Three Cords and the Truth

a close up of a rope on a boat

Last week, I took my sons on a camping trip for fathers and sons put on by our church’s student ministry. We hiked. We perspired. We stunk. We ate food cooked over an open fire. It was a manly endeavor. After breakfast the next morning, a leader shared some encouragements from the book of Ecclesiastes that helped me see something I had missed. Here’s the passage:

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! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

Good King Solomon extols the virtues of friendship in this excerpt of a mostly bleak book of the Bible. If you’re alone and you fall down, whose gonna pick you up, Solomon tells us. If you’re cold and alone, whose gonna warm you up, he reminds us. But then he gets to the end of this friendly excerpt and throws us a curve ball. Three. After talking in couplets, he leads us to a crescendo that is not about two, but about three. Why?

What is this third cord? Isn’t the whole thing about two people being better than one? Here’s what hit me sitting around the campfire that morning: it’s not about a third friend. I had always just kind of skimmed over that and assumed Solomon was like, “Yeah, two are better than one, but you know what’s better than two? Three! Yeah, you can’t break that!” (read with a Jim Gaffigan accent). Without thinking about it, that’s just what I pictured when reading this verse.

To get to the point, I don’t think this is about a third friend, although more friends is not a bad thing. In this paragraph about two people being better than being alone, I believe the third cord is something that doesn’t exist when one is alone. It’s about devoted friendship. When the two come together in this journey, something new is created that didn’t exist before. This third cord is what binds them together. It’s their friendship. And that, Solomon tells us, is hard to tear apart.

I’ve recently become hooked to the television program “Alone.” It’s about ten people who get dropped off at ten different destinations in the same general area, but separated by enough boundaries and space that they have no interaction with each other. They have to survive off the land, and the last one to tap out is the winner. Every single contestant ends up sharing that what surprised them most was the mental toll of isolation. As the show illustrates, and as Solomon wisely advises, we all need a good “ride or die” friend to make it through our journey. Whose your travel buddy?