"Two are better than one."


What does Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 mean?


In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Solomon reflects upon Genesis 2:18 that says it was not good for man to be alone. Here he contemplates the benefits of companionship and friendship and says, "Two are better than one." (Eccl.4:9)

From the book of Ecclesiastes as a whole, we can observe that two are better than one in many aspects of life in general. For instance, in work "they have a good reward for their toil" (Eccl. 4:9). Certainly two workers together can accomplish more than one worker by himself. Difficult jobs may become easier when the load is shared. There’s more strength in four hands than just two. Two workers together bring a more varied skill set to the task at hand. Workers may encourage one another.

Ecclesiastes 4:10 adds, "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, we see that two are better than one." This is true physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m older and have a bad back, so when I fall it really is nice to have someone there to physically help me. Emotionally, things come along at times. Again, as a personal example, my mother passed away Christmas Day 2020, and because of COVID, there were no goodbyes, no "I love yous," and no funeral. Yet it was comforting to have close friends around. And finally, from a spiritual perspective, when temptation is knocking at the door, a close friend can keep us from falling or help us through it if we already haven't gotten there. (Gal. 6:1-2).

Ecclesiastes 4:11 states, "Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?" The military recommends body-to-body contact for rewarming hypothermic victims in the field. In this case, two are better than one when shared body heat can make survival more possible.

Before becoming a homicide detective, I served on the streets as a patrolman and was by myself in some very tense and dangerous situations. One time I pulled over an Olympic wrestler. He didn’t want to go to jail, and I wasn’t fairing too well in my attempt to put him there. If I remember correctly, it took six more officers to get him into the back of my patrol car. As said in Ecclesiastes 4:12, "And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken."

We need others for practical, emotional and spiritual support throughout life’s journey. We’re not meant to live this life in complete isolation from one another (cf. Acts 2:44, 46). For Christians, they are to be united as one (John 17:12; cf. Col. 3:12-14). As they work and serve together, much more is accomplished for the kingdom of God.

Indeed, there is practical wisdom in "two are better than one."

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).