Ecclesiastes 4:3
Yes, better is he than both they, which has not yet been, who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
Jump to: BarnesBensonBICambridgeClarkeDarbyEllicottExpositor'sExp DctGaebeleinGSBGillGrayHaydockHastingsHomileticsJFBKDKellyKJTLangeMacLarenMHCMHCWParkerPoolePulpitSermonSCOTTBWESTSK
4:1-3 It grieved Solomon to see might prevail against right. Wherever we turn, we see melancholy proofs of the wickedness and misery of mankind, who try to create trouble to themselves and to each other. Being thus hardly used, men are tempted to hate and despise life. But a good man, though badly off while in this world, cannot have cause to wish he had never been born, since he is glorifying the Lord, even in the fires, and will be happy at last, for ever happy. Ungodly men have most cause to wish the continuance of life with all its vexations, as a far more miserable condition awaits them if they die in their sins. If human and worldly things were our chief good, not to exist would be preferable to life, considering the various oppressions here below.So I returned, and considered - Rather, And I returned and saw. He turns to look upon other phenomena, and to test his previous conclusion by them.

Oppressed - See the introduction to Ecclesiastes.

3. not seen—nor experienced. Which hath not yet been; who was never born. How this is true, see on the foregoing verse.

Not seen, i.e. not felt; for as seeing good is put for enjoying it, Ecclesiastes 2:24, so seeing evil is put for suffering it, as hath been more than once observed. Yea, better is he than both they which hath not yet been,.... That is, an unborn person; who is preferred both to the dead that have seen oppression, and to the living that are under it; see Job 3:10. This supposes a person to be that never was, a mere nonentity; and the judgment made is according to sense, and regards the dead purely as such, and so as free from evils and sorrows, without any respect to their future state and condition; for otherwise an unborn person is not happier than the dead that die in Christ, and live with him: and it can only be true of those that perish, of whom indeed it might be said, that it would have been better for them if they had never been born, according to those words of Christ, Matthew 26:24; and is opposed to the maxim of some philosophers, that a miserable being is better than none at all. The Jews, from this passage, endeavour to prove the pre-existence of human souls, and suppose that such an one is here meant, which, though created, was not yet sent into this world in a body, and so had never seen evil and sorrow; and this way some Christian writers have gone. It has been interpreted also of the Messiah, who in Solomon's time had not yet been a man, and never known sorrow, which he was to do, and has, and so more happy than the dead or living. But these are senses that will not bear; the first is best; and the design is to show the great unhappiness of mortals, that even a nonentity is preferred to them;

who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun? the evil works of oppressors, and the sorrows of the oppressed.

Yea, {c} better is he than both they, who hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

(c) He speaks according to the judgment of the flesh which cannot abide to feel or see troubles.

3. Yea, better is he than both they] As the utterance of a personal feeling of despair we have a parallel in the words of Job (Ecclesiastes 3:11-16). As expressing a more generalised view of life we have multiform echoes of the thought in the Greek writers, of whose influence, direct or indirect, the book presents so many traces. Thus we have in Theognis:

Πάντων μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,

μηδʼ ἐσιδεῖν αὐγὰς ὀξέος ἠελίου

φύντα δʼ ὄπως ὤκιστα πύλας Ἀΐδαο περῆσαι,

καὶ κεῖσθαι πολλὴν γῆν ἐπαμησάμενον.

“Best lot for men is never to be born,

Nor ever see the bright rays of the morn:

Next best, when born, to haste with quickest tread

Where Hades’ gates are open for the dead,

And rest with much earth gathered for our bed.”


Or in Sophocles:

μὴ φῦναι τὸν ἄπαντα νικᾷ λόγοντὸ δʼ, ἐπεὶ φανῇ,

βῆναι κεῖθεν ὄθεν περ ἤκει,

πολὺ δεύτερον, ὡς τάχιστα.

“Never to be at all

Excels all fame;

Quickly, next best, to pass

From whence we came.”

Oed. Col. 1225.

More remote but of yet deeper significance is the fact that the same feeling lies at the root of Buddhism and its search after Nirvana (annihilation or unconsciousness) as the one refuge from the burden of existence. Terrible as the depression thus indicated is, it is one step higher than the hatred of life which appeared in chs. Ecclesiastes 1:14, Ecclesiastes 2:17-18. That was simply the weariness of a selfish satiety; this, like the feeling of Çakya Mouni when he saw the miseries of old age and disease and death, and of the Greek Chorus just quoted, rose from the contemplation of the sorrows of humanity at large. It was better not to be than to see the evil work that was done under the sun. In marked contrast with this dark view of life we have the words: “Good were it for that man not to have been born” in Matthew 26:24, as marking out an altogether exceptional instance of guilt and therefore of misery.Verse 3. - Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been. Thus we have Job's passionate appeal (Job 3:11), "Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came forth," etc.? And in the Greek poets the sentiment of the text is re-echoed. Thus Theognis, 'Paroen.,' 425 -

Πάντων μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον
Μηδ ἐσιδεῖν αὐγὰς ὀξέος ἠελίου
Φύντα δ ὅπως ὤκιστα πύλας Ἀι'´δαο περῆσαι
Καὶ κεῖσθαι πολλὴν γῆν ἐπαμησάμενον

"'Tis best for mortals never to be born,
Nor ever see the swift sun's burning rays;
Next best, when born, to pass the gates of death
Right speedily, and rest beneath the earth."
(Comp. Soph., '(Ed. Colossians,' 1225-1228.) Cicero, 'Tusc. Disp.,' 1:48, renders some lines from a lost play of Euripides to the same effect -

"Nam nos decebat, caetus celebrantes, domum
Lugere, ubi esset aliquis in lucern editus,
Humanae vitae varia reputantes mala;
At qui labores metre finisset graves,
Hunc omni amicos lauds et laetitia exsequi."
Herodotus (5. 4) relates how some of the Thracians had a custom of bemoaning a birth and rejoicing at a death. In our own Burial Service we thank God for delivering the departed "out of the miseries of this sinful world." Keble alludes to this barbarian custom in his poem on' The Third Sunday after Easter.' Speaking of a Christian mother's joy at a child's birth, he says -

"No need for her to weep
Like Thracian wives of yore,
Save when in rapture still and deep
Her thankful heart runs o'er.
They mourned to trust their treasure on the main,
Sure of the storm, unknowing of their guide:
Welcome to her the peril and the pain,
For well she knows the home where they may safely hide."
(See on Ecclesiastes 7:1; comp. Gray's ode 'On a Prospect of Eton College;' and for the classical notion concerning life and death, see Plato, 'Laches,' p. 195, 1), sqq.; 'Gorgias,' p. 512, A.) The Buddhist religion does not recommend suicide as an escape from the evils of life. It indeed regards man as master of his own life; but it considers suicide foolish, as it merely transfers a man's position, the thread of life having to be taken up again under less favorable circumstances. See 'A Buddhist Catechism,' by Subhadra Bhikshu (London: Redway, 1890). Who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun. He repeats the words, "under the sun," from ver. 1, in order to show that he is speaking of facts that came under his own regard - outward phenomena which any thoughtful observer might notice (so again ver. 7). "For the children of men are a chance, and the beast a chance, and they both have once chance: as the death of the one, so that death of the other, and they have all one breath; and there is no advantage to a man over a beast, for all is vain." If in both instances the word is pointed מקרה (lxx), the three-membered sentence would then have the form of an emblematical proverb (as e.g., Proverbs 25:25): "For as the chance of men, so (vav of comparison) the chance of the beast; they have both one chance." מקרה with segol cannot possibly be the connecting form (Luzz.), for in cases such as מע שׂ ם, Isaiah 3:24, the relation of the words is appositional, not genitival. This form מקר, thus found three times, is vindicated by the Targ. (also the Venet.) and by Mss.; Joseph Kimchi remarks that "all three have segol, and are thus forms of the absolutus." The author means that men, like beasts, are in their existence and in their death influenced accidentally, i.e., not of necessity, and are wholly conditioned, not by their own individual energy, but by a power from without - are dependent beings, as Solon (Herod. i. 32) says to Croesus: "Man is altogether συμφορή," i.e., the sport of accident. The first two sentences mean exclusively neither that men (apart from God) are, like beasts, the birth of a blind accident (Hitz.), nor that they are placed under the same law of transitoriness (Elst.); but of men, in the totality of their being, and doing, and suffering, it is first said that they are accidental beings; then, that which separates them from this, that they all, men like beasts, are finally exposed to one, i.e., to the same fate. As is the death of one, so is the death of the other; and they all have one breath, i.e., men and beasts alike die, for this breath of life (חיּים רוּח, which constitutes a beast - as well as a man a חיּה נפשׁ) departs from the body (Psalm 104:29). In זה ... זה (as at Ecclesiastes 6:5; Exodus 14:20, and frequently), להם (mas. as genus potius) is separately referred to men and beasts. With the Mishnic בּמות equals bibl. כּמו (cf. Maaser Sheni, v. 2), the כּמות here used has manifestly nothing to do. The noun מותר, which in the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 14:23; Proverbs 21:5, not elsewhere) occurs in the sense of profit, gain, is here in the Book of Koheleth found as a synon. of יתרון, "preference," advantage which is exclusively peculiar to it. From this, that men and beasts fall under the same law of death, the author concludes that there is no preference of a man to a beast; he doubtless means that in respect of the end man has no superiority; but he expresses himself thus generally because, as the matter presented itself to him, all-absorbing death annulled every distinction. He looks only to the present time, without encumbering himself with the historical account of the matter found in the beginning of the Tra; and he adheres to the external phenomenon, without thinking, with the Psalmist in Psalm 49, that although death is common to man with the beast, yet all men do not therefore die as the beast does. That the beast dies because it must, but that in the midst of this necessity of nature man can maintain his freedom, is for him out of view. הבל הכּל, the ματαιότης, which at last falls to man as well as to the beast, throws its long dark shadows across his mind, and wholly shrouds it.
Ecclesiastes 4:3 Interlinear
Ecclesiastes 4:3 Parallel Texts

Ecclesiastes 4:3 NIV
Ecclesiastes 4:3 NLT
Ecclesiastes 4:3 ESV
Ecclesiastes 4:3 NASB
Ecclesiastes 4:3 KJV

Ecclesiastes 4:3 Bible Apps
Ecclesiastes 4:3 Parallel
Ecclesiastes 4:3 Biblia Paralela
Ecclesiastes 4:3 Chinese Bible
Ecclesiastes 4:3 French Bible
Ecclesiastes 4:3 German Bible

Bible Hub

Ecclesiastes 4:2
Top of Page
Top of Page