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Nave's Topical Bible - Instruction; Investigation; Science; Works; Thompson Chain Reference - Business Life; Capital and Labour; Fruitless Labour; Labour; Toil; Worldly; The Topic Concordance - Vanity;
Verse 14. Behold, all is vanity — After all these discussions and experiments, when even the results have been the most successful, I have found only rational satisfaction; but not that supreme good by which alone the soul can be made happy.
O curas hominum! O quantum est in rebus inane!
"How anxious are our cares, and yet how vain
The bent of our desires!"
PERS. Sat. i., v. 1.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:14". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/ecclesiastes-1.html. 1832.
Lessons from experience (1:12-2:26)
Writing as Solomon, the author now looks back and describes the experiences of a truly wise and wealthy man who searched for a meaning to life. First he tried the study of wisdom, but it led only to misery and frustration. Some things could not be made to fit any sort of consistent pattern; others, which in theory may have solved some problems, in practice did not exist (12-15). His learning and experience enabled him to tell the difference between wisdom and folly, but they were unable to help him find a meaning to life. His greater wisdom only increased his frustration and bitterness (16-18).
Continuing his search, the great king turned to pleasures of various kinds, but they did not provide the answer (2:1-3). He used his knowledge and resources in extravagant building programs and agricultural projects, and his household had everything he needed for a life of luxury and pleasure (4-8). All his achievements brought him a certain amount of satisfaction. But as he looks back he confesses that they brought him no nearer to solving the mystery of life’s purpose (9-11).
Kings can build for themselves huge fortunes and accomplish impressive works, but even the wealthiest and most ambitious of kings found that all this did not bring satisfaction. What chance, then, does anyone else have? The frustrated searcher turned therefore to consider the subject of wisdom again (12). He reminded himself of the obvious truth that wisdom is better than folly (13), but he recalled also that the wise person dies the same as the fool, and both alike are soon forgotten (14-17).
Not only has wisdom no advantage over folly; diligence has no advantage over idleness. A person uses all his knowledge and skill in his work, spending long days labouring and sleepless nights worrying, but when he dies all that he has built up is left to someone else. Not only that, but the person who inherits all this did not work for it and may even foolishly waste it (18-23).
The writer now reaches one positive conclusion concerning the purpose of life. God intends people to enjoy the good things of life and to find enjoyment in their work. This is God’s gift. Those who accept this gift please God. To them God gives the wisdom and ability to enjoy his gift. Those who do not accept this gracious gift from God, but who spend their energies trying to achieve happiness by their own wisdom and efforts, find that all they build up for themselves will be lost. In despair they cry out again that life is useless (24-26).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:14". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/ecclesiastes-1.html. 2005.
Vexation of spirit - A phrase which occurs 7 times, and may be otherwise translated, “feeding on wind.” Modern Hebrew grammarians assert that the word rendered “vexation” must be derived from a root signifying “to feed,” “follow,” “strive after.” This being admitted, it remains to choose between two translations:
(1) “striving after wind,” or “windy effort;” adopted by the Septuagint and the majority of modern interpreters; or
(2) feeding on wind. Compare Hosea 12:1 : and similar phrases in Proverbs 15:14; Isaiah 44:20; Psalms 37:3.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:14". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/ecclesiastes-1.html. 1870.
Book of Ecclesiastes begins,
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem ( Ecclesiastes 1:1 ).
So that identifies the author as Solomon. The Hebrew word that is translated preacher is a word that can mean one of the assembly or a debater. And it is determined that the translation preacher is not necessarily a good translation of this Hebrew qoheleth, that it might be better translated the debater. "The words of the Debater, the son of David, the king of Jerusalem." He refers to this, and in Ecclesiastes is the only time this Hebrew word is used, and it is in the feminine form. And it is used seven times here as Solomon is referring to himself. And really a debater or one who is searching, the searcher. The son of David, the king of Jerusalem. And the book of Ecclesiastes is indeed a search.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Searcher [or the Debater], vanity of vanities; all is vanity ( Ecclesiastes 1:2 ).
Now he starts out with the conclusion of his search. After searching through everything, this is his conclusion of life. Now it is important that we note that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book that deals with the natural man searching for meaning in life. The word Jehovah is not used in this book. He does refer to God, the Elohim. But not unto Jehovah God in the personal sense that a person can know God. But God as a worldly man speaks of God, just a force, a power, a title--the Elohim.
Those who truly know God in a personal way know God as Yahweh or as Jesus Christ. But this is that worldly, impersonal concept of God. As he is searching for the meaning of life, he searches through all kinds of natural experiences. But there is throughout the book the denial of the spiritual. It is putting man on the level of animals. It is looking at man as an animal. And it is trying to find the reason or the purpose for life on the animal plane and it must follow that life on the animal plane is totally empty. It is totally frustrating. Looking at life on the animal plane sees man as an animal possessing a consciousness and a body, but the spirit is not related to God. So man as an animal is aware and conscious of his body needs. And he is living to seek to satisfy his body needs. And a person who lives on the body level seeking to only satisfy his body needs, denying the spiritual aspect of his nature, is going to end up ultimately with this feeling of emptiness and frustration.
The word vanity literally means that which vanishes. It's nothing. You go to get it and it vanishes. It's not there. It's an emptiness. The vexation of spirit is that frustration of the spirit. Now, man is a three-fold being, and one of the problems of our whole educational system today is the denial of the spiritual nature of man. Our whole humanistic evolutional, our whole humanistic educational system embracing the Evolutionary theory sees man as a highly-developed form of animal existence. So it sees man as a highly-developed animal living in a body, possessing a consciousness. And the denial of the spirit is the basic flaw in the educational system. For unless you see man as a three-fold being, unless you see man with his spiritual nature, then you are going to only have life on the human level, a life that is filled with emptiness and frustration.
So we have today men who make excellent livelihoods trying to help people deal with their frustrations. Because people feel that life is worthless. Life is not worthwhile. Life is empty. Life is meaningless. And they just feel despairing and discouraged and despondent. They go to someone who just talks to them about life. And they pay money to try to understand why it is that I feel like life is just not worth living and all, you know. Well, that's because you haven't come into the third dimension of life--life on the spiritual plane. There is where life takes meaning. It all comes back to the three-fold nature of man.
Living in a body I have certain body needs. God created the body. Marvelous instrument. Fantastically designed. With my little hypothalamus and my pituitary, the various glands that are excreting the different chemicals into my system that give me my different feelings, numbing my pains or telling me that I'm thirsty as it is monitoring my blood system. Telling me that I need oxygen and all of these functions that are going on in the body. Keeping the balance, the homeostasis. For the body balance is important. Important that I have enough sugar. It's important that I have enough oxygen. It's important that I have all of these things within the body, so this body balance. My body drives. My air drive. My thirst drive. My hunger drive. My bowel and bladder drive. My sex drive. All of these have been created by God, a part of the body in which I live.
But I also have a consciousness. And in the area of my consciousness, there are also needs, drives. I have a need for security. I have a need for love. I have a need to be needed. These sociological drives. Now that's about as far as your psychologist and sociologist take you. But what they are denying in the denial of the spiritual nature of man, they're denying the fact that there is deep down inside of me, in my spirit, in this part of my nature, a drive that also exists and this drive in my spirit is for God. "My spirit thirsts after Thee, O God," David said. "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God" ( Psalms 42:1 ).
There is within man that desire to know God. That desire to have fellowship with God. There is within man a vacuum that only God can fill. And if you deny the spiritual nature of man, then man can never be satisfied because this deep-down spiritual thirst will always be haunting him, telling him there's something more. There's something more. There's something more. And I feel this dissatisfaction with life. I have a thirst that I can't define. I know it's there. I know that life hasn't yet brought me fulfillment. I know there's got to be more than to life than what I've yet experienced. And I have this frustration and this is what Solomon went through. That's what he is describing. "Emptiness, emptiness, all is empty and frustrating." He's talking and the phrase is used some nine times, "Life under the sun, it is a frustrating existence."
Now according to the psychologist, frustration leads to inferiority complex, which is the rationale by which I explain to myself why I still feel unfulfilled and empty. Why is it that I'm not satisfied? Why is it that I'm not been able to achieve and attain that which I feel? There must be. And I say, "Well, if I only had a better education, then. If I only had more money. If I only were better looking. If I only had hair." And I am explaining to myself why I haven't been able to achieve this some intangible something that I know must be there in life, that somehow it's passing me by and I can't quite grasp. And so I feel this emptiness because I can't quite get hold of it. And I am explaining to myself in the inferiority complex the shortcoming that causes me not to be able to grasp that which I know must be there.
Now, this in turn leads to escapes. I feel the emptiness. I feel this dissatisfaction. I feel that there must be more to life than what I've yet experienced. I can't seem to find it, and so I'm going to escape. And I can escape overtly or invertly. In the inverted escapes I escape within myself. I start building walls around myself. I get to where I don't want to open up to people. I start closing off myself from people. I don't want them to know the truth about me that I know about myself. So I make this facade and I project this image and they see this out here but they don't know the real me. I'm not going to let them get through to know the real me. And more and more I get within myself. More and more I begin to disassociate myself from people. In its final form, it's manifested as a hermit, a man who just goes out and lives in the desert by himself so he doesn't have to see people, talk to people. Nothing to do with people. That's the extreme form of escapism in the inverted way.
Or if I go to overt escape mechanisms, I may go to compulsive eating behavior patterns. Start eating all the time and escaping. Or I might become a compulsive gambler. Or I might turn to drinking. Or I might turn to drugs. Or I might look to a variety of sex experiences. All escaping. Or Nomadism, start moving from job to job or from place to place. "Oh, if I were just in San Francisco, that's where I'd be happy. Oh, if I just lived in Hawaii." It's interesting, more suicides in Hawaii than almost any place else, because you get over there and where can you go? You know, this is it. This is paradise. This is heaven on earth. But the problem is, you had to take yourself. And the same emptinesses that you feel here you'll feel there. And you find out that Hawaii didn't do it. It didn't satisfy. It didn't meet that deep cry that is within you. If it's not here, it's nowhere. Emptiness. Emptiness.
Now when a person gets into these escape patterns, it develops a guilt complex, because I know I shouldn't be eating like this. Why do I eat like this? I hate myself looking so fat. Why do I eat these chocolates? You know, I can't stop. But yet, I'm escaping and I get guilty. I start feeling guilty over the things that I'm doing. I know it's not right. I know it's not helping. I know it's destroying me. I know it's destroying my family or my relationships, but I can't seem to quit. It has a hold on me. And so I'm feeling guilty. And the guilt complex then leads to a subconscious desire for punishment. It goes inward then and underground. And I can't follow it at this point from the conscious level, but subconsciously I get a desire for punishment and I start a neurotic behavior pattern that will bring punishment to me.
And neurotic behavior patterns usually stem from a subconscious desire for punishment. I'm feeling guilty over what I've been doing. I want someone to punish me so that I can feel like I'm not guilty anymore. Now, when you were a child, your parents took care of your neurotic behavior patterns. And they took you in and spanked you, the healthiest thing in the world for you psychologically, because it made you feel free of your guilt. I've been punished. There's something about the guilt that I desire punishment in order that I might be freed from that feeling of guilt. Once I've been punished, then I feel, "Oh, I'm innocent now." I'm free from the guilt feelings because I've been punished. I'm free to go back to my frustration and start the cycle over again. To my inferiority complex. To my escape. To my guilt. To my punishment. To my frustration. And so life moves in a cycle, and Solomon will point out here in a little bit the cycles.
As we get in the first part of the chapter here, they're just... life seems to move in cycles, and this, according to psychologists, is the cycle of life. And you think, "My God, is this all there is? Stop this crazy merry-go-round. I want off. I'm tired of it." And that's what Solomon came to. "Vanity, vanity; all is vanity." And frustrating. And it all comes from the denial of the spiritual nature of man. It is living life on the human plane apart from God. For the gospel of Jesus Christ comes into this cycle. And the gospel of Jesus Christ comes to me. Now, when I'm in the neurotic behavior pattern it is so often that people say, "Hey, man, you better go see a shrink. You're crazy. You're doing nutty things. You better get some help."
And so I go to a head shrink and he sits me on the couch and he gives me a series of tests and he seeks to determine what I'm feeling guilty about. And then he starts to talk to me. "Now, when you were a little boy, did your mother tell you that you shouldn't tell lies? And did she teach you that it was wrong to cheat? Well, you see, these are a part of the old Puritan ethic. They're part of the old Victorian system and everything is really relative. You've got to face the fact that there are certain situations in which it is perfectly proper to tell a lie. You shouldn't feel guilty about this, you see." And he tries to remove your guilt by telling you that it's not wrong. It's not guilty. Everybody's doing it so you've just got to join the crowd and realize that the part of that old Puritan ethic by which you were trained is the thing that's your hang-up today.
But Jesus Christ comes to me and says, "Hey man, you are guilty. That's bad news. That's wrong. But I love you. And I took your guilt and bore your guilt when I died on the cross. I took all of your sins, all of your guilt, and I paid the penalty for it. Now, if you'll just believe in Me and trust in Me, I'll forgive you." Hey, that's something no psychologist can do, is totally erase that guilt feeling. Take away this haunting feeling of guilt. But Jesus Christ and the gospel does. It's the greatest thing in the world for removing the guilt complex. If that's all the gospel did, it would be fantastic. But it does much more than that.
It comes back to the very beginning. Frustration, where it all started. And we hear Jesus on the last day of the great day of the feast as He is standing there on the Temple Mount crying to the crowds, "If any man thirsts, let him come unto Me, and drink. For he who drinks of the water that I give, out of his innermost being there will flow rivers of living water. And John said, 'This spake He of the Spirit'" ( John 7:37-39 ). That third dimension of man that man in his educational processes today is seeking to deny, and by his denial has created all of this confusion in our society today.
All of the frustration that people experience results from the denial of the Spirit. And Jesus is saying, "You have a thirst for God in your spirit. Come to Me, come to Me and drink." And so this frustration where the whole thing started, Jesus comes to me and not only does He fill my life, does He fill that spiritual void, but He keeps pouring in until it begins to pour out from me. And my life is no longer just a sponge, thirsty, seeking to grasp for the draw, but my life now begins to flow out with that love and that grace of God's goodness that He has bestowed upon me. And now as David said, "My cup runneth over" ( Psalms 23:5 ). My life is an overflowing cup. No longer going around with this cry and thirst and frustration within, but now the fulfillment and the fullness of God within my life as my life overflows God's goodness and grace.
So you look at life on just the human level as Solomon is looking at it, you look at man like an animal as Solomon does, you deny the spiritual dimension of man, that which places him apart from animals and above the animal kingdom, and you're opening Pandora's box to all kinds of psychological ills. You're opening to a life that can never be filled, a life of vanity and vexation of spirit. And so we are looking now through the eyes of Solomon at the world under the sun, apart from God. Man on the animal plane. And man at the highest on the animal plane is hopeless. It is not until you interject the spiritual plane and bring man into the divine plane that man can have any hope for a fulfilling, enriching, complete life.
So, verse Ecclesiastes 1:3 :
What profit hath a man ( Ecclesiastes 1:3 )
And I promise we won't take so much time on the rest of the verses.
What profit hath a man in all of the labor which he taketh under the sun? ( Ecclesiastes 1:3 )
Looking at a man and all of the things he's doing, all of the pursuits, all of the labor, what profit is there? And now he turns into the cycles of life. It seems that life just moves in cycles, monotonous cycles. You can't escape it. You're in the cycle and someday you're just going to pass out of the cycle.
One generation passes away, another generation comes: but the earth abides for ever. The sun rises, the sun goes down, and it comes back around to the place where it rose from. The wind goes toward the south, turns about, comes to the north; it whirls about continually, the wind returns again in its circuits. All of the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labor; man cannot [understand it or] utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: there is no new thing under the sun ( Ecclesiastes 1:4-9 ).
Life just moves in cycles. History repeats itself and the cycles of life go on. The cycle of one generation following another. The sun or the earth actually in its orbit and spinning on its axis, and its relationship to the sun. The wind, the rivers, life just moves in monotonous cycles.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, Look, this is new? Hey, it's already been from old time, which was before us ( Ecclesiastes 1:10 ).
There's nothing really more discouraging than to think that you've got some new inspiration and revelation from God. "Oh, this is great. No one's ever seen this before. Oh, what an understanding." And then you pick up some old commentary written by one of the saints back in 1849 and he says the same thing that you just discovered. There's nothing new. Life moves in cycles.
There is no remembrance of the former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of the things that shall come with those that shall come after ( Ecclesiastes 1:11 ).
Life just moves in cycles.
Now I the Preacher [the Debater] was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I gave my heart to seek out and to search out by wisdom concerning all of the things that were done under heaven: and this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. And I have seen all the works that are done under the sun ( Ecclesiastes 1:12-14 );
That's one of your key phrases now. Life on the human plane, not on the divine, on the human plane under the sun.
and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered ( Ecclesiastes 1:14-15 ).
Now, this is life on the human plane. If it's crooked, if a man's life is crooked, it can't be made straight. It is interesting that the Greek philosophers concluded that redemption of man was impossible. That once a man had gone wrong, gone bad, that there was no way of changing him. That which is crooked cannot be made straight.
It is also very interesting to read of Jesus Christ in Luke's gospel, chapter 3, as He is proclaiming the new kingdom, or actually it is the words of the prophet proclaiming the things of the kingdom as Simeon or as John the Baptist was declaring concerning the ministry of Jesus that was to come, he said, "Every valley shall be filled, every mountain and every hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough made smooth." The redemption through Jesus Christ, Luke 3:5 . But on the human level, no. On the divine level, you bet.
I communed with my own heart ( Ecclesiastes 1:16 ),
I wasn't communing with God. I wasn't seeking God. I was communing with my own heart. I was using now and exercising now earthly wisdom. He was in TM.
saying, Lo, I am come to a great estate, I have gotten more wisdom than all of they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yes, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is [frustrating or] vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow ( Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 ).
Now, it is very interesting to me today as we study the evolutionary processes of the philosophical systems of man, a history of philosophy is an interesting course to take, because as you follow the history of philosophy and see the development of the philosophical thought, we come finally to this present state of the philosophical thought expressed in existentialism. That there is no universal base of good or evil. Every man must experience truth for himself, but there is no universal truth. The philosophers have concluded with all of their study that in reality is only despair. And reality will lead you to despair. Thus, the philosophers, being brought to despair by their philosophy, declare that it is necessary for each man to take his own leap of faith into unreality in order to escape the despair that only exists in reality.
So you have to take a leap of faith hoping to have some kind of an experience that there is no way of rationalizing or explaining. That's why TM is so popular today. It's the leap of faith into a non-reasoned religious experience. That's why your eastern religions are so popular today and gaining popularity, because they are a leap of faith into non-reason religious experience which philosophy has taught us is necessary because with much knowledge is much sorrow. They've come to the same conclusion that Solomon came to years ago. Years ago before the whole history of philosophy ever began, Solomon had gone through the whole system of thought that has brought philosophy through its whole history to this final conclusion that Solomon reached thousands, three thousand years ago: that in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Now as kids we used to understand a certain aspect of the futility of education. We used to write in our textbooks, "The more you study, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more you forget. The more you forget, the less you know. So what's the use of studying?" But Solomon said, "Hey, with much understanding, increasing your knowledge is only going to increase your sorrow."
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:14". "Chuck Smith Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/ecclesiastes-1.html. 2014.
1. Solomon’s investigation of human achievement 1:12-15
Solomon had unique resources for investigating life. He was the king of Israel (Ecclesiastes 1:12), and he possessed superlative wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:13; cf. Ecclesiastes 1:16; 1 Kings 4:26-34). He says he made a comprehensive study of all kinds of human activities (Ecclesiastes 1:14). He observed that they were all a "grievous task" (Ecclesiastes 1:13; cf. Ecclesiastes 4:8; Ecclesiastes 5:14), namely, difficult and disappointing. "Striving [chasing] after wind" (Ecclesiastes 1:14) graphically pictures the futility Solomon sought to communicate (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:11; Ecclesiastes 2:17; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 4:4; Ecclesiastes 4:6; Ecclesiastes 6:9). This phrase occurs frequently in Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 6:9 and is a structural marker that indicates the end of a subsection of Solomon’s thought (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:11; Ecclesiastes 2:17; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 4:4; Ecclesiastes 4:6; Ecclesiastes 4:16; Ecclesiastes 6:9).
Solomon was saying that there is no type of effort or activity that can produce something ultimately permanent and therefore satisfying. There is nothing people can do that will yield this, no type of work or activity.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:14". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/ecclesiastes-1.html. 2012.
I have seen all the works that are done under the sun,.... All things done by the Lord, that were on the earth, and in it, and in the sea; he considered them, and endeavoured to search into the nature of them; and did attain to a very great knowledge of them, so that he could speak of them to the instruction of others; see 1 Kings 4:33; and all that were done by men, by their head, or by their hands; all that were written or wrought by them; all their philosophical works and experiments, and all their mechanic operations; as well as all their good and bad works, in a moral sense; so the Targum,
"I saw all the deeds of the children of men, which are done under the sun in this world;''
and, behold, all [is] vanity and vexation of spirit; not only the things known, but the knowledge of them; it is mere vanity, there is nothing solid and substantial in it, or that can make a man happy; yea, on the contrary, it is vexatious and distressing; it is not only a weariness to the flesh to obtain it, but, in the reflection of it, gives pain and uneasiness to the mind: it is a "breaking of the spirit" n of the man, as the Targum, Jarchi, and Alshech, interpret the phrase; it wastes and consumes his spirit, as well as his time, and all to no purpose; it is, as some ancient Greek versions and others render it, and not amiss, a "feeding on wind" o; what is useless and unprofitable, and like labouring for that; see Hosea 12:1 Ecclesiastes 5:16; and so Aben Ezra.
n רעות רוח "affiictio spiritus", V. L. Junius Tremellius "contritio spiritus", so some in Vatablus. o νομη ανεμου, Aquila; "pastio venti", Mercerus, Piscator, Gejerus, Amama.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:14". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ecclesiastes-1.html. 1999.
|Vanity of Human Wisdom.|| |
12 I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. 14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. 15 That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. 16 I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. 17 And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. 18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
Solomon, having asserted in general that all is vanity, and having given some general proofs of it, now takes the most effectual method to evince the truth of it, 1. By his own experience; he tried them all, and found them vanity. 2. By an induction of particulars; and here he begins with that which bids fairest of all to be the happiness of a reasonable creature, and that is knowledge and learning; if this be vanity, every thing else must needs be so. Now as to this,
I. Solomon tells us here what trial he had made of it, and that with such advantages that, if true satisfaction could have been found in it, he would have found it. 1. His high station gave him an opportunity of improving himself in all parts of learning, and particularly in politics and the conduct of human affairs, Ecclesiastes 1:12; Ecclesiastes 1:12. He that is the preacher of this doctrine was king over Israel, whom all their neighbours admired as a wise and understanding people,Deuteronomy 4:6. He had his royal seat in Jerusalem, which then deserved, better than Athens ever did, to be called the eye of the world. The heart of a king is unsearchable; he has reaches of his own, and a divine sentence is often in his lips. It is his honour, it is his business, to search out every matter. Solomon's great wealth and honour put him into a capacity of making his court the centre of learning and the rendezvous of learned men, of furnishing himself with the best of books, and either conversing or corresponding with all the wise and knowing part of mankind then in being, who made application to him to learn of him, by which he could not but improve himself; for it is in knowledge as it is in trade, all the profit is by barter and exchange; if we have that to say which will instruct others, they will have that to say which will instruct us. Some observe how slightly Solomon speaks of his dignity and honour. He does not say, I the preacher am king, but I was king, no matter what I am. He speaks of it as a thing past, because worldly honours are transitory. 2. He applied himself to the improvement of these advantages, and the opportunities he had of getting wisdom, which, though ever so great, will not make a man wise unless he give his mind to it. Solomon gave his heart to seek and search out all things to be known by wisdom,Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 1:13. He made it his business to acquaint himself with all the things that are done under the sun, that are done by the providence of God or by the art and prudence of man. He set himself to get all the insight he could into philosophy and mathematics, into husbandry and trade, merchandise and mechanics, into the history of former ages and the present state of other kingdoms, their laws, customs, and policies, into men's different tempers, capacities, and projects, and the methods of managing them; he set himself not only to seek, but to search, to pry into, that which is most intricate, and which requires the closes application of mind and the most vigorous and constant prosecution. Though he was a prince, he made himself a drudge to learning, was not discouraged by its knots, nor took up short of its depths. And this he did, not merely to gratify his own genius, but to qualify himself for the service of God, and his generation, and to make an experiment how far the enlargement of the knowledge would go towards the settlement and repose of the mind. 3. He made a very great progress in his studies, wonderfully improved all the parts of learning, and carried his discoveries much further than any that had been before him. He did not condemn learning, as many do, because they cannot conquer it and will not be at the pains to make themselves masters of it; no, what he aimed at he compassed; he saw all the works that were done under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:14; Ecclesiastes 1:14), works of nature in the upper and lower world, all within this vortex (to use the modern gibberish) which has the sun for its centre, works of art, the product of men's wit, in a personal or social capacity. He had as much satisfaction in the success of his searches as ever any man had; he communed with his own heart concerning his attainments in knowledge, with as much pleasure as ever any rich merchant had in taking account of his stock. He could say, "Lo, I have magnified and increased wisdom, have not only gotten more of it myself, but have done more to propagate it and bring it into reputation, than any, than all that have been before me in Jerusalem." Note, It becomes great men to be studious, and delight themselves most in intellectual pleasures. Where God gives great advantages of getting knowledge he expects improvements accordingly. It is happy with a people when their princes and noblemen study to excel others as much in wisdom and useful knowledge as they do in honour and estate; and they may do that service to the commonwealth of learning by applying themselves to the studies that are proper for them which meaner persons cannot do. Solomon must be acknowledged as competent judge of this matter, for he had not only got his head full of notions, but his heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge, of the power and benefit of knowledge, as well as the amusement and entertainment of it; what he knew he had digested, and knew how to make use of. Wisdom entered into his heart, and so became pleasant to his soul,Proverbs 2:10; Proverbs 2:11; Proverbs 22:18. 4. He applied his studies especially to that part of learning which is most serviceable to the conduct of human life, and consequently is the most valuable (Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 1:17): "I gave my heart to know the rules and dictates of wisdom, and how I might obtain it; and to know madness and folly, how I might prevent and cure it, to know the snares and insinuations of it, that I might avoid them, and guard against them, and discover its fallacies." So industrious was Solomon to improve himself in knowledge that he gained instruction both by the wisdom of prudent men and by the madness of foolish men, by the field of the slothful, as well as of the diligent.
II. He tells us what was the result of this trial, to confirm what he had said, that all is vanity.
1. He found that his searches after knowledge were very toilsome, and a weariness not only to the flesh, but to the mind (Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 1:13): This sore travail, this difficulty that there is in searching after truth and finding it, God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted therewith, as a punishment for our first parents' coveting forbidden knowledge. As bread for the body, so that for the soul, must be got and eaten in the sweat of our face, whereas both would have been had with out labour if Adam had not sinned.
2. He found that the more he saw of the works done under the sun the more he saw of their vanity; nay, and the sight often occasioned him vexation of spirit (Ecclesiastes 1:14; Ecclesiastes 1:14): "I have seen all the works of a world full of business, have observed what the children of men are doing; and behold, whatever men think of their own works, I see all is vanity and vexation of spirit." He had before pronounced all vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2; Ecclesiastes 1:2), needless and unprofitable, and that which does us no good; here he adds, It is all vexation of spirit, troublesome and prejudicial, and that which does us hurt. It is feeding upon wind; so some read it, Hosea 12:1. (1.) The works themselves which we see done are vanity and vexation to those that are employed in them. There is so much care in the contrivance of our worldly business, so much toil in the prosecution of it, and so much trouble in the disappointments we meet with in it, that we may well say, It is vexation of spirit. (2.) The sight of them is vanity and vexation of spirit to the wise observer of them. The more we see of the world the more we see to make us uneasy, and, with Heraclitus, to look upon all with weeping eyes. Solomon especially perceived that the knowledge of wisdom and folly was vexation of spirit,Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 1:17. It vexed him to see many that had wisdom not use it, and many that had folly not strive against it. It vexed him when he knew wisdom to see how far off it stood from the children of men, and, when he saw folly, to see how fast it was bound in their hearts.
3. He found that when he had got some knowledge he could neither gain that satisfaction to himself nor do that good to others with it which he expected, Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 1:15. It would not avail, (1.) To redress the many grievances of human life: "After all, I find that that which is crooked will be crooked still and cannot be made straight." Our knowledge is itself intricate and perplexed; we must go far about and fetch a great compass to come at it. Solomon thought to find out a nearer way to it, but he could not. The paths of learning are as much a labyrinth as ever they were. The minds and manners of men are crooked and perverse. Solomon thought, with his wisdom and power together, thoroughly to reform his kingdom, and make that straight which he found crooked; but he was disappointed. All the philosophy and politics in the world will not restore the corrupt nature of man to its primitive rectitude; we find the insufficiency of them both in others and in ourselves. Learning will not alter men's natural tempers, nor cure them of their sinful distempers; nor will it change the constitution of things in this world; a vale of tears it is and so it will be when all is done. (2.) To make up the many deficiencies in the comfort of human life: That which is wanting there cannot be numbered, or counted out to us from the treasures of human learning, but what is wanting will still be so. All our enjoyments here, when we have done our utmost to bring them to perfection, are still lame and defective, and it cannot be helped; as they are, so they are likely to be. That which is wanting in our knowledge is so much that it cannot be numbered. The more we know the more we see of our own ignorance. Who can understand his errors, his defects?
4. Upon the whole, therefore, he concluded that great scholars do but make themselves great mourners; for in much wisdom is much grief,Ecclesiastes 1:18; Ecclesiastes 1:18. There must be a great deal of pains taken to get it, and a great deal of care not to forget it; the more we know the more we see there is to be known, and consequently we perceive with greater clearness that our work is without end, and the more we see of our former mistakes and blunders, which occasions much grief. The more we see of men's different sentiments and opinions (and it is that which a great deal of our learning is conversant about) the more at a loss we are, it may be, which is in the right. Those that increase knowledge have so much the more quick and sensible perception of the calamities of this world, and for one discovery they make that is pleasing, perhaps, they make ten that are displeasing, and so they increase sorrow. Let us not therefore be driven off from the pursuit of any useful knowledge, but put on patience to break through the sorrow of it; but let us despair of finding true happiness in this knowledge, and expect it only in the knowledge of God and the careful discharge of our duty to him. He that increases in heavenly wisdom, and in an experimental acquaintance with the principles, powers, and pleasures of the spiritual and divine life, increases joy, such as will shortly be consummated in everlasting joy.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:14". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/ecclesiastes-1.html. 1706.
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26