Ecclesiastes 2 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

(Read all of Ecclesiastes 2)
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 2:1,2.
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 6:16,19, 1 Corinthians 12:2); or, one "allured" (2 Peter 2:18,19).
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, 9:1,19, 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, 15:2,3, 17:12,13,27, 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 4:21,24) a poor substitute for the wisdom whose "gain is better than fine gold" (Proverbs 3:14,15).
singers--so David (2 Samuel 19:35).
musical instruments . . . of all sorts--introduced at banquets (Isaiah 5:12, Amos 6:5,6); 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 2:13,14), 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 2:18,19,21); therefore all his labor is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:22,23).
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 2:6,7, Luke 15:17,18).
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 3:12,22 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 3:12,22, 5:18,19, 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 27:16,17, 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, 10:29,30, 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 1:11,12). 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).