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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Ecclesiastes 2

 

 


Verse 1

1. In mine heart — Better, To my heart.

Go to — Rather, Come now.

Therefore enjoy — Hebrew, and thou shalt see. In ancient language, “to see” is used in a wider range of meanings — as that of “to experience.” Koheleth at the beginning states the result of this experiment also.


Verse 2

2. I said of laughter — More literally, To mirth I said, Thou art mad, (foolish,) and to pleasure, what doth she accomplish, or amount to?


Verse 3

3. Yet acquainting — Hebrew, My mind still guiding with wisdom. The sense seems to be, that not rashly or impulsively, but with reflection and self-counsel, he sought to determine whether real enjoyment could be found in merely sensual pleasures.

To lay hold on — Hebrew, to enlarge or reinforce. Strengthening by wine, after Koheleth’s idea, is thus stated by an Arabian poet, —

Tis we who steal the sense of wine,

Not wine that robbeth us of wit.”

All the days — Better, The limited days of their lives; necessarily few.


Verse 4

4. I made me great works — Hebrew, I enlarged my works. Solomon used the resources of the kingdom in magnificent enterprises. His own palace stood on a neighbouring hilltop to the temple. He built, also, for his Egyptian wife, a palace, called 1 Kings 7:2, “The house of the forest of Lebanon.” His vineyard at Baal-hamon is mentioned in Song of Solomon 8:11. He probably had others, also, as for instance at Engedi: Sol. Song of Solomon 1:14.


Verse 5

5. Orchards — Hebrew, paradises. Paradise is a Sanscrit word for “enclosure,” but, as borrowed into other languages, means, “park,” “pleasure grounds.” See note on Luke 23:42.


Verse 6

6. Pools of water — The making of cisterns and fixtures for watering gardens is in the dry East indispensable. For such purpose, in part, the now famous Pools of Solomon, south of Bethlehem, may have been constructed. The same occurs in our Colorado. A well-watered Eastern garden, enlivened by playing fountains and birds “that sing among the branches,” is a most charming object.

The wood — Better, groves, in which the trees were grown.


Verse 7

7. Solomon had need of a vast amount of labour.

Got me servants — Hebrew, bought. He who studies the laws of Moses will see that such provision was made for servants that their condition was not one of slavery in its more objectionable sense. In fact, there is no Hebrew word for slave. The Hebrew bondman lost no right but that of the recompense of his own labour. If he was maimed by his master he became free. If he was killed by him, his master was slain by the sword. Greek, Roman, and American slavery was very different from this. The slave was, also, taught in the law; could not be delivered up if he ran away; could marry a daughter of his master; and a maidservant could be the lawful wife of her master or her master’s son. Servants, then, either purchased or born on the place, were not what we call slaves.

Great and small cattle — Hebrew, oxen and sheep. See the sacrifices at the dedication of the temple. 1 Kings 8:63. Above all that were… before me — See remarks on Ecclesiastes 1:16.


Verse 8

8. Gathered… silver and gold — Solomon’s income, in gold, from trade, was over $3,300,000, besides all other revenue. He made silver like stones for abundance in Jerusalem. 1 Kings 10:27, and elsewhere. Gold and silver are the peculiar treasure which kings derive from provinces, as distinct from land, cattle, etc., the usual wealth of subjects. The delights of the sons of men, is explained as consisting in all sorts of musical instruments, doubtless including the revelries with which their strains were accompanied. A few commentators translate “musical instruments” as woman and women, that is, as mistress and mistresses, making the words designate Solomon’s wives and concubines; others render the words cupbearers. Neither of these translations appears justifiable. See Lange.


Verse 9

9. So I was great — The result of all these efforts, his wisdom standing by to guide him, was the unrivalled greatness of the “Grand Monarch.” He developed every resource of his kingdom, and by alliances and commerce enhanced his wealth.


Verse 10

10. Mine eyes desired — This experiment, so broad and full, was not the reckless conduct of a debauchee, but there was method and discretion in it.

My heart rejoiced — Hebrew, (an unusual form.) was in the way to get joy from all my labour.

And this was — Hebrew, and this would be.


Verse 11

11. Then I looked — Hebrew, Then I turned. The result is, that not one or all of these gathered delights quieted the craving of the mind or gave lasting happiness. All was vanity and a grasping at wind, and there was no gain from them at all.

Now follows a comparison of wisdom and folly, as Koheleth tried them. Wisdom has the advantage in value, but not so very much, for neither can exempt a man from the common lot of suffering and sorrow.


Verse 12

12. Koheleth turns to take a comparative view of wisdom, and madness, and folly, arguing that a king, especially of all men, has the means of making a conclusive experiment.

The man — Who is a mere subject, and not possessed of royal advantages. All the resources of the realm were at Solomon’s command, and he used them in the acquirement of wisdom.

After the king — Attempting to make the same experiment over again.

Hath been done already — He attains to only a stale and feeble repetition of an “already” conclusive experience.


Verse 13

13. Wisdom excelleth folly — The verdict follows the comparison. While culture and study cannot bring abiding good, or freedom from sorrow, yet they yield a noble and delightful joy as compared with the indulgences of passions which we share with the brutes.

Light excelleth darkness Wisdom is here compared to the genial light of the morning, and folly to the heavy night that hangs dark and blinding upon one’s way and upon one’s eyes. Of course, the “light excelleth.”


Verse 14

14. The wise man’s eyes are in his head — The Hebrew is more forcible: As for the wise man, his eyes, etc. The “wise man’s eyes” are where they belong, and can be used to some purpose. The reference is to the eyes of the understanding, the inward organ of spiritual knowledge.

Darkness — Better, blindness, as contrasted with the seeing eyes just named.

I myself — This declaration is of marked emphasis.

One event — The “event” here mentioned is evidently death, so often in the writer’s mind.


Verse 15

15. As it happeneth — The “it” before the “happeneth” refers to fate.

To me — The Hebrew is very emphatic.

Why was I… more wise — Better, Why am I then wise in any profit? The wise man feels more keenly than the fool, the griefs and disappointments of life.


Verse 16

16. Seeing that which… forgotten — Rather, Since both will be forgotten in coming days, as [has been the case] long ago. Very many wise and fools have lain down in oblivion, and so it will ever be. How, etc., is in Hebrew an exclamation of grief, equal to Alas, that the wise man dieth as the fool! In the original there is here no question.


Verse 17

17. The work… wrought… is grievous — Because most men are in pursuit of wisdom or pleasure, the best deeming the former, the worst deeming the latter, the real good, and both are disappointed. Koheleth judges the experience of other men from his own.


Verse 18

18. Hated all my labour — He not only gets no satisfaction from his works, but he must leave all to a stranger, a thought which makes all look odious to him.

The man that shall be after me — Solomon speaks as if he knew well his son Rehoboam, who was perhaps impatient to get upon the throne, where he made such disastrous work.


Verse 19

19. Who knoweth — The language of one evidently ignorant as to what the character of his heir will be — a wise man or a fool.

Yet shall he have rule — Even in States where laws of inheritance are reliable, men still contemplate with anxiety the fate of their properties in the hands of their heirs. Except in cases of entailment, grandsons are not sure of estates.


Verse 20

20. Cause my heart to despair — From anxiety Koheleth turns to “despair.” To feel toward the close of life that one’s enterprises and accumulations have been in vain, is a dark and gloomy feeling. Koheleth repeats the sentiments of the previous verses with a deeper sorrow.


Verse 21

21. There is a man — The “man” who has had his labour as stated, is Koheleth himself.

To a man that hath not laboured — If he had had children they would have worked with him to build up the family estate, but it must go to one who has given no aid or sympathy to the work of gathering it. There is a certain beauty in a family co-working to build an estate, like that of the Rothschilds.


Verse 22

22. What hath man — That is, man has nothing — nothing solid and abiding — when the accumulations of a working life pass from his name and lineage.


Verse 23

23. His days… sorrows — Better, All his days his business is anxious and vexing: and often fails, both in its prosecution and results, to yield the satisfaction and comfort he had expected. Surely, this is also vanity.


Verse 24

24. Nothing better — We now have the inference drawn from the investigations here recorded, as a conclusion to the first section of the book. The best way, seeing that neither wisdom nor pleasure can appease the craving soul, is to mingle moderate and cheerful self-indulgence with the reasonable business of life, pushing neither study nor pleasure to excess, but acknowledging the good hand of God as balancing the gifts it confers.


Verse 25

25. More than I — Better, Except myself. “The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits,” and Koheleth has the first right to the good which he gathers. The feast of firstfruits and the joy of harvest were gladsome occasions with the Jews.


Verse 26

26. God giveth — A final comparison to the advantage of obedience to God, is now drawn. No solid, satisfying good is obtained from worldly pursuits, as thus far tried. But Koheleth affirms from his experience that God gives to the obedient much gratification as they pass through life, and the sinner seems often as a servant working for the happiness of better men than himself. Yet even this — the experience of a brief and transient life — cannot satisfy the craving of a human soul.

Leaving now the experiments of wisdom and pleasure, which are so entwined with each other by comparison and contrast that we have to treat them as one, Koheleth proceeds to investigate concerning industry, or, as we would be more likely to say, business, to see what it can do to relieve a dejected mind.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/ecclesiastes-2.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, August 4th, 2020
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18
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