Ecclesiastes 2:17-26

17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for 1all is vanity and a striving after wind.

The Vanity of Toil

18 I hated 2all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must 3leave 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 4turned about and gave my heart up to despair 5over 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 6all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?
23 For 7all his days are full of sorrow, and his 8work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
24 9There is nothing better for a person than that he should 10eat and drink and find enjoyment[a] in his toil. This also, I saw, is 11from the hand of God,
25 for apart from him[b] who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
26 For to the one who pleases him 12God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given 13the business of gathering and collecting, 14only to give to one who pleases God. 15This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Ecclesiastes 2:17-26 Meaning and Commentary


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.

Cross References 15

  • 1. [See ver. 11 above]
  • 2. Ecclesiastes 1:3
  • 3. Psalms 39:6; Psalms 49:10
  • 4. Ecclesiastes 7:25
  • 5. Ecclesiastes 1:3
  • 6. See Ecclesiastes 1:3
  • 7. Job 5:7; Job 14:1
  • 8. See Ecclesiastes 1:13
  • 9. Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13, 22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15; [1 Timothy 6:17]
  • 10. [Ecclesiastes 9:7; Luke 12:19; 1 Corinthians 15:32]
  • 11. [Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 5:19]
  • 12. Job 32:8
  • 13. [See ver. 7 above]
  • 14. [Job 27:16, 17; Proverbs 13:22]
  • 15. See Ecclesiastes 1:14

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. Or and make his soul see good
  • [b]. Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Syriac; most Hebrew manuscripts apart from me
The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.