solitary one, the two (ver. 9) will withstand him. The idea of the traveler is continued. If he were attacked by robbers, he would be easily overpowered when alone; but two comrades might successfully resist the assault. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. This is probably a proverbial saying, like our "Union is strength." Hereby the advantage of association is more strongly enforced. If the companionship of two is profitable, much more is this the case when more combine. The cord of three strands was the strongest made. The number three is used as the symbol of completeness and perfection. Funiculus triplex diffcile rumpitur, the Vulgate rendering, has become a trite saying; and the gnome has been constantly applied in a mystical or spiritual sense, with which, originally and humanly speaking, it has no concern. Herein is seen an adumbration of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Eternal Three in One; of the three Christian virtues, faith, hope, and charity, which go to make the Christian life; of the Christian's body, soul, and spirit, which are consecrated as a temple of the Most High. The fifth verse stands in a relation of contrast to this which follows: "Better is one hand full of quietness, than both fists full of labour and windy effort." Mendelssohn and others interpret Ecclesiastes 4:5 as the objection of the industrious, and Ecclesiastes 4:6 as the reply of the slothful. Zckler agrees with Hitz., and lapses into the hypothesis of a dialogue otherwise rejected by him. As everywhere, so also here it preserves the unity of the combination of thoughts. נחת signifies here, as little as it does anywhere else, the rest of sloth; but rest, in contrast to such activity in labour as robs a man of himself, to the hunting after gain and honour which never has enough, to the rivalry which places its goal always higher and higher, and seeks to be before others - it is rest connected with well-being (Ecclesiastes 6:5), gentle quietness (Ecclesiastes 9:17), resting from self-activity (Isaiah 30:15); cf. the post-bibl. רוּח נחת, satisfaction, contentment, comfort. In a word, nahath has not here the sense of being idle or lazy. The sequence of the thoughts is this: The fool in idleness consumes his own life-strength; but, on the other hand, a little of true rest is better than the labour of windy effort, urged on by rivalry yielding no rest. כּף is the open hollow hand, and חפן (Assyr. ḥupunnu) the hand closed like a ball, the first. "Rest" and "labour and windy effort" are the accusatives of that to which the designation of measure refers (Gesen. 118. 3); the accus. connection lay here so much the nearer, as מלא is connected with the accus. of that with which anything is full. In "and windy effort" lies the reason for the judgment pronounced. The striving of a man who laboriously seeks only himself and loses himself in restlessness, is truly a striving which has wind for its object, and has the property of wind.
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