Keeping up with the Joneses: A common ideology shared by the great majority of humans, particularly, Americans. Running rampant in our society and in our minds are common, useless lies that we insist on making ourselves believe. "Once I get the new model of __________, I'll be happy." You may not say it audibly, but be honest with yourself, it is an ongoing thought behind the proverbial scenes of your mind. All too often we get hyped up on "stuff," expecting to attain it, and then detach the happiness that is supposed to come prepackaged along with said item. The box is opened and the truth looms overhead yet again, you got gypped. It's not that temporal happiness is nonexistent, but that it (temporal happiness) is not what we are grasping for. We want lasting satisfaction, never-ending joy; And we will attempt to fill that hole inside of ourselves until we drop. Unless, of course, there is a divine intervention along the way.
Today, I stumbled upon a nugget of wisdom in the Scriptures (as quoted above), and I thought I would share my commentary on it, considering the subject matter.
Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. (v.4)
My observation is that Solomon is explaining that a man's common cause for labor is fueled by envy, the desire for more. Apparently, the Joneses have been around for quite a while (considering the dating of authorship is widely agreed to be around 250 B.C.). Because a man desires what his neighbor has or just to have more, he works harder. For the sake of greed, a man strives to hone the skills of his trade, thus making him more efficient and profitable. This is the kind of greed that drives men in our modern day. We live lives of much toil in hopes of achieving a type of "consumerist nirvana," but in the end, we are left barren and hollow. Commentators' thoughts on this particular passage vary. Some suggest it to mean that a hard-laboring, skillful, and honest man is envied by his neighbor, which is also true of moral works. This is a more than viable explanation, as Matthew Henry has noted, "Those that excel in virtue will always be an eye-sore to those who exceed in vice." Because men are prone to laziness, it is always a desirable option to take the easy way out, if available. It is quite evident why the lazy neighbor would envy the hard-working man, for, "Sweet is the sleep of a laborer.1" So, I take the truth of both viewpoints on the verse to be accurate, biblical, and enduring.
The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. (v.5)
In short, the fool noted here folds his hands in refusal to work, and brings himself to ruin. Again, Matthew Henry proclaims, "Idleness is a sin that is its own punishment." Perhaps he folds his hands in order to seek more sleep, which is feasible, considering his indolence. Couch potatoes have been around for quite some time, as well.
Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. (v.6)
We are exhorted to "..aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands,2" for this is the portion of the diligent workers and seekers of the Lord. A life spent in hard labor for the sake of honoring God and providing for family is completely preferable to a life of laziness. A life with only one handful of possessions, but much grace and tranquility, will always trump the life of two handfuls gained by hard labor fueled by greed, hate, and envy.
The ultimate wisdom to see here is that true satisfaction is found in Jesus Christ, the one who grants sweet sleep to the laboring man. Truly, the only 'possession' you have is your eternal soul. As Job said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked shall I return.3" Let us fight not to get hung up on possessions. The hole inside of us that I mentioned earlier is a void filled by Christ alone. Don't wear yourself thin in hopes of dying with the most goodies. May we drop whatever our hands are clenching and spend our days holding handfuls grace and mercy.
1 Ecclesiastes 5:12, 21 Thessalonians 4:11, 3Job 1:21