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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 2

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-26

Ecclesiastes 2:1-26.

1. The vanity of practical wisdom in itself, proved by the example of Solomon

(Ecclesiastes 2:1-19).

1I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and behold, this also is vanity. 2I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it? 3I 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. 4I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: 5I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits. 6I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: 7I 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: 8I 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. 9So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. 10And 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. 11Then 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. 12And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man 13do that cometh after the king ? even that which hath been already done. Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. 14The 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. 15Then 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 16said in my heart, that this also is vanity. 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. 17Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. 18Yea, 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. 19And 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.

2. The aim of life to be attained in consideration of the empirical vanity of practical wisdom

Ecclesiastes 2:20-26.

20Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. 21For 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. 22For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? 23For all his days are sorrow, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh 24not rest in the night. This is also vanity. 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. 25For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto more than I? 26For 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 2:1.—נָא. A particle of address or appeal, come on now, sometimes of entreaty. Here it denotes another trial with an ironical intimation of its failure. The address is to his heat, and the strong entreaty, or emotion, is shown in the paragogic ה in אֲנַסְּכָה, O let me try thee again!—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 2:3.—תַּרְתִּי—לִמְשׁוְָֹךְ. See Exeget. and Notes. מִסְפַּר is sometimes used to denote paucity, as Numbers 9:20; Genesis 34:30; Psalms 105:12, &c. Here the whole phrase may be rendered numbered days, i.e., few days. See Metrical Version.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 2:5.—פַּרְדֵּסִים. See Exeget. and note to Introduction, p. 32.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 2:8.—מְדִינוֹת. Int. Ap., p. 34, שִׁדּוֹת ,שִׁדָּה. See Exeget. and Note; also Int. to Metrical Version.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 2:10.—אָצַלְתִּי rendered denied, but more properly withold from, primary sense to separate, place by itself, Genesis 27:36.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 2:13.—רָאִיתִי denotes more properly here the judgment of the mind than seeing stated as a fact. I thought, I judged. Such a sense is a very common one in the Arabic root, and in the Rabbinical usage. It occurs also in the oldest Hebrew, as in the language Genesis 2:19, “He brought them unto Adam,” לִרְאוֹת, for Adam to see (judge) what name he should give them. It is only an opinion expressed here. See Metrical Version.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 2:14.—מִקְרֶה. See Exeget. and Note, p. 58—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 2:16.—בְּשֶׁכְּבָר. The full form would be בַאֲשֵׁר כְּבָר. For an examination of such words, and the manner in which they have become abbreviated, whether in later or earlier Hebrew, or as a mere matter of orthography, see text note to Genesis 6:3 [בְּשׁגַם].—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 2:20.—וְסַבּוֹתִי. See Exeget. and Note.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 2:21.—כְּשָׁרוֹן. One of the words relied upon to prove the late date; but it is most parely Hebrew, and a noun of the same root, and the same sense, is found in that old composition Psalms 68:7 : כוֹשָׁרָה prosperity, very wrongly rendered chains in E. V., as though from קשׁר. See Huppeld.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 2:24.—שֶׁיֹּאכַל. See Exeget. and Note.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 2:25.—יָחוּשׁ חוּץ. Literally hasten beyond, go father—more without. There is the figure of a race. See Matrical Version; also the Exeget. and Note, p. 55—T. L.]


Of the two divisions of this chapter, the first, (Ecclesiastes 2:1-19), treats of the vanity of the practical efforts of men, and thus supplements the description of the vanity of the theoretical strivings after wisdom, whilst the second division (Ecclesiastes 2:20-26) is of a more general character, and deduces a provisional result from the nature of human strivings after wisdom as therein set forth. Each of the two divisions contains two subdivisions or strophes within itself, of which, naturally, that of the first longer division (the one of nine, the other of eight verses) is especially comprehensive, and is, in addition to this, provided with a short introductory proposition (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2). The complete scheme of the contents of this chapter is therefore as follows:—I. Division. The vanity of practical wisdom aiming at sensual enjoyment and magnificent enterprises, proved by the example of Solomon: a. (proposition, Ecclesiastes 2:1-2), in general; b. (first strophe, Ecclesiastes 2:3-11), in reference to that seeking after enjoyment and extensive activity; c. (second strophe, Ecclesiastes 2:12-19) in reference to the uncertain and deceptive success of the efforts alluded to.—II. Division: The aim of life to be attained in consideration of the empirical vanity of practical wisdom; a. (first strophe, Ecclesiastes 2:20-23): Negative proof of the same, as not consisting in grasping after earthly and selfish wisdom, and after external worldly success; b. (second strophe, Ecclesiastes 2:24-26): Positive showing of the life aim of the wise man, as consisting in the cheerful enjoyment of worldly benefits offered by God to those in whom he delights.

2. First Division. Proposition or general Introduction: Ecclesiastes 2:1-2.—I said in my heart. אְַנִי with אָמַרְתִּי is essentially pleonastic, as also in Ecclesiastes 1:16; Ecclesiastes 2:11; Ecclesiastes 2:14; Ecclesiastes 2:18; Ecclesiastes 3:17, etc., for it is in no wise apparent that a special significance is in these passages to be given to the subject speaking (Hengstenberg), and pleonasms of all varieties are very characteristic in the somewhat broad and circumstantial style of the author. Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, i.e., I will try whether thou wilt feel contented and happy in this new object of thy experience, namely, in cheerful sensual enjoyment, whether, on this path of pleasure and joy thou canst become a לֵב טוֹב (Ecclesiastes 9:7). For the address to his own heart (or own soul) comp. Psalms 16:2; Psalms 42:5; Psalms 43:5; Luke 12:18-19; for the construction, to prove one with something נִסָּה בְּ 1 Kings 10:1.—Therefore enjoy pleasure. (Lit. Ger., behold pleasure).—This beholding, is here considered as connected with an enjoyable appropriation of the object beheld, which sense the preposition strongly expresses by virtue of its reference to the conception of lingering with the beheld object; comp. רָאָה בְּ in Genesis 21:16 : Job 3:9; and therewith the simple רָאָה in the expression רָאָה טוֹבָה Ecclesiastes 6:6, or in רָאָה חַיּים Ecclesiastes 9:0 : and in רָאָה שֵׁנָה Ecclesiastes 8:10, etc. Ecclesiastes 2:2. I said of laughter, It is mad. “Of laughter,” does not mean as much as “in reference to laughter” (Knobel, Vaih., etc.): but the laughter, i. e., the unrestrained cheerfulness attending sensual enjoyment, seems here to be personified, just as mirth in the next clause. כְהוֹלָל Part. Poal, as in Psalms 102:9, means really one void of sense, one infatuated, and might more properly be considered masculine, than as neuter (with Vaih., Hitzig, etc.), so that Luther’s translation: “Thou art mad,” apart from the address, seems substantially justified. See Hengstenberg, who strikingly compares with it ἄφρον Luke 12:20, and justly finds in this passage the germ of the Parable of the Rich Man, Luke 12:16-21. And of mirth, what doeth it? i. e., what does it accomplish, what fruit does it bring forth (comp. עשה פּרי) Luther, in imitation of the Sept. Vulg., etc., considers the question as an address to mirth (“what doest thou)?” but it is rather, as the word זהֹ shows, a bitterly contemptuous exclamation addressed to some third person, and an answer is not expected. For the form fit instead of זֹאת comp. Ecclesiastes 5:15; Ecclesiastes 7:23, 1 Kings 6:19. Some exegetists, especially of the rationalistic period, have unjustly desired to find a contradiction in the fact that Koheleth here despises cheerful sensual enjoyment, whilst in conclusion (Ecclesiastes 2:24, f.) he vaunts it as the principal aim of life.1 What he here blames and condemns as foolish, is clearly only that empty merriment which accompanies the wild exhilaration of sensual enjoyment, or sensual pleasure, as only end and aim of human effort, not a thankfully cheerful enjoyment of the benefits bestowed by God. Comp. Luther on this passage, and see the ho-miletical hints.

3. First division, first strophe: Ecclesiastes 2:3-11.—I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine. (Lit. Ger., to comfort my flesh with wine). of the sensual joy indicated in the first verse, a special kind is hero named, by which the preacher first sought to obtain satisfaction, and then follow, to the sixth verse inclusive, still other such separate means of sensual enjoyment. The word תַּרְתִּי therefore, recommences the account where the אֲנַכְּכָה Ecclesiastes 2:1, had begun it, and is in substance synonymous with that verb.2 Comp. Numbers 13:18; Numbers 15:39; etc., where תּוּר is always used in the sense of trying, experimenting, and not in that of thinking, re fleeting. (Elster). מְשֹׁך בָּשָׂר is most justly explained by Gesenius, Hitzig, Hengstenberg etc., as “to nourish the body,” i. e., to keep it in action or condition, to make it lasting and strong so that the expression: “bread which strengtheneth man’s heart” (Psalms 104:15), seems parallel with it. Others explain it differently, as Knobel and Vaihinger: “To keep my sensual natur with wine;” Ewald, Elster: “to attach m; sense to wine;” Herzfeld: “to entice my body b; wine,” etc. Yet acquainting mine hear with wisdom. (Lit. Ger., my heart led me wit] wisdom), a parenthetical clause that clearly indicates what the inner man of the preacher did whilst his flesh rioted in pleasures and enjoyments. The sense is therefore: I did not plunge headlong into coarse, fleshly gratifications, but true to the warning counsel in Proverbs 31:4, f. I tested with calm reflection, and in a compose way, whether real contentment was to be secure by means of sensual joys. The exposition o Ewald and Elsteb, which allies נהג with the Aramaic נהג “to sigh,” and the correspond ing Arabic verb, in the sense of “experiercing disgust with something” (“whilst my heart was weary with wisdom”), is too far-fetched, an contradicts what is said in Ecclesiastes 9:13; ff., which confirms our conception of the passage.3 for in the sense of guiding, leading, comp. Isa 11:6; 1 Chronicles 13:7; 2 Samuel 6:8, etc.—And to lay hold on folly, or also to seize folly.—With “folly” (סִכְלוּת) cannot here naturally be meant as an exclusive contrast with wisdom; therefore not folly in the absolute sense, but mainly that foolish, sensual pleasure, which is referred to in Ecclesiastes 2:2, or even that mentioned in Ecclesiastes 2:3, “comforting the flesh with wine;” therefore a disposition which gives the reins to pleasure, and lives thoughtlessly in accordance with the assertion of Horace: Dulce est desipere in loco. Koheleth, from the beginning, recognizes this sentiment as folly, and thus designates it in contempt. But nevertheless he will prove it, and try whether it may not be relatively best for man, better than cold, fruitless, and wearisome wisdom, which when gained produces sorrow, and with which he was disgusted according to chapter first.” (Elster).—Till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, etc. Comp. Ecclesiastes 7:19.—Which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. There is in these words a kind of mournful resignation. Short as is the period of human life on earth, oven for this little span of time it is not always clear to man what is really good and beneficial for him; and many, and mostly bitter and painful experiences, are needed to bring him to this knowledge.

Ecclesiastes 2:4. I made me great works; I builded me houses. We are here certainly to understand the structures of Solomon in a general sense (1 Kings 7:1, ff.; 1 Kings 9:19; Ecclesiastes 10:18, ff., but hardly a special allusion to the temple, which Solomon could not have counted among his houses.—I planted me vineyards The Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes 8:0 :II, mentions one of these; and that Solomon had more of them, and had not overrated his wealth arbitrarily, and in violation of historic truth, (as Knobel supposes), is satisfactorily proved by the several vineyards of David enumerated in 1 Chron. 28:27.

Ecclesiastes 2:5. I made me gardens and orchards,—in the environs of these houses or palaces, (comp. 1 Kings 21:2; Jer. 62:7; also the Song of Solomon 1:16, f.). For the etymology of the See Int. to the Song, § 3, obs. 2.—And I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits; therefore not merely one of one kind, but many of many kinds of fruit trees. The emphasis does not rest on פְּרִי as if it would declare the King’s object to be to raise trees affording delightful and delicate enjoyment (Knobel), but on כָּל־ whereby the rich variety of fruit trees is pointed out.

Ecclesiastes 2:6.—I made me pools of water; perhaps those mentioned in the Song (Ecclesiastes 7:4), as at Heshbon; perhaps also the king’s pool at Jerusalem, mentioned in Nehemiah 2:14, which a later tradition, at least, marked as a work of Solomon. (Josephus, b. Judges 5:4; Judges 5:2); and certainly those situated in Wadi Urtâs, near Bethlehem and Erham, “Pools of Solomon,” mentioned in the exposition of the Song of Solomon, and which are doubtless here principally meant.—To water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees, intransitive4 as in Proverbs 24:31; Isaiah 5:6; Isaiah 34:15. The object of these pools as artificial basins for irrigating the extensive orchards of the king, testify to the magnificence and expense of these grounds. Ecclesiastes 2:7. I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house. (Lit., were to me, as in Ecclesiastes 2:10), namely, from the marriages of the men and maid servants in my house. בְּנֵי בַּיִת Genesis 15:2, or יְלִידֵי בַּיִת Gen. 12:27; Jeremiah 2:14, are slaves born in the house (vernæ, οἰκογενεῖς), and on account of their natural fidelity and affection a very valuable possession; here, however, named mainly because their presence was the sign and necessary result of numerous servants, and, consequently, of a large and flourishing household.—Also I had great possessions, of great and small cattle. After the wealth in men and maid servants, as in Genesis 12:16; Genesis 30:43, directly follow the great possessions of cattle, and then comes his wealth in unproductive treasures, silver and gold, as Genesis 13:2. The historical books of the Old Testament mention not only David (1 Chronicles 27:29, f.), but also his son and heir Solomon (1 Kings 5:3; 1 Kings 8:63), as wealthy possessors of herds. For the concluding words of this verse: above all that were in Jerusalem before me, see remarks on Ecclesiastes 1:16.

Ecclesiastes 2:8. I gathered me also silver and gold. כָּנַסְתּי lit., “I heaped up,” that is in treasuries, as in the gorgeous apartments of my palace. The result of this unceasing activity of Solomon in collecting treasures, is depicted in 2 Chronicles 1:15; 2Ch 9:27; 1 Kings 10:27 : “Silver and gold at Jerusalem were as plenteous as stories.”—And the peculiar treasure of kings, and of the provinces. For כְזדִינָה province, district, comp. Int. § 4, obs. 2. סְגֻלָּה lit. property, is here and in 1 Chronicles 29:3, equivalent to wealth, treasures. By “kings” are naturally first meant those tributary rulers of the neighboring lands treated of in 1 Kings 5:1; 1 Kings 10:15; but farther on those friendly rulers, who, as the Queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10:2 ff., brought voluntary gifts, or even sent them, (as through the ships of Ophir, 1 Kings 9:28; 1 Kings 10:11; 1Ki 10:14; 1 Kings 10:22; 1 Kings 2:0 Chron. 8:28). The provinces are those twelve districts into which Solomon divided the land for the purpose of taxation, 1 Kings 4:7 if.—I gat me men-singers and women-singers;—the latter doubtless belonging to the women used for courtly display, mentioned in the Song of Solomon under the name of “Daughters of Jerusalem,” or “Virgins without number,” (Ecclesiastes 6:8); the former were of course not singers of the temple (as in 1 Kings 10:12; 1 Chronicles 25:1 ff.; 2 Chronicles 5:12), but singers of lively, worldly songs, as kept by David according to 2 Samuel 19:36, and afterwards certainly by Solomon for enhancing the pleasures of the table, (comp. Isaiah 5:12; Amos 6:5).—For עָשָֹׁה to get, to keep, comp. 2 Samuel 15:1; 1 Kings 1:6.—And the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts (Zöckleb has rendered שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדּוֹת die Hulle und Fulle, in great abundance.—T. L.

The words שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדּוֹת are most probably to be translated according to the Arabic by “multitude and multitudes,” or also by “heap and heaps” (Ewald, Elster, etc.), whereby a very great abundance is meant, and indeed of תַּעֲנֻגוֹת i. e., of caresses, of enjoyments and pleasures’ of sexual love, to which Solomon was too much given according to 1 Kings 9:3; Song of Solomon 6:8. J. d. Michaelis, Rosenmueller, Herzfeld, Knobel, Hitzig, etc., translate “mistress and mistresses,” or “woman and women,” a signification which they seek to justify etymo-logically in various ways from the Arabic, but which can no more be considered certain than the explanation resting on the Chaldaic שְׁדָא “to pour,” which ancient translators turn into cupbearers, male and female5 (Sept. οἰνο χόονς καὶ οἰνοχόας, Hieronymus, ministros vini et ministras). Ecclesiastes 2:9. So I was great and increased. (Lit. I became great and added thereto (הוֹסִף as Ecclesiastes 1:16). This is meant, of course, in the sense of possessions and riches, consequently in the sense of Genesis 26:13; Job 1:3.—Also my wisdom remained with me: עָמְדָה־לִּי Lit. (It stood by me), it remained at my side, left me not, notwithstanding the fact that my outward man yielded to these follies and vanities. Thus must it be rendered according to Ecclesiastes 2:3, and not “My wisdom served me," (Ewald), or “sustained me,” Elster. (Comp. the Vulg. persevcravitmecum).

Ecclesiastes 2:10. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them. That is, I possessed not only an abundance of all earthly goods, but I sought also to enjoy them; I withheld from me no object of my pleasure. Concerning the eyes as seat and organ of sensual desire, consult Psalms 145:15; 1 Kings 20:6; 1Jn 2:16—6 I withheld not my heart from any joy. Koheleth does not mean thereby that he enjoyed every imaginable pleasure, but only that I lie kept his heart open for every pleasure that i presented itself to him, and profited by every one; i that he avoided no pleasure that presented itself to him, (comp. Hitzig). That this is the sense is proved by the following: For my heart rejoiced in all my labour; and this was my portion of all my labours. Koheleth allowed himself, therefore, those pleasures and enjoyments which resulted from his continued exertion and labor, which formed agreeable resting places in the midst of his painful and fatiguing life; he sought and found in the hours of cheerful enjoyment, that interrupted his mainly painful existence, a recompense for his troubles and sorrows,—a recompense, it is true, that was only of a transitory nature (consequently no lasting, but simply an apparent, חֶלֶק and which thus, just as the toil and labor, belonged to that vexation of spirit that formed mainly the sum and substance of his experience. For שָׂמַח מִן “to extract joy from anything,” comp. Proverbs 5:18; 2 Chronicles 20:27. In opposition to the explanation of Hahn et al.—my heart rejoiced after all my labor, stands the following expression: This was my portion (i. e., my profit, my advantage), of all my labor.

Ecclesiastes 2:11. Then I looked on all the works, etc., lit.: I turned to all my works (כָּנָה בְּ as Job 6:28); comp. Ecclesiastes 2:12. And on the labour that I had laboured; to do, i. e., to produce these, my toilsome works. And, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit. “All,” that is, the substance of all my efforts, those referring to the collecting of great riches, and the founding of a great dominion, as well as those aiming after cheerful enjoyment; “in nothing of all this did I recognise a lasting חֶלֶק a real יִתְרוֹן (comp. Ecclesiastes 1:3); everything seemed to me rather as רְעוּת רוּחַ (see Ecclesiastes 1:14).” In how far and why this formed the result of his experience, is shown in the sequel (Ecclesiastes 2:12-19); there only does this general conclusion: there is no profit under the sun, as here expressed in anticipation, find its full justification.

4. First Division, second strophe: Ecclesiastes 2:12-19. That there is no profit under the sun, appears above all clearly from the fact that the wise man, with reference to his final destiny, and the end of his life, has no advantage over the fool, in so as he meets the same death as the latter through a necessity of nature, and is obliged to eave the fruits of his labor often enough to foolish heirs and successors.

Ecclesiastes 2:12. And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly; i. e., to observe them in their relation to each other, and consider their relative value; comp. Ecclesiastes 1:17. Hitzig’s conception that “madness and folly” are correlatives is altogether too artificial; he holding that by these the result of the consideration of wisdom is expressed, and that a connective (“and, behold, it was)” has been omitted. For what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done. This, "that has already been done,” consists naturally in a foolish and perverted beginning, even in the destruction of what has been done by a wise predecessor, and in the dispersion of the treasures and goods collected by him, (comp. for this negative, or rather catachrestic sense of the verb to do, Matthew 17:12). J. D. Michaelis, Knobel, and Hengstenberg, substantially coincide with this explanation of the somewhat obscure and difficult words; it is confirmed as well by the context as by the masoretic punctuation. Nearest allied to this is the conception of Ko-senmueller: "For who is the man who can come after the king? Answer: For what has been he will do.” Thus also De Rougement: “Who is the man who could hope to be more fortunate in following after him (King Solomon) on this false path? We can try it, but it will be with us as it has been with all before us.” Hitzig reads in the concluding line ) עֲשׂוֹהוּ instead of עָשׂוּהוּ and therefore translates: What will the successor of the king do? “That which he hath already done.” Luther, Vaihinger, as also the Septuagint and the Vulgate, only translating more concretely,, do not take אֶח אֲשֶׁ כְּבַר עָשׂוּהוּ as an independent, responsive clause, but as a relative clause: “What will the man be who will come after the king, who has already been chosen?” (Luther, “whom they have already made”). Hahn also says: “What is the man who will come after the king, in respect to that which has already been done;” and Ewald and Elster: “How will the man be who follows the king, compared with him whom they chose long ago,” i.e., with his predecessor? Some Rabbinic exegetists, whom even Drusius is inclined to follow, have referred עָשׂוּהוּ to God as active subject, which is here expressed as a plurality (trinity): “with the One (or beside the One) who has made him;” for which sense they refer to Psalms 149:2 : Job 35:10; Isaiah 54:1, etc.

Ecclesiastes 2:13. Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.—The poet recognizes the absolute worth of wisdom, just as in the first clause of Ecclesiastes 2:14 he more clearly describes its profit for the individual. For the comparison of wisdom and folly with light and darkness, comp. Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 6:33 f.; John 8:12, etc. “As light is a creative power that bears within itself an independent life, and produces life wherever it penetrates, and darkness, on the contrary, is a negation of light, a numb and dead element,—so is the real strength of life in wisdom alone, whilst folly is vain, empty, and unsubstantial” (Elster).

Ecclesiastes 2:14. The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness.—An assumed syllogism, in which the conclusion is wanting: “therefore, it stumbles and falls;” comp. John 9:10. By the eyes which the wise man carries in his head, i. e., in the right place, are meant, of course, the eyes of the understanding (Ephesians 1:18), the inward organ of spiritual knowledge, the eye of the spirit (Proverbs 20:27; Matthew 6:28, etc.), Comp. Cicero, deNatura Deorum, 2, 64. Totam licet animis tamqttam oculis lustrare terram.And I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.—גַּם adversative, as Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 4:8; Ecclesiastes 4:16. מִקְרֶה literal: occurrence, accident or chance; comp. Ecclesiastes 2:15; Ecclesiastes 3:19, etc., which here clearly designate death, the physical end of man, the return to dust of one born of dust, as a destiny resting on the Divine curse (Genesis 3:19).7

Ecclesiastes 2:15. As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me.—The general assertion of the latter clause of Ecclesiastes 2:14 is now specially applied to the person of Koheleth, as belonging to the class of wise men.—גַּם־אֲנִי יִקְרֵנִי literally: “I also, it will happen to me.” The person being made prominent by the isolated pronoun in the nominative, placed at the beginning, as in Genesis 24:27; Ezekiel 33:17; 2 Chronicles 28:10.—And why was I then more Wise?—That is, “what profits me now my great wisdom? what advantage does it afford me compared with the fool?” For this expression comp. 1 Corinthians 15:30; Galatians 5:11.—אַז now, therefore, if such is the case, is said in view of the dying hour, from which the author looks back on the whole of his past life.—יתֵֹר a participle used substantively, synonymous with יִתְרוֹן advantage, profit, here an adverb, excessively, too much, comp. Ecclesiastes 7:16That this also is vanity.“This,” namely, the arrangement that the wise man dies as the fool, that the same night of death awaits them both. Observe that Koheleth does not declare this disposition an injustice, but only as vanity, for a new phase of that fullness of vain, empty appearances which his experience in life has made him acquainted with, הֶבֶל here signifies, as at the end of Ecclesiastes 2:19 (also Ecclesiastes 8:10; Ecclesiastes 8:14), something objectively vain, in contrast to the vanity of subjective Human thoughts, knowledge and efforts hitherto indicated by it. It means the same objective ματαιότης of this lower world, derived from the fall, of which Paul, Romans 8:20, says, that the entire earthly creature, like man himself, is subjected to it.

Ver.16. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool forever—i. e., as is the fool, so is the wise man forgotten after his death; posterity thinks of the one as little as of the other. This assertion is, of course, to be relatively understood, like the similar one in Ecclesiastes 1:11; not all posthumous fame of men is denied; it is simply asserted to be ordinarily and most generally the case, that posterity retains no special remembrance of those who have previously lived, which, in reference to the great majority8 of individuals is certainly wholly true.—עִם הַכְּסִיל lit., “with the fool,” is equivalent to “as the fool;” comp. Ecclesiastes 7:10; Job 9:26; Job 37:18.—לִעוֹלָם belongs in conception with זִכְרוֹן “no remembrance for eternity,” the same as, no eternal remembrance, no lasting recollection.—Seeing that which is now in the days to come shall all be forgotten.—הַיָּמִים הַבָּאִים is the accusative of time, comp. Isaiah 27:6; Jeremiah 28:16.—כְּבַר is to be connected with the verb, as also chap, Ecclesiastes 9:6, and is therefore to be rendered: “because every thing will have long been forgotten” (נִשְׁכַח the future past).—And how dieth the wise man? as the fool!—(A simple exclamation in the Ger.). A painful cry of lamentation, 9) which, by an appeal to the experience of the reader, is to represent what is asserted as incontestable.

Ecclesiastes 2:17. Therefore I hated life.—שָׂנֵא does not indicate the strong effect of actual hatred or hostile feeling, but the feeling of disgust, weariness, antipathy towards a thing. Comp. the Vulg.: tseduit me vilse mess, and also for this same milder sense of the verb, Isaiah 14:1; Amos 5:13; Malachi 1:3.—Because the work That is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me.-That is, the view of every thing occurring under the sun bore painfully upon me, tortured me with an oppressive feeling; comp. Ewald, Manual, § 217, i. y.; comp. also Ecclesiastes 1:14.

Ecclesiastes 2:18.—Yea, I hated all my labor, etc.-Not simply the doings of men in general, but also his own exertions, appeared hateful to the Preacher, because they were vain and fruitless.—Because I should leave it to the man that shall be after me-that is, to my successor, heir; comp. Ecclesiastes 2:12. He must leave to his heirs not the labor itself, but what he had acquired thereby, its fruit, its result, and this grieves him-why, the following verse tells.-For the form אַנִּיחֶנּוּ Imp. Hiph. from נוח comp. Ewald, § 122, e.

Ecclesiastes 2:19 heightens the thought of Ecclesiastes 2:18, and thereby leads back definitively to Ecclesiastes 2:12, as the starting point of the present reflection on the uncertainty and transitory nature of all earthly possessions (for wise men as well as for fools)—Wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun.—שֶׁעָמַלְתִּי וְשֶׁהָכַמְתִּי lit., “which I have obtained by trouble, and in which I have employed wisdom.” A zeugma for: by whose wearisome acquirement I have showed myself wise.

5. Second Division, first strophe.

Ecclesiastes 2:20-23. On account of the painful truth of what has just been demonstrated, one must despair of all external earthly success of this earthly life, as does the Preacher at the evening of his life.—Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair.–(Lit. Ger., “turned around”). וְסַבּוֹתִי different from וְפָנִיתִי Ecclesiastes 2:12, does not mean to turn in order to sec any thing, but a turning around in order to do something, comp. Ecc 7:25; 1 Samuel 22:17-18. The idea of turning from a former occupation is also included.10-The Piel יָאֵשׁ to permit to despair, to give up to despair, is only found here in the O. T.; the Niph. נוֹאַשׁ desperavit is more usual (or also the neuter participle: desperatum est), whilst the Kal does not occur.

Ecclesiastes 2:21. For there is a man whose labor is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity.—Lit., whose labor is with wisdom, etc. (שֶׁעֲמָלוֹ בְּחָכְכָה), or also: whose labor has been, etc.; for הָיָה the verb supplemented to עֲמָלו, can express both a present and a perfect sense. Wisdom is not here designated as the aim of labor, as Ewald supposes (“whose labor aims after wisdom”), but as the means whereby the aim of עָמָל, the fruit of human Exertion shall be attained. Besides wisdom, knowledge and equity are also named as means to this end. (דּעת comp. Ecclesiastes 1:16; Ecclesiastes 1:18; Ecclesiastes 2:26); for this is what כִּשְׁרוֹן here means, not success, favorable result, as Ecclesiastes 5:9. The Sept. is also correct, ἀνδρέια, and substantially so also the Vulg (sollicitudo), and Luther (ability, capability).- Yet to a man who has not labored thereir shall he leave it for his portion.—שֶׁלֹּא עָמַל־בּוֹ for בּוֹ refers to tho principal thought of the preceding clause, and not to חָכְמָה. For עָמַל בְּ, to labor for a thing; comp. Jonah 4:10 The suffix in יִתְנֶנּו also refers to עָמָל, and חֶלְקוֹ is a second object: “he gives it to him as him portion, his share”

Ecclesiastes 2:22. For what hatl man of all his labor, הָוָה lit.: falls to, falls suddenly down upon (Job 37:6); in the late Chaldaic style, to happen, to become, to be ap pointed to; comp. Ecclesiastes 11:2; Nehemiah 6:6.—And of the vexation of his heart.-Herewith are principally, if not exclusively, meant these there synonyms: Wisdom, knowledge and equity, ver 21. The aspiration of the heart is the essence of the plans and designs which form the motiv of the labor and exertion of man, and give t them their direction and definite aim.

Ecclesiastes 2:22 Wherein he hath labored under the sun.—The relative refers to כָּל עֲמָלוֹ as well as to רַעְיוֹן לִבּוֹ

Ecclesiastes 2:23. For all his days ar sorrows and his travail grief.—עִנְיָנוֹ (comp. Ecclesiastes 1:13) bears here again the meaning of daily labor (Hitzig, Elster, Vaihinger, etc.), a stronger expression that would remind us of Psalms 42:3 Comp. also Psalms 90:10.—Yea, his heal taketh not rest in the night-that is, it n maineth awake, troubled by anxious thoughts and plans, or tortured by unquiet dreams; comp Ecclesiastes 5:12; Song of Solomon 5:2.

6. Second Division, second strophe.

Ecclesiastes 2:24-26. We are not always to remain in this abandonment of hope of external happiness, but to seek the necessary contentment of the heart in the cheerful and grateful enjoyment of the blessings of life, which God bestows on those of His children who find favor in His sight; and even this enjoyment is something vain and futile, so far as it does not stand in the power of man, but must be graciously conferred by God.—There is nothing better for man than that he should eat and drink, etc.—The words אֵין טוֹב בְּאָדָם שִׁיֹּאכַל וְגו permit a threefold conception:1. Interrogative: “Is it not better for man to eat,” etc. (thus Luthher, Oetinger, Hengstenberg, and the Vulg.: “Nonne melius est comedere et bibere,” etc.). 2. Purely negative: “There is no happiness for the man who eats,” etc. (thus the Sept., M. Geier, Dathe, Knobel, Hahn). 3. On the supposition of the omission of מִן or of כִּי אִם before שֶׁיֹּאכַלִ, “there is no happiness for man but in eating.” This last translation has the most to recommend it,11 because the interrogative and the unconditional negative conception do not so well comport with the context, and because this latter especially would be in contradiction with the passages of Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18 ff; Ecclesiastes 7:14; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-9, which recommend serene enjoyment of life as a means of acquiring happiness and contentment. And because, further, the ancient Aramaic translations confirm the omission of מ (compare Ecclesiastes 3:22)before שֶׁיֹּאכַל an omission which, on account of the בְּ in בָּאָדָם. and the like ending, might so easily take place, and finally because the idea of בְּ in בָּאָדָם with the sense of ל, consequently in a sense designating an object, is confirmed by Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 10:17; and the instrumental conception of this attempted by Geier and Knobel, is therefore unnecessary12 To eat and drink, and let one’s soul be merry, is therefore the triad of sensual life, which is sometimes used in a bad sense-, of vicious excess and indulgence, and again in a good or morally unpreju-dicial sense. The former is found in Exodus 32:6; Proverbs 23:7-8; Jdt 12:13; 1 Corinthians 10:17,etc., the latter in this passage, and in Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 5:17; Ecclesiastes 8:15; and also in 1 Samuel 30:16; Isaiah 65:13; Song of Solomon 5:1, etc. Comp. Zöckler, Theologia Naturalis, p. 651 f., where are also produced from the classics many parallels of this combination of ideas in eating, drinking, and being merry; (e.g., Euripides, Alcest., 783; Arrian, Anab., II. 5,4; Plautus, Mil. glor., III., 1, 83).—That these maxims, to eat, drink, and be merry, are not here meant in the Epicurean sense of 1 Corinthians 15:32, is proved by the important addition בַּעֲמָלוֹ in his labor, in his toil, on which a special emphasis rests, and which excludes every thought of idle debauchery and luxurious enjoyment. See Int. § 5, and especially p. 24.—This also I saw, that it was from the hand of Grod. That is, not: I observed that as all else, so also this comes from the hand of God, but, at the same time with that truth, that eating, drinking, etc., is the best for man, I perceived also that only the hand of God can bestow such cheerfulness in toil, and such a joyous and contented feeling in the midst of the fatigues of worldly avocations.

Ecclesiastes 2:25.For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto more than I? Lit. Ger., and who enjoy, except from Him? חוּשׁ lit., to make merry, to pass a life in carousing, deliciis afflaere (Vulg.) hence to enjoy, to delight, not drink, tipple (Sept. Syr., Ewald).—Instead of חוּץ מִמֶּנִּי we must read with the Sept., Syr., Hieronymus and eight manuscripts חוּץ מִמֶּנִּי except from Him. For חוּץ מִמֶּנִּי ia the comparative sense, “except me,” or just as I, does not afford a thought in accordance with the text, and would not harmonize with the יָחוּשׁ and יֹאכַל (see Vulg. Luther, etc.). But the translation of Hahn: “for who shall eat and who shall pine for food, is beyond me, is beyond my power,” is insufferably harsh. On the contrary, מִמֶּנּוּ from Him (comp. the preposition מִן 2 Samuel 3:37; 1 Kings 20:33), accords admirably with the connection, and furnishes that thought reminding us of James 1:17, which we here above all things need. And, moreover, the reading מִמֶּנִּי appears to coincide with the equally faulty שֶׁיֹּאכַל for משׁיאכל of the preceding verse. See Hitzia on this passage.13

Ecclesiastes 2:26. For to the man that is good in his sight, that is, to the just and God-fearing (comp. Nehemiah 2:5; 1 Samuel 29:6), the opposite of חוֹטֵא. The idea of the retributive justice of God, meets us here for the first time in this book, but not yet so thoroughly developed as subsequently, e. g., Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 11:8; Ecclesiastes 12:14.—But to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up. לָחוֹטֵא stands absolute and is not to be supplemented by a new לְפָנָיו (like the טוֹב of the first clause of the verse), as if the sense were, to the one who is. offensive to Him, who isa sinner in His sight. That he may give to him that is good before God. The object of לָתֵת is not the travail of the sinner, but the goods gathered by him through toil and travail, the treasures heaped up by him, but finally falling to the just. The same thought occurs in Proverbs 13:22; Proverbs 28:8; Job 27:17.—This also is vanity and vexation of spirit, namely, that one seeks his happiness in the cheerful enjoyment of sensual blessings, (according to the maxim in verse 24). This is also vanity, because the acquisition of goods and pleasures in this life, is by no means in the power of man, but depends solely on the free grace of God, which gives to its beloved while sleeping, (Psalms 127:2); but permits the wicked, instead of pleasures, to heap up vain wrath against the day of judgment, (Romans 2:5; James 5:3). Others consider the heaping up of travail on the part of the wicked, as the subject of the phrase (Elster and Hengstenberg), or that it designates the arbitrary distribution of the blessings of life on the part of God as vanity and vexation (Knobel), but thereby they depart equally far from the true train of thought which the author maintains since verse 24.


(With Homiklical Hints.)

The transition of Koheletii in the beginning of the chapter, especially in vers.1–8, from the striving after wisdom and knowledge to enjoyment, and from that to action, to the organizing and artificially producing deed (Ecclesiastes 2:4-8) presents a certain similarity with the progress of Goethe’s Faust from knowledge to enjoyment, and from that (in the sec. act) to the more serious duty of laboring and producing. For the magnificent undertakings, structures, and extension of possessions and acquirements described in Ecclesiastes 2:4-8, can scarcely be considered as mere means of sensual enjoyment in the sense of Ko-heleth (as in Elster, p. 55). He expressly confesses to have connected therewith a certain ideal object, if not of a religious, at least of an ethical aad human character; this lies in the repeated assertion (Ecclesiastes 2:3; Ecclesiastes 2:9), that in the midst of these eudemonistic and practical efforts, wisdom remained the ruler of his heart. But the great difference between Faust and the Preacher, consists in the final solution of the grand enigma of earthly life, which in the former ends in an obscure, sentimental, and philosophical mysticism, whilst the latter returns from his wanderings in the sphere of effort after earthly wisdom, enjoyment and acquisition, into the safe haven of a clearly conscious, modestly practical, and filially pious faith in God’s gracious and just government of the world. It is the humble, confidently trusting, and gratefully contented reliance on God’s gracious hand, which, at the close of his vivid and almost startling description of the vanity of all earthly things, he recommends as the only true aim for the life and labors of man, (Ecclesiastes 2:21-26). That all human exertions are vanity, even that modest striving after cheerful enjoyment and serene employment described in Ecclesiastes 2:21, is firmly fixed in his mind, (according to Ecclesiastes 2:26). But the acknowledgment of this fact does not impel him to a sullen despair of all happiness and peace, but father leads from such a feeling of discontent and discouragement into the blissful repose of a heart wholly given to God, and thankfully enjoying the good and perfect gifts dispensed by Him. Not the indolent man of enjoyment, but the industrious, cheerful laborer; not the greedily grasping misanthropic miser, but the friend of humanity delighting in God, and well-pleasing to Him; not the sinner, but the pious child of God, strong in the faith, forms the ideal that he presents at the close of his observations on the vanity of human life, which, though agitated and complaining indeed, nowhere extend to despairing grief or frivolous scepticism.

A comprehensive homileticar consideration of the whole chapter, would, therefore, be able to present as its theme: “The vanity of all earthly things, and the consoling power of a faithful reliance on God;” or, in order to show more clearly the feature distinguishing this chapter from the preceding: “The wrong and the right way to seek one’s happiness on earth;” or: “Divine grace as tile bestowcr of that happiness of men, vainly sought after by their own power and with earthly means,”(comp. the following passages in the N. T: John 6:65; John 15:5; Ephesians 2:8; James 1:17, etc.). The principal divisions for a discourse on these contents would be: 1. No earthly enjoyment or possession leads to genuine happiness, (1–11); 2. Even the happiest and wisest man remains subject to the curse of death, common to all the sons of men, (12–19); 3,Genuine and lasting happiness (surviving this life) can only be obtained for man by a childlike, contented, and grateful reliance on God’s gracious and paternal hand, (20–26).


Ecclesiastes 2:1-2. Luther: Many a one arranges all his matters with much toil and trouble, that he may have repose and peace in his old age, but God disposes otherwise, so that he comes into affairs that cause his unrest then to commence. Many a one seeks his joy in lust and licentiousness, and his life is embittered ever after. Therefore, if God does not give joy and pleasure, but we strive after it, and endeavor to create it of ourselves, no good will come of it, but it is, as Solomon says, all vanity. The best gladness and delight are those which one does not seek (for a fly may easily fall into our broth), but that which God gives to our hand.

Staeke: The joy of the world is so constituted that it entails repentance, mortification, and grief (1 John 2:17; Luke 16:19; Luke 16:23); but the pleasure that the faithful find fh God, is spiritual, constant, satisfying, and inexpressible, (Isaiah 35:10; John 16:22).

Staeke: Ecclesiastes 2:3 ff.: Every natural man seeks, in his way, his heaven in sensual delights. But he too often sins thereby, and misuses the gifts of God (Wisdom 2, 6 ff.). God grants to man what is necessary to his body, as well as that which tends to his comfort. But how many forget God thereby!

Geier: It is allowable to possess riches if they have been righteously acquired. But bo-ware of avarice as well as extravagance.

Wohlfakth: He who thinks to find the aim of his life in the highest measure of sensual enjoyment, is the victim of an error which will demand of him a fearful revenge in proportion as he tears himself from God, strives simply after false treasures, and neglects and despises the treasures of a higher world; he heaps upon himself a weighty responsibility on account of the misuse of his time, the wasting of his powers, and the evil administration of the goods confided to him by God, and by all this excludes himself, unconditionally, from the kingdom of God.

Hansen:-9–11. The things of this world belong to the preservation, delight and convenience of external, sensual life. One may arrange them, therefore, with as much pomp, majesty and beauty as is possible; they can never, according to their nature, do more than delight our senses.-If we estimate their worth too high, they can take from us in inward ease of mind much more than they grant us in sensual delights and convenience, and become to us then a genuine scourge of the spirit.

Staeke:—If the children of the world are not without vexation and trouble in the accomplishment of their sinful lusts, the children of God should be less surprised, if they in their work in the Lord must experience various disappointments and vexations.

Hamann (Ecclesiastes 2:10):—We here find a trace of Divine goodness, which, notwithstanding the vanity of all our works, has placed in labor, and especially in useful occupations, which strike the eye and gain our approbation as well as that of others, a species of joy, a spice of pleasure which delights us more than the work itself, because we often do not esteem that which was so agreeable to us in the process of production.


Ecclesiastes 2:12-19. (To Ecclesiastes 2:15). Therefore it is better to commend the highest government of all things to the God who made us. Let every one perform his duty with all diligence, and execute what God places to his hand; if things do not always turn out as we expected, let us commend them to God. What God gives, that accept; and again, what He prevents, that accept also as good. What we are able to do, that we ought to do; what we cannot do, we must leave undone. The stone that thou art not able to lift, thou must leave lying.

Gerlach (to Ecclesiastes 2:17):—If God has disappeared from the efforts of men, a disgust of life appears sooner or later (John 4:8 ff..).Geier (to Ecclesiastes 2:18-19):—It is hard for flesh and blood to leave the fruits of its toil to others; but a Christian arms himself against this with the reflection that every thing that he has or does is given to him by God, 1 Corinthians 4:7.

Wohlfarth (Ecclesiastes 2:13-19):-What must we feel it our duty to do, -on perceiving that the earth can afford no perfect satisfaction to our demand for happiness ?—The wise man is pained on perceiving that all earthly things are vain and unsatisfactory; his eye indeed becomes serious, and his expression reflective. But for that very reason, he hears not only the cry of the grave, but also the words of consolation: “Lift up thy eye, citizen of heaven in the garb of a pilgrim; true as it is, that the world with all its treasures cannot satisfy thy longing for what is lasting and perfect, so foolish is it to seek therein peace and perfect satisfaction.”

Zeyss (Ecclesiastes 2:20-23):—This life is full of trouble throughout, with all men and all classes. Why should we not, therefore, ardently long for a better life ? (Philippians 3:14).—Starke:—The travail of soul, by which one obtains salvation through fear and trembling, is therein different from worldly toil, in bearing its profit unto eternal life.

Osiander (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26):—It is pleasing to God that we should cheerfully enjoy our labor in His fear, so much as our calling may permit it, Psalms 128:1-2.

Joachim Langb:—According as man is virtuous or vicious, even his eating and drinking is good or evil. Because the natural man lives either in a state of fleshly security or of servitude, and there is nothing really good in him that avails with God and satisfies the conscience.

Starke (Ecclesiastes 2:26):—Seek above all things to please God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; else, with all external happiness, thou art still unhappy. The wicked often have worldly goods, and seek in every way to increase them; but tney do not have real profit and lasting fruit from them, because their works do not proceed from the faith. He, on the contrary, who possesses the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and is faithful therein, is ever favored by God with greater mercy (Matthew 5:28-29).

Hansen (Ecclesiastes 2:26):-If we examine it closely, the want of genuine wisdom and pure knowledge is the reason why many do not prosper in the blessings which they possess in the world. Men of impure and confused conceptions, who are fettered by dazzling imaginations, must suffer with all their abundance, and lead a miserable life.

Hamann (Ecclesiastes 2:26).:—All the vanity, all the toilings of men after wisdom, happiness and rest, which in so many ways lead men to the grave, where ceases all the distinction which they strive to obtain on earth, are not allotted to the pious man by God; they are a curse which sin has laid upon man, but which God will make a blessing to His chosen ones. For these busy, restless creatures gather and heap up for those who are good in God’s eyes. And these latter shall gratuitously receive by the sinner’s labor what he (the sinner) seeks and finds not, what ho labors for and cannot enjoy: wisdom, knowledge, joy.-What is the Divine word, and whence are taken this wisdom, knowledge and joy that in it exist ? Are they not honey made by bees in the slain beast? What are the stories that they tell us but examples of sinners’ toil, of the vanity and folly into which men have fallen?

Hengstenberg (Ecclesiastes 2:26):—It is manifest that the expression: “This also is vanity ” is not meant in the sense of an accusation of God, but as a cry of warning to human perverseness, that seeks its happiness only there where, according to God’s will, it should not be sought.

[For reflections on this and other parts of the book, the reader is referred to Matthew Henry. In no commentary is there to be found a richer treasure of most choice, discriminating and highly spiritual apothegms, rendered most pleasing and ornate by what may be styled a holy humor, or a sanctified wit. They are unsurpassed by any thing in the devout German writers here quoted, but the ready access to the work, for all English readers, renders it unnecessary that the volume should be swelled by inserting them. Besides, among such rich materials, it would not be easy to make a limited selection. Much also of a very rich homiletical character may be obtained from Wordsworth.—T. L.].


[1][There is no contradiction, real or apparent, to be reconciled, if Ecclesiastes 2:24 is only rightly rendered as it simply stands in the Hebrew, without any addition. See Note on that passage.—T. L.]

[2][תַּרְתִּי —תּוּר, is very emphatic here. It denotes a deep and earnest search. The primary sense to go about, hence, investigate, appears very strong, Ecclesiastes 7:25 : I went round about (סַבּוֹתִי), “I and my heart, to know and to explore (לתור), and to seek out wisdom, etc.” It is the word used of the spies sent out to search the land, Numbers 13:2; Numbers 13:16-17; Numbers 13:21; Numbers 13:25; Numbers 13:32; Numbers 14:6-7, etc., also of travelling merchants, peregrinators (2 Chronicles 9:14; 1 Kings 10:15) seeking for precious merchandize. בְּלִבִּי not, with my heart as an instrument, but in my heart as the dark place to be explored. He resolves to act as a spy upon himself, or, to use the quaint language of Halliburton in detailing his religious experience, “to see what his heart was doing in the dark”—like those whom Ezekiel saw in “the chambers of imagery”—or to find out how it might be possible in this interior chamber of the soul, to reconcile a devoted pursuit of pleasure, and, at the same time, a true pursuit of wisdom. The language implies a most intense study, as well as effort, to solve a difficult problem.—T. L.]


[Ecclesiastes 2:3, לִמְשוֹךְ. This passage and word have given much trouble. Zöckler’s view, though substantially that of Gesenius and Hengstenberg, is unsatisfactory. It is very remotely derived, if it can be derived at all, from the ordinary sense of משׁךְ, to draw, draw out, and is supported by little or no analogy in language. The Latin tracto, from traho, never has the sense curare, which would come the nearest to it. The Syriac משׁך with which Gesenius compares it. is a very rate and doubtful word, given by Castell without any examples, and nowhere found, either in the Syriac Scriptures, or in any well known Syriac writings. Knobel gives מָשַׁךְ the sense of holding fast, which would have done very well had he attached to it the idea of restraining, holding back, and made flesh the object, instead of the contrary, of retaining, not remitting (the use of wine). Heiligstedt’s trahere, attrahere, attract, is inconsistent with the preposition ב in ביין. Michaelis, sense of protracting is wholly unsuited to בשִר, flesh, as its object. Ewald’s an den Wein zu heften meine Sinne, to fasten on the wine, etc., gives hardly any sense at all, and what little there is, is opposed to the evident context. The same may be said of Herzfeld: anzulocken meinen Leib; the flesh needs no alluring or drawing to the wine; besides the preposition ב is here also inconsistent with such a meaning. The LXX ῆ καρδία μου ὲλκύσει τὴν σάρκα μου ὠς οἶνον, wholly inverts the idea. The Syriac למבסמו delight my flesh, is a mere accommodating guess. The Vulgate abstrahere, a vino carnem mcam, suits very well with למשוך, but would require the preposition מ (מיין instead of ביין). Our English version, “to give myself to wine,” is as safe a guess as any, but it leaves out the important word בשרי “my flesh,” unless it is intended to have its meaning conveyed in the word myself, as though it were equivalent to נֵפְשִׁי. This, however, is without warrant in the Scriptures. Besides, it destroys the contrast evidently intended between בשר and לב, the body and the mind, which לב more generally means (comp. Proverbs 7:7; Proverbs 17:7, with most of the places where it occurs in that book and this), or the soul generally, as in Psalms 73:25, where it is in contrast with שאד—“my flesh and heart”—body and soul.

The ordinary Hebrew meaning of משך is to draw out. Closely allied to it is the sense of the Arabic مــسك to hold, lay hold of, which runs through all the Arabic conjugations. This is the primary, and the sense most likely intended here: to lay hold of, hold back my flesh, that is, to govern, check, restrain it. The unusual style of the language shows that there is a figure here, and what that figure is is suggested by the word נהֵֹג in the following clause.

The ordinary, and, we think, the primary sense of this word is egit agitavit. Hence it is applied to the driving of flocks, Genesis 31:18; Exodus 3:1; Psalms 80:2, but more especially and significantly, to the driving or guiding of horses and chariots, as 2 Samuel 6:3; 2 Kings 9:20, where the noun מִגְהָג is most graphically used to describe the mad driving of Jehu. From this use in the Scriptures, the Rabbins have, very naturally, and according to the analogy of secondary senses as they spring up in other languages, employed it, with an ethical and philosophical meaning, to denote a course, of thinking, conduct (ductus) or as a rule for the guidance of life. Thus viewed it strikingly suggests some such figure as seems hinted in משד though there the metaphor may be said to lie concealed: all the more impressive, however, when seen, on account of its inobtrusiveness. It is noticed by Hitzig, who sees the figure, yet misapplies it, or falls back, after all, to the other idea of supporting, sustaining generally: “to draw with wine my flesh, that is, die Maschine damit im Gange zu erhalten, to keep the machine going, parallel with the expression to support the life with bread. Here he seems to drop the metaphor, yet takes it up again when he says, “the wine here is compared to a draught horse, or as we say of one who drinks on the way, he hath taken a relay.” This is a vulgar view of the comparison, resembling some common Americanisms beneath the dignity of the real figure. And then he interprets what follows, of “wisdom guiding,” by comparing it to the coachman sitting on the box. Stuart follows him in this, but both may be said to err in making wine the unruly horse that needs guidance, instead of the flesh (בשרי). “On the whole,” says Stuart, “there can be no doubt that the sense thus given by Hitzig is significant; the main difficulty is the seeming strangeness of the figurative representation.” With a little change, however, it is the same with Plato’s more full and ornate comparison in the Phædrus 54 F, or as it may be called, the myth of the charioteer and his two horses. The body (the flesh with its lusts, its appetites) is the wild horse so graphically described as κρατεραύχην μελάγχρως, ὕφαιμος κ. τ, λ., “strong-necked, black, with bloodshot furious eyes, full of violence, coarse, shaggyeared, deaf, hard-yielding, either to the whip or the spur.” The gentle horse is the pure feeling, the “Platonic love,” or celestial Eros, and the charioteer is the Νοῦς, or Reason, the Hebrew לב guiding or driving with חכמה. If it seems strange to interpret Koheleth by Plato, it may be said that the figure is, in itself, very easy and natural, coming directly from primary analogies, and in accordance with the whole train of the preacher’s thought: I sought diligently, when my flesh was furiously driving on in wine, or pleasure (ביין here not denoting the instrument, or figurative chariot, but the state or condition) to draw it, to restrain it, to bridle it, to keep it, in the path of temperance. On this account we have rendered it in the Metrical Version, “to rein my flesh in wine,” and this is in harmony with the figure, as we find it so deeply grounded in language generally—a fact which makes its use by Koheleth so little strange when properly considered. It is frequent in the Latin, both in prose and poetry. Comp. Hor. Carmina Ecclesiastes 4:15-16, evaganti frena licentiæ injecit, Sat. II. 7, 74. Jam vaga prosiliet frenis natura remotis; Ep. I. 263, hunc (animum) frenis hunc tu compesce catena, Liv. 34:2, date frenos impotenti naturæ; Juv, 8:88, pone iræ frena modumque, Seneca, Ep. 23. voluptates tenere sub freno; etc., etc. So the phrases dare frena and dare habenas—laxis habenis, etc. In the same way the Greek χαλινὸς and χαλινόω. Its use is common in English, whether derived from classical examples or, as is more likely, having a spontaneous origin: “To give the reins to appetite” (the very expression that Zöckler unconsciously uses, der Lust die Zügel schiessen lassen) or the contrary—to “lay the reins upon the neck of pleasure,”—with the idea of the unruly horse. if, after all, it should be said that this is not in the ordinary Hebrew style, it may be replied that neither is Koheleth in the style of other Hebrew books, and, therefore, that kind of criticism, so assuming, but, offtimes, so superficial, cannot, with certainty, be applied to it.—T. L.]

[4][Although a participle in form, צוֹמֵחַֹ, has rather the force of an adjective denoting fulness, luxuriance, (see Metrical version); not bringing forth trees, as our English version has it, but blooming, luxuriant with, or in trees.—T. L.]

[5][שִׁדָּה וְֹשִדּוֹת. There is no need of going to the Arabic for this word. A great many different views have been taken of it, but the best commentators seem agreed that it refers to Solomon’s many wives and concubines. This is the opinion of Aben Ezra, who thinks that it would have been very strange if such luxuries had been omitted from this list. He, however, would make it from שׁדד, with the sense of female captives, taken as the spoil in war. Others who render it wives, like Hitzig, Stuart, etc., make it from the Arabic سنل to lean upon, Infin. 3. conj. سناد to embrace. But there is a nearer Hebrew derivation from שַׁד mamma, the breast. The feminine form is used as more voluptuous.—שִׁדָּה the swelling breast, mammæ sororiantes. The plural after the singular is intensive to denote the vast number of these luxuries that Solomon possessed. The dagesh is easily accounted for without making it from שׁדד, or the Arabic ه سنل By the addition there is a sharpening of the first syllable, which requires dagesh and the shortening of the vowel from patach to chirek. See Introduction to Metrical Version, p. 180. The Syriac has שׁקותא ושׁקיתא corresponding nearly to the LXX οἰνοχόους καὶ οἰνοχόας, cup-bearers, or wine-pourers. Zöckler’s rendering has but little or no support. The late Arabic translation of Dr. Vandyke well renders it سيّل هٌ وسيلتٍ ladies, mistresses; though from a different root, it comes to the same thing with the Hebrew.—T. L.

[6]For a most impressive statement of this, revealing the whole philosophy of will and choice (the will following the sense, or the sense in subjection to the will) see Job’s declaration, Job 31:27, אִם אַחר עֵינַי הָלַךְ לִבִּי: If my heart, (the seat of moral power) hath gone after mine eyes (the sense generally), then, etc. It is an emphatic denial that he had permitted sense to govern him.—T. L.]

[7][The word מִקְרֶה, though it may be rendered chance, does not denote that which happens without a cause, but simply that which oc-curs. The same may be said of the Greek τύχη. The Hebrew word, however, may be better compared with the Homeric κήρ, which it resembles in having the same radical consonants (κ ρ), though doubtless, etymologically, different [in this respect it agrees better with κύρω]. It carries rather the sense of the inevitable, or of doom, like the Greek αἶσα, μοῖρα, which, with κὴρ, are used to denote death as the great doom of our race. So the Latin fatum, and so of all those old words. The earlier we go up in language, the less do we find in these or similar words any thought of chance or fate, in the atheistic sense, but rather the contrary—namely, that of decree (fatum), destiny fixed by an intellectual power. So Koheleth seems to use מִקְרֶה here and the verb קרה. They is, in the whole context, a recognition of something more than a “debt of nature” an atheistical kind of language which our Christianity does not prevent us from using. The whole aspect of the passage favors the idea of an inevitable doom (decree, sentence) fixed upon the race, from which no wisdom, no virtue exempts. “Death hath passed upon all men for that all have sinned.” To one who views them in their true and earliest character, these old Greek words above mentioned are the very echo of such a sentence. There are all used for death, and often, in Homer and elsewhere, may be so rendered. The epithets joined with them show the same idea, as something inconsistent with the thought of chance, or blind physical law.—T. L.]

[8][The emphasis here is on the word לעולם, and it is asserted, whether hyperbolically or not, of all. No memory lasts forever, or for the world. The greatest fame, at last, goes out. In this respect, or in comparison with לעולם, the differences of time, in human fame, are regarded by the philosophical Seer as of no moment. A remembrance ever lost is equal to oblivion.—T. L.

Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 2:16. וְאֵיךְ “And O, how is it?” It is an exclamatory burst of irrepressible feeling, laying open the very heart of the writer. It is the great mystery that so perplexes him, but for which he knows there is some cause consistent with the Divine wisdom and justice. Some great doom [מִקְרֶה like the Greek κήρ, αἶσα μοῖρα] has come upon all the race, the wise, the foolish, the just, the unjust, the unholy, the comparatively pure (see Ecclesiastes 9:2), and for some fundamental moral reason applicable to them all alike,—as a race rather than as individuals. “O, why is it?” It is no scepticism in regard to God’s righteous government, no denial of essential moral distinctions; it is not an assertion of Epicurean recklessness on the one hand, nor of a stoical fatality on the other, but a cry of anguish at a spectacle ever passing before his eyes, and which he fails clearly to comprehend. It is as though he were arguing with the Sovereign Omnipotence. Like the language of Job and Habakkuk, in similar seasons of despondency, it seems to manifest, almost, a querulous tone of interrogatory: Why is there no difference? “Why dost thou make men as the fishes of the sea?” [Habakkuk 1:14, and comp. Ecclesiastes 9:12]; why dealest thou thus with us? “What shall I do unto thee, O thou Watcher of men?” [Job 7:20]. It seems almost irreverent, and yet there is no cant about it, no suppression of the honest feeling of surprise, no artificial humility imposing on itself in the use of any formal language of resignation. Koheleth here appears like one complaining,—not in anger, but in grief. He seems to say, as Job said, “Suffer me to plead with thee.” It is that sublime style of expostulation which so strikes us, and, sometimes, almost terrifies us, in the grand Old Testament men of God. Our English Version is very tame: “and how dieth,” etc. The conjunction ו has, in fact, an interjectional force, making more marked the exclamation איךְ, by showing an emotional rather than a logical connection; as though it were something suddenly springing up, or irrepressibly prompted by the previous sohloquizing utterance [see remarks on Job 28:0, and on the particle כִּי, in the Introduction to Metrical Version, p. 177]: “Since the days come when all is forgotten; but O how is it” (as it should be rendered instead of and, since the conjunction is rather disjunctive than merely copulative, and, therefore, the more suggestive of emotion]: Alas, how is it, that the wise should die as dies the fool See the Metrical Version. It does not mean that the wise man dieth in the same manner as the fool—that is, recklessly, stupidly, or despairingly, but rather that he dies as well as the fool; he, no more than the other, escapes the universal “sentence that hath passed upon all men” for the reasons given Genesis 3:19; Romans 5:12. In truth עִם הַכְּסִיל, [literally, with the fool can hardly mean, wie der Thor, in like manner as the fool, as Zöckler holds—but rather, in company with the fool. It is companionship, rather than other resemblance; and so, too, does the preposition keep its original sense in Ecclesiastes 7:11; Job 9:26; Job 37:18, the places to which Zöckler refers.—T. L.].

[10][It may be rather said that סבותי, here, is simply intensive of פניתי. It means to turn round and round—indicating perplexity, wanderings, or evolutions of mind—I revolved. See Metrical Version.—T. L.]

[11] [This supposition that would supply מִן or כִּי אִם before שיאבל, is a very old one, for it is referred to, although not fully endorsed, by Rashi and Aben Ezra, and is also mentioned by the grammarian Jona Ben Gannach (Abul Walid) in Sect. 26, on Ellipsis. It is admitted, however, that there is not a trace of it in any ancient manuscript, or in any various reading. It is maintained solely on the ground of a supposed exigentia loci. There is wanted, it is thought, the sense that such an insertion would give, to bring it in harmony with some other passages, as they are mentioned by Zöckler, and especially Ecclesiastes 9:7-9. Now in respect to these it may be said, that if there were a real or seeming variance, such a fact would present no exegetical difficulty to one who takes the right view of this book as a series of meditations in which the writer, or utterer, to use his own expression, “revolves” (סבותי Ecclesiastes 2:20), goes round and round, trying and testing different views of human life, “talking to his heart” [אמרתי אל לבי], now taking up one supposition, then “turning again” to another now desponding, then again so sure that he says ידעתי, “I know”,—at another time indulging what is evidently a sorrowing irony, such as especially characterizes Ecclesiastes 9:7-9, as compared with Ecclesiastes 9:9 (see the Exeget, and notes on these, and especially the two latter, in their respective places). The mere variance, therefore, whether seeming or real, is not sufficient to warrant so bold an Interpolation into the text, unless there is a failure in obtaining any good sense at all from the passage as it stands. But this surely cannot be pretended. What better thought, and, at the same time, more literal as a version, than that given by the LXX., ον̀κ ἔστιν ἄγαθον�, κ. τ. λ.: “it is not good for man,” or “the good is not for man what he eats,” or “that he eat,” etc., which is favored by Dathe, Knobel and Hahn. Or perhaps, still better than this, if we regard the context, is the translation of Martin Geier, which he gives from Junius, non est bonum penes hominem ut edat, bibat,” etc.: “the good is not in the power of man that he should eat and drink, etc., for this I saw is from the hand of God himself.” Thus, says Geier, all things remain in their native sense, and there is no need of any ellipsis. It might be rendered, perhaps, “it is not the good for man (his summum bonum) to eat and drink;” or if that is regarded as too philosophical for Koheleth, and also as demanding the article, it may be rendered simply, “it is not good,” or, “there is no good in it” (of itself). Tremellius translates in the same way, non est bonum penes hominem, etc. The general sense then would be this: whatever good there may be in eating and drinking, etc., it is not in man’s power to secure it, or to find enjoyment in it (“make his soul see good in it”); and this is in such admirable harmony with the context: “it is the gift of God.” The preposition בְּ in באדם, has this sense, as may be shown in many passages, and it corresponds exactly to our own most natural mode of speech: it is not in him. Even the power to enjoy comes from God. It is not strange that Rationalist Commentators should seek to give an Epicurean aspect to the passage, but it is matter of surprise that others called Evangelical should go out of their way to follow them. The interpretation thus given, as the most literal one, is also in perfect harmony with other passages, or rather, we might say, that the positive unqualified commendation of the gross Epicurean sentiment which the interpretation would give is in direct contradiction to the many declarations of vanity and worthlessness in respect to all mere wealth and pleasure-seeking, which are elsewhere found. This might be set off against the other assertion of variance, if either can be regarded as a right mode of exegesis in this book.

At all events, the literal rendering is all sufficient here—whilst the fair interpretation of other seemingly Epicurean passages only shows, as we think, a difference of aspect under which the great question is considered, but no contradiction to that doctrine which the writer is throughout most earnest to put forth as one of the fundamental ideas of his book, namely, that all good is from God, and that nothing is good without Him. See the Metrical Version: The consciousness of this, not eating, etc., is the highest good.

Rashi interprets the אין טוב as meaning that “the good is not simply that man should eat, etc., or it is not in eating alone; as much as to say, he should give his heart to do judgment and righteousness, together with his eating and drinking;” and then he proceeds to give historical illustration.

Aben Ezra suggests the supplying (in the mind) of some such particle as רַק, meaning, not the only good, or that it is not good, in man, or for man, that he should only eat and drink, etc. Again, he seems to lay emphasis on the word בַּעֲמָלוֹ (in his till), giving it as the general sense of the text, as it stands, that “this toil, with its weariness, finds no other good (no higher good) than to eat and drink,”—thus shutting out any Epicurean idea and making it a depreciation of human effort rather than a commendation of sensual pleasure, in itself, as the best thing in life.

The Syriac inserts אלא, unless, without any thing to correspond to it in the Hebrew, and having very much the appearance of an accommodation to some later view, since it will not answer as a rendering of מ comparative (משיאכל), or מִן or כִּי אִם, as proposed. Besides this, it would not give the bald Epicurean idea of our translation that “eating is the best thing for man,” but only that there is no good in man’s power (or as proposed in human toil), unless it be this,—a sense which would resemble that of Aben Ezra.

So also the Targum has אֱלָהֵן דּי יַיכוּל, “unless that he eat,” etc., but this version is of little or no authority, on account of its later date, and the paraphrastic absurdity of its midrashin. The sense given by it, however, is quite different from that given in E. V., or by Zöckler: “There is nothing that is fair among men, unless to eat,” etc.; and then it goes on to say לְמֶעְבַּד יַת פַּקוּדַיֵא דַיָי וֹגו “that they may do the commandments of the Lord, and walk in his ways.” If it be said that there is nothing in the Hebrew text to warrant this, it may be replied that so, also, is there nothing to warrant the insertion of אֱלָהֵן (unless), by which he supports this paraphrastic sense. It all seems evidently done to get a middle way between two views deemed untenable or inconsistent,—one asserting, or seeming to assent, that there was no good at all in eating, etc., and the other that it was the highest and only good.

A strong argument for the literal rendering is derived from the context. The particle גַם has an adversative and accumulative force; it denotes a rising in the thought. It connects itself here especially with the last part of what precedes: “that he should make his soul see good” (or find enjoyment in it): “The good is not in the power of man that he should eat, etc., and make his soul see good” (or “so that he make his soul see good in it,” taken as a collective object); “yea, what is more [גַּם], this too [זֶה emphatic] I saw was the gift of God,” the power of enjoyment as well as the means. If there is any good in them (such is the implication), it comes from above. This clearly denotes that there is a higher good, even the consciousness and recognition of the truth thus stated. It is therefore in logical opposition to the idea that there is nothing better for man than eating and drinking thus unqualifiedly asserted. Every reader must feel that there is something disjoined in our common English Version. It does not bring out the contrast, nor the climax. The other is not only the plainer and more literal translation of the Hebrew, as it stands, but the assertion may be ventured that there is no obtaining any other sense out of it.—T. L.]

[12][The sense given to בְּ by Geier, Junius, and Tremellius, is not only more common, but far more easy and natural. The references to Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 10:17, do not confirm the rendering given by Zöckler. בָּם in Ecclesiastes 3:12, more properly refers to the works of men taken collectively, above; or if it refers to men, it means there, as here, in them,——in their power.—T. L.]

[13][We cannot agree with Zöckler and Hitzig here. The sense they would give to חוּש is found nowhere else in the Hebrew, unless it is thrust into this place. Everywhere else, 1 Samuel 20:38; Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalms 119:60; Hab. 1:18; Ps. 20:20; 38:23; Psalms 40:14; 70:26; Psalms 71:12; Job 20:2; Isaiah 5:19; Isaiah 60:22, etc., etc.; it means simply to hasten, and there is no need of going to the Arabic حَسّ or Syriac חַשַׁ, which in form would correspond rather to חשש. Besides, it requires a change in the text from מִמֶּנִּי to מִמֶּנּוּ which has no marginal keri to support it, and gives, moreover a very farfetched sense. See Text Note and Metrical Version Nothing could be more fitting than the sense which corresponds to the Hebrew as it stands.—T, L.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/ecclesiastes-2.html. 1857-84.
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