The last portion of the passage refers to a threefold cord. If one individual and another individual make a twofold cord, the threefold cord must have an additional element that we can infer to be God Almighty. If God is not placed first in every liaison that we human beings make (marriage, friendship, or church fellowship) the relationship will be short lived.
Consider these scriptural warnings:
» Though they join forces, the wicked will not go unpunished; but the posterity of the righteous will be delivered. (Proverbs 11:21)
» Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; though they join forces, none will go unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5)
Any alliance or friendship not based upon God's laws and principles will not succeed. We are warned to stay away from any such bond:
If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods," which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, . . . you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him. . . . (Deuteronomy 13:6, 8)
Close or intimate friends should have an intense love for God's law. Any alliance made between two people that explicitly or implicitly subverts God's laws is destined to be destroyed.
God set in motion those immutable laws that bind one person to another. There are laws of attraction that bring human beings with similar traits together. Cliques also adhere or cohere on this principle.
Some studies in human behavior suggest that people bond with one another because they see aspects of their own personalities in others (sometimes good, such as a common love for music or literature, and sometimes bad, such as a proclivity to be a clutter-bug or indecisive). The recognition of a parallel trait in someone else causes us to feel protective toward that person.
For instance, some social analysts have speculated that the reason the United States Senate did not carry out the House of Representatives recommendations to expel President Bill Clinton from office was a timidity rising from their own parallel sins and iniquities. As the wife of a prominent radio commentator has suggested, "Bill Clinton makes us comfortable with our own sins."
David F. Maas
Godly Friendship: A Priceless Commodity
He intimates that three are better than two. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is showing the principle that unity is better than singularity, and as people who are likewise unified with those who were there before, the institution, the family, or whatever, keeps getting stronger and stronger. As long as all of the minds are undivided, they add to the strength of those who are already there.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Jewish proverb says, “A friendless man is like a left hand bereft of the right.” Consider how much having only one hand hinders productivity. When both hands are available, much more can be accomplished and every activity is easier. How much greater is the production of two people doing a task than if the labor is restricted to only one? Even when the two divide the profits, each receives a better return for his efforts than if each had worked alone.
The instruction moves on to contemplating that, if there is trouble along the way, two are more likely to come up with a solution than one working alone. If a person is working alone and falls, no one else is around to help him.
What happens when we stumble during our spiritual walk? Is it not good to have a friend off whom we can bounce things and from whom we can receive correction and encouragement in love? Galatians 6:1-2 addresses this issue: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Ecclesiastes 4:11-12 seem to be calling to mind traveling by foot in ancient Israel where it might be cold during the winter months and perhaps dangerous to life and limb because of attacks by robbers. There is greater productivity, warmth, and security in numbers. II Samuel 21:15-17 recounts a time a younger man came to King David's aid when he was in need:
When the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David and his servants with him went down and fought against the Philistines; and David grew faint. Then Ishbi-Benob, who was one of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose bronze spear was three hundred shekels, who was bearing a new sword, thought he could kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and struck the Philistine and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall go out no more with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”
Ecclesiastes 4:12 provides us with an example of a peculiarity of Hebrew writing that is seen in a number of places in the Old Testament. This literary device makes comparisons by using the term “better.” He first uses “better” in verse 3, then again in verse 6, and finally in verse 9 as he reaches the section's conclusion. His overall point seems to be that in most cases more is better than less: One cord may be easily broken; two would require greater strength; but three would be very difficult to break. One traveler might invite danger; two would add to both travelers' safety; but three travelers would fare even better.
What he has in mind is the matter of how unity adds to productivity, how safety is greatly increased, and how partnership with real friendship and thus greater unity makes an activity more immune to failure. Think of this as it applies to families. One person does not even qualify as a family. A husband and wife working in harmony can add immensely to each spouse's quality of life, and if Jesus Christ is the third Person in that group, the strength He contributes is immeasurably positive. Interestingly, families with many children seldom break up.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons
Companionship has the benefit of producing strength. In unity, there is strength. In these proverbs given in verses 9-12, he means not only, for example, is there help in companionship for somebody who literally falls in a ditch (verse 10), but also, if somebody makes a mistake, a companion can cover it and maybe help him out so that the error does not hurt him so badly. Companionship gives strength because a companion can offer so much help.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Ecclesiastes 4:12: