What Does Ecclesiastes 4:12 Mean?

And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

Ecclesiastes 4:12(NASB)

Verse of the Day

As Ecclesiastes unfolds, contrasting pictures emerge from its pages. We see secular wisdom at variance with the divine wisdom from on high. We discover the wonderful hope we have in our eternal God, as the antithesis of man's devastating despair in this fallen world system.

We hear of the futility of man's fleshly accomplishments and the emptiness and pain that permeates every aspect of life, when God is excluded. We discover that the continuous ebb and flow of human activity, secures the soul of every man in the iron-grip of death, and no-one is exempt. Yet Solomon's conclusion, when all had been evaluated, is that man's duty is to fear God and to keep His commandments.

At times, the contents of this book sound like the ramblings of a depressed man, interspersed with little glimmers of hope and injections of joy here and there. At other times it appears to contradict other passages in Scripture, causing some to question its legitimacy as an integral part of the Scriptures. However, it must never be forgotten that these are the reflections of Soloman, as he approached the end of his life. And there is much that we can learn from its pages, for all Scripture is written by inspiration of God and is profitable for our learning. 

Having been endowed with wisdom, wealth, fame, and nobility, this royal son of David strayed far from the truth and dishonoured the Lord, Who had blessed him mightily. However, he finally recognised his folly and concluded that life without God is futile, false, and fruitless. As Solomon reflected on the choices in his search for the meaning in life, his conclusions help us to focus on what is beneficial, to prioritise wisely and not to crave the passing pleasures this world has to offer.

Chapter 4 opens by lamenting that the oppression of secular society brings nothing but misery to a man, while the accumulation of wealth brings emptiness, unless there is someone with whom it can be shared! Despite his great wisdom, intellect, fame, and fortune, Solomon discovered all his privileges and accomplishments were vain and futile.

Although Solomon was a man who forgot to pay heed to the advice of his own father, he wanted his sons to make wise choices in their life-journeys. He recognised his own personal achievements, intellectual greatness, fabulous wealth, military might and far-reaching fame were no more beneficial to a man's eternal soul than chasing after the wind or trying to catch hold of a passing breeze.

Solomon acknowledged that paying heed to wise counsel is prudent, companionship is valuable, and friends and family bring encouragement in our passage through life. "Two are better than one", he observed, "for if someone can overpower a man who is alone, two can resist him - and a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart."

Amidst all the futility and foolishness that Solomon identified in his own life, he realised the value in human relationships and the benefits of not being alone. Two are stronger and two are more productive. Two provide one another with warmth on a cold night, protection from an enemy attack and companionship instead of isolation. It is as he reflects on the benefits of two that he adds, "And a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart - a threefold cord is not quickly broken."

This sudden departure from a partnership of two to include a third party is often quoted or interpreted to mean the Lord as the third strand in the cord of three. And in consideration of Solomon's life of foolishness and folly, where he ignored the godly wisdom of the wise and strayed from the path of righteousness, this observation appears to be one of his fleeting moments of clarity, where Solomon recognised the wisdom of including the Lord in every earthly partnership and each area of life.

When God is included in any alliance, partnership, family, or company, it is a successful association. When a marriage, a business partnership or close friendship invites God to be that third cord in their relationship, it is strengthened, enduring and satisfying. Whether or not this was in Solomon's mind when he wrote, "a cord of three strands is not easily broken", including God in our relationships and activities is something we should all consider.

When two people are of the same heart and mind, there is greater potential to stand firm, stay true, resist the enemy, maintain unity of spirit and not fall prey to an alternative philosophy or unwholesome mindset. And when God becomes the third Person in such a partnership, life takes on new purpose and meaning.

The foolish choices Solomon made in his later life, when he walked away from the God of his father, ignored the Law of Moses, indulged in ungodly ways and permitted pagan activities to defile the land and infect his kingdom, it is not surprising that Solomon's life lacked meaning and he found himself surrounded by so much gloom and despondency.

The little pockets of hope, glimmers of joy and infusions of encouragement that percolate throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, suggest that.. had this great king of Israel been a man after God's own heart, like his father, David, and remained true to the Lord and humble before Him, his experiences in life may have been very different from the disappointments he underwent in his secular pursuits and the futility he found in the life he lived. 

Had he kept God as the third strand of every relationship and allowed Him to direct the decisions he made and guide the activities he undertook, I suspect his memoirs may have reached a very different conclusion and his spiritual understanding of the God, in Whom he trusted, may have been broadened, like that of Job - who heard of God by the hearing of the ear - but finally received a depth of spiritual understanding he had never experienced before.

Life on earth is difficult, and our time is fleeting, but we have choices to make every day of our lives - in the relationships we make and activities we undertake. May we ensure that the choices we make and the activities in which we are engaged are wise, and that Christ is always the third strand in every relationship and our heavenly guide in all our decisions.

My Prayer

Loving Lord and Heavenly Father, I pray that I would always invite You into every relationship in my life and seek Your guidance in every decision I make. Keep me from being enticed into worldly ways or seeking after the empty values life has to offer. Thank You for the Word of truth and the wisdom it contains, and help me to learn the lessons that life teaches as I keep my eyes looking to Jesus. May I stand firm, stay true, resist the enemy, maintain the unity of the spirit in a bond of peace, and not fall prey to an alternative philosophy or unwholesome mindset. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.

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