Strength in Numbers
“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!” (vv. 9-10).- Ecclesiastes 4:9–12
Commentators on Genesis 1–2 note that there is a sharp and significant break in the evaluations that God makes of His creation. At each point in the creation story, the Lord steps back and says that what He has made is good, up until He makes human beings. Having made Adam, our Creator steps back and says that something about the first man and his situation is not good: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (2:18). To make things right, God creates Eve and establishes the institution of marriage (vv. 18–25).
The emphasis in the Genesis account is on the complementarity of man and woman and the companionship of marriage, but it also points to the original goodness of human community in general. Even as we look at the world without the spectacles of Scripture, we see that there is something good and necessary about community. We do not do well when we are alone for a long period of time, and having friends and family alongside us through life’s journey makes the trip more enjoyable and successful. This is a fundamental truth of the world around us that the Preacher speaks of in Ecclesiastes 4:9–12.
Using examples that may be drawn entirely from travel in the ancient world, the Preacher unfolds the truth that “two are better than one” (v. 9). When one traveled, falling into a pit could mean certain death by exposure or by injury if a friend was not there to lift you out (v. 10). Sleeping alone could not keep travelers warm on cold nights in ancient Israel, which is why those on a journey often lay side by side at night (v. 11). There may also be a reference to the marriage bed in v. 11. A man and a woman are warmer if they are married and lie together than if they are single and sleep alone. Finally, bandits and thieves were a constant threat in the ancient world as people journeyed from one place to another. A person traveling alone would be unable to resist a mugging, but those who journeyed together could offer a united defense to resist the thief (v. 12).
Human beings were created to live in community, so we are stronger together than when we are apart. As we build community and fellowship, we all grow stronger and more faithful to God. Matthew Henry comments, “Two are better than one, and more happy jointly than either of them could be separately, more pleased in one another than they could be in themselves only, mutually serviceable to each other’s welfare, and by a united strength more likely to do good to others.”
God saves us as individuals—I cannot count on anyone else’s faith in order to be redeemed. However, the Lord redeems us to put us in community. This happens preeminently in the church, where God provides the fellowship that we need in order to grow and thrive. We cannot be lone rangers and expect that our faith will thrive. Are you seeking to build community in your church? Are you making time regularly to fellowship with the Lord’s servants?
Passages for Further Study
1 Samuel 18:1–5
1 John 1:1–4