Ecclesiastes 4:4
Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
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(4) Right work.—Rather, skilful. (See Note on Ecclesiastes 2:21.)

Ecclesiastes 4:4. Again I considered all travail — Hebrew כל עמל, all the labour, toil, or trouble, which men undertake or undergo; and every right work — All the worthy designs of virtuous men; that for this a man is envied of his neighbour — Instead of that honour and recompense which he deserves, he meets with nothing but envy, and obloquy, and many evil fruits thereof.

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.Every right work - Rather, every success in work.

For this ... - i. e., "This successful work makes the worker an object of envy." Some understand the meaning to be, "this work is the effect of the rivalry of man with his neighbor."

4. right—rather, "prosperous" (see on [658]Ec 2:21). Prosperity, which men so much covet, is the very source of provoking oppression (Ec 4:1) and "envy," so far is it from constituting the chief good. Every right work; all the worthy designs and complete works of wise and virtuous men.

Is envied of his neighbour; instead of that honour and recompence which he deserves, he meets with nothing but envy and obloquy, and many evil fruits thereof.

Again I considered all travail, and every right work,.... The pains that men take to do right works. Some apply themselves, with great diligence and industry, to the study of the liberal arts and sciences; and to attain the knowledge of languages; and to writing books, for the improvement of those things, and the good of mankind: and others employ themselves in mechanic arts, and excel in them, and bring their works to great perfection and accuracy; when they might expect to be praised and commended, and have thanks given them by men. But instead thereof, so it is,

that for this a man is envied of his neighbour; who will be sure to find fault with what he has done, speak contemptibly of him and his work, and traduce him among men. This is also true of moral works; which are right, when done from a right principle, from love to God, in faith, and with a view to the glory of God; and which when done, and ever so well done, draw upon a man the envy of the wicked, as may be observed in the case of Cain and Abel, 1 John 3:12; though some understand this, not passively, of the envy which is brought upon a man, and he endures, for the sake of the good he excels in; but actively, of the spirit of emulation with which he does it; though the work he does, as to the matter of it, is right; yet the manner of doing it, and the spirit with which he does it, are wrong; he does not do it with any good affection to the thing itself, nor with any good design, only from a spirit of emulation to outdo his neighbour: so the Targum paraphrases it,

"this is the emulation that a man emulates his neighbour, to do as he; if he emulates him to do good, the heavenly Word does good to him; but if he emulates him to do evil, the heavenly Word does evil to him;''

and to this sense Jarchi; compare with this, Philippians 1:15.

This is also vanity, and vexation of spirit; whether it be understood in the one sense or the other; how dissatisfying and vexatious is it, when a man has taken a great deal of pains to do right works for public good, instead of having thanks and praise, is reproached and calumniated for it? and if he does a right thing, and yet has not right ends and views in it, it stands for nothing; it has only the appearance of good, but is not truly so, and yields no solid peace and comfort.

Again, I considered all labour, and every {d} right work, that for this a man is envied by his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.

(d) The more perfect that the work is, the more it is envied by the wicked.

4. I considered all travail, and every right work] The “right work,” as in ch. Ecclesiastes 2:21, is that which is dexterous and successful, without any marked reference to its moral character. Men exult in such work at the time, but they find it has the drawback of drawing on them the envy and ill-will of their less successful neighbours, and this therefore is also vanity and feeding on wind.

Verses 4-6. - Secondly, success meets with envy, and produces no lasting good to the worker; yet, however unsatisfactory the result, man must continue to labor, as idleness is ruin. Verse 4. - Again, I considered all travail, and every right work. The word rendered "right" is kishron (see on Ecclesiastes 2:21), and means rather "dexterity," "success." Kohe-leth says that he reflected upon the industry that men exhibit, and the skill and dexterity with which they ply their incessant toil. There is no reference to moral rectitude in the reflection, and the allusion to the ostracism of Aristides for being called "Just" overshoots the mark (see Wordsworth, in loc.). Septuagint, σύμπασαν ἀνρίαν τοῦ ποιήματος, "all manliness of his work." That for this a man is envied of his neighbor. Kinah may mean either "object of envy" or "envious rivalry;" i.e. the clause may be translated as above, or, as in the Revised Version margin, "it cometh of a man's rivalry with his neighbor." The Septuagint is ambiguous, Ὅτι αὐτὸ ζῆλος ἀνδρὸς ἀπὸ τοῦ ἑταίρου αὐτοῦ, "That this is a man's envy from his comrade;" Vulgate, Industrias animadverti patere invidiae proximi, "Lay open to a neighbor's envy." In the first case the thought is that unusual skill and success expose a man to envy and ill will, which rob labor of all enjoyment. In the second case the writer says that this superiority and dexterity arise from a mean motive, an envious desire to outstrip a neighbor, and, based on such low ground, can lead to nothing but vanity and vexation of spirit, a striving after wind. The former explanation seems more in accordance with Koheleth's gloomy view. Success itself is no guarantee of happiness; the malice and ill feeling which it invariably occasions are necessarily a source of pain and distress. Ecclesiastes 4:4"And I saw all the labour and all the skill of business, that it is an envious surpassing of the one by the other: also this is vain and windy effort." The היא refers to this exertion of vigorous effort and skill. The Graec. Venet., by rendering here and at Ecclesiastes 2:24 כּשׁרון, by καθαρότης, betrays himself as a Jew. With כּי, quod, that which forms the pred. follows the object. the min in mere'ehu is as in amatz min, Psalm 18:18, and the like - the same as the compar.: aemulatio qua unus prae altero eminere studet. All this expenditure of strength and art has covetousness and envy, with which one seeks to surpass another, as its poisoned sting.
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