Ecclesiastes 2

Listen to Ecclesiastes 2

The Vanity of Self-Indulgence

1 I 1said in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself." But behold, this also was vanity.
2 I 2said of laughter, "It is mad," and of pleasure, "What use is it?"
3 I 3searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine--my heart still guiding me with wisdom--and how to lay hold on 4folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.
4 I made great works. I 5built houses and planted 6vineyards for myself.
5 I made myself 7gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.
6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.
7 I bought male and female slaves, and had 8slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of 9herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem.
8 I also gathered for myself silver and 10gold and the treasure of 11kings and 12provinces. I got 13singers, both men and women, and many 14concubines,[a] the delight of the children of man.
9 So I became great and 15surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my 16wisdom remained with me.
10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart 17found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my 18reward for all my toil.
11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was 19vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing 20to be gained under the sun.

The Vanity of Living Wisely

12 21So I turned to consider 22wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only 23what has already been done.
13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.
14 24The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the 25same event happens to all of them.
15 Then I said in my heart, 26"What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?" And I said in my heart that this also is vanity.
16 For of the wise as of the fool there is 27no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. 28How the wise dies just like the fool!
17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for 29all is vanity and a striving after wind.

The Vanity of Toil

18 I hated 30all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must 31leave it to the man who will come after me,
19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.
20 So I 32turned about and gave my heart up to despair 33over all the toil of my labors under the sun,
21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.
22 What has a man from 34all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?
23 For 35all his days are full of sorrow, and his 36work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
24 37There is nothing better for a person than that he should 38eat and drink and find enjoyment[b] in his toil. This also, I saw, is 39from the hand of God,
25 for apart from him[c] who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
26 For to the one who pleases him 40God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given 41the business of gathering and collecting, 42only to give to one who pleases God. 43This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Ecclesiastes 2 Commentary

Chapter 2

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.

Cross References 43

  • 1. Luke 12:19
  • 2. [Proverbs 14:13]
  • 3. [Ecclesiastes 1:17]
  • 4. Ecclesiastes 7:25
  • 5. See 1 Kings 7:1-12
  • 6. Song of Songs 8:11
  • 7. Song of Songs 4:16; Song of Songs 5:1
  • 8. Genesis 14:14; Genesis 15:3
  • 9. [1 Kings 4:23]
  • 10. 1 Kings 9:28; 1 Kings 10:10, 14, 21
  • 11. [1 Kings 4:21; 1 Kings 10:15]
  • 12. 1 Kings 20:14; Ezekiel 19:8
  • 13. 2 Samuel 19:35; 2 Chronicles 35:25
  • 14. 1 Kings 11:3
  • 15. 1 Chronicles 29:25; See Ecclesiastes 1:16
  • 16. 1 Chronicles 29:25; See Ecclesiastes 1:16
  • 17. [Proverbs 8:31]
  • 18. Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 9:9
  • 19. See Ecclesiastes 1:14
  • 20. See Ecclesiastes 1:3
  • 21. Ecclesiastes 7:25
  • 22. See Ecclesiastes 1:17
  • 23. Ecclesiastes 1:9, 10
  • 24. [Proverbs 17:24]
  • 25. Ecclesiastes 3:19; Ecclesiastes 9:2, 3; Psalms 49:10
  • 26. [ver. 16; Ecclesiastes 6:8]
  • 27. Ecclesiastes 1:11; See Ecclesiastes 9:5
  • 28. See ver. 14
  • 29. [See ver. 11 above]
  • 30. Ecclesiastes 1:3
  • 31. Psalms 39:6; Psalms 49:10
  • 32. Ecclesiastes 7:25
  • 33. Ecclesiastes 1:3
  • 34. See Ecclesiastes 1:3
  • 35. Job 5:7; Job 14:1
  • 36. See Ecclesiastes 1:13
  • 37. Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13, 22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15; [1 Timothy 6:17]
  • 38. [Ecclesiastes 9:7; Luke 12:19; 1 Corinthians 15:32]
  • 39. [Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 5:19]
  • 40. Job 32:8
  • 41. [See ver. 7 above]
  • 42. [Job 27:16, 17; Proverbs 13:22]
  • 43. See Ecclesiastes 1:14

Footnotes 3

  • [a]. The meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain
  • [b]. Or and make his soul see good
  • [c]. Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Syriac; most Hebrew manuscripts apart from me

Chapter Summary


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 Commentaries

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.