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Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Ecclesiastes 2

 

 

Verse 1

I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.

I said in mine heart. "I" (Heb., ani) is emphatic: I who had such ample opportunities of testing earthly goods, and who am now giving the results of my experience. The address to his own heart is alluded to in Jesus' parable of the rich fool, who addresses his own soul (Luke 12:19). So "(It is) mad," or rather, 'Thou art mad,' answers to God's address to him, "Thou fool" (Luke 12:20). Compare Ecclesiastes 2:19 here with "whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?" and Ecclesiastes 2:1 with "be merry."

I will prove thee with mirth - joy flowing from, possessions and pleasures.

Enjoy pleasure - literally, 'look into good;' my heart, I will test whether thou canst find that solid good in pleasure which was not in 'worldly wisdom.' But this also proves to be "vanity."


Verse 2

I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?

Laughter - flowing from sensual gratifications.

(It is) (rather, Thou art). Hengstenberg translates (limshok besari), 'to cherish.'

Mad - i:e., when made the chief good. It is harmless in its proper place; yea, the Preacher urges us to enjoy thankfully present goods (Ecclesiastes 2:24).

What doeth it? - of what avail is it in giving solid good? (Ecclesiastes 2:11.)


Verses 3-11

I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.

Illustration more at large of Ecclesiastes 2:1-2. First, he tries mirth in its coarsest form, intoxication of the senses.

Verse 3. Sought - after search into many plans.

To give myself unto wine - literally, to draw my flesh (body) to wine (including all banquetings). Image from a bound captive drawn after a chariot in triumph (Romans 6:16; Romans 6:19; 1 Corinthians 12:2); or, one 'allured' (2 Peter 2:18-19); or 'indulge my body with wine.'

Yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom - literally, 'and my heart (still) was behaving, or guiding itself, with wisdom' (Gesenius). Compare end, Ecclesiastes 2:9. 'I assayed:' so the Hebrew [ tuwr (Hebrew #8446)] of "I sought" means. Solomon did not give loose to lust as a mere sensualist: but, retaining his wisdom, he tested, by personal trial, what solid good sensual enjoyments can give. Such experiments in sinful pleasures are forbidden by God (Numbers 15:39), and entail His sure vengeance (cf. Proverbs 31:4-5).

Folly - namely, pleasures of the flesh, termed "mad" (Ecclesiastes 2:2 ).

All the days of their life. The shorter that life lasts, the more important it is speedily to know what is the true end and chief good of life (see margin, and Ecclesiastes 6:12; Job 15:20).

Verse 4. I made me great works ... houses - not including the temple, which he did not build for himself, (1 Kings 7:1-8; 1 Kings 9:1; 1 Kings 9:19; 1 Kings 10:18, etc.) Here he passes from the experiment in the lusts of the flesh to the lust of the eye and the pride of life, thus including "all that is in the world" (1 John 2:16).

Vineyards - (Song of Solomon 8:11.)

Verse 5. Gardens - Hebrew ( pardeeciym (Hebrew #6508)), paradises, a foreign word; Sanskrit, 'a place enclosed with a wall;' Armenian and Arabic, a pleasure ground with flowers and shrubs near the king's house or castle.' An earthly paradise can never make up for the want of the heavenly (Revelation 2:7).

Verse 6. Pools - artificial, for irrigating the soil (Genesis 2:10; Nehemiah 2:14; Isaiah 1:30). Three such reservoirs are still found, called Solomon's cisterns, a mile and a half from Jerusalem. Ritter says, The blessing which everywhere in the East irrigation diffuses is seen peculiarly in the paradisaic Etham, the narrow but lovely valley of Wady Urtas. This was probably the garden of Solomon, so rich in pools, described in Canticles as a pleasure garden with the noblest fruit trees.

The wood that bringeth forth trees - rather, 'the grove that flourisheth with trees' (Lowth).

Verse 7. I ... had servants born in my house - these were esteemed more trustworthy servants than those bought (Genesis 14:14; Genesis 15:2-3; Genesis 17:12-13; Genesis 17:27; Jeremiah 2:14), called sons of one's handmaid (Exodus 23:12; cf. this among the items of wealth, Genesis 12:16; Job 1:3).

Above all that were in Jerusalem before me - not only Saul and David, but also the Jebusite kings up to Melchisedec.

Verse 8. The peculiar treasure [Hebrew, c


Verse 12

And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.

I turned myself to behold (the same Hebrew, uwpaaniytiy (Hebrew #6437), as in Ecclesiastes 2:11, "I looked" on). I turned myself to behold (the same Hebrew, uwpaaniytiy (Hebrew #6437), as in Ecclesiastes 2:11, "I looked" on).

Wisdom, and madness, and folly. He had tried (worldly) wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:12-13), and folly (foolish pleasure) (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11); he now compares them (Ecclesiastes 2:12), and finds that while (worldly) wisdom excelleth folly (Ecclesiastes 2:13-14), yet the one event, death and oblivion, befall both (Ecclesiastes 2:14-16), and that thus the wealth acquired by the wise man's "labour" may descend to a "fool," that hath not laboured (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19; Ecclesiastes 2:21); therefore all his labour is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23).

For what (can) the man (do) that cometh after the king? (even) that which hath been already done - (Ecclesiastes 1:9.) Parenthetical. A future investigator can strike nothing out "new," so as to draw a different conclusion from what I by comparing "wisdom and madness." Grotius, with less ellipsis, 'Who is the man who can come after (compete with) the king in (knowing) the things which are done?' None ever can have the same means of testing what all earthly things can do toward satisfying the soul-namely, worldly wisdom, science, riches, power, longevity, all combined. Gejer translates, in accordance with Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, 'What is that man who shall come after the king whom they have made?' - i:e., after me. But Solomon was not made king by man. Hengstenberg also refers 'What will the man (do) who cometh after the king?' to Rehoboam; and makes his perplexity as to the value of wisdom compared with folly to be due to his fear of a worthless successor inheriting all the results of his wisdom. I prefer the sense in the English version.


Verse 13-14

Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.

Wisdom excelleth folly ... as light excelleth darkness ... the fool walketh in darkness - (Proverbs 17:24.) The worldly "wise" man has good sense in managing his affairs, skill and taste in building and planting, and keeps within safe and respectable bounds in pleasure, while the "fool" is wanting in these respects ("darkness" - i:e., fatal error, blind infatuation); yet "one event" - death, happeneth to both (Job 21:26).


Verse 15

Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.

Why was I then - so anxious to become - "more wise" - (2 Chronicles 1:10.)

Then - since such the case - this also vanity. "This" - namely, pursuit of (worldly) wisdom. It can never fill the place of the true wisdom (Job 28:28; Jeremiah 8:9).


Verse 16

For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.

(There is) no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool - a great aim of the worldly (Genesis 11:4). The righteous alone attain it (Psalms 112:6 ; Proverbs 10:7).

Forever - perpetual memorial.

Seeing that which now (is) [ b


Verse 17

Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Therefore I hated life. Disappointed in one experiment after another he is weary of life. The backslider ought to have rather reasoned as the prodigal (Hosea 2:6-7; Luke 15:17-18).

The work that is wrought under the sun (is) grievous unto me - (Job 10:1.)


Verse 18-19

Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.

I hated all my labour ... because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise (man) or a fool? One hope alone was left to the disappointed worldling, the perpetuation of his name and riches, laboriously gathered, through his successor. For selfishness is mostly at the root of worldly parents' alleged providence for their children. But now the remembrance of how he himself, the piously reared child of David, had disregarded his father's dying charge (1 Chronicles 28:9), suggested the sad misgivings as to what Rehoboam, his son by an idolatrous Ammonitess, Naamah, should prove to be-a foreboding too fully realized (1 Kings 12:1-33; 1 Kings 14:21-31).


Verse 20

Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.

I went about (I turned myself) to cause my heart to despair of all the labour - I gave up as desperate all hope of solid fruit from my labour.


Verse 21

For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.

For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom - suppose "there is a man," etc.

And in equity - rather, 'with success,' as the Hebrew ( kishrown (Hebrew #3788)) is rendered (Ecclesiastes 11:6), 'prosper,' though margin gives 'be right' (Holden.)

This also (is) ... a great evil - not in itself, for, this is the ordinary course of things, but "evil," as regards the chief good, that one should have toiled so fruitlessly.


Verse 22

For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 23

For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.

All his days are sorrows and his travail grief. Same sentiment as Ecclesiastes 2:21, interrogatively. The only fruit he has is, not only sorrows in his days, but "all his days are sorrow and his travail" (not only has griefs connected with it, but is itself) "grief."


Verse 24

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.

(There is) nothing better for a man, (than) that he should eat. The Hebrew literally is 'It is not good for man that he should eat,' etc., 'and should make his soul see good.' According to Holden and Weiss, Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:22, differ from this verse in the text and meaning: here he means, 'It is not good that a man should feast himself, and falsely make as though, his soul were happy:' he thus refers to a false pretending of happiness acquired by and for one's self: in Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-19, to real seeing, or finding pleasure when God gives it. There it is said to be good for a man to enjoy with satisfaction and thankfulness the blessings which God gives; here it is said not to be good to take an unreal pleasure to one's self by feasting, etc. I prefer the English version; or else, if the ellipsis be thought harsh, translate interrogatively, as Hengstenberg, 'Is it not good for man that he eat?' etc. It is not Epicurean self-indulgence that is recommended, as Ecclesiastes 2:2-3 oppose this; but a cheerful enjoyment of present goods, while toiling "in his labour," as contrasted with anxious labours in order to secure the greatest gains of this life. This view accords with Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-19.

This also I saw - I perceived by experience that even this eating and drinking, and cheerful enjoyment of God's present gifts, is not to be taken at will, but comes only from the hand of God (Psalms 4:6; James 1:17). God alone can make us capable of enjoyment, and deliver us from the bonds of avarice.


Verse 25

For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?

Who can eat, or who else can hasten (hereunto), more than I? - Hebrew, yaachuwsh (Hebrew #2363) chuwts (Hebrew #2351) mimeniy (Hebrew #4480): Who can hasten more than I, and beyond me? The Syriac, Arabic, and Septuagint, read, 'without Him' - i:e., without His permission (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24). "Hasten," eagerly pursue such enjoyments. None can compete with me in this. If I, then, with all my opportunities of enjoyment, failed utterly to obtain solid pleasure, of my own making, apart from God (Ecclesiastes 2:24), who else can? God mercifully spares His children the sad experiment which Solomon made, by denying them the goods which they often desire. He gives them the fruits of Solomon's experience, without their paying the dear price at which Solomon bought it. Hengstenberg makes Solomon to say that he has richly enjoyed this gift of God-namely, the power to eat and drink and enjoy present goods; whereas the miser does not "hasten" to eat, because his eye is looking to the uncertain future. I can by my experience (says Solomon) attest that eating and hastening to enjoy the present in a cheerful, though not a sensual spirit, is the only good to be gotten from life, by the gift of God.


Verse 26

For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

For (God) giveth to a man that (is) good in his sight wisdom, ... and joy. True, literally, in the Jewish theocracy, and in some measure in all ages (Job 27:16-17; Proverbs 13:22; Proverbs 28:8). Though the retribution be not so visible and immediate now as then, it is no less real. Happiness even here is more truly the portion of the godly. God gives the godly power to enjoy what they have (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Psalms 84:11; Matthew 5:5; Mark 10:29-30; Romans 8:28; 1 Timothy 4:8).

But to the sinner he giveth travail ... to heap up, that he (the sinner) may give to (him that is) good before God - i:e., unconsciously and in spite of himself. The godly Solomon had satisfaction in his riches and wisdom, when God gave them, (2 Chronicles 1:1-17.) The backsliding Solomon had no happiness when he sought it in them apart from God, and the riches which he heaped up became the prey of Shishak, (2 Chronicles 12:1-16.)

This also (this gathering and heaping up of goods by sinners, without enjoying them) (is) vanity and vexation of spirit - by God's righteously retributive appointment.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/ecclesiastes-2.html. 1871-8.

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