Wesley's Notes on the Bible
So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.
4:1 I returned - I considered again. Oppressions - Whether by princes, magistrates, or other potent persons. No comforter - None afforded them pity or succour. But they, and c. - No comfort therein.
Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.
4:2 I praised - I judged them less miserable. For this is certain, that setting aside the future life, which Solomon doth not meddle with in the present debate; and considering the uncertainty, and vanity, and manifold calamities of the present life, a wise man would not account it worth his while to live.
Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
4:3 Better is he - Who was never born. Not seen - Not felt: for as seeing good is put for enjoying it, so seeing evil is put for suffering it.
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.
4:4 Right work - All the worthy designs of virtuous men. Envied - Instead of honour, he meets with envy and obloquy.
The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh.
4:5 The fool - Is careless and idle: perceiving that diligence is attended with envy, he runs into the other extreme. Eateth - Wastes his substance, and brings himself to poverty, whereby his very flesh pines away for want of bread.
Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
4:6 Better - These are the words of the sluggard, making this apology for his idleness, That his little with ease, is better than great riches got with much trouble.
Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun.
There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.
4:8 Alone - Who has none but himself to care for. Brother - To whom he may leave his vast estate. Yet - He lives in perpetual restlessness and toil. For whom - Having no kindred to enjoy it. And bereave - Deny myself those comforts and conveniences which God hath allowed me? A sore travel - A dreadful judgment, as well as a great sin.
Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.
4:9 Two - Who live together in any kind of society. Because - Both have great benefit by such conjunction, whereby they support, encourage, and strengthen one another.
For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
4:10 They - One of them. Fall - Into any mistake, or sin, or danger.
Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?
And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
4:12 Prevail - Against either of them.
Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.
4:13 Better - More happy. Now he proceeds to another vanity, That of honour and power. Than a king - Who hath neither wisdom to govern himself, nor to receive the counsels of wiser men.
For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.
4:14 For he - The poor and wise child is often advanced to the highest dignity. Whereas - That old king is deprived of his kingdom.
I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead.
4:15 I considered - The general disposition of common people, in all kingdoms, that they are fickle and inconstant. With the second child - This may be understood of the king's child, or son and heir, called second, in respect of his father, whose successor he is. Stand up - Arise to reign.
There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.
4:16 No end - This humour of the common people hath no end, but passes from one generation to another. Before them - Before the present generation. And so here are three generations of people noted, the authors of the present change, and their parents, and their children; and all are observed to have the same inclinations. In him - They shall be as weary of the successor, though a wise and worthy prince, as their parents were of his foolish predecessor.