A Commentary, Critical, Practical, and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments, by Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown  at sacred-texts.com
ecc 4:1(Ecc. 4:1-16)
returned--namely, to the thought set forth (Ecc 3:16; Job 35:9).
power--MAURER, not so well, "violence."
no comforter--twice said to express continued suffering without any to give comfort (Isa 53:7).
ecc 4:2A profane sentiment if severed from its connection; but just in its bearing on Solomon's scope. If religion were not taken into account (Ecc 3:17, Ecc 3:19), to die as soon as possible would be desirable, so as not to suffer or witness "oppressions"; and still more so, not to be born at all (Ecc 7:1). Job (Job 3:12; Job 21:7), David (Psa 73:3, &c.), Jeremiah (Jer 12:1), Habakkuk (Hab 1:13), all passed through the same perplexity, until they went into the sanctuary, and looked beyond the present to the "judgment" (Psa 73:17; Hab 2:20; Hab 3:17-18). Then they saw the need of delay, before completely punishing the wicked, to give space for repentance, or else for accumulation of wrath (Rom 2:15); and before completely rewarding the godly, to give room for faith and perseverance in tribulation (Psa 92:7-12). Earnests, however, are often even now given, by partial judgments of the future, to assure us, in spite of difficulties, that God governs the earth.
ecc 4:3not seen--nor experienced.
ecc 4:4right--rather, "prosperous" (see on Ecc 2:21). Prosperity, which men so much covet, is the very source of provoking oppression (Ecc 4:1) and "envy," so far is it from constituting the chief good.
ecc 4:5Still the
fool (the wicked oppressor) is not to be envied even in this life, who "folds his hands together" in idleness (Pro 6:10; Pro 24:33), living on the means he wrongfully wrests from others; for such a one
eateth his own flesh--that is, is a self-tormentor, never satisfied, his spirit preying on itself (Isa 9:20; Isa 49:26).
ecc 4:6Hebrew; "One open hand (palm) full of quietness, than both closed hands full of travail." "Quietness" (mental tranquillity flowing from honest labor), opposed to "eating one's own flesh" (Ecc 4:5), also opposed to anxious labor to gain (Ecc 4:8; Pro 15:16-17; Pro 16:8).
ecc 4:7A vanity described in Ecc 4:8.
ecc 4:8not a second--no partner.
child--"son or brother," put for any heir (Deu 25:5-10).
eye-- (Ecc 1:8). The miser would not be able to give an account of his infatuation.
ecc 4:9Two--opposed to "one" (Ecc 4:8). Ties of union, marriage, friendship, religious communion, are better than the selfish solitariness of the miser (Gen 2:18).
reward--Advantage accrues from their efforts being conjoined. The Talmud says, "A man without a companion is like a left hand without the right.
ecc 4:10if they fall--if the one or other fall, as may happen to both, namely, into any distress of body, mind, or soul.
ecc 4:11(See on Kg1 1:1). The image is taken from man and wife, but applies universally to the warm sympathy derived from social ties. So Christian ties (Luk 24:32; Act 28:15).
threefold cord--proverbial for a combination of many--for example, husband, wife, and children (Pro 11:14); so Christians (Luk 10:1; Col 2:2, Col 2:19). Untwist the cord, and the separate threads are easily "broken."
ecc 4:13The "threefold cord" [Ecc 4:12] of social ties suggests the subject of civil government. In this case too, he concludes that kingly power confers no lasting happiness. The "wise" child, though a supposed case of Solomon, answers, in the event foreseen by the Holy Ghost, to Jeroboam, then a poor but valiant youth, once a "servant" of Solomon, and (Kg1 11:26-40) appointed by God through the prophet Ahijah to be heir of the kingdom of the ten tribes about to be rent from Rehoboam. The "old and foolish king" answers to Solomon himself, who had lost his wisdom, when, in defiance of two warnings of God (Kg1 3:14; Kg1 9:2-9), he forsook God.
will no more be admonished--knows not yet how to take warning (see Margin) God had by Ahijah already intimated the judgment coming on Solomon (Kg1 11:11-13).
ecc 4:14out of prison--Solomon uses this phrase of a supposed case; for example, Joseph raised from a dungeon to be lord of Egypt. His words are at the same time so framed by the Holy Ghost that they answer virtually to Jeroboam, who fled to escape a "prison" and death from Solomon, to Shishak of Egypt (Kg1 11:40). This unconscious presaging of his own doom, and that of Rehoboam, constitutes the irony. David's elevation from poverty and exile, under Saul (which may have been before Solomon's mind), had so far their counterpart in that of Jeroboam.
whereas . . . becometh poor--rather, "though he (the youth) was born poor in his kingdom" (in the land where afterwards he was to reign).
ecc 4:15"I considered all the living," the present generation, in relation to ("with") the "second youth" (the "legitimate successor" of the "old king," as opposed to the "poor youth," the one first spoken of, about to be raised from poverty to a throne), that is, Rehoboam.
in his stead--the old king's.
ecc 4:16Notwithstanding their now worshipping the rising sun, the heir-apparent, I reflected that "there were no bounds, no stability (Sa2 15:6; Sa2 20:1), no check on the love of innovation, of all that have been before them," that is, the past generation; so
also they that come after--that is, the next generation,
shall not rejoice in him--namely, Rehoboam. The parallel, "shall not rejoice," fixes the sense of "no bounds," no permanent adherence, though now men rejoice in him.