Bible Q&A: Is Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Talking About Marriage?

Is Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 talking about a married couple?

Contextually, Solomon is talking about the work a person does with his hands (Eccl. 4:4-8).  When someone is good at their job, it can cause others to be jealous of them (v. 4).  Solomon points out the foolishness of laziness and how it is better to be relatively poor with quiet contentment than to work too much to acquire lots of wealth that won’t satisfy you in the end (vs. 5-6).  His overall point is that all the work and hardship one goes through to acquire much wealth is ultimately “vanity and a striving after wind” (vs. 4, 6), especially if one is alone and thus has no one to care for and thus be motivated to work hard (vs. 7-8).

It is while speaking of working hard while being alone that Solomon then says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.  But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (vs. 9-12).  Basically, what Solomon is saying here is that is better to have friends and companions while you work at your job because those friends can help you as you work together.  When one of you falls or is opposed in some way at work, having friends to back you up and help you is a good thing.

Is this passage talking about marriage?  Not directly, as we’ve seen by examining the context. However, the principles laid out in these verses in the context of talking about the value of having friends in the workplace also have application to marriage.  Marriage exists because God observed that “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18-24).  Thus, the marriage relationship of “two” – the husband and wife – is “better than one.”  Both the husband and wife are commanded by God to love each other (Eph. 5:25; Tit. 2:4), and biblical love requires they support one another during times of hardship (“For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.”)  Only in the marriage relationship is the intimacy of the sexual relationship both permitted and encouraged by God (Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor. 7:1-5), thus having application to Solomon’s point that “if two lie together, they keep warm.”  Jesus also pointed out that it is God who is the “third party” in a marriage in that he is the one who joins husband and wife together (Matt. 19:6), thus finding application in Solomon’s statement that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

So to sum up, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 as written in its context is not talking about married couples.  However, the principles laid out in the passages can very much indirectly apply to married couples.

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