Ecclesiastes 2:13
Then I saw that wisdom excels folly, as far as light excels darkness.
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(13) Wisdom surely has an advantage over folly, yet how full of “vanity” is that advantage. Let the wise man have done his best, soon death comes; the wise man is forgotten, and all he has gained by his labour passes, without labour, into the hands of one who may be no inheritor of his wisdom.

Excelleth.—There is profit in wisdom more than in folly. The same word “profitis used as in Ecclesiastes 5:11. (See Note on Ecclesiastes 1:3.)

Ecclesiastes 2:13-14. I saw that wisdom — I allowed thus much. Although wisdom is not sufficient to make men happy, yet it is of far greater use than vain pleasures, or any other follies. The wise man’s eyes are in his head — In their proper place. He hath the use of his eyes and reason, and foresees, and so avoids, many dangers and mischiefs. But the fool walketh in darkness — Manages his affairs ignorantly, rashly, and foolishly, whereby he shows that his eyes are not in his head, or are not used aright. And, or yet, I myself perceived also, &c. — That, notwithstanding this excellence of wisdom above folly, at last they both come to one end. Both are subject to the same calamities, and to death itself, which takes away all difference between them.2:12-17 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.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.

13, 14. (Pr 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). Then I saw; or, yet I saw; for this is added to prevent an Objection or mistake.

Wisdom excelleth folly; although wisdom is not sufficient to make men truly and perfectly happy, yet it is of a far greater use and excellency than vain pleasures, or any other follies.

As far as light excelleth darkness, i.e. vastly and unspeakably. Light is very pleasant and comfortable, and withal of great necessity and singular use to discover the differences of persons and things, to prevent mistakes and dangers, and to direct all a man’s paths in the right way; whereas darkness is in itself doleful, and leads men into innumerable confusions, and errors, and miseries. Then I sat that wisdom excelleth folly,.... However, this upon a review of things he could not but own, that natural wisdom and knowledge, though there was no true happiness and satisfaction in them, yet they greatly exceeded folly and madness;

as far as light excelleth darkness; as the light of the day the darkness of the night; the one is pleasant and delightful, the other very uncomfortable; the one useful to direct in walking, the other very unsafe to walk in: light sometimes signifies joy and prosperity, and darkness adversity; the one is used to express the light of grace, and the other the darkness of sin and ignorance; now as the natural light exceeds darkness, and prosperity exceeds adversity and calamities, and a state of grace exceeds a state of sin and wickedness, so wisdom exceeds folly.

Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.
13. I saw that wisdom excelleth folly] Better, as keeping up, in the English as in the Hebrew, the characteristic word of the book, There is profit in wisdom more than in folly, and so in the second clause. Something then had been gained by the experience. In language like that of the Stoics he sings the praises of wisdom. Even the wisdom that brings sorrow (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:13) is better than the mirth of fools. A man is conscious of being more truly man when he looks before and after, and knows how to observe. Light is, after all, better than darkness, even if it only shews us that we are treading the path that leads to nothingness. The human heart obeys its instincts when it cries out with Aias,

ἐν δὲ φάει καὶ ὄλεσσον.

“And if our fate be death, give light, and let us die.”

Hom. Il. xvii. 647.Verse 13. - Then (and) I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness; or, there is profit, advantage (περίσσεια Septuagint, Ecclesiastes 1:3) to wisdom over folly, as the advantage of light over darkness. This result, at any rate, was obtained - he learned that wisdom had a certain value, that it was as much superior to folly, in its effects on men, as light is more beneficial than darkness. It is a natural metaphor to represent spiritual and intellectual development as light, and mental and moral depravity as darkness (comp. Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5). "I procured servants and maidens, and also I obtained servants born in the house; also the possession of flocks; I obtained many horned and small cattle before all who were in Jerusalem before me." The obtaining of these possessions is, according to Genesis 17:12., to be understood of purchase. There is a distinction between the slaves, male and female (mancipia), obtained by purchase, and those who were home-born (vernae), the בּית (ילידי) בּני, who were regarded as the chief support of the house (Genesis 14:14), on account of their attachment to it, and to this day are called (Arab.) fada wayyt, as those who offer themselves a sacrifice for it, if need be. Regarding לי היה, in the sense of increasing possession; and regarding היה for היוּ, vid., at Ecclesiastes 1:10, Ecclesiastes 1:16; at all events, the sing. of the pred. may be explained from this, that the persons and things named are thought of in the mass, as at Zechariah 11:5; Joel 1:20 (although the idea there may be also individualizing); but in the use of the pass., as at Genesis 35:26; Daniel 9:24, the Semite custom is different, inasmuch as for it the passive has the force of an active without a definite subject, and thus with the most general subject; and as to the case lying before us in Ecclesiastes 2:7, we see from Exodus 12:49, cf. Genesis 15:17, that היה (יהיה) in such instances is thought of as neut. According to Genesis 26:14 and the passage before us, מקנה lay nearer than מקנה, but the primary form instead of the connecting form is here the traditional reading; we have thus apposition (Nebenordnung) instead of subordination (Annexion), as in zevahim shelamim, Exodus 24:5, and in habbaqar hannehhosheth, 2 Kings 16:17, although vaqar vatson may also be interpreted as the accus. of the more accurate definition: the possession of flocks consisting in cattle and sheep. But this manner of construction is, for a book of so late an origin, too artificial. What it represents Solomon as saying is consistent with historical fact; at the consecration of the temple he sacrificed hecatombs, 1 Kings 8:63; and the daily supply for the royal kitchen, which will at the same time serve to show the extent of the royal household, was, according to 1 Kings 5:2., enormous.

There now follows the enumeration of riches and jewels which were a delight to the eye; and finally, the large provision made for revelling in the pleasures of music and of sensual love.

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