Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Ecclesiastes 4:6. Better is a handful with quietness, &c. — These are the words, either, 1st, Of the sluggard, making this apology for his idleness, that his little, with ease, is better than great riches got with much trouble; or, 2d, of Solomon, who elsewhere speaks to the same purpose, and here proposes this antidote against the vanity of immoderate cares and labours for worldly goods, against which he industriously directs his speech in divers places of this book, and particularly in the following passage.
1. Of the sluggard making this apology for his idleness, that his little with ease, is better than great riches got with much trouble. Or,
2. Of Solomon, who elsewhere speaks to the same purpose, as Proverbs 15:16,17 17:1, and here proposeth it as a good antidote against the vanity of immoderate cares and labours for worldly goods, against which he industriously directs his speeches in divers places of this book; and particularly as a seasonable precaution against the sin of covetousness, of which he speaks in the following passage. 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;''Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)6. Better is a handful with quietness] The preposition is in both clauses an interpolation, and we should read “a handful of repose, … two handfuls of travail and feeding on wind.” In form the saying presents a parallel to Proverbs 15:17, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith;” but the thought is obviously of a less ethical character. The feeling expressed in Ecclesiastes 4:5-6 (the latter confirming the interpretation just given of the former) is such as we may think of as rising in the mind of an ambitious statesman or artist striving after fame, as he looks on the dolce far niente of a lazzarone at Naples, half-naked, basking in the sun, and revelling in the enjoyment of his water-melon. The one would at such a time, almost change places with the other, but that something after all forbids. The words have almost a verbal parallelism in our common English proverb “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”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. Ecclesiastes 3:21, now also explains אהריו ... בּמה, not: What shall become of him after it (his death)? but: What further shall be done after the state in which he now finds himself? Zckler, although rightly understanding both ה as well as אחריו (after him equals when he will be separated, or separates from this life, Ecclesiastes 7:14; Ecclesiastes 9:3; cf. Genesis 24:67), yet proceeds on that explanation of Hengstenberg's, and gives it the rendering: how things shall be on the earth after his departure. But (1) for this thought, as Ecclesiastes 6:12 shows, the author had a more suitable form of expression; (2) this thought, after the author has, Ecclesiastes 3:21, explained it as uncertain whether the spirit of a man in the act of death takes a different path from that of a beast, is altogether aside from the subject, and it is only an apologetic tendency not yet fully vanquished which here constrains him. The chain of thought is however this: How it will be with the spirit of a man when he dies, who knows? What will be after death is thus withdrawn from human knowledge. Thus it is best to enjoy the present, since we connect together (Ecclesiastes 2:24) labour and enjoyment mediated thereby. This joy of a man in his work - i.e., as Ecclesiastes 5:18 : which flows from his work as a fountain, and accompanies him in it (Ecclesiastes 8:15) - is his portion, i.e., the best which he has of life in this world. Instead of בּמה־שּׁ, the punctuation is בּמה, because שׁיהיה אחריו is a kindred idea; vid.' regarding מה under Ecclesiastes 2:22. And לראות בּ is sued, because it is not so much to be said of the living, that he cannot foresee how it shall be with him when he dies, as that he can gain no glimpse into that world because it is an object that has for him no fixity.
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