The vanity and vexation of mirth, sensual pleasure, riches, and pomp. (1-11) Human wisdom insufficient. (12-17) This world to be used according to the will of God. (18-26)
Verses 1-11 Solomon soon found mirth and pleasure to be vanity. What does noisy, flashy mirth towards making a man happy? The manifold devices of men's hearts, to get satisfaction from the world, and their changing from one thing to another, are like the restlessness of a man in a fever. Perceiving it was folly to give himself to wine, he next tried the costly amusements of princes. The poor, when they read such a description, are ready to feel discontent. But the remedy against all such feelings is in the estimate of it all by the owner himself. All was vanity and vexation of spirit: and the same things would yield the same result to us, as to Solomon. Having food and raiment, let us therewith be content. His wisdom remained with him; a strong understanding, with great human knowledge. But every earthly pleasure, when unconnected with better blessings, leaves the mind as eager and unsatisfied as before. Happiness arises not from the situation in which we are placed. It is only through Jesus Christ that final blessedness can be attained.
Verses 12-17 Solomon found that knowledge and prudence were preferable to ignorance and folly, though human wisdom and knowledge will not make a man happy. The most learned of men, who dies a stranger to Christ Jesus, will perish equally with the most ignorant; and what good can commendations on earth do to the body in the grave, or the soul in hell? And the spirits of just men made perfect cannot want them. So that if this were all, we might be led to hate our life, as it is all vanity and vexation of spirit.
Verses 18-26 Our hearts are very loth to quit their expectations of great things from the creature; but Solomon came to this at length. The world is a vale of tears, even to those that have much of it. See what fools they are, who make themselves drudges to the world, which affords a man nothing better than subsistence for the body. And the utmost he can attain in this respect is to allow himself a sober, cheerful use thereof, according to his rank and condition. But we must enjoy good in our labour; we must use those things to make us diligent and cheerful in worldly business. And this is the gift of God. Riches are a blessing or a curse to a man, according as he has, or has not, a heart to make a good use of them. To those that are accepted of the Lord, he gives joy and satisfaction in the knowledge and love of him. But to the sinner he allots labour, sorrow, vanity, and vexation, in seeking a worldly portion, which yet afterwards comes into better hands. Let the sinner seriously consider his latter end. To seek a lasting portion in the love of Christ and the blessings it bestows, is the only way to true and satisfying enjoyment even of this present world.
Ecclesiastes 2:1-26 .
He next tries pleasure and luxury, retaining however, his worldly "wisdom" ( Ecclesiastes 3:9 ), but all proves "vanity" in respect to the chief good.
1. I said . . . heart--( Luke 12:19 ).
thee--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" ( Isaiah 50:11 ).
2. laughter--including prosperity, and joy in general ( Job 8:21 ).
mad--that is, when made the chief good; it is harmless in its proper place.
What doeth it?--Of what avail is it in giving solid good? ( Ecclesiastes 7:6 , Proverbs 14:13 ).
3-11. Illustration more at large of Ecclesiastes 2:1 Ecclesiastes 2:2 .
I sought--I resolved, after search into many plans.
give myself unto wine--literally, "to draw my flesh," or "body to wine" (including all banquetings). Image from a captive drawn after a chariot in triumph ( Romans 6:16 Romans 6:19 , 1 Corinthians 12:2 ); or, one "allured" ( 2 Peter 2:18 2 Peter 2:19 ).
yet acquainting . . . wisdom--literally, "and my heart (still) was behaving, or guiding itself," with wisdom [GESENIUS]. MAURER translates: "was weary of (worldly) wisdom." But the end of Ecclesiastes 2:9 confirms English Version.
folly--namely, pleasures of the flesh, termed "mad," Ecclesiastes 2:2 .
all the days, &c.--(See Margin and Ecclesiastes 6:12 , Job 15:20 ).
4. ( 1 Kings 7:1-8 , 1 Kings 9:1 1 Kings 9:19 , 10:18 , &c.).
vineyards--( Solomon 8:11 ).
5. gardens--Hebrew, "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 ).
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.
wood that bringeth forth--rather, "the grove that flourisheth with trees" [LOWTH].
7. born in my house--These were esteemed more trustworthy servants than those bought ( Genesis 14:14 , Genesis 15:2 Genesis 15:3 , Genesis 17:12 Genesis 17:13 Genesis 17:27 , Jeremiah 2:14 ), called "songs of one's handmaid" ( Exodus 23:12 ; compare Genesis 12:16 , Job 1:3 ).
8. ( 1 Kings 10:27 , 2 Chronicles 1:15 , 9:20 ).
peculiar treasure of kings and . . . provinces--contributed by them, as tributary to him ( 1 Kings 4:21 1 Kings 4:24 ) a poor substitute for the wisdom whose "gain is better than fine gold" ( Proverbs 3:14 Proverbs 3:15 ).
singers--so David ( 2 Samuel 19:35 ).
musical instruments . . . of all sorts--introduced at banquets ( Isaiah 5:12 , Amos 6:5 Amos 6:6 ); rather, "a princess and princesses," from an Arabic root. One regular wife, or queen ( Esther 1:9 ); Pharaoh's daughter ( 1 Kings 3:1 ); other secondary wives, "princesses," distinct from the "concubines" ( 1 Kings 11:3 , Psalms 45:10 , Solomon 6:8 ) [WEISS, GESENIUS]. Had these been omitted, the enumeration would be incomplete.
9. great--opulent ( Genesis 24:35 , Job 1:3 ; see 1 Kings 10:23 ).
remained--( Ecclesiastes 2:3 ).
10. my labour--in procuring pleasures.
this--evanescent "joy" was my only "portion out of all my labor" ( Ecclesiastes 3:22 , 5:18 , 9:9 , 1 Kings 10:5 ).
11. But all these I felt were only "vanity," and of "no profit" as to the chief good. "Wisdom" (worldly common sense, sagacity), which still "remained with me" ( Ecclesiastes 2:9 ), showed me that these could not give solid happiness.
12. He had tried (worldly) wisdom ( Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 ) 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 Ecclesiastes 2:14 ), yet the one event, death, befalls both ( Ecclesiastes 2:14-16 ), and that thus the wealth acquired by the wise man's "labor" may descend to a "fool" that hath not labored ( Ecclesiastes 2:18 Ecclesiastes 2:19 Ecclesiastes 2:21 ); therefore all his labor is vanity ( Ecclesiastes 2:22 Ecclesiastes 2:23 ).
what can the man do . . . already done--( Ecclesiastes 1:9 ). Parenthetical. A future investigator can strike nothing out "new," so as to draw a different conclusion from what I draw by comparing "wisdom and madness." HOLDEN, with less ellipsis, translates, "What, O man, shall come after the king?" &c. Better, GROTIUS, "What man can come after (compete with) the king in the things which are done?" None ever can have the same means of testing what all earthly things can do towards satisfying the soul; namely, worldly wisdom, science, riches, power, longevity, all combined.
13, 14. ( 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," equivalent to fatal error, blind infatuation), yet one event, death, happens to both ( Job 21:26 ).
15. why was I--so anxious to become, &c. ( 2 Chronicles 1:10 ).
Then--Since such is the case.
this--namely, pursuit of (worldly) wisdom; it can never fill the place of the true wisdom ( Job 28:28 , Jeremiah 8:9 ).
16. remembrance--a great aim of the worldly ( Genesis 11:4 ). The righteous alone attain it ( Psalms 112:6 , Proverbs 10:7 ).
for ever--no perpetual memorial.
that which now is--MAURER, "In the days to come all things shall be now long ago forgotten."
17. Disappointed in one experiment after another, he is weary of life. The backslider ought to have rather reasoned as the prodigal ( Hosea 2:6 Hosea 2:7 , Luke 15:17 Luke 15:18 ).
grievous unto me--( Job 10:1 ).
18, 19. 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 12:1-18 , 14:21-31 ).
20. I gave up as desperate all hope of solid fruit from my labor.
21. Suppose "there is a man," &c.
equity--rather "with success," as the Hebrew is rendered ( Ecclesiastes 11:6 ), "prosper," though Margin gives "right" [HOLDEN and MAURER].
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.
22. Same sentiment as in Ecclesiastes 2:21 , interrogatively.
23. The only fruit he has is, not only sorrows in his days, but all his days are sorrows, and his travail (not only has griefs connected with it, but is itself), grief.
24. English Version gives a seemingly Epicurean sense, contrary to the general scope. The Hebrew, literally is, "It is not good for man that he should eat," &c., "and should make his soul see good" (or "show his soul, that is, himself, happy"), &c. [WEISS]. 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 Ecclesiastes 5:19 , 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, &c.
This also I saw--I perceived by experience that good (real pleasure) is not to be taken at will, but comes only from the hand of God [WEISS] ( Psalms 4:6 , Isaiah 57:19-21 ). Or as HOLDEN, "It is the appointment from the hand of God, that the sensualist has no solid satisfaction" (good).
25. hasten--after indulgences ( Proverbs 7:23 , 19:2 ), 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, 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.
26. True, literally, in the Jewish theocracy; and in some measure in all ages ( Job 27:16 Job 27:17 , Proverbs 13:22 , 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 ( Psalms 84:11 , Matthew 5:5 , Mark 10:29 Mark 10:30 , Romans 8:28 , 1 Timothy 4:8 ).
that he--the sinner
may give--that is, unconsciously and in spite of himself. The godly Solomon had satisfaction in his riches and wisdom, when God gave them ( 2 Chronicles 1:11 2 Chronicles 1:12 ). 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 12:9 ).