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Bible Commentaries

Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures

Ecclesiastes 2

Verses 1-3

The Preacher Pursues Mirth to Gratify His Heart In Ecclesiastes 2:1-21.2.3 the Preacher pursues mirth in order to find gratification and pleasure for his heart. But in the end he again finds only vanity.

Ecclesiastes 2:1 I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 2:2 I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?

Ecclesiastes 2:2 Comments - Why does the Preacher make such a conclusion in Ecclesiastes 2:2? Perhaps when an educated man walks among the poor and uneducated, he sees the vanity of these conversations. He notes how their words are useless in providing answers to life. This type of laughter and mirth is the product of foolish jesting and vain imaginations.

Ecclesiastes 2:3 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.

Verses 1-11

The Preacher Finds Vanity in the Pursuits of Mental, Spiritual, Physical, and Financial Gratification - Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes the Preacher will attempt to answer the question, “What profit does a man have of all of his labours in this life?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3) In Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11 the Preacher describes his pursuits to find pleasure in this life. After introducing himself as the king over Israel (Ecclesiastes 1:12), he explains how he pursued gratification for his mind by pursing wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:13-21.1.18). He then changed his pursuits to find gratification for his heart through wine and laughter (Ecclesiastes 2:1-21.2.3). He then describes how he set out to work with his hands to construct great edifices for himself (Ecclesiastes 2:4-21.2.6) and to gather much wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:7-21.2.11). The Preacher concludes that this too is vanity and grasping for the wind Thus, we see him referring to the three-fold make-up of man: mind, spirit and body as well as finances. We can assume that these three pursuits took place in the Preacher’s life in the order that he gives them. He pursued wisdom and understanding first, followed by mirth and then the construction of great projects and the gathering of wealth. This represents the order of pursuits in the lives of many people. For example, in our society, we start out in our youth focusing upon school and education. When we go into our college years, we find that the influences for party and mirth are everywhere. We later find our place in society by focusing upon a career and learning to work hard towards success. For those who achieve financial success, they are left still searching for a meaning and purpose to their lives, having learned that all of these pursuits did not bring inner peace.

Throughout this passage the author searches for the true meaning of life. He asks the question in Ecclesiastes 1:3, “What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?” He experiences different interests throughout life for periods of time, just like people today have fads, or hobbies, which are always changing. Illustration: My father would go through phases in his life of being interested in playing the guitar, working on cars, hunting, and various projects. I watched as these interests changed during the course of his life. The preacher will soon recognize the divine seasons that God orchestrates in the lives of those who obey His Word and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The king has seasons of pursuits in his life. Because he orchestrated them himself, he found no satisfaction in them. Although none of these pursuits are evil in themselves, they are vanity when a person does not follow God’s plan for his life.

Just as Solomon, we too can have seasons of interests in various things of this world. These interests seem to fade in one area, and refocus on a new area through the years. When we follow God's plan for our lives, we can still enjoy those seasons of change, but in a greater and more dynamic way. His plan for our lives will take us to new levels of interest and adventures. Our own pursuits will produces vain interests, as Solomon has stated here. However, when we follow God's will for our lives, these seasons of interests will be satisfying. Seasons of changing interests are normal for us, but they do not satisfy until God is directing these seasons. Life is made up of seasons of change. When we learn to go with God's seasons in our lives, we will find that they are not vain, but very rewarding.

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

1. In Pursuits of the Mind Ecclesiastes 1:12-21.1.18

2. In Pursuits of the Heart Ecclesiastes 2:1-21.2.3

Verses 1-26

The Preacher Explains How He Came to a Conclusion of Vanity in This Life Having acknowledged the predestined vanity of this world, the Preacher begins to explain how he pursued a purpose for his life in the midst of life’s vanities. He will describe the vanity of his own personal experiences (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11) and those of the society of people around him (Ecclesiastes 2:12-21.2.26).

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

1. The Preacher Finds Vanity in the His Own Pursuits Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11

2. The Preacher Finds Vanity Around Him Ecclesiastes 2:12-21.2.26

Verses 1-26

The Preacher Explains How He Came to a Conclusion of Vanity in This Life Having acknowledged the predestined vanity of this world, the Preacher begins to explain how he pursued a purpose for his life in the midst of life’s vanities. He will describe the vanity of his own personal experiences (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11) and those of the society of people around him (Ecclesiastes 2:12-21.2.26).

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

1. The Preacher Finds Vanity in the His Own Pursuits Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11

2. The Preacher Finds Vanity Around Him Ecclesiastes 2:12-21.2.26

Verses 4-11

The Preacher Pursues Great Works and Wealth to Gratify His Body In Ecclesiastes 2:4-21.2.6 the Preacher endeavors to work hard in order to find satisfaction with great accomplishments of building projects. He gathers much wealth in his attempt to find his purpose in life, but finally concludes that this too is vanity and grasping for the wind.

Ecclesiastes 2:4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:

Ecclesiastes 2:4 “I made me great works” - Comments - King Solomon build more buildings and expanded the kingdom of Israel more than any other king in Israel's history. So much so, that he put a tremendous burden upon the people (1 Kings 12:4).

1 Kings 12:4, “ Thy father made our yoke grievous : now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.”

Ecclesiastes 2:8 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.

Ecclesiastes 2:8 “as musical instruments, and that of all sorts” Comments - The phrase “as musical instruments, and that of all sorts” ( שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדֹּֽות ) uses the Hebrew word ( שִׁדָּה ) (H7705) twice. This Hebrew word only occurs two times in the Old Testament, with both uses found in this one verse. Roland Murphy says the LXX and Syriac translate the phrase as “a cupbearer and female cupbearers.” [ Brenton reads, “a butler and female cupbearers.”] Murphy says the Vulgate reads, “cups and waterpots.” [24] However, Modern scholarship favors the idea of Solomon’s wives in translating the Hebrew word ( שִׁדָּה ). Gesenius says ( שִׁדָּה ) (H7705) means, “mistress, lady, hence, wife,” and is the feminine of the Hebrew word ( שֵׁד ), meaning “lord, master.” Gesenius translates this phrase in Ecclesiastes 2:8 as “a wife and wives.” Strong says it means, “a wife (as mistress of the house),” and is derived from ( שָׁדַד ) (H7703), which means, “to be burly, powerful, to ravage.” The TWOT suggests the translation, “harem,” and associates this Hebrew word with ( שַׁד ), which means, “breast, bosom.”

[24] Roland E. Murphy, Ecclesiastes, in Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 23A (Dallas, Texas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004), 17.

ASV, “musical instruments, and that of all sorts”

JPS, “women very many”

LITV, “a concubine, and concubines”

NIV, “a harem”

RSV, “and many concubines”

YLT “a wife and wives”

JFB suggests the phrase ( שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדֹּֽות ) means “a wife,” referring to a queen, and “wives,” referring to the rest of the king’s harem. [25]

[25] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Ecclesiastes, in A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, in e-Sword, v. 7.7.7 [CD-ROM] (Franklin, Tennessee: e-Sword, 2000-2005), comments on Ecclesiastes 2:8.

Ecclesiastes 2:9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.

Ecclesiastes 2:10 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.

Ecclesiastes 2:10 Comments - In Ecclesiastes 1:12 thru Ecclesiastes 2:9 the Preacher told us that he had tried wisdom and education (Ecclesiastes 1:12-21.1.18), mirth (Ecclesiastes 2:1-21.2.2), wine (Ecclesiastes 2:3), buildings and gardens (Ecclesiastes 2:4-21.2.6), servants (Ecclesiastes 2:7), and wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:7-21.2.9). Ecclesiastes 2:10 states that anything else that man could enjoy, the Preacher sought and experienced in his life.

Ecclesiastes 2:11 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.

Ecclesiastes 2:11 Comments - After a lifetime of work, the Preacher sees that he has not made this world any better than when he had begun his great works.

Verses 12-26

The Preacher Finds Vanity in the Mortality of Mankind: The Wise Man and the Fool Partake of the Same Fate, Which is Death - After the Preacher reflects upon his own frustration, he looks beyond his own personal experiences to find a purpose and meaning in life. Now he begins to observe the people who surround him in society. But alas, he comes to the same conclusion. Although a wise man walks in light and the fool in darkness (Ecclesiastes 2:14), wisdom does not appear to deliver one from the same fate at the fool (Ecclesiastes 2:15). Both must die and be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 2:16). Both will leave their substance to fate when they die (Ecclesiastes 2:18-21.2.19). He concludes that man should learn to enjoy each day by recognizing God’s blessings and not worry about the things of tomorrow (Ecclesiastes 2:24-21.2.26).

Ecclesiastes 2:12 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.

Ecclesiastes 2:12 Comments - King Solomon realized that if any man on earth could fine peace and happiness and meaning in life, it would be him, the richest man on earth; yet, he himself failed to achieve this in his own pursuits.

Ecclesiastes 2:13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.

Ecclesiastes 2:14 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.

Ecclesiastes 2:13-21.2.14 Comments Wisdom Excels Folly - The Preacher says that wisdom is better than folly. This insight is repeated later in the book (Ecclesiastes 4:13-21.4.14).

Ecclesiastes 4:13-21.4.14, “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.”

Ecclesiastes 10:12, “The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.”

Ecclesiastes 2:24 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.

Ecclesiastes 2:24 “and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour” Comments - Within the context of this passage the Preacher concludes that each person should learn to enjoy each day. The phrase “in his labour” refers to a person’s daily labours. If we recall the Story of Creation in Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3 we see that God concluded each say by enjoying the good of his labour.

Ecclesiastes 2:24 Comments - Ecclesiastes 2:24 appears to state a third theme that is repeated throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, telling us to enjoy the blessings that God gives us daily and not to strive after vanity. When we devise projects and set goals and work towards them, and after we accomplish some great feat, we are still left empty inside and without purpose when we are not walking in fellowship God. It is better that we take one day at a time and enjoy that day’s labours with thankfulness in our hearts. For a child, this seems to come naturally for he has no thoughts of tomorrow, but rather finds things to enjoy and laugh about today. He does not understand the cares of this world. God created the family unit so that we can see our children and their natural desire to rejoice. If we are not careful, we as adults can allow the cares of this life to choke out the blessings that God gives to us today. The weight of our cares and energies diminishes our joy.

When the Preacher tells us to enjoy the good of our labour, he is talking about contentment. This theme of learning to be content in life and not covet after material things is woven throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. Note similar verses.

Ecclesiastes 3:13, “And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.”

Ecclesiastes 5:18, “Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.”

Ecclesiastes 5:19, “Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.”

It is Solomon who teaches contentment again in the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 30:8, “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:”

Paul also preaches it in his first epistle to Timothy.

1 Timothy 6:6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes contrasts contentment with discontentment, or covetousness.

Ecclesiastes 1:8, “All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”

Ecclesiastes 6:7, “All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.”

Ecclesiastes 2:25 For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?

Ecclesiastes 2:25 Comments - In Ecclesiastes 2:25 the Preacher repeats a statement made in earlier in Ecclesiastes 2:12. No man has ever possessed so much wealth and sources of pleasure as was King Solomon. Who of all sons born to man had a greater opportunity to pursue the wealth and luxuries and wisdom of this world? Yet, in the midst of all of his material possessions and pursuits, he had to reevaluate the meaning of life. He had to acknowledge that there is no joy in such earthly pursuits, no matter how great they may seem.

Ecclesiastes 2:12, “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.”

Ecclesiastes 2:26 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.

Ecclesiastes 2:26 Comments - The fool will continue in his vain labour and travail, for he is addicted to it, even though it will fall into the hands of another (Ecclesiastes 2:18). By God’s design, these possessions will eventually make their way into the hands of a good man. The Scriptures provide a number of examples of the transfer of wealth from the wicked to the righteous:

Exodus 12:35-2.12.36, “And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.”

Job 27:16-18.27.17, “Though he heap up silver as the dust, and prepare raiment as the clay; He may prepare it, but the just shall put it on, and the innocent shall divide the silver.”

2 Samuel 8:6, “Then David put garrisons in Syria of Damascus: and the Syrians became servants to David, and brought gifts. And the LORD preserved David whithersoever he went.”

2 Chronicles 9:1, “And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to prove Solomon with hard questions at Jerusalem, with a very great company, and camels that bare spices, and gold in abundance, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart.”

2 Chronicles 18:1-14.18.2, “Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab. And after certain years he went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that he had with him, and persuaded him to go up with him to Ramothgilead.”

2 Chronicles 26:8, “And the Ammonites gave gifts to Uzziah: and his name spread abroad even to the entering in of Egypt; for he strengthened himself exceedingly.”

Psalms 105:44, “And gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the labour of the people;”

Proverbs 13:22, “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.”

Proverbs 28:8, “He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.”

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No distribution beyond personal use without permission.
Bibliographical Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghe/ecclesiastes-2.html. 2013.