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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 2

Verses 1-26

Ecclesiastes 1:12-22

Koheleth now mentions the unusual advantages which he had possessed for enjoying life and making the best of it. His opportunities could not have been greater, he considers, had he been Solomon himself. He henceforth speaks therefore under the personated character of the wise son of David. He speaks as one who represented the wisdom and prosperity of his age.

I. "I have set myself," he says, "to the task of investigating scientifically the value of all human pursuits." This, he assures us, is no pleasant task. It is a sore travail that God has allotted to the sons of men, which they cannot altogether escape. Koheleth thought and thought till he was forced to the conclusion that all human pursuits were vanity and vexation of spirit, or, according to the literal Hebrew, were but vapour and striving after the wind. There was no solidity, nothing permanent, nothing enduring, about human possessions or achievements. For man was doomed to pass away into nothingness.

II. Having stated his position in these general terms, he now enters into the subject a little more in detail. He reminds himself how at one time he had tried to find his happiness in pleasure and amusement; but pleasure had palled upon him, and appeared good for nothing: and as for amusements, Koheleth thinks that life might, perhaps, be tolerable without them. Having discovered the unsatisfactoriness of pleasure, Koheleth proceeds to inquire if there is anything else that could take its place. What of wisdom? Can that make life a desirable possession? He proceeds to institute a comparison between wisdom and pleasure. Pleasure is but momentary; wisdom may last for a lifetime. Pleasure is but a shadow; wisdom is comparatively substantial and real. The lover of wisdom will follow her till he dies. Ay, there's the rub till he dies. One event happeneth to them all. What then is the good of wisdom? This, too, is vanity.

III. In the third chapter Koheleth points out how anything like success in life must depend upon our doing the right thing at the right time. Wisdom lies in opportuneness. Inopportuneness is the bane of life. What we have to do is to watch for our opportunity and embrace it.

IV. In Ecclesiastes 3:14 , Koheleth seems to rise for a moment into a religious mood. But his religion is by no means of an exalted type. Times, seasons, and opportunities, he says, are of Divine appointment; and, like nature's phases, they happen in recurring cycles. God doeth it that men should fear before Him. The existence of so much unrequited wisdom in the world might seem to suggest that there is no higher power. But there is. God will rule the righteous and the wicked, and reward them according to their works. There is a time for every purpose and for every work, and therefore for the purpose of retribution among the rest.

A. W. Momerie, Agnosticism, p. 190.

References: Ecclesiastes 1:13 . J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 14.Ecclesiastes 1:14 . Ibid., pp. 28, 38; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 339; W. G. Jordan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 136.

Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 2:2

Solomon says of the mirthful man, of the man who makes others laugh, that he is a madman. We need not suppose that all laughter is indiscriminately condemned, as though gloom marks a sane person and cheerfulness an insane. "Rejoice evermore" is a Scriptural direction, and blithe-heartedness ought to be both felt and displayed by those who know that they have God for their Guardian and Christ for their Surety. It is the laughter of the world which the wise man calls madness.

I. That conflict of which this creation is the scene, and the leading antagonists in which are Satan and God, is a conflict between falsehood and truth. And it is in consequence of this that so much criminality is everywhere in Scripture attached to a lie, and that those on whom a lie may be charged are represented as more especially obnoxious to the anger of God. Now, whilst the bold and direct falsehood gains for itself general execration, mainly perhaps because felt to militate against the general interest, there is a ready indulgence for the more sportive falsehood which is rather the playing with truth than the making a lie. Here it is that we shall find laughter which is madness, and identify with a madman him by whom the laughter is raised. The man who passes off a clever fiction, or amusingly distorts an occurrence, or dexterously misrepresents a fact, may say that he only means to be amusing; but as he can hardly fail to lower the majesty of truth in the eyes of his neighbour, there may be ample reason for assenting to the wise man's decision, "I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?"

II. But it is not perhaps till laughter is turned upon sacred things that we have before us the madness in all its wildness and injuriousness. The man who in any way exercises his wit upon the Bible conveys undoubtedly an impression, whether he intend it or not, that he is not a believer in the inspiration of the Bible; and he may do far more mischief to the souls of his fellow-men than if he engaged openly in assaulting the great truths of Christianity.

III. The great general inference from this subject is that we ought to set a watch upon our tongues, to pray God to keep the door of our lips. "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt."

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2532.

References: Ecclesiastes 2:4 . J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 14.Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 . J. J. S. Perowne, Expositor, 1st series, vol. x., p. 313.

Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 2:11

The general practice of men of business, their custom of year by year taking stock, examining their books, and striking a balance to know how they stand, is a lesson of the highest value. Our everlasting salvation may turn on it. People go on dreaming that all is right when all is wrong, nor wake to the dreadful truth till they open their eyes in torment. If men take such care of their earthly fortunes, how much greater our need to see how we stand with God, and do with our spiritual what all wise merchants do with their earthly interests: review the transactions of every year.

I. In this review we should inquire what we have done for God. We have had many, daily, innumerable opportunities of serving Him, speaking for Him, working for Him, not sparing ourselves for Him who spared not His own Son for us. Yet how little have we attempted; and how much less have we done in the spirit of our Saviour's words, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" It is impossible even now to review our lives without feeling that there is no hope for us out of Christ, and that the best and the busiest have been unprofitable servants.

II. In this review we should inquire what we have done for ourselves. If "the harvest is past, and the summer ended, and we are not saved," what other verdict than "Vanity!" can conscience and truth pronounce on the years that are gone? Years are lost, but the soul is not yet lost. There is still time to be saved. Make for the city of refuge. Believe in Christ, for whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but hath everlasting life.

III. In this review we should inquire what we have done for others. Suppose that our blessed Lord, sitting down on Olivet to review the years of His busy life, had looked on all the works which His hands had wrought, what a crowd, a long procession, of miracles and mercies had passed before Him! Trying our piety by this test, what testimony does our past life bear to its character? Happy those who, at however great a distance, and in however imperfect a manner, have attempted to follow Christ!

In conclusion: (1) This review, God's Spirit blessing it, should awaken careless sinners. (2) This review should stir up God's people.

T. Guthrie, The Way to Life, p. 61.

References: Ecclesiastes 2:11 . J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 38. Ecclesiastes 2:12-14 . Ibid; p. 85.Ecclesiastes 2:12-23 . T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 49. Ecclesiastes 2:12-26 . J. J. S. Perowne, Expositor, 1st series, vol. xii., p. 70; G. G. Bradley, Lectures on Ecclesiastes, p. 52; R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 65; J. H. Cooke, The Preacher's Pilgrimage, p. 22.

Verses 16-23

Ecclesiastes 2:16-23

I. The noblest renown is posthumous fame, and the most refined ambition is the desire for such fame. And of this more exalted ambition it would appear that Solomon had felt the stirrings. But even that cold comfort was entirely frozen in the thought which followed. From the lofty pinnacle to which, as a philosophic historian, he had ascended, Solomon could look down and see not only the fallibility of his coevals, but the forgetfulness of the generations following. He knew that there had often been great men in the world; but he could not hide it from himself how little these men had grown already, and how infinitesimal the greatest would become if the world should only last a few centuries longer. And so far Solomon was right.

II. But if this be the phantom for which the worldling toils and sighs, there is a posthumous fame which is no illusion. If there be no eternal remembrance of the world's wise men any more than of its fools, it is otherwise with the wise ones of the heavenly kingdom. God has so arranged it that "the righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance." There is not in all the universe a holy being but God has found for it a resting-place in the love of other holy beings, and that not temporarily, but for all eternity. The only posthumous fame that is truly permanent is the memory of God; and the only deathless names are theirs for whose living persons He has found a place in His own love, and in the love of holy beings like-minded with Himself.

J. Hamilton, The Royal Preacher, Lecture VII.

References: Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 . J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 106. 2 C. Bridges, An Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 26. Ecclesiastes 3:1 . H. Hayman, Rugby Sermons, p. 139. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 . R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 92.Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 . T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 75.Ecclesiastes 3:1 , Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 . J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 152.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/ecclesiastes-2.html.