Ecclesiastes 2:12-17

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?
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.
15 Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.”
16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die!

Toil Is Meaningless

17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 2:12 in Other Translations

KJV
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.
ESV
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.
NLT
12 So I decided to compare wisdom with foolishness and madness (for who can do this better than I, the king? ).
MSG
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.
CSB
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 2:12-17 Meaning and Commentary

INTRODUCTION TO ECCLESIASTES 2

Solomon, having made trial of natural wisdom and knowledge in its utmost extent, and found it to be vanity, proceeds to the experiment of pleasure, and tries whether any happiness was in that, Ec 2:1. As for that which at first sight was vain, frothy, and frolicsome, he dispatches at once, and condemns it as mad and unprofitable, Ec 2:2; but as for those pleasures which were more manly, rational, and lawful, he dwells upon them, and gives a particular enumeration of them, as what he had made full trial of; as good eating and drinking, in a moderate way, without abuse; fine and spacious buildings; delightful vineyards, gardens, and orchards; parks, forests, and enclosures; fish pools, and fountains of water; a large retinue, and equipage of servants; great possessions, immense riches and treasure; a collection of the greatest rarities, and curiosities in nature; all kinds of music, vocal and instrumental, Ec 2:3-8; in all which he exceeded any that went before him; nor did he deny himself of any pleasure, in a lawful way, that could possibly be enjoyed, Ec 2:9,10. And yet on a survey of the whole, and after a thorough experience of what could be found herein, he pronounces all vanity and vexation of spirit, Ec 2:11; and returns again to his former subject, wisdom; and looks that over again, to see if he could find real happiness in it, being sadly disappointed in that of pleasure, Ec 2:12. He indeed commends wisdom, and prefers it to folly, and a wise man to a fool; Ec 2:13,14; and yet observes some things which lessen its value; and shows there is no happiness in it, the same events befalling a wise man and a fool; both alike forgotten, and die in like manner, Ec 2:15,16. And then he takes into consideration business of life, and a laborious industry to obtain wealth; and this he condemns as grievous, hateful, and vexatious, because, after all a man's acquisitions, he knows not to whom he shall leave them, whether to a wise man or a fool, Ec 2:17-21. And because a man himself has no rest all his days, nothing but sorrow and grief, Ec 2:22,23; wherefore he concludes it is best for a man to enjoy the good things of this life himself; which he confirms by his own experience, and by an, antithesis between a good man and a wicked one, Ec 2:24-26.

Ecclesiastes 2:12-17 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.
15 Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.”
16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die!
17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.
19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.

Cross References 10

  • 1. S Ecclesiastes 1:17
  • 2. S Ecclesiastes 1:9; Ecclesiastes 7:25
  • 3. Ecclesiastes 7:19; Ecclesiastes 9:18
  • 4. Ecclesiastes 7:11-12
  • 5. Psalms 49:10; Ecclesiastes 7:24">Pr 1Ecclesiastes 7:24; Ecclesiastes 3:19; Ecclesiastes 6:6; Ecclesiastes 7:2; Ecclesiastes 9:3,11-12
  • 6. ver 19; Ecclesiastes 6:8
  • 7. S Psalms 112:6
  • 8. S Ecclesiastes 1:11; Ecclesiastes 9:5
  • 9. Psalms 49:10
  • 10. S Ecclesiastes 1:14; Ecclesiastes 4:2
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