Then I turned to consider all the ways people oppress others here on earth. Look at the tears of the oppressed—there's no one to comfort them! Powerful people oppress them, and there's no one to comfort them! I congratulated those who were already dead, for the dead are better off than those who are still alive and being oppressed.* But best of all are those who have never existedthey haven't seen the evil things people do to each other here on earth.
I observed that every skill in work comes from competition with others. Once again this is hard to understand, like trying to hold on to the elusive wind.
Fools fold their arms and do nothingso in the end they're all used up.
It's better to earn a little without stress than a lot with too much stress and chasing after the wind.
Then I turned to consider something else here on earth that is also frustratingly hard to understand. What about someone who has no family to help him, no brother or son, who works all the time, but isn't satisfied with the money he makes. “Who am I working for?” he asks himself. “Why am I preventing myself from enjoying life?” Such a situation is hard to explain—it's an evil business! Two are better than one, for they can help each other in their work. 10 If one of them falls down, the other can help them up, but how sad it is for someone who falls down and doesn't have anyone to help them up. 11 In the same way, if two people lie down together, they keep each other warm, but you can't keep yourself warm if you're alone. 12 Someone fighting against one other person may win, but not if they are fighting against two. A cord made of three strands can't be torn apart quickly.
13 A poor young person who's wise is better than an old and foolish king who no longer accepts advice. 14 He may even come out of prison to reign over his kingdom, even though he was born poor. 15 I observed everyone here on earth following the youth who takes his place.§ 16 He is surrounded by crowds of supporters, but the next generation isn't happy with him. This also illustrates the passing nature of life whose meaning is elusive, like pursuing the wind for understanding.
* 4:2 “And being oppressed”: supplied, but this is the context for the Teacher's statement. 4:6 Literally, “one handful.” 4:14 Perhaps to be understood as “the prison of bad circumstances.” § 4:15 Presumably the young man mentioned in 4:13 who replaces the old king.