“Two are better than one”
An Exegesis of Qoheleth 4: 1-12
Two people may be able to solve a problem that an individual cannot. This line is very famous when somebody says, ‘two heads are better than one’. But what does it mean when we say, ‘two are better than one? This paper attempts to look at the meanings and implications of this particular chapter of the book of Qoheleth. We will try to find out in this inquiry the meaning of synergism to describe the effect of two or more people working together to produce a greater result than the same people work independently. This paper also attempts to present as God Himself declared, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) in relation to the focus of our inquiry in verses 9-12. God advocates companionship over solo lives.
The fourth chapter of Qoheleth confronts four major problems in everyday life “under the sun”: the existence of unrelieved oppression (vv. 1–3), unsatisfied jealousy (vv. 4–6), unmitigated loneliness (vv. 7–12), and the uncertainty of political power and popularity (vv. 13–16). The numeral “two” plays a major role in this chapter, occurring eight times (vv. 3, 6—dual form, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15)—translated sometimes as “both,” “dependent,” “another,” and “second.” Along with “two,” “one” occurs five times (vv. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12) and is implied at least once (v. 6, “one hand”) and “three” makes its appearance once (v. 12). Numbers appear prominently in Qoheleth’s work. This chapter falls into Qoheleth’s part of description on investigating human’s life with these common sayings, “vanity of vanities” and/or “a chasing after wind”. This chapter is also composed of ‘better than’ sayings, a kind of literary formulation. This is evident when the arrogant ones keep climbing the ladder, but no matter how high they climb, there are always people higher up than they, who look down on them.
The audience of Qoheleth does not seem secure with what they have. They are constantly striving to acquire more and more, and they are worried about the possibility of losing what they have. The author addresses those whose ‘eyes are n ot satisfied with wealth,’ who toil and toil even though they have neither descendants nor kinfolks with whom to share their wealth. Furthermore, it addresses the oppression during the time of Qoheleth. He personally identifies with the reality of oppression, with the abuse of power. During the third-century B.C.E., Qoheleth’s work focuses on the oppression of the poor, competitive striving, and unreflective pursuit of material gain. Ptolemaic kings abused the country with callous
efficiency as well as tapping off the wealth of the peoples whom they ruled through taxation. It is in this context that perplexity and ambiguity are evident in Qoheleth’s work. Thus, the subject of Qoheleth’s observation in this particular chapter is human oppression and injustice, as well as death. For those who deny Solomonic authorship for Qoheleth, the text’s discussion of oppression appears “awkward when attributed to the mind of Solomon and not only could Solomon have done something about oppression, but he, according to the historical books, contributed heavily to it in the last days of his life (1 Kings 11).” Qoheleth challenges the fundamental presuppositions underlying any approach to life which would affirm its ultimate value and offer a rational understanding in either transcendental or humanistic perspective. Thus, we will seek to find out solutions in the face of this political and economic confusion marred by oppression, and in this case, “two are better than one” will give hope to overcome oppression.
Exegesis of the Text
Verses 1-3 present the human futility greatly increased by oppression and describe the emptiness of many who make it to the top. The problem with the people described here soon becomes clear that they...
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