In this Chapter the Preacher prosecutes still further the doctrine of the emptiness of creatures, to give happiness. Having in the former Chapter stated the subject in general, he here enters into particulars, in proof that all is vanity.
I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. (2) I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? (3) I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. (4) I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: (5) I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: (6) I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: (7) I 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: (8) I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. (9) So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. (10) And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. (11) Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
Here is a very faithful account of those things in which carnal men place their chief good. Mirth, and wine; and houses of vermillion and cedar, silver and gold; men servants, and maid servants; horses, and equipage; music, and no doubt dancing, also; with, in short, everything that might gratify the flesh with its affections and lusts. Reader! pause, I beseech you, over this account; and then take a look, if it be but a short one, of the present state of things around; and say, if Solomon had drawn this representation not for himself, but for the world, in this nineteenth century of Christianity, could the picture have been more accurate? Would it not excite the pity of an angel could he be supposed to be looking on, to see the multitude of those who call themselves the followers of the humble Redeemer, so deeply engaged in the reverse of what his blessed gospel teacheth. The Man of Uz hath drawn a similar picture of the carnal in his day. Job 21:7-15. And Asaph, hath taught us, what effect such characters have in the exercises of the faithful. Psalms 73:3-13.
And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done. (13) Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.
What a striking conclusion doth the Preacher make of the whole in those verses? And how much the experience of men in all ages comes to the same termination. Reader! depend upon it, nothing out of Christ, nothing but Christ himself, can satisfy the desires of an immortal soul. The rich fool in the gospel, was a fool indeed, who said to his soul, Eat, drink, and be merry. For the soul can truly relish nothing that is carnal. Luke 12:19-20. It was a blessed thing that Solomon was taught to make after all his pursuits this conclusion. And it is our mercy that he was commissioned to leave his testimony of it upon record!
The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. (15) Then 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 said in my heart, that this also is vanity.
It is worth the Reader's close observation, that Solomon, having in the foregoing verses ascertained the little pretensions that arise from sensual gratifications to happiness; in these verses he sets himself to make a similar estimate of those pleasures which arise from mental enjoyments. And he proves that those, like the former, are alike vain and unsatisfying. Reader! follow the Preacher's observations with your own. Wherein is happiness to be found? among the book-worms, and the studious of the earth? If Christ be not the object of pursuit; what, less than vanity marks all? The termination to the worldly wise and the fool, is one and the same. All is vanity.
For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool forever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool. (17) Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. (18) Yea, 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. (19) And 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. (20) Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. (21) For 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. (22) For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? (23) For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity. (24) There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. (25) For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I? (26) For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.
The Preacher, having fully and clearly ascertained, that both sensual pleasures and mental pursuits after human learning, void of divine knowledge, are alike full of disappointment, proceeds now to show the entire vanity and emptiness of human life, in its present fallen state, to give comfort. And if the Reader is brought, under the divine teaching, to learn therefrom the total insufficiency of all things here below, to afford solid and substantial happiness to the soul; the great object intended from this scripture is answered. The picture here drawn of human life, is made exactly to correspond to what it really is. Somewhat is wanting after our review, or even our enjoyment of the whole, to constitute happiness. So that let a man eat, or drink; let him study to excel his neighbour in all human science; vanity of vanities marks all; for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
READER! I charge it upon you to take with you the evidences which arise out of this Chapter, in favour of Jesus and his salvation. Surely the Preacher intended, by this way of preaching, in showing negatively what human pleasures and human learning are not, to proclaim most loudly what Christ and his graces are. For if all short of Christ be vanity; and Christ himself be the chief, the only, the substantial good; what happier method amid the wise man have adopted, in thus appealing to the experience of mankind, under the different characters of it, that it is Jesus only who can cause them that love him to inherit substance, and to fill their measures.
My soul! pause thou over the account. Look at the world as it now is, as well as in Solomon's days what it then was. What is the generality, nay, the vast majority of the world, pursuing? How are men everywhere around thee engaged. Be their case what it may; yet are not all, under whatever form their different pursuits are directed, engaged in making provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof? Mark them leisurely. Behold each and every one. And figure to thyself, what indeed is no figure, but reality. Behold what is continually going forth in awful fulfillment; one here, and another there, by whom that voice is heard, Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee!
Precious Jesus! from such views, oh grant my soul to turn to thee! Give me betimes to see, and know, thy value; and day by day to be leaving all these hollow, and deceitful pleasures, for the enjoyment of the Supreme Good. Oh! let me so know thee, as to live upon thee, to live to thee, and to rejoice in thee, as my portion. And do thou, dearest Lord, so manifest thyself to my soul, in all the fulness, sweetness, and suitableness, of thy love and favor, that the love of all creature excellencies may die away in my esteem. Let the language of my soul be, Whom have I in heaven but thee: and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but thou art the strength of my heart, and thou art my portion forever.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany