What is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 4:16?
The commands of God are found in the Old and New Testaments. There are many of them. Some are directed to individuals, groups and at times some are for everyone. They include general commands that are true for all time and some that are no longer applicable. Some commands are included in the Mosaic Law which are no longer applicable to Christians today such as attending church on Saturday, observing the sacrifices, Jewish feasts, and having priests and a temple. For example, God commanded Abraham to leave his hometown and travel to the land of Canaan. That command is not for us. Let’s look at the passage surrounding Ecclesiastes 4:16 to put it into context.
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. 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, for this too is vanity and striving after wind. Eccl. 4:13-16
Verse 13 begins by describing a poor young man and an old foolish king. King Solomon, who wrote Ecclesiastes, then tells us that the young man had a humble beginning. He had been poor, was subsequently imprisoned, and after being released from prison became a king (v. 14). So, two individuals are being described – an old king and a young, new king.
Then Solomon tells us that he has observed that the people of the kingdom – “all the living” – will wholeheartedly, eagerly support the new, young king. They wanted him to be become the king. But verse 16 gives us sad news. Reminds us of the fickleness of people. Those who wanted the young man to become king will eventually become unhappy with him and wish for someone else. Further, those “who will come later” into the kingdom after the young man becomes the king will also become unhappy with him. The message is that almost everyone in the kingdom will eventually be unhappy with the king and desire another king thinking that the next one will be better than the last one.
Solomon reveals what one discovers by experience. Politics is vanity and striving after wind. Initially, people cheer for the new politician or king but just wait for sometime to pass by. Eventually, the majority of the people will reject the king or politician. We are sinners who always blame others for our unhappiness and wrongly conclude that things would be better if someone else was the politician or king. Every politician is a sinner – imperfect – and we are sinners who are always critical. Life under the sun on this planet is just disappointing.