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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Ecclesiastes 2

 

 

Verses 1-11

Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:26. Qoheleth's Investigations.—Assuming the character of Solomon the writer tells of his search for happiness under many forms. The pursuit of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:12-18), absorption in pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11), the study of human nature (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17), the acquisition of wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:18-23), alike fail to yield satisfaction. After all his experience the only verdict he can reach is that there is "nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink" and enjoy life as well as he can while he has it (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. The Epicurean mood is just as ineffective. Like Omar, he "divorces barren reason" and takes "the daughter of the vine for spouse." Merriment, and the pleasures of the table (all by way of deliberate experiment, laying hold of folly with a spirit guided by wisdom; cf. Ecclesiastes 2:3, ; wisdom cf. Ecclesiastes 2:9), the happy and healthy delights of a country gentleman's life when the king (like Edward VII at Sandringham) is a simple squire, are tried in turn. There is a last attempt here to keep up the part of Solomon, though the phrase "all that were before me over Jerusalem" (there was only David), as in Ecclesiastes 1:16, gives the disguise away. Nor were less innocent pleasures left unexplored; see mg. for the difficulty of the word rendered "concubines," though this probably comes nearest to the meaning; there is a cognate Assyrian root which means "to love." Thus gratifying every taste, Qoheleth for a while seemed to have found satisfaction (Ecclesiastes 2:10), but when mere absorption gave place to reflection he found that there was nothing substantial or abiding in all his labours and all his pleasures. Ecclesiastes 2:12 b, "What can a man do . . . already been done" (i.e. by the king) may perhaps have stood immediately after Ecclesiastes 2:11. Apparently the meaning is that where a Solomon has failed, though equipped with wisdom and wealth, no ordinary man has any chance.


Verses 1-26

Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:26. Qoheleth's Investigations.—Assuming the character of Solomon the writer tells of his search for happiness under many forms. The pursuit of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18), absorption in pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11), the study of human nature (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17), the acquisition of wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:18-18), alike fail to yield satisfaction. After all his experience the only verdict he can reach is that there is "nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink" and enjoy life as well as he can while he has it (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).

Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:26. Qoheleth's Investigations.—Assuming the character of Solomon the writer tells of his search for happiness under many forms. The pursuit of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18), absorption in pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11), the study of human nature (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17), the acquisition of wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:18-18), alike fail to yield satisfaction. After all his experience the only verdict he can reach is that there is "nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink" and enjoy life as well as he can while he has it (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).

Ecclesiastes 1:12; Ecclesiastes 1:16. See Introduction.

Ecclesiastes 1:13. Cf. Ecclesiastes 7:25; Ecclesiastes 8:16, and for God as a hard taskmaster Ecclesiastes 3:10.—seek and search: get to the bottom of the problem and survey it on all sides.

Ecclesiastes 1:14. striving after wind: see mg., a strong phrase for aimless and futile desire.

Ecclesiastes 1:15. Life is incurably twisted and imperfect.

Ecclesiastes 1:17. Qoheleth would discover truth by the study of contraries. For "madness and folly," however, LXX by a slight change of the Hebrew reads "comparisons" (or parables) and "science." But increased knowledge only means increased perplexity (Ecclesiastes 1:18).


Verses 12-17

Ecclesiastes 2:12-17. Qoheleth turns to the study of human nature in its wisdom and its folly. Though "all is vanity" yet wisdom is better than folly; it is better to face the outlook, dreary though it be, with intelligence, than to be stupid and dense. The wise man can at least see where he is going; the fool is in a fog, and blind; the eyes of his understanding are darkened. Yet there is no final advantage to the wise, the same death overtakes both wise and foolish, so that unusual wisdom is really a useless endowment. Wise man and fool are alike buried in oblivion (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:11). So I hated life, yet he continued in it. "A pessimist who is able to vent his feelings in literary expression does not commit suicide" (Barton).


Verses 18-23

Ecclesiastes 2:18-23. Even if one has amassed wealth there is the bitterness of not knowing who will inherit it or how the heir will use it. Everything has to be left behind to an uncertain fate, for there is no guarantee of character as there is of property. The latter can be entailed, not so the former. Well may a man begin to despair as he sees that for which he has toiled with sagacity and shrewd insight passing into the hands of one who has not laboured and so does not properly appreciate. The thought of Ecclesiastes 2:21 is different from that of Ecclesiastes 2:19. For another discussion of the "vanity" of riches see Ecclesiastes 6:10-12.


Verses 24-26

Ecclesiastes 2:24-26. The best thing for a man is to get what pleasure he can out of life. And after all this is the Divine scheme of life, the ordinance of God. No one can eat or be happy apart from Him (see mg.). Ecclesiastes 2:26 (except the detached sentence at the close which declares that even the conclusion reached in Ecclesiastes 2:24 is vanity), contradicts Qoheleth's central contention, and must be regarded as the comment of a pious annotator. That the good man prospers while the sinner suffers, and even has to hand over his gains to the good man, is teaching found in many parts of OT, but certainly not in Ec. It did not square with the facts of life, as Qoheleth and the author of Job saw; but while the latter made a brave attempt to grapple with the problem the former was content to state it and dwell in the gloom which he could not dissipate.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/ecclesiastes-2.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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