Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.
He next tries pleasure and luxury, retaining however, his worldly "wisdom" (Ec 3:9), but all proves "vanity" in respect to the chief good.
1. I said … heart—(Lu 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" (Isa 50:11).
I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?
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? (Ec 7:6; Pr 14:13).
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.
3-11. Illustration more at large of Ec 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 (Ro 6:16, 19; 1Co 12:2); or, one "allured" (2Pe 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 Ec 2:9 confirms English Version.
folly—namely, pleasures of the flesh, termed "mad," Ec 2:2.
all the days, &c.—(See Margin and Ec 6:12; Job 15:20).
I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:
4. (1Ki 7:1-8; 9:1, 19; 10:18, &c.).
I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:
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 (Re 2:7).
I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:
6. pools—artificial, for irrigating the soil (Ge 2:10; Ne 2:14; Isa 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].
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:
7. born in my house—These were esteemed more trustworthy servants than those bought (Ge 14:14; 15:2, 3; 17:12, 13, 27; Jer 2:14), called "songs of one's handmaid" (Ex 23:12; compare Ge 12:16; Job 1:3).
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.
8. (1Ki 10:27; 2Ch 1:15; 9:20).
peculiar treasure of kings and … provinces—contributed by them, as tributary to him (1Ki 4:21, 24); a poor substitute for the wisdom whose "gain is better than fine gold" (Pr 3:14, 15).
singers—so David (2Sa 19:35).
musical instruments … of all sorts—introduced at banquets (Isa 5:12; Am 6:5, 6); rather, "a princess and princesses," from an Arabic root. One regular wife, or queen (Es 1:9); Pharaoh's daughter (1Ki 3:1); other secondary wives, "princesses," distinct from the "concubines" (1Ki 11:3; Ps 45:10; So 6:8) [Weiss, Gesenius]. Had these been omitted, the enumeration would be incomplete.
So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
9. great—opulent (Ge 24:35; Job 1:3; see 1Ki 10:23).
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.
10. my labour—in procuring pleasures.
this—evanescent "joy" was my only "portion out of all my labor" (Ec 3:22; 5:18; 9:9; 1Ki 10:5).
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.
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" (Ec 2:9), showed me that these could not give solid happiness.
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.
12. He had tried (worldly) wisdom (Ec 1:12-18) and folly (foolish pleasure) (Ec 2:1-11); he now compares them (Ec 2:12) and finds that while (worldly)
wisdom excelleth folly (Ec 2:13, 14), yet the one event, death, befalls both (Ec 2:14-16), and that thus the wealth acquired by the wise man's "labor" may descend to a "fool" that hath not labored (Ec 2:18, 19, 21); therefore all his labor is vanity (Ec 2:22, 23).
what can the man do … already done—(Ec 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.
Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.
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).
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.
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.
15. why was I—so anxious to become, &c. (2Ch 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; Jer 8:9).
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.
16. remembrance—a great aim of the worldly (Ge 11:4). The righteous alone attain it (Ps 112:6; Pr 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."
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.
17. Disappointed in one experiment after another, he is weary of life. The backslider ought to have rather reasoned as the prodigal (Ho 2:6, 7; Lu 15:17, 18).
grievous unto me—(Job 10:1).
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.
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 (1Ch 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 (1Ki 12:1-18; 14:21-31).
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.
Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.
20. I gave up as desperate all hope of solid fruit from my labor.
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.
21. Suppose "there is a man," &c.
equity—rather "with success," as the Hebrew is rendered (Ec 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.
For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?
22. Same sentiment as in Ec 2:21, interrogatively.
For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.
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.
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.
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, Ec 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 Ec 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] (Ps 4:6; Isa 57:19-21). Or as Holden, "It is the appointment from the hand of God, that the sensualist has no solid satisfaction" (good).
For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?
25. hasten—after indulgences (Pr 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.
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.
26. True, literally, in the Jewish theocracy; and in some measure in all ages (Job 27:16, 17; Pr 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 (Ps 84:11; Mt 5:5; Mr 10:29, 30; Ro 8:28; 1Ti 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 (2Ch 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 (2Ch 12:9).