Ecclesiastes 2
Barnes' Notes
I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.
Solomon's trial of God's second gift, namely, riches, and the enjoyment which riches supply; this brought him to the sane result (compare Ecclesiastes 1:12).

Comparing Solomon's action with Luke 12:16-21, it must be remembered that Solomon's object was the acquisition of wisdom, not self-indulgence, and that he did not fail to look forward to the certainty of death overtaking him.

I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?
I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.
I sought ... - Rather, I resolved (literally "I turned in my heart") to draw my flesh with wine (see the margin), my heart guiding me with wisdom. In the course of his attempt to answer the question of Ecclesiastes 1:3, while his heart was directing him (as a charioteer directs his horses or a shepherd his sheep) with wisdom, and while he was following that guidance, he determined to draw with him his flesh by wine, thus making his flesh, which he speaks of as distinct from himself (compare Romans 7:25), a confederate and subsidiary in his attempt.

I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:
Compare 1 Kings 7:1-12; 1 Kings 9:15-19; 1 Kings 10:14-27; and 2 Chronicles 8:4.

I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:
Orchards - literally, "paradises," i. e., parks or pleasure-grounds (compare Nehemiah 2:8 note). Indications of at least three of these have been pointed out; one at Jerusalem near the pool of Siloam, called "the king's garden" Nehemiah 3:15; Jeremiah 52:7; a second near Bethlehem (compare Ecclesiastes 2:6); and a third in the remote north, on the heights of Hermon Sol 4:8; Sol 8:11.

I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:
Pools - A short distance south of Bethlehem, in a valley in the defile of Urtas, three "Pools of Solomon" are still shown and an adjoining hill still bears the name of the "Little Paradise."

I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:
I got - Rather, I bought, in distinction from those born in the house. The "children of Solomon's servants" (compare Ezra 2:55, Ezra 2:58) were more probably of Canaanite origin 1 Kings 9:20-21; 1 Kings 5:15 than Hebrews 1 Kings Hebrews 9:22.

Possessions of great and small cattle - Rather, herds of oxen and sheep.

All ... before me - King David's herds and flocks are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 27:29, 1 Chronicles 27:31 : but we have no specific account of the wealth of other Canaanite or Hebrew inhabitants of Jerusalem before Solomon.

I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
Kings - Both tributary 1 Kings 10:15 and independent 1 Kings 5:1; 1 Kings 9:14; 1 Kings 10:2; the "provinces" probably correspond to the kingdoms mentioned in 1 Kings 4:21.

As musical ... sorts - Rather, Many women (compare 1 Kings 11:1-3).

So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.
Portion - A word of frequent occurrence. By it Solomon describes the pleasure found in the act of working and also perhaps the pleasure felt in the process of acquiring wisdom; this pleasure is admitted to be good, if received from God (Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 5:18; compare 1 Timothy 4:4); but being transitory it is subject to vanity, and therefore does not afford a sufficient answer to the repeated question, "What profit etc.?" Ecclesiastes 1:3.

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
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.
Solomon having found that wisdom and folly agree in being subject to vanity, now contrasts one with the other Ecclesiastes 2:13. Both are brought under vanity by events Ecclesiastes 2:14 which come on the wise man and the feel alike from without - death and oblivion Ecclesiastes 2:16, uncertainty Ecclesiastes 2:19, disappointment Ecclesiastes 2:21 - all happening by an external law beyond human control. Amidst this vanity, the good (see Ecclesiastes 2:10 note) that accrues to man, is the pleasure felt Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 in receiving God's gifts, and in working with and for them.

Ecclesiastes 2:12

What can the man do ... - i. e., "What is any man - in this study of wisdom and folly - after one like me, who, from my position, have had such special advantages (see Ecclesiastes 1:16, and compare Ecclesiastes 2:25) for carrying it on? That which man did of old he can but do again: he is not likely to add to the result of my researches, nor even to equal them." Some hold that the "man" is a reference to Solomon's successor - not in his inquiries, but in his kingdom, i. e., Jeroboam.

Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.
The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.
Event - Or, "hap" Ruth 2:3. The verb from which it is derived seems in this book to refer especially to death. The word does not mean chance (compare Ecclesiastes 9:1-2), independent of the ordering of Divine Providence: the Gentile notion of "mere chance," or "blind fate," is never once contemplated by the writer of this book, and it would be inconsistent with his tenets of the unlimited power and activity of God.

Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.
For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.
Seeing that ... - Compare Ecclesiastes 1:11. Some render, "as in time past, so in days to come, all will be forgotten;" others, "because in the days to come all will have been long before forgotten."

Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
I hated life - Compare this expression, extorted from Solomon by the perception of the vanity of his wisdom and greatness, with Romans 8:22-23. The words of Moses Numbers 11:15, and of Job JObadiah 3:21; Job 6:9, are scarcely less forcible. With some people, this feeling is a powerful motive to conversion Luke 14:26.

Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.
And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.
Labour - Compare Ecclesiastes 2:4-8.

Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.
I went about - i. e., I turned from one course of action to another.

For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.
For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?
For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.
Are sorrows ... grief - Rather, sorrows and grief are his toil. See Ecclesiastes 1:13.

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.
Nothing better for a man, than that ... - literally, no good in man that etc. The one joy of working or receiving, which, though it be transitory, a man recognizes as a real good, even that is not in the power of man to secure for himself: that good is the gift of God.

For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?
For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.
The doctrine of retribution, or, the revealed fact that God is the moral Governor of the world, is here stated for the first time (compare Ecclesiastes 3:15, Ecclesiastes 3:17 ff) in this book.

This also is vanity - Not only the travail of the sinner. Even the best gifts of God, wisdom, knowledge, and joy, so far as they are given in this life, are not permanent, and are not always (see Ecclesiastes 9:11) efficacious for the purpose for which they appear to be given.

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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