Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.CHAPTER 2The Results of the Search and Different Vanities
1. His personal experience (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)
2. Various vanities and a conclusion (Ecclesiastes 2:12-26)
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. Here we find first of all the king’s personal experience. He experimented, so to speak, with that which is the possession of the natural man, a fallen nature. In that nature are found three things: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. We can trace these three things in the opening verses. The lust of the flesh in verses 1-3; the lust of the eyes in Ecclesiastes 2:4-6, and the pride of life in Ecclesiastes 2:7-8. He said in his heart, Go to now, I will prove thee: that is, I will try now to satisfy thee, that is myself, my heart. He said to himself, “enjoy pleasure.” He laughed and had mirth; he tried wine, laid hold on folly. Then he made great works, built houses, planted vineyards, laid out beautiful oriental gardens with fruit trees, all kinds of shrubbery, with pools of water, springs and waterfalls--all so pleasing to the eye--the lust of the eyes. To all this he added servants and maidens, with great possessions. He gathered silver and gold and treasures such which only kings could obtain, gifts, probably from other monarchs, perhaps those which the Queen of Sheba brought. He also paid attention to music, had men singers, women singers, and an orchestra. Then, self-satisfied, he leans back and says, “So I was great and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me” (Ecclesiastes 2:9). Who can doubt even for a moment that all this could mean any other person but Solomon; none but he could speak thus. But to make sure, he did not leave a single desire unsatisfied, for “whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy.” Well, he had tried everything, every pleasure, everything that is beautiful to the eye; he was surrounded with every comfort, had all honor and glory, was wealthy and esteemed. Does he then sing and in a blessed peace of mind is he content and satisfied? Far from it. “Then--then”--when he had done all these things and had every desire fulfilled--”then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit; and there was no profit under the sun.” It is a groan instead of a song. But that sounds pessimistic. It is the pessimism into which sin has put man. Whatever man does and seeks in satisfying that old nature, whatever his pursuits, his labors and his achievements in life, if it is that and nothing else, in the end it is nothing but vanity and a chasing of the wind.
Thank God! there is One who can still the hunger and thirst of the soul, who graciously invites, “if any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.”
Ecclesiastes 2:12-26. He now turns in search for happiness in another direction. The old, old question, “Is life worth living?” after all he had stated must be answered negatively--if all is vanity and vexation of spirit and there is no profit under the sun, in anything that man enjoys, labors for and obtains, then life is not worth living. He had been disappointed in his search, but now he turns to something more ideal and not materialistic as the former things. “Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.” He turns philosopher, but it is of no avail, for it leads in the same road and ends with the same groan--vanity and vexation of spirit. While wisdom is superior to folly as far as light is superior to darkness, yet wisdom cannot help man, cannot give him peace nor give him happiness. There is one event which happens to the wise men and to the fool: that event is death. As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth unto me. What then was the good that I was more wise? He at once concludes “this also is vanity.” Death, according to the conception of the natural man, apart from revelation, plunges the wise man and the fool into oblivion, “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?” (Ecclesiastes 2:16) Such is the reasoning of the natural man. By revelation we know that there is remembrance. But it leads Koheleth, the King, almost to despair. He hates life. If the pursuit of pleasures, the lust of eyes and the pride of life left me empty, and were found out to be nothing but vexation of spirit, so that life is not worth living, equally so, he finds out, that wisdom in itself and its possession brings the same results--vanity of spirit--I hated life! Then he speaks of labor done. He has labored to leave it all to the one who comes after him, and he may be a fool and not a wise man. Or he may have labored wisely and it is left all to one who never did anything, a sluggard. All he brands as vanity and ends by saying, “For what hath a man of all his labors, and of the vexation of his heart wherein he hath labored under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief, yea his heart taketh no rest in the night. This is also vanity.”
The conclusion reached is that, apart from God, man has no capacity to enjoy his labor. Ecclesiastes 2:25 has been metrically rendered as follows:
The good is not in man that he should eat and drink And find his soul’s enjoyment in his toil; This, too, I saw is only from the hands of God.