Search Bible Outlines and commentaries




Remember the theme from last week – chap.3 – Review:




Hope you have been using the book by Swindoll and keeping up with the reading …

My goal is that you use this course for pre-evangelism = laying the groundwork for giving the good news of the gospel message …

Had a God moment this week at work I am going to share along those lines – last week I didn’t have my book with me in class – couldn’t find it – this week I don’t have it – had a chance to give it away . . .

Song: Turn, Turn, Turn

Topic for Today – Futility of Chasing Worldly Success

The American Dream – study hard – go to graduate school – kill yourself in med school or business school or law school; scratch and claw to get to the head of the class so that you can get the best possible job and climb the ladder of success

Solomon is speaking to the movers and shakers – As the King – He sees everything from the top down; he rubs shoulders with the most important people in the world; he knows what makes them tick

No matter where they are on that ladder to the top … or even if they are king of the hill … they discover that nothing satisfies .. the American Dream is a lie – when viewed under the sun; in trying to keep up with the Joneses … what you fail to understand is that the Joneses are not as happy and content as you might imagine

Solomon is not advocating that we sit life out on the sidelines with no ambition or dedication to our work. But he wants to drive home here the harsh reality that awaits those who life is consumed by trying to climb the world’s ladder of success.

Simple Outline


Each will be represented by a common board game or card game we all grew up playing … so should be easy to remember – I will hand out the outline at the end today – can’t give away all my surprises



First Game is Sorry

Game: Object of the game: you get ahead by knocking others off the board and sending them back to home base; you step on others to get to the top; cutthroat — Sorry is a strange name, because you are anything but Sorry when you send someone back to home base — You’re ecstatic!

In the business world we see this type of exploitation of the poor and helpless that’s the way to really make some bucks – look at the advertising of the Credit Card companies aimed at the college students – let’s hook them and get them enslaved; look at the cigarette companies who continue to churn out their cancer sticks; look at the finance companies who failed to caution people against types of mortgages that might get them in over their head

Let’s look at Solomon’s insights on this area of Oppression

A. Commentary: Solomon’s Insights on Oppression

1. Oppression is Everywhere – The Way to the Top is to Put Others Down

“Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun.”

Solomon can easily observe these activities; not just thoughts of oppression; but the malicious deeds are carried out – openly – visibly – Political corruption especially in view – but applies to other realms as well

Look at Paul’s command to masters: Col. 4:1 “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.”

We see examples all of the time in the workplace – a boss lording it over those who work for him; being overly demanding and unreasonable – Peter counsels us to submit to such unfair treatment in the book of 1 Peter – that’s how one lives for eternity instead of living just under the sun (probably the best book to balance out the message of Ecclesiastes)


cf. Eccles. 8:9 good def. of lording it over another person = using your authority to the detriment of another

“All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.”

2. Oppression Enslaves Both Groups to a Life of Misery = No Comfort

“And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them.”

Interesting that both groups have the same problem:

a. easy to see that the oppressed — those characterized by tears — lack comfort

b. but more surprising to find that the oppressors – those characterized by power

— have the same problem = No one that they can turn to and trust;

They live on an island; someone will come along with more power and knock them off their king-of-the-hill position

we easily see the bankruptcy of the poor, but often we forget the message of Rev. 3:17 “You say I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing, and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked”

3. Oppression Makes Death or Non Existence Look Better Than Life

“So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.”

Solomon using hyperbole here – not really advocating suicide

It would be interesting to study the lives of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies who have climbed to the top of the ladder:

(or the lives of successful politicians or judges or those in the field of education or medicine or law):

(or God forbid — even the lives of some successful ministers of the gospel):

– What type of compromises did they have to make?

– What type of oppression did they engage in?

– How did they really make it to the top?

– What story is told by those whom they trampled on to get to the top?

Certainly it is possible to get to the top by the grace of God promoting you — cf. Joseph and Daniel and Mordecai …

(not apart from hard work, but in conjunction with faithful hard work)

But Solomon’s commentary indicates to me that the fast track of the world has a lot of common ruts that are difficult to avoid

Jews knew a lot about oppression from their own history

cf. Egyptian bondage — slave labor

cf. later lamenting by Jeremiah — extreme grief and tears

God has a tender heart for the oppressed; He also has the answer for the troubled conscience of the oppressors

B. Contrast: Word of Christ: John 14:16

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you”

whatever the difficulty or grief of the situation, we have God’s help immediately available; as Christ’s bondservants we are not oppressed but enabled

it’s not that we don’t cry the tears or feel the pain or go thru the suffering, but we have the presence of the Holy Spirit to comfort us and to give us God’s perspective and wisdom to help us in a limited way to understand what is happening to us

the presence of the Holy Spirit also equips us to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3ff)

C. Charge: Our Calling: not to oppress others, but to be a Servant to others — make others glad, make others great, meet the needs of others

What can we do to recognize and ease the oppression of others?

What can we do to serve other people — especially in our job?

Second Game: [Read vv. 4-6]



Game: (could have picked a lot of games, but had to include my favorite)

intense struggle to try to outdo the other person; outthink them; out-trick them; etc.

seems like it should be a relaxing, easy-going game — but not when you play in a tournament — emotionally draining — you can never let down your guard;

Like a War of the Minds — Ego involved – extremely competitive

A. Commentary: Solomon’s Insights on Rivalry

1. Man’s Main Motivation is Competition and Rivalry – The Way to the Top is to Beat Out the Other Man

“I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor”

Most productive efforts (in school, sports, the workplace, etc.) are motivated by a desire to outperform other people and to look better than someone else — get the glory for ourselves

the motivation = competition out of envy

instead of love for neighbor, we see a selfish form of competition; dog-eat-dog mentality

2. Competition and Rivalry Get you Nowhere

“This too is vanity and striving after wind.”

3. Three Different Case Studies

“The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh. One hand full of

rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.”

since you see that a hard-working man will stir up envy on the part of others, don’t hastily jump to the conclusion that it is better to do nothing:

a. the sluggard — the fool — he quits the competition

“folds his hands” — no production; sits out the competition; doesn’t participate

ends up consuming his own flesh = starves to death

b. the fast track achiever —

“2 fists full of labor” — hard driving workaholic

admired by society; has many of the outward trappings of success

a good candidate for burnout and a heart attack

c. the fortunate few who achieve some type of balance

“1 hand full of rest”

requires saying No to some pressures from the workplace

Prov. 14:30 “A tranquil heart is life to the body, But passion is rottenness to the bones”

Prov. 15:16 “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and turmoil with it”

B. Contrast: Word of Christ: Matt. 11:28-30

“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light”

We don’t want to spin our wheels with rat race activity

The same Jesus who proved himself Lord over all the forces of Nature when He calmed the raging storm out on the Sea of Galilee can calm our hearts and rescue us from the rat race mentality

C. Charge: Our Calling: not to strive to get glory for ourselves by outdoing one another, but to work hard to the Glory of God

Remember: We still need to work hard — otherwise we will be like the sluggard who gives up and folds his hands and says, What’s the use? But our efforts aren’t motivated by rivalry but by a desire to see God glorified and a desire to serve others, not beat them out



Game: Not enough to have Boardwalk and Park Place in your possession; you have to go and build hotels on the green and the red properties as well and crush your opponent; you can never have enough properties; cf. Empire building

A. Commentary: Solomon’s Insights on Greed

1. Riches Will Never Satisfy – The Way to the Top is to Accumulate the Most Things

“Then I looked again at vanity under the sun. There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches”

(a lot to say on this subject throughout the book of Eccles.)

Examines the Miser Mentality = an irrational drive for more riches — takes the extreme case where there is no potential beneficiary — no dependent — no one that needs the money –Yet the pursuit remains as relentless as ever — WHY?

Because the riches are desired not to meet needs but to elevate one’s status — Therefore, you never have too much; in fact, you never have enough!

Another million dollars will not change the lifestyle of the millionaire — you can still go where you please and buy what you want

You don’t have any desire to share the wealth; you are only into empire building in order to climb the world’s ladder of success

2. Selfish Motivations Will Consume a Person in Futility

“and he never asked, ‘And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?’”

There is a hidden cost associated with this pursuit of greed that is often overlooked:

often you are driving yourself so hard that you are having to forego certain pleasures of life — rationalizing that you will slow down later and smell the roses

In fact you just keep accelerating the pace until your life burns out — Never comprehending that: — “Simple Pleasures are the best” — remember that commercial??

3. What a Sorry Life!

“This too is vanity and it is a grievous task.”

B. Contrast: Word of Christ: (as quoted by example and teaching of Paul)

Acts 20:33-35 “It is more blessed to give than to receive”

You can’t just try to not be Greedy. You must always put on the positive trait that is the opposite — Here, Generousity

C. Charge: Our Calling: not to accumulate more and more wealth and possessions for ourselves, but to be content with what God has given us and sacrificially give to help others who are in greater need



Game: once you get this high up the ladder of success, no one will play with you anymore; plus you can’t trust anyone anyway so you prefer to be by yourself –

Cf. Ricketts Construction – CEO lied and embezzled

it’s lonely at the top; we don’t tend to think of corporate executives as being lonely — they are surrounded by so many people, but in terms of intimacy and close friendships they are often very lonely and disillusioned

A. Commentary: Solomon’s Insights on Isolation

1. The Top Dog Mentality Only Allows for One King of the Hill – The Way to the Top Isolates from Meaningful Companionship

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.”

Cf. Presidential Campaign – I’m not running for Vice President – not that we are having 2 people work together and pool their unique talents for the good of the country; all about who will end up on top

Very lonely existence

Not primarily talking about marriage here; not even primarily talking about friendship

talking about partnership and cooperation and teamwork in the workplace — in our careers — in our climbing of the ladder of whatever life goal we are pursuing

You’ve heard it said: “It’s lonely at the top”

the higher you go, the less you can trust people; the higher are the stakes; the more people would love to take your place

– You long for a companion; someone in whom you can confide; someone who will truly share the workload ;

– On the other hand you don’t want to share your empire with anyone — so you are caught in a dilemma

You are especially vulnerable according to Solomon — Uses the illustration of the risks of traveling alone without a companion

2. Three Vulnerabilities of Isolation

a. Danger of pits or ravines — error or mishap (:10)

“For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.”

We each have our blind spots; need one another;

Need deliverance when we slip and fall

b. Danger of cold nights, no warmth — adversity (:11)

“Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?”

c. Danger of robbers — open hostility (:12)

“And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.”

3. Principle

“A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”

If two are good … then three are even better. We all need a helping hand

Are we benefiting from the companionship of our wife as we should? Or are we going it alone??

Are we cultivating close friendships ? Or are we Going it alone?


Reasons two are better than one:

– mutual encouragement when we are weak

– mutual support when we are vulnerable

– mutual protection when we are attacked

OT Biblical examples of the value of friendship:

– Elijah and Elisha

– Naomi and Ruth

– David and Jonathan

B. Contrast: Word of Christ: John 15:12-17

What a Friend we Have in Jesus — But it helps to have some friends with flesh on them as well

C. Charge: Our Calling: not to go it alone in the Christian life, but to join together in true fellowship in the gospel as friends who genuinely love one another; importance of fellowship in the gospel; importance of the local church


Game: When you think you are finally on top, you have finally made it; the wheel turns and you are crushed

A. Commentary: Solomon’s Insights on Instability

1. No One Stays at the Top Forever – The Way to the Top Only Begins the Cycle that Ends with Being Replaced by Another

“A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction. For he has come out of prison to become king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom”

a. Look at Origins vs Endings

Wisdom cycles around to Stubbornness where the leader has outlived his usefulness; Times of transition are very volatile

What goes around . . . comes around

b. Look at Cycle of poverty and oppression vs riches and ruling

Ambiguity: Who is the one who has come out of prison?? Doesn’t really matter because the unending cycle is what is in view

the higher you go on the ladder, the more rickety it gets; your footing is never secure — one false step and you don’t just get a bruised knee; when you fall from the top, you are badly hurt

2. Public Popularity is Fickle

“I have seen all the living under the sun throng to the side of the second lad who replaces him. There is no end to all the people, to all who were before them, and even the ones who will come later will not be happy with him”

3. Cycle of Leadership is a Cycle of Futility

“for this too is vanity and striving after wind.”

look at the progression: the greedier you are the more isolated you get, the more isolated you get, the more unstable;

Finally, you are foolish and not able to cover your back and someone comes along and sends you down the chute;

In no time at all you are forgotten — yesterday’s news

B. Contrast: Word of Christ: Matt. 7:24

“a wise man who built his house on the rock”

Psalm 1 – picture of tall tree and stability

C. Charge: Our Calling: not to be man-pleasers who are concerned with the fickle popularity of this world, but to only be concerned with doing the will of God — having our life built on the Rock = Jesus Christ Himself — and enjoying the security of abiding on top forever in union with Christ —

It’s not the world’s ladder of success that we want to try to climb — it’s Jacob’s ladder that reaches up into heaven


Nothing wrong with climbing the ladder of success — as long as we do it God’s way

But the climb up the ladder of success and the view at the top is not always what you expect — especially if your climb upward involves one rotten step after another.

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