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Bible Commentaries

Wells of Living Water Commentary

Ecclesiastes 2

Verses 11-26

Vanity and Vexation under the Sun

Ecclesiastes 2:11-26


We shall introduce our study with quotations from our booklet on Ecclesiastes. Solomon had tried everything which his heart could desire; and we find his statement thus: "And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy."

Suppose that the man of today, who can have every wish gratified, should, from his untold riches satisfy his every desire; suppose withal that he had untold wisdom to guide his hand. Would all joy be his? What was Solomon's experience? He spared no pains to satisfy his heart. He drank from every cup of joy that the world affords, drank to the depth, drank till he could drink no more; and what did he find? Was he satisfied? Happy? Alas, no! A thousand times, no! "All was vanity and vexation of spirit."

Solomon found nothing "under the sun," nothing in all that the world of men loves and longs for, nothing but vanity.

Solomon thus sums up the story of his utter disappointment.

1. "Therefore I hated life" (Ecclesiastes 2:17 ).

2. "Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 2:18 ).

3. "Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair" (Ecclesiastes 2:20 ).

Such words are almost the waitings of a suicide I caused my heart to despair! "I hated life!" And in all of this Solomon stands not alone. How many, alas, have found the same bitter dregs at the bottom of pleasure's cup!

Young people, you who are following hard after the pleasant things done "under the sun," beware! There is no enduring rest or peace or joy in them. The moment that you think yourself ready to cry "Eureka I have found it!" that moment comes the great collapse. There is nothing "under the sun" that can satisfy the soul of man. No great works, no wondrous houses, no Edenic paradises, no surplus of servants, no gathering of treasures, no grand operas, no "everything his eyes desire" nothing "under the sun" can satisfy the soul of man.

"All is vanity and vexation of spirit." Come then and join our Christ-bought band and sing with us:

"Take the world, but give me Jesus,

That dear One, who loves me so,

Gladly all I leave to follow Jesus

In the world below."

Moses forsook Egypt, its honors, wealth, and pleasures, that he might "suffer affliction with the children of God" will you? Moses "esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt" do you? Moses "had respect unto the recompence of the reward" do you?

Paul said: "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord" would you? Paul said: "I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ" Will you?

Remember that only "In [His] presence is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand there are pleasures for evermore."

When all you count as loss,

To gladly bear your cross;

God then makes up to you,

And blesses what you do.

When you leave friends and home,

For God afar to roam,

God will your loss repay,

And prove your friend for aye.


We will here take up the answer to the first question which Solomon asked. That question was: "What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?"

In order to answer this question we are following Solomon's own conclusions. These are given in nine statements. The first statement is the theme ascribed to us. Our Scripture says, "As he came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand."

Be a man's labor ever so successful, according to this there would be nothing of it after death, so far as the laborer personally is concerned. Must the man who dies in Christ also leave everything behind him? Can he take nothing of it with him? Of course, language such as Solomon's has no vision of the possibility of laying up treasures in Heaven. The wisdom of this world does not know the meaning of "Great is your reward in Heaven," or, "My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be."

The man "under the sun" recognizes nothing in eternity which can in any way be affected by our present state. Life to him is vanity. He came in naked; he goes out naked. He wins his crowns, and gains his riches, only to leave them. Thus it is that he cried, "This also is a sore evil, that in alt points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?"

A dying man said, "I regret that my life was given over to me to making money." That man felt just as Solomon did: there is nothing beyond the sun as far as our present experience is concerned.


When Solomon thought of this it was too much for him. In fact, he began to hate everything he had ever done, because, as he said, "I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?"

The fact is that when Solomon died, the great kingdom which he had builded was wrecked and divided between Rehoboam and Jeroboam. As the years came and went, all of his greatness vanished. His temple was thrown down, and it has lain in ruins more than two thousand years. The city in which he moved has been trodden under the foot of Gentiles even to this day.

When we think of him in his mighty labors wrought in wisdom and knowledge and equity, we cannot but bemoan his lot, for those who had not labored, entered into his possessions.

Do you marvel that the wise man cried, "This also is vanity and a great evil"? When the man of this world dies, his children and heirs take over his estate, and all too frequently they throw it to the winds. Such inherited wealth often leads to pampered wantonness, and lustful licentiousness.

Some one has said that riches have been to many a youth no more than a toboggan slide to hell.

III. THE MAN "UNDER THE SUN" FINDS HE IS ENVIED BY HIS NEIGHBOR (Ecclesiastes 4:4 ; Ecclesiastes 4:3 )

We know that Solomon, himself, was greatly envied. He had succeeded beyond the attainments of any who had lived before him. He was the richest man of the world. For all of this he found himself maligned, misrepresented, and, perhaps, despised of many.

"The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh." He who puts forth no pains, refuses to improve his talents, beyond a doubt holds envious derision against the man who financially makes good. We grant there is no reason in many cases for the poor man to criticize the rich. Some rich men have hearts of iron. Some climb to the heights of their success upon their tyranny toward the poor. However, it is not always so. Be the rich and successful true, or be they false, they will find people disputing their rightful heirship. They reach the height of their wealth only to be the target of their neighbors' envy and criticism. As Solomon said, "This is also vanity and vexation of spirit."


"He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity."

Did you ever meet a man who had enough? If you did, he was some one who had but little. The more we obtain of wealth, or of honor, the more we crave.

We who are poor think, perhaps, that if we had a good job with a fine income, we would be content. However, when we get a good job, we want a better one. When we have a lucrative wage, we long for a larger, and so it goes.

When once the love of money begins to grip us, we will never be satisfied. We want to mount higher and higher in the airship of our ambition until we have passed over all others around us.

Here is the expression of Solomon, and it is worth reading: "There is no end of all his labour, neither is his eye satisfied with riches; * * This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail."


"For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night."

God told Adam, "in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." The fool may refuse to sweat, but the man who succeeds never folds his hands. He never allows the grass to grow under his feet. He is full of travail. From morning until night he is struggling on his way toward the cherished goal of his labor "under the sun." He knows that riches and idleness do not go together. He knows that wealth and weariness are not companions. On and on he moves putting every other thing under his feet, that he may attain the quest of his spirit, even the success of his labors.

Commercialism is ruled by greed and gain, therefore, the man who enters it and begins to slave, will sooner or later find himself convinced that every word which Solomon said is true. All his days will be full of sorrow, and grief.


"Yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night." He may go to bed, his body may succumb to weariness, but his heart will not be at rest.

The rich man usually holds in his hand, and under his power, the fate of many a widow, and of many a struggling investor. Every one wants to invest a little money with him. No wonder the rich cannot sleep. He knows there are thousands depending upon him. He fears that the markets may fall. Famine, fire, and flood are ever specter-like hovering over him.

It was for this cause that Solomon wrote, "The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep."


Let any poor man inherit a fortune, or let him through his labors pile up a fortune, he will not only find himself envied on the part of many. Withal, he will find that scores are hovering around his door seeking to partake of his riches, and to eat at his table. If some one courts his daughter, he cannot but fear that he is courting his bank book. If some one is exceptionally nice to him, he will wonder if they love him, or his wealth. So it goes, day in and day out, He is pursued by those who seek his patronage and his favor, this also is vanity.


When we watch the rich we will often find that all the benefit they get out of their money is "the beholding of them with their eyes." They cannot convert their wealth into food or raiment, for who could wear, or eat, all that their money stands for? What is their advantage over the poor? The rich man cannot sleep; the poor man can. The rich man is envied because of his wealth; the poor man is not. The rich man must leave his all; the poor man has nothing to leave.

Do you wonder that a man of wealth cries out with Solomon, "All is vanity"?


"A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease." We have known this to be true of more than one rich man. For awhile he lived sumptuously every day, but soon he was a dyspeptic.

His arduous toils, his irregular appetites, his careworn brain, his high-tensioned nerves, all caused his heart to succumb. He found himself traveling the way of "Les Miserables," holding his stomach in his hands.

With this lesson before us, and with Solomon's conclusions of his own life, and the lives of others who are rich, shall we also seek after vanity? If so, let us remember that the love of money is the root of all evil, which, while some have coveted it, they have brought upon themselves much sorrow.

Think you that it is worth the strain,

The turmoil and the strife,

Though all the world should be your gain,

If you should lose your life?

Your days on earth will soon be gone,

The future now you face,

What will you have when night comes on,

And you have closed your race?

What will it profit by and by,

The things which you have done,

Unless, beyond the deep blue sky,

You meet them one by one?

Begin to lay up treasures now,

Where ne'er the thief breaks through;

Then, sorrow will not cloud your brow,

When earth you bid adieu.


Vanity. Oh, vanity, how little is thy force acknowledged or thy operations discerned! How wantonly dost thou deceive mankind under different disguises! Sometimes thou dost wear the face of pity; sometimes of generosity; nay, thou hast the assurance to put on those glorious ornaments which belong only to heroic virtue. Fielding.

Vanity. It was prettily devised of Aesop, the fly sat upon the axletree of the chariot-wheel, and said, "What a dust do I raise!" So are there same vain persons that, whatsoever goeth alone or moveth upon greater means, if they have never so little hand in it, they think it is they that carry it. Bacon.

Vanity. I would much rather fight pride than vanity, because pride has a stand-up way of fighting. You know where it is. It throws its black shadow on you, and you are not at a loss where to strike. But vanity is that delusive, that insectiferous. that multiplied feeling, and men that fight vanities are like men that fight midgets and butterflies. It is easier to chase them than to hit them.

Verses 24-26

What Is Good in This Life

Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 ; Ecclesiastes 3:1-14


We come now to the second great question in the Book of Ecclesiastes. It is expressed in chapters 6 and 12: "Who knoweth what is good for man in this life?" The same question is asked in several other Scriptures. We have considered Solomon's conclusions about the labors of this life, and now we are to consider more of his conclusions as to the pleasures of this life. Here is a theme that should grip every young man and every young woman with solemn attention.

By way of introduction we want to ask every Christian if he thinks that it pays to follow after the phantom of pleasure? Should not the Christian rather, with Moses, turn his back upon the wealth of Egypt, and its pleasures in order that he may suffer with the children of God? Not Moses alone made this wise choice. Saul of Tarsus threw everything of the world behind his back, and counted it but loss.

We trust that before this study shall have finished, every Christian will be able to say with the poet,

"Fade, fade each earthly joy, Jesus is mine!

Break ev'ry tender tie, Jesus is mine!

Dark is the wilderness,

Earth has no resting place,

Jesus alone can bless,

Jesus is mine!"

What do we care for the pleasures of earth? There are greater pleasures for us. The Apostle Paul found more joy in a Philippian jail, than the most ardent theatergoer can find in a show. With his feet bound in the stocks and his back beaten with many stripes, he was singing praises unto God.

The man of the world centers his joy on the things "under the sun." His joy, therefore, comes or goes as he is prospered, or as he suffers loss in worldly things. The Christian may remain happy when everything on earth is fading around him. This is the way Habakkuk put it: If "the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls."

He who lives above the sun can say: "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation."

Madam Guyon in prison could write,

"A tittle bird I am

Shut from the fields of air.

Here in my cage I sit and sing

To Him who placed me there

Well pleased a prisoner to be,

Because, my God, it pleaseth Thee."

I. SHUT UP TO A WORLD OF PLEASURE (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 )

Our verse states definitely that there is nothing better for a man than that he should eat, drink, and have his soul enjoy his labor.

1. The pleasure of eating and drinking. The evangelist who says from the pulpit that there is no pleasure in eating and in drinking is missing the mark. There is much of pleasure around the table. There is the pleasure of friends; there is the pleasure of satisfying the appetite.

However, the man "under the sun" was certainly shut up to an earthly vision when he thought there was nothing better "under the sun" than to eat and drink. They are good so far as they go, but there are joys which so far exceed the pleasures around the feasting table that the latter seem to fade away in insignificance. There is something far better.

The fruit of the Spirit is joy. Christ said, "These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you." Surely His joy did not center in eating and drinking. It centered in the smile of His Father's face.

2. There is pleasure in one's own labor. The man of the world, and even the Christian, finds great delight in successful undertakings. No matter to what we turn our hands, when the work of our hands proves to be good, we are happy. The work that we do for ourselves, and the successes which we attain, is nothing comparable to the joy which will be ours by and by, in the work we have done for Him. There is much that is better.

II. THE PORTION OF THE ONE "UNDER THE SUN" (Ecclesiastes 3:13 ; Ecclesiastes 3:22 )

Ecclesiastes 3:13 says, "And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God." Verse 22says, "Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?"

Think of it! What is the portion of the man "under the sun"?

1. What is the longing of his body? It is to eat and to drink. It is physical satisfaction. Is this, however, the height of our ambition? Even Solomon himself acknowledges that the purpose of man is to glorify God, and to keep His commandments. There is something far better than the satisfying of the body.

2. What is the longing of the heart? To be merry? Why, certainly! Where is he who does not want to be happy and glad, filled with rejoicing?

A clown in a circus one day is reputed to have cried out, "I know what you all want: you want to be happy." Then he began to crack his jokes and to cut up his antics to make the people laugh. Does not the heart have something better to seek than being merry?

3. What is the longing of the soul, or the mind? Solomon says that it is making the soul enjoy good in his labor. Certainly, this is true in part. Who is there who does not delight in walking over his estates? his gardens of flowers, his acres of fruit trees? Who is there who does not enjoy demonstrating some invention of his hands? But is there nothing beyond this? nothing better? Is this our portion?

We have already found that Solomon built houses, and planted vineyards. He had a paradise of his own. He had servants in his houses, and cattle in his fields. He had his own theatricals, and his own singers. Yet, with all of this, Solomon acknowledged that he hated life.

There is nothing else we can say than this: everything "under the sun" which lives without the spiritual and the Heavenly, is "vanity and vexation of spirit."

III. SOME STRANGE CONCLUSIONS (Ecclesiastes 3:20-22 )

We will now begin to understand some of the things which Solomon discovered "under the sun." Ecclesiastes 3:22 says, "I perceive that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his own works."

There is a reason for this conclusion. Let us bring it to you in this way.

1. The man "under the sun" has no knowledge of a future life. Ecclesiastes 3:20 reads, "All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again." The man, however, "under the sun" knows there is spirit indwelling the body of dust, therefore, he cries, as in Ecclesiastes 3:21 , "Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?"

It is because of this warped vision of the future, this ignorance on man's part in God, and Heaven, that Solomon through human wisdom confessed such strange conclusions.

2. The man "under the sun" discusses only the present life and what that life can give us. If he has any conception at all of a future life, he feels at least that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." If he knows anything of the future it is expressed with a question mark. Who knoweth?

There is no new Jerusalem coming down from God out of Heaven, no streets of gold, no gates of pearl, no river of the water of life, no trees bearing twelve manner of fruits: there is nothing like these in the future to the man "under the sun." There is nothing that is certain; nothing that is felt; nothing that is real or tangible. He knows nothing of the resurrection body, of the meeting with Christ in the air; nothing of the Marriage Supper, nothing of the Reign.

For this cause the man "under the sun" gives himself wholly to the life "under the sun." He never expects to move above the sun. So far as he knows his spirit, and the spirit of the beast are the same, and he admits that man has no preeminence over the beast. Shall we wonder that he cries, "All is vanity"?


1. A man's labor is all wind. This is the expression in Ecclesiastes 5:16 . "What profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?" Wind represents everything untangible, everything passing, everything ethereal. It represents nothing lasting, nothing material, or vital.

2. A man eats in sorrow and sickness. This is in Ecclesiastes 5:17 . "All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness." According to this the man "tinder the sun" may be sometimes up, but more frequently down. He may have something of song, but more of sorrow. He may know health, but he is soon to know sickness. He may eat in the light, but he oftener eats in darkness.

3.Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 5:18 acknowledges that it is good and comely for one to eat and 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."

Peculiar, is it not? That a wise man should put a question mark over a man's labor and call it wind, and then tell him that he should enjoy it because it is his portion. It is not strange that the wise man should demonstrate that a man eats in darkness, in sorrow, in sickness, and yet tell him to eat and drink, and to enjoy it all, as his portion?

We agree that there is nothing good "under the sun" that makes a man permanently happy, rested, satisfied, and contented. We certainly agree. Then why this continued corroboration that there is nothing better? that this is the portion of man?

The reason for these statements, and this urge, is because God is compelling the wise man to show everything that the man "under the sun" (who has no Christ, and no covenant relationship with God) may have.

V. SOME STRANGE COMMENDATIONS (Ecclesiastes 8:15-17 )

We grant that what we are saying seems repetition, and yet the Book of Ecclesiastes gives these repetitions. God is pressing Solomon to wisdom's final conclusion concerning everything that there is for the man "under the sun."

1. In the verses before us we are commended to eat, drink, and be merry, and yet we are reminded that the wise man wrote his own admission when he said that these things would vanish. He acknowledged that laughter was mad, and of mirth he said, "What doeth it?"

Still in the verses before us he continues to urge men "to eat, and to drink, and to be merry."

2. Eat, drink, and be merry? and yet the verses before us acknowledge that the sleep left Solomon's eyes. The verses acknowledge that even the wise cannot know the reason for the things "under the sun." He may behold the works of God, yet he seeks to know them, and cannot.

3. Eat, drink, and be merry. Yet God plainly said to the rich man, who said (in Luke 12:1-59 ) that he would eat, drink, and be merry, that he was a fool. Yes, every man is a fool who is rich toward himself, and poor toward God. Every man is a fool who thinks that life must be builded around the things which we possess. Every man is a fool who thinks that the summum bonum of life is in the harvests which overflow his barns. We may lose all of wealth and worldly pleasures and yet be supremely happy.

Thinkest thou my joy is gone

Just because my wealth has flown?

I have treasures in the skies,

And great wealth in Paradise;

I have laid up coin on high

Where my riches never die.

Things of earth may round me fail,

Deep depression may prevail;

What care I, Christ is my store,

Having Him, what need I more:

He will all my needs supply,

And my heart will satisfy.


God knows the full scope of pleasure and He tells you through Solomon. Hear Him!

"Eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; * * Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun."

What will you add to this? What more have you to say? You who know not God, you who are living after the flesh what find you "under the sun"? Come, take your count. Cast forth the debits and the credits of your life. What is good for man? What is better? What is the very best?

The good, the better, and the best are all by wisdom's acknowledgment included in this: in eating and drinking, in a man's dress, in the wife of his love, and in his labor under the sun; yet, all of this, at the last, is "vanity." Soon, full soon, the shadow may fall athwart your path, and you can eat and drink no more. Soon your garments will be folded and laid aside. Soon, alas, full soon, the dear one may be dead. Your labor, too, will fail. Life will be swept with winter's storms. The leaves will fall and all will be "vanity."

Who knoweth what a day will bring forth? Men are living with trembling hearts looking forward to the things that are coming to pass on the earth. Air castles will fall; fondest dreams will vanish in wakeful despair. O men and women, in the turmoil and the strife, in a world where all is "vanity and vexation of spirit," we beseech you, get you under the sheltering arms of a once crucified, now living, and soon Returning Lord. Look to Him, and be ye saved.


"Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes."

1. We ask why such advice was given to a young man? Is it safe to tell any young man who has a heart of sinful flesh, that he should walk in the ways of his heart? Is it safe to tell any young man whose heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, that he should walk in the ways of his heart? If out of the heart there comes fornication, lasciviousness, uncleanness, may men walk in its way? Is it right to tell a man to walk in the sight of his eyes when his eyes will naturally seek after those things which are carnal? Should we not rather tell him to let his eyes look straight before him, and that he should ponder the path of his feet?

Did not Adam and Eve fall because they walked in the sight of their eyes? Why then should the wise man have said to the young man: "Rejoice, * * in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth," etc.?

It was because this is the usual advice given by the man "under the sun." Solomon is not giving us God's conclusion; he is giving us the conclusions of the man "under the sun," and God is impelling him to write everything there is for a man "under the sun."

Job made a covenant with his eyes. Jesus said, "If thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." John speaks of the "lust of the eyes."

2. Solomon's advice to the young man is both preceded and followed by warnings. Even the man "under the sun" would tell his son that he should enjoy himself, have a good time, and yet he would add, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth."

We will understand all these things far better when we study the next Scripture: The Religion of the Man "Under the Sun."


Did you ever hear the story of the great bell of Moscow, the largest bell in the world? It was cast more than two hundred years ago, and has never been raised, not because it is too heavy, but because it is cracked. All was going well at the foundry when a fire broke out in Moscow. Streams of water were washed in upon the houses and factories. A tiny stream found its way into the bell metal at the very moment when it was rushing in a state of fusion into the great bell mold, and so the big bell came out cracked and all its capacity for music was destroyed.

Many a young life has had a Divinely given impulse, like soft and molten metal, just flowing into a noble and steadfast decision, when the insidious love of this world's goods has been allowed to trickle in at that vital moment, breaking the resolve and hushing the music of a life which should have been given out for others. Expositor.

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Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". "Living Water".