Ecclesiastes 4 has Solomon starting with the reality that many are under oppression. He recognizes the suffering of those who are oppressed. Scripture is full of examples of many areas of oppression, so it’s not new, and certainly continues today. “I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them”! The oppressed often have no one to take up their cause and they suffer alone and without hope.
Success often brings envy from those around us. “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor”. While you would hope people would celebrate success, often they struggle to rejoice in the success of others comparing it to their own. They really have a hard time being excited about someone they know making it big. Jesus faced it too. “How can anything good come from Nazareth”? People dislike success or seeing someone being elevated above their situation.
Sometimes success is not earned, but usually it comes as a result of very hard work. Often times, work that is out of balance and taking priority over more important things, but non the less success often is related to hard work. Solomon sees that in his wisdom. “The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh”. Scripture is pretty clear that work is part of God’s plan and is related to success. But it isn’t just work. It’s work that is aligned to a plan that takes you in the right way. “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind”. Solomon knows that work without a plan is like chasing the wind. We’ll never accomplish what we desire.
Solomon does call out one of the greatest failures in success – we never have enough. He writes “there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches”. When a person experiences success, they almost always want more of it. Even when there is clearly more than is needed, they are still driven to do and accumulate more. It becomes an obsession and we trade things that are more important – we let priorities get out of order – and we trade our time for stuff that doesn’t really matter. It is a form of oppression too – that the pursuit of success and wealth pushes aside God and what matters more. And life misses the mark and ends without the joy and satisfaction God designed it to.