In this passage there is a contrast between two men. The first man works and presumably enjoys the benefits of his work. The second man is lazy and simply looks at the first man’s work with envy. “This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.” Why? Because no one gains anything by just looking at the labor of others and envying them.
In fact, as verse 5 says, “The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh.” He sits there and does nothing while his life wastes away. What a miserable way to spend one’s life.
Verse 6 confused me until I also looked at Proverbs 15:16. Solomon says in verse 6, “Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind.” Previously in Proverbs, Solomon said, “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, Than great treasure with trouble.” So Solomon is contrasting contentment with little to trouble with riches.
So in this passage, a person should do his own work instead of wasting his life envying those who work and have profit. But it’s pointless to work too much or dedicate one’s self to obtaining too much wealth. Both the lazy man and the man who work too much waste their time on vain exploits.
What about me? Do I waste my time by not doing anything? Or do I waste my time by doing too much unnecessarily? As with many areas of life, it’s all about balance and seeking God’s will in everything I do.
Better to work than to rest one’s eyes,
Better to work than to fold one’s hands.
But those who have little are also wise,
And fools are they who exceed life’s demands.