Ecclesiastes 2:12

Wisdom and Folly Are Meaningless

12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?

Ecclesiastes 2:12 in Other Translations

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.
12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done.
12 So I decided to compare wisdom with foolishness and madness (for who can do this better than I, the king? ).
12 And then I took a hard look at what's smart and what's stupid. What's left to do after you've been king? That's a hard act to follow. You just do what you can, and that's it.
12 Then I turned to consider wisdom, madness, and folly, for what will the man be like who comes after the king? He will do what has already been done.

Ecclesiastes 2:12 Meaning and Commentary

Ecclesiastes 2:12

And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly,
&c.] Being disappointed in his pursuit of pleasure, and not finding satisfaction and happiness in that, he turns from it, and reassumes his study of natural wisdom and knowledge, to make a fresh trial, and see whether there might be some things he had overlooked in his former inquiries; and whether upon a revise of what he had looked into he might not find more satisfaction than before; being convinced however that the pursuit of pleasure was less satisfying than the study of wisdom, and therefore relinquished the one for the sake of the other: and in order, if possible, to gain more satisfaction in this point, he determined to look more narrowly, and penetrate into the secrets of wisdom, and find out the nature of it, and examine its contraries; that by setting them in a contrast, and comparing them together, he might be the better able to form a judgment of them. Jarchi interprets "wisdom" of the law, and "madness" and "folly" of the punishment of transgression. Alshech also by "wisdom" understands the wisdom of the law, and by madness external wisdom, or the knowledge of outward things. But Aben Ezra understands by "madness" wine, with which men being intoxicated become mad; and by "folly" building houses, and getting riches; for what [can] the man [do] that cometh after the king?
meaning himself; what can a man do that comes after such a king as he was, who had such natural parts to search into and acquire all sorts of knowledge; who was possessed of such immense riches, that he could procure everything that was necessary to assist him in his pursuit of knowledge; and who wanted not industry, diligence, and application, and who succeeded above any before or after him? wherefore what can any common man do, or anyone that comes after such a person, and succeeds him in his studies, and treads in his steps, and follows his example and plan, what can he do more than is done already? or can he expect to outdo such a prince, or find out that which he could not? nay, it is as if he should say, it is not only a vain thing for another man to come after me in the search of knowledge, in hopes of finding more than I have done; but it is a fruitless attempt in me to take up this affair again; for, after all that I have done, what can I do more? so that these words are not a reason for his pursuit of wisdom, but a correction of himself for it; I think the words may be rendered, "but what [can] that man do [that] comes after the king?" so the particle is sometimes used F20; meaning himself, or his successor, or any other person; since it was only going over the same thing again, running round the circle of knowledge again, without any new improvement, or fresh satisfaction, according to the following answer; [even] that which hath been already done;
it is only doing the same thing over again. The Targum and Jarchi interpret it of the vain attempt of a man to supplicate a king after a decree is passed and executed. The Midrash by the king understands God himself, and interprets it of the folly of men not being content with their condition, or as made by him. So Gussetius renders it, "who made him" {u}; that is, the king; even God, the three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit; the word being plural.


F20 Vid. Noldii Concordant. Partic. Ebr. p. 404,
F21 (whwve rva) "qui fecerunt euum", vid. Ebr. Comment. p. 605.

Ecclesiastes 2:12 In-Context

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?
13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.
14 The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.

Cross References 2

  • 1. S Ecclesiastes 1:17
  • 2. S Ecclesiastes 1:9; Ecclesiastes 7:25
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