Day 9: The quiet life (4:6)
“Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit” (4:6).
The Preacher turns to yet another vanity – expending one’s efforts to succeed – all in order to keep up with the Joneses. “I have also learned why people work so hard to succeed: it is because they envy the things their neighbors have. But it is useless. It is like chasing the wind. They say that we would be fools to fold our hands and let ourselves starve to death. Maybe so, but it is better to have only a little, with peace of mind, than be busy all the time with both hands, trying to catch the wind” (4:4-6 GNT). If we are honest with ourselves a lot of our motivation and prioritisation behind doing the things we do may be because we see others do it (herd instinct if you will) and we want to be like them, or better.
As far as the Preacher was concerned – this is folly, when considering the high price that needs to be paid – “The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh”. It is sometimes said that we live in a dog-eat-dog world, where people do whatever it takes to be successful, even if it means harming others, but that was the very world, then and now, we should avoid, even if it means having only a little. With respect to todays text, a “handful with quietness” is better than having “both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit”. We conclude, if seen in such a light that when it comes to working hard to succeed with the wrong motives: “This also is vanity and a striving after wind” (4:4 ESV).
One question begged is: “where should our efforts be directed”? One thing we conclude from what the Preacher tells us is that it shouldn’t be in following the crowd or out of envy of things others have we don’t or trying to impress other people. That is where life under the sun might take us, but as people of God we should be looking beyond the sun. Working hard for the right reasons is a good thing. On a basic level, it provides us with the wherewithal to sustain life and that of our dependents. It may even give us excess such that we can use it to bless other people. And come to think of it, is not enjoying a quiet life where we can enjoy the little we do have better than a not quiet life where don’t enjoy the lot that we have. And beyond that, as people of God, we are not here to be beholden to the priorities of others, many of which will not give God the time of the day, but rather we are called to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” Matthew 6:33.
Prayer: Forgive us Lord when we envy what others have and toil hard for the wrong things and with the wrong motives. Rather may we seek your kingdom and your righteousness and may we work hard to honour you and bless others.