Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
Again I considered all travail, and every right work,.... The pains that men take to do right works. Some apply themselves, with great diligence and industry, to the study of the liberal arts and sciences; and to attain the knowledge of languages; and to writing books, for the improvement of those things, and the good of mankind: and others employ themselves in mechanic arts, and excel in them, and bring their works to great perfection and accuracy; when they might expect to be praised and commended, and have thanks given them by men. But instead thereof, so it is,
that for this a man is envied of his neighbour; who will be sure to find fault with what he has done, speak contemptibly of him and his work, and traduce him among men. This is also true of moral works; which are right, when done from a right principle, from love to God, in faith, and with a view to the glory of God; and which when done, and ever so well done, draw upon a man the envy of the wicked, as may be observed in the case of Cain and Abel, 1 John 3:12; though some understand this, not passively, of the envy which is brought upon a man, and he endures, for the sake of the good he excels in; but actively, of the spirit of emulation with which he does it; though the work he does, as to the matter of it, is right; yet the manner of doing it, and the spirit with which he does it, are wrong; he does not do it with any good affection to the thing itself, nor with any good design, only from a spirit of emulation to outdo his neighbour: so the Targum paraphrases it,
"this is the emulation that a man emulates his neighbour, to do as he; if he emulates him to do good, the heavenly Word does good to him; but if he emulates him to do evil, the heavenly Word does evil to him;''
and to this sense Jarchi; compare with this, Philippians 1:15.
This is also vanity, and vexation of spirit; whether it be understood in the one sense or the other; how dissatisfying and vexatious is it, when a man has taken a great deal of pains to do right works for public good, instead of having thanks and praise, is reproached and calumniated for it? and if he does a right thing, and yet has not right ends and views in it, it stands for nothing; it has only the appearance of good, but is not truly so, and yields no solid peace and comfort.