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Epicureanism and Wisdom alike Profitless
1-3. The writer makes enjoyment his quest, while aware that it is folly, and avoiding excess in a philosophic spirit.
1. I will prove thee with mirth] Wisdom, whether sought in nature or in human things, having proved unsatisfying, he now makes a cast in another direction. Increase of knowledge is increase of sorrow; but what, if he were to try the fascination of enjoyment?
2. It is mad] He knows all the time that no solid comfort will be the issue. Mirth is a brief madness: cp. Ecclesiastes 7:6.
3. To give myself unto] RV’to cheer my flesh with.’ Yet acquainting mine heart] RV’mine heart yet guiding me.’ Whatever indulgences he may yield to, he is careful not to drift, and so vitiate his experiment. Through all he retains a prudent self-control.
4-6. He tries another method, viz. culture and art.
4. I made me great works] The occupation of mind and exercise of taste may help him, in his quest. Houses] Personating Solomon, he thinks of the palaces built by that monarch (1 Kings 7:1-12): cp. the cities mentioned in 2 Chronicles 8:4-6.
5. Orchards] pleasure ground; RV ’parks.’
6. Pools] essential in a land where water is scarce, as well as pleasing in effect. The wood that bringeth forth trees] RV ’the forest where trees were reared.’
7-11. He acquires slaves, herds, and flocks, and precious metals, musicians, and inmates of the harem. Without being the slave of these delights he yet indulges in every desire of his heart, but, as before, all is vanity.
7. Got] RV’bought.’
8. Silver and gold] cp. 1 Kings 9:28; 1 Kings 10:2, 1 Kings 10:14-15, 1 Kings 10:27. Peculiar treasure] The specialities and rarities of each country found their way to him. Of kings and of the provinces] cp. 1 Kings 10:15, where Solomon receives precious things as tribute from the kings of Arabia and the governors of the country. Musical instruments, and that of all sorts] RV’concubines very many’ (but RM agrees with AV). The meaning of the Heb. is obscure. Probably, however, the reference is to the grosser sort of sensual enjoyments: cp. 1 Kings 11:1-3.
9. I was great, and increased] now in splendour and luxury, as before in knowledge. In closing the account of this experiment he expresses himself as he did at the end of his endeavour to find satisfaction in wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:16).
10. My portion of all my labour] At least he had the zest of joys obtained through toil or ingenuity.
11. Vexation of spirit] cp. Ecclesiastes 1:14. None of these could satisfy the cravings of his spirit.
12-17. Wisdom is to folly as light to darkness; yet the same end awaits both. Life, therefore, is nothing but a weariness. The cycle of experiments being completed, there is nothing to do but to hark back to the first of them, and to consider knowledge and its opposites.
12. What can the man do] None can hope to attain or approach to the favourable conditions under which Solomon carried on his quest of the highest good. After the king? even that which hath been already done] RM ’after the king, even him whom they made king long ago?’ the writer now letting go his personation of Solomon, and looking back at him as an historical personage.
13. Wisdom excelleth folly] for, at any rate, in seeking it there is no fear of self-reproach.
14. Are in his head] Unlike the fool, the wise man can see what and where to choose.
15. Why was I then more wise?] rather, ’what was the use of troubling myself to surpass others?’
16. There is no remembrance] not meaning that no memories of famous men had survived them, but that such cases were too rare to be of any solace against the practical ills of life.
17. Vexation of spirit] see Ecclesiastes 1:14.
18-23. Besides, no one knows what his heir may do.
20. Went about] RV ’turned about,’ i.e. looked back sadly at the absence of the permanent element in the labours of my life past.
21. Equity] RV ’skilfulness.’ Hath not laboured] The heir acquires good things without earning them. This too shows the dismal tangle of human affairs.
22. Vexation] RV ’striving’ (but RM as AV).
24-26. Whatever enjoyment there is in life is from God, and He thereby favours the righteous, not the sinner.
24. Eat and drink] enjoy in moderation the good things of life: cp. Jeremiah 22:15.
25. Hasten] RV ’have enjoyment.’ More than I?] RM ’apart from Him?’ i.e. it is only through God’s ordinance that simple bodily pleasures can change to joy the sadness which is the natural outcome of the pursuit of knowledge. This acknowledgment shows that the writer, after all, clings to the faith of his fathers. The rendering of AV (based on a slightly different rendering of the Heb.) would mean, ’Who is in a better position than Ito testify that all good comes from God?’
26. That he may give] The sinner’s possessions pass to the just man, to be used aright: cp. Job 27:16-17; Proverbs 13:22. Vexation of spirit] see on Proverbs 1:14. The sinner’s toil and expectations are alike great; his joys nil.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent