Solomon's own Example
v. 1. I said in mine heart, in considering carefully the possibility of enjoyment, Go to, now, I will prove thee with mirth, to find out whether he would feel happy and contented in enjoyment of the senses; therefore enjoy pleasure, sensual delights of every kind; and, behold, this also is vanity, it affords no true happiness.
v. 2. I said of laughter, of the joy and cheerfulness which he madly attempted to reach, It is mad, foolish, it affords no real satisfaction; and of mirth, What doeth it? It accomplishes nothing of value, it avails nothing in the attainment of real, lasting good.
v. 3. I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, to comfort himself by its use, either with the object of nourishing the body or to have the sensual pleasure afforded by the exhilaration produced by the stimulant, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom, that is, to keep wisdom and discretion as the guiding principles of his life; and to lay hold on folly, to seize and enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, to find out whether they would satisfy, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, what course they had best pursue in going through life, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. Solomon did what so many people have tried out since his time; instead of accepting the statements of God's Word concerning that which is good and beneficial to them, they determine to try out for themselves what is good and so are obliged to learn through many bitter and painful experiences. Solomon, having the means, took every opportunity for his experiment.
v. 4. I made me great works, building magnificent structures and piling up evidences of wealth on every hand; I builded me houses, 1 Kings 7-10; I planted me vineyards, Son_8:11;
v. 5. I made me gardens and orchards, pleasure-grounds near his various residences, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits, in rich variety, including many from foreign countries;
v. 6. I made me pools of water, artificial lakes for purposes of irrigation, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees, this being necessary on account of the extent and the magnificence of his parks;
v. 7. I got me servants and maidens, slaves of both sexes, and had servants born in my house, such slaves usually being distinguished for loyalty to their master; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me, as God had promised him, 2Ch_1:12;
v. 8. I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces, 1Ki_9:28; 1Ki_10:24-29; I gat me men singers and women singers, such as were common at Oriental courts for the entertainment of the court and of the royal guests, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts, in great abundance, as befitted his station and wealth.
v. 9. So I was great, possessed of riches and power, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem, as the historical accounts fully substantiate, 1 Kings 9-11; also my wisdom remained with me, it stood by him in all his experimenting to find happiness, it never left his side, for he was honestly concerned about finding true satisfaction in this life, if possible.
v. 10. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy, he tried them all out to see whether he could obtain true profit from any of them; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor, it was an agreeable pursuit, he felt that he would surely find what he was seeking; and this was my portion of all my labor, he found this a recompense for all his troubles and sorrows.
v. 11. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, he carefully surveyed the results of his experiment, and on the labor that I had labored to do, which he had planned and carried out with so much pains; and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, there was no lasting satisfaction in the possession and enjoyment of all earthly goods and pleasures, and there was no profit under the sun.
v. 12. And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly, to compare them, to consider their relative value, 1:17; for what can the man do that cometh after the king? Solomon surely had the best chance to make his experiment in happiness, and if he had not succeeded, any one else would have still smaller chance of success. Even that which hath been already done, the same foolish mistakes having been made by men from the beginning.
v. 13. Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly as far as light excelleth darkness, he recognized the absolute worth of wisdom, he found that the one excluded the other, that folly is vain, empty, and unsubstantial.
v. 14. The wise man's eyes are in his head, he uses them with proper observation and understanding; but the fool walketh in darkness, deliberately closing his eyes and his understanding to the advantages of true spiritual knowledge; and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all, they are all subject to death and decay.
v. 15. Then said I in my heart, in considering this apparent puzzle, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me, literally, "I also, it will happen to me"; and why was I then more wise? The possession of great knowledge in itself, without being placed into service, is of little value. Then I said in my heart that this also is vanity, namely, that so far as death in itself is concerned, the same fate awaits them both.
v. 16. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool forever, people forget the one as rapidly as the other; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten, that is ordinarily and generally the case, the few exceptions tending to confirm the rule. And how dieth the wise man? As the fool, they must both yield up the spirit in the same manner.
v. 17. Therefore I hated life, he was filled with weariness and loathing toward all that this life has to offer; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me, the contemplation of it all fills the observer with a sense of oppression; for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
v. 18. Yea, I hated, regarded with disgust and aversion, all my labor which I had taken under the sun, with which he had exerted himself; because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me, his successor thus reaping the fruit for which he had labored, a fact which, for the moment, made his own work appear so useless.
v. 19. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? since so much depends upon the attitude of men. Solomon himself, having disregarded his father's dying charge, was filled with misgivings concerning the manner in which Rehoboam, his son by an idolatrous Ammonitess, Naamah, would conduct himself, a foreboding which was only too fully justified. Yet shall he have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity. There is a serious suggestion here for all Christian parents to discard all selfishness and sentimentality and to train their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
The Vanity of Labor in Itself
v. 20. Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labor which I took under the sun, he was inclined to regard his life as a failure, if viewed from this standpoint alone.
v. 21. For there is a man whose labor is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity, who possesses wisdom, applies it to the circumstances of every-day life, and uses the proper ability in so doing; yet to a man that hath not labored therein shall he leave it for his portion, another will reap what he sowed. This also is vanity and a great evil, for it seems to place wisdom and its proper application at a disadvantage.
v. 22. For what hath man of all his labor, and of the vexation of his heart, the hard work with which he applies wisdom and knowledge in all his transactions, wherein he hath labored under the sun?
v. 23. For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief, that seems to be the only result and reward of all his labor; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night, since he is troubled with anxiety and kept awake by worry. This is also vanity. Solomon therefore states his conclusion, so far as this life in itself is concerned.
v. 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 labor, cheerfully making use of all the blessings which God bestows on His children and accepting them with a grateful heart. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God, namely, the feeling of quiet and appreciative contentment in the midst of all the wearing vicissitudes of life.
v. 25. For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, to the enjoyment of God's gifts, more than I? Christians may profit by the sad experiment which Solomon made without paying the high price which the Jewish king had to pay for the wisdom so gained.
v. 26. For God giveth to a man that is good in His sight, who lives before Him in the fear of God, wisdom, and knowledge, and joy, as a reward dealt out by His mercy; but to the sinner, the godless, the unbeliever, he giveth travail, misery and tribulation, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God, unconsciously, of course, and in spite of himself. Solomon, conducting himself with piety, enjoyed his wealth in agreement with God's blessing upon him; the same king, forsaking the precepts of the Lord, became unhappy, while the riches which he had heaped up became the prey of the Egyptian king, 2 Chronicles 12. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit, but the lesson which it teaches should be heeded well by all believers.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany