Ecclesiastes 2

 

 

Vanity of Striving After Pleasure and Wealth (vs. 1-11)

 

1 “I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth,

therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.”

Dissatisfied with the result of the pursuit of wisdom, Koheleth

embarks on a course of sensual pleasure, if so be this may yield some effect

more substantial and permanent. I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will

prove thee with mirth. The heart is addressed as the seat of the emotions

and affections. The Vulgate misses the direct address to the heart, which

the words, rightly interpreted, imply, translating, Vadam et offluam

delieiis. The Septuagint correctly gives, Deu~ro dh< peira>sw se ejn

eujfrosu>nh|  - Deuro dae peiraso se en euphrosunae – Come now, I

will test you with mirth.  It is like the rich fool’s language in Christ’s parable,

“I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years;

take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). Therefore enjoy

pleasure; literally, see good (ch.  6:6). “To see” is often used

figuratively in the sense of “to experience, or enjoy.” Compare the

expressions, “see death” (Luke 2:26), “see life” (John 3:36). We

may find the like in Psalm 34:13; Jeremiah 29:32; Obadiah 1:13

(compare ch.9:9). The king now tries to find the summum

bonum in pleasure, in selfish enjoyment without thought of others.

Commentators, as they saw Stoicism in the first chapter, so read

Epieureanism into this. We shall have occasion to refer to this idea further

on (see on ch.3:22). Of this new experiment the result was the same as before.

Behold, this also is vanity. This experience is confirmed in the next verse.

 

2 “I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?” 

I said of laughter, It is mad. Laughter and mirth are personified, hence treated

as masculine. He uses the term “mad” in reference to the statement in ch.1:17,

“I gave my heart to know madness and folly.” Septuagint, “I said to laughter,

Error (perifora>n periphoran - foolishness);” Vulgate, Risum reputavi errorem.

Neither of these is as accurate as the Authorized Version. Of mirth, What doeth it?

What does it effect towards real happiness and contentment? How does it help to

fill the void, to give lasting satisfaction? So we have in Proverbs 14:13,

“Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of mirth is heaviness;”

though the context is different. The Vulgate renders loosely, Quid frustra

deeiperis?

 

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.”  I sought in mine heart; literally, I spied out (as ch.1:13)

in my heart. Having proved the fruitlessness of some sort of sensual pleasure,

he made another experiment in a philosophical spirit. To give myself unto wine;

literally, to draw (mashak) my flesh with wine; i.e. to use the attraction of the

pleasures of the table. Yet acquainting my heart with wisdom. This is a

parenthetical clause, “While my heart was acting [guiding] with wisdom.”

That is, while, as it were, experimenting with pleasure, he still retained

sufficient control over his passions as not to be wholly given over to vice;

he was in the position of one who is being carried down an impetuous

stream, yet has the power of stopping his headlong course before it

becomes fatal to him. (However, not everyone has such an ending!

Consider the countless misfortunate souls whose life became shipwreck

after taking the first drink!  - CY – 2013).  Such control was given by wisdom.

Deliberately to enter upon a course of self-indulgence, even with a possibly

good intention, must be a most perilous flirting with sin, and one which would

leave indelible marks upon the soul; and not one person in a hundred would be

able to stop short of ruin, The historical Solomon, by his experiment,

suffered infinite loss, which nothing could compensate. The Septuagint

renders not very successfully, “I examined whether my heart would draw

(eJlku>sei - elkusei) my flesh as wine; and my heart guided me in wisdom.”

The Vulgate gives a sense entirely contrary to the writer’s intention; “I thought

in my heart to withdraw my flesh from wine, that I might transfer my mind

to wisdom.” And to lay hold on folly. These words are dependent upon “I

sought in my heart,” and refer to the sensual pleasures in which he indulged

for a certain object. Till I might see. His purpose was to discover if there was

in these things any real good which might satisfy men’s cravings, and be a

worthy object for them to pursue all the days of their life.

 

4 “I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:”

This commences a new experience in the pursuit of his object.

Leaving this life of self-indulgence, he takes to art and culture, the details

being drawn from the accounts of the historical Solomon. I made me

great works; literally, I made great my works; Septuagint, jEmega>luna

poi>hma>  - Emegaluna poiaema mou) - Vulgate, Magnificavi opera mea.

Among these works the temple, with all its wonderful structural preparations,

is not specially mentioned, perhaps because no one could think of Solomon

without connecting his name with this magnificent building, and it was

superfluous to call attention to it; or else because the religious aspect of his

operations is not here in question, but only his taste and pursuit of beauty. I

builded me houses. Solomon had a passion for erecting magnificent

buildings. We have various accounts of his works of this nature in I Kings

7. and 9.; II Chronicles 8. There was the huge palace for himself, which

occupied thirteen years in building; there was the “house of the forest of

Lebanon,” a splendid hall constructed with pillars of cedar; the porch of

pillars; the hall of judgment; the harem for the daughter of Pharaoh. Then

there were fortresses, store-cities, chariot-towns, national works of great

importance; cities in distant lands which he founded, such as Tadmor in the

wilderness. I planted me vineyards. David had vineyards and olive yards

(I Chronicles 27:27-28), which passed into the possession of his son;

and we read in Song of Solomon 8:11 of a vineyard that Solomon had

in Baal-hamon, which some identify with Belamon (Judith 8:3), a place

near Shunem, in the Plain of Esdraelon.

 

5 “I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all

kind of fruits:” I made me gardens and orchards. Solomon’s love of gardens

appears throughout the Canticles (Song of Solomon 6:2, etc.). He had

a king’s garden on the slope of the hills south of the city (II Kings

25:4); and Beth-hacchemm, “the House of the Vine,” at Ain Karim, about

six miles east of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 6:1); and at Baal-hamon another

extensive vineyard (Song of Solomon 8:11). The word rendered

orchard” (parder) occurs also in Song of Solomon 4:13 and

Nehemiah 2:8. It is a Persian word, and passed into the Greek form

para>deiov paradeios)  (Xenophon, ‘Anab.,’ 1:2.7), meaning “a park”

planted with forest and fruit trees, and containing herds of animals. It is

probably derived from the Zend oairidaeza,” an enclosure.” (For the trees in

such parks, see Song of Solomon 4:13-14; and for an estimate of Solomon’s

works, Josephus, ‘Ant.,’ 8:7. 3.)

 

6 “I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that

bringeth forth trees:”  Pools of water. Great care was exercised by Solomon

to provide his capital with water, and vast operations were undertaken for this

purpose. “The king’s pool,” mentioned in Nehemiah 2:14, may have

been constructed by him (Josephus, ‘Bell. Jud.,’ 5:4. 2); but the most

celebrated work ascribed to him is the water-supply at Etham, southwest

of Bethlehem, and the aqueduct leading from thence to Jerusalem. Most

modern travelers have described these pools. They are three in number,

and, according to Robinson’s measurement, are of immense size. The first,

to the east, is 582 feet long, 207 wide, and 50 deep; the second, 432 by

250, and 39 feet deep; the third, 380 by 236, and 25 feet deep. They are all,

however, narrower at the upper end, and widen out gradually, flowing one

into the other. There is a copious spring led into the uppermost pool from

the north-east, but this supply is augmented by other sources now choked

and ruined. The water from the pools was conveyed round the ridge on

which Bethlehem stands in earthen pipes to Jerusalem. Dr. Thomson (‘The

Land and the Book,’ p. 326) says, “Near that city it was carried along the

west side of the Valley of Gihon to the north-western end of the lower

Pool of Gihon, where it crossed to the east side, and, winding round the

southern declivity of Zion below Neby Daud, finally entered the southeastern

corner of the temple area, where the water was employed in the

various services of the sanctuary.” Etham is, with good reason, identified

with the beautiful valley of Urtas, which lies southwest of Bethlehem, in

the immediate neighborhood of the pools of Solomon. The fountain near

the present village watered the gardens and orchards which were planted

here, the terraced hills around were covered with vines, figs, and olives,

and the prospect must have been delightful and refreshing in that thirsty

land. To water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees; Revised

Version, to water therefrom the forest where trees were reared; literally, in

order to irrigate a wood sprouting forth trees; i.e. a nursery of saplings. So

we read how the Garden of Eden was watered (Genesis 2:10; 13:10)

a most necessary feature in Eastern countries, where streams and pools

are not constructed for picturesque reasons, but for material uses.

 

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:” I got me — I bought, procured — servants

and maidens. These are distinct from those mentioned immediately afterwards,

servants born in my house; Septuagint, oijkogenei~v oikogeneis  called in the

Hebrew, “sons of the house” (Genesis 15:3). They were much more esteemed by

their masters, and showed a much closer attachment to the family than the

bought slaves or the conquered aboriginals, who were often reduced to this

state (I  Kings 9:20-21). The number of Solomon’s attendants excited

the wonder of the Queen of Sheba (I Kings 4:26, etc.; 10:5), and with

good reason, if Josephus’s account is to be believed. This writer asserts

that the king had some thousand or more chariots, and twenty thousand

horses. The drivers and riders were young men of comely aspect, tall and

well-made; they had long flowing hair, and wore tunics of Tyrian purple,

and powdered their hair with gold dust, which glittered in the rays of the

sun (‘Ant.,’ 8:7. 3). Attended by a cavalcade thus arrayed, Solomon used

to betake himself to his “paradise” at Etham, to enjoy the refreshing

coolness of its trees and pools. Great and small cattle; oxen and sheep.

The enormous amount of Solomon’s herds and flocks is proved by the

extraordinary multitude of the sacrifices at the consecration of the temple

(I Kings 8:63), and the lavish provision made daily for the wants of his

table (Ibid. ch.4:22-23). The cattle of David were very numerous, and

required special overlookers (I Chronicles 27:29-31). Job (Job 1:3)

had, before his troubles, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five

hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and these items were all

doubled at the return of his prosperity (Job 42:12-17).  Among Solomon’s

possessions, horses are not here mentioned, though they formed no

inconsiderable portion of his live stock, and added greatly to his magnificence.

Koheleth, perhaps, avoided boasting of this extravagance in consideration of

the religious sentiment which was strongly opposed to such a feature. That

were in Jerusalem before me (so v. 9; see ch.1:16). But the reference here

may not necessarily be to kings, but to chieftains and rich men, who were

celebrated for the extent of their possessions.

 

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.”

I gathered me also silver and gold. Much is said of the wealth

of the historical Solomon, who had all his vessels of gold, armed his bodyguard

with golden shields, sat on an ivory throne overlaid with gold, received tribute and

presents of gold from all quarters, sent his navies to distant lands to import precious

metals, and made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones (see I Kings 9:28; 10:14-27;

II Chronicles 1:15; 9:20-27). The peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces.

The word rendered “the provinces” (hammedinoth), in spite of the article,

seems to mean, not the twelve districts into which Solomon divided his

kingdom for fiscal and economical purposes (I Kings 4:7, etc.), but

countries generally exterior to Palestine, with which he had commercial or

political relations, and which sent to him the productions for which they

were each most celebrated. So the districts of the Persian empire were

required to furnish the monarch with a certain portion of their chief

commodities. His friendship with Hiram of Tyre brought him into

connection with the Phoenicians, the greatest commercial nation of

antiquity, and through them he accumulated riches and stores from distant

and various lands beyond the limits of the Mediterranean Sea. The word

hn;ydim] (medinah) occurs again in ch. 5:7 and in I Kings 20:14, etc.; but is

found elsewhere only in exilian or post-exilian books (e.g. Lamentations 1:1;

Esther 1:1; Daniel 2:48, etc.). The “kings” may be the tributary monarchs, such

as those of Arabia (I Kings 4:21, 24; 10:15); or the expression in the text may

imply simply such treasure as only kings, and not private persons, could possess.

Men singers and women singers. These, of course, are not the choir of the

temple, of which women formed no part, but musicians introduced at

banquets and social festivals, to enhance the pleasures of the scene. They

are mentioned in David’s days (II Samuel 19:35) and later (see Isaiah 5:12;

Amos 6:5. The females who took part in these performances were generally of an

abandoned class; hence the, warning of Ben-Sira, “Use not much the company of

a woman that is a singer, lest thou be taken with her attempts” (Ecclesiasticus. 9:4).

Such exhibitions were usually accompanied with dancing, the character of which in

Eastern countries is well known. The Jews, as time went on, learned to tolerate

many customs and practices, imported often from other lands, which

tended to lower morality and self-respect. And the delights of the sons of

men; the sensual pleasures that men enjoy. The expression is euphemistic

(compare Song of Solomon 7:6). Musical instruments, and that of all

sorts (shiddah veshiddoth). The word (given here first in the singular

number and then in the plural emphatically to express multitude) occurs

nowhere else, and has, therefore, been subjected to various interpretations.

The Septuagint gives, oijnoco>on kai< oijnoco>av - oinochoon kai oinochoas

male and female singers  and so the Syrian and. Vulgate, Scyphos et urceos in

ministerio ad vina fundenda — which introduces rather a bathos into the

description. After the clause immediately preceding, one might expect

mention of Solomon’s numerous harem (I Kings 11:3; Song of Solomon 6:8),

and most modern commentators consider the word to mean

concubine,” the whole expression denoting multiplicity, “wife and wives.”

The Authorized Version is not very probable, has, susthma kai< susth>mata

sustaema kai sustaemata - a musical term signifying “combination of tones,” or

harmony. Other interpretations are “captives,” “litters,” “coaches,” “baths,”

treasures,” “chests,” “demons.”  Connecting the two clauses together, we

should render, “And in a word, all the delights of the sons of men in abundance.”

This seems a more appropriate termination to the catalogue than any specification

of further sources of pleasure; but there is no very strong etymological reason to

recommend it; and we can hardly suppose that, in the enumeration of

Solomon’s prodigalities, his multitudinous seraglio would be omitted.

Rather it comes in here naturally as the climax and completion of his

pursuit of earthly delight.

 

9 “So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in

Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.” So I was great (see on

ch.1:16). This refers to the magnificence and extent of his possessions and luxury,

as the former passage to the surpassing excellence of his wisdom. We may compare

the mention of Abraham (Genesis 26:13), “The man waxed great, and grew

more and more until he became very great” (compare Job 1:3). Also my

wisdom remained with me; perseveravit mecum (Vulgate); ejsta>qh moi

estathae moi – my wisdom remained with me - (Septuagint). In accordance

with the purpose mentioned in v. 3, he retained command of himself, studying

philosophically the effects and nature of the pleasures of which he partook, and

keeping ever in view the object of his pursuit. Voluptuousness was not the end

which he sought, but one of the means to obtain the end; and what he calls his

wisdom is not pure Divine wisdom that comes from above, but an earthly

prudence and self-restraint.

 

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 labor:

and this was my portion of all my labor.”  Whatsoever mine eyes desired.

The lust of the eyes (I John 2:16), all that he saw and desired, he took measures

to obtain. He denied himself no gratification, however foolish (v. 3). For my heart

rejoiced in all my labor; i.e. found joy in what my labor procured for it

(compare Proverbs 5:18). This was the reason why he withheld not his

heart from any joy; kept it, as it were, ready to taste any pleasure which

his exertions might obtain. This was my portion of all my labor. Such joy

was that which he won from his labor, he had his reward, such as it was

(Matthew 6:2; Luke 16:25). This term “portion” (cheleq) recurs

often (e.g. v. 21; ch.3:22; 5:18) in the sense of the result obtained by labor

or conduct. And what a meager and unsatisfying result it was which

 he gained!  Contrast the apostle’s teaching, All that is in the world,

the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,

 is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away,

and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever”

(I John 2:16-17).

 

11 “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on

the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and

vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” Then I looked on

I turned to contemplateall the works which my hands had wrought.

He examined carefully the effects of the conduct and proceedings mentioned in

vs. 1-10, and he now gives his matured judgment concerning them. They had

contributed nothing to his anxious inquiry for man’s real good. His

sorrowful conclusion again is that all was vanity, a hunting of wind; in all the

pursuits and labors that men undertake there is no real profit (ch.1:3), no

lasting happiness, nothing to satisfy the cravings of the spirit.

(It is very obvious to me that God purposefully created us this way,  TO

WHERE WE CANNOT, NOR EVER WILL BE CONTENT,

WITHOUT HIM AND WITHOUT DOING HIS WILL!  CERTAINLY,

HELL WILL BE INCAPABLE OF SATISFYING  THIS CRAVING!

CY – 2013)

 

 

   The Vanity of Pleasure — an Experiment in Three Stages (vs. 1-11)

 

  • THE WAY OF SENSUOUS ENJOYMENT. (vs. 1-2.) In this first

stage Solomon, whether the real or the personated king, may be viewed as

the representative of mankind in general, who, when they cast aside the

teachings and restraints of religion:

 

        • EXCLUDE FROM THEIR MINDS THE

THOUGHT OF A DIVINE BEING,  

        • erase from their bosoms all convictions of duty,
        • refuse to look into the future, and
        • commonly addict themselves to pleasure,

 

saying, “Enjoyment, be thou my god;” prescribing to themselves as

the foremost task of their lives to minister to their own gratification, and

adopting as their creed the well-known maxim, “Let us eat and drink;

 for to-morrow we die” (I Corinthians 15:32).

 

Ø      The investigation was vigorously conducted. The Preacher was in

earnest, not merely thinking in his heart, but addressing it, rather like the

rich farmer in the parable (Luke 12:19) than like the singer in the psalm

(Psalm 16:2), and stirring it up as the brick makers of Babel did one

another: “Go to now!” (Genesis 11:3-4). That the investigation was so

conducted by the real Solomon may be inferred from the preserved

details of his history (I  Kings 10:5; 11:1, 3); that it has often been so

conducted since, not merely in fiction, as by Goethe’s ‘Faust,’ but in

actual life, as by ‘Abelard and Heloise’ in the eleventh century, admits

of demonstration; that it is being at present so conducted by many

whose principal aim in life is not to obey the soul’s noblest

 impulses, but to hamper the body’s lower appetite, is palpable

without demonstration.

 

Ø      The result has been clearly recorded. The Preacher found the way of

pleasure as little fitted to conduct to felicity as that of wisdom; discovered,

in fact, that laughter occasioned by indulgence in sensual delights

was only A SPECIES OF INSANITY, a kind of delirious

intoxication which stupefied the reason and overthrew the

 judgment, if it did not lead to SELF-DESTRUCTION,

and that no solid happiness ever came out of it, but only VANITY

 and STRIVING AFTER WIND.   So has EVERY ONE who has

sought his chief good in such enjoyment found. They who live in pleasure

are dead while they live (I Timothy 5:6) — dead to all the soul’s higher

aspirations; are self-deceived (Titus 3:3); and will in the end have A

RUDE AWAKENING,  when they find that THEIR SHORT-

LIVED PLEASURES (Hebrews 11:25) have only been

NOURISHING THEM FOR SLAUGHTER! (James 5:5).

 

  • THE WAY OF BANQUETING AND REVELRY. (v. 3.) In this

second stage of the experiment, neither Solomon nor the Preacher (if he

was different) stood alone. The path on which the ancient investigator now

depicts himself as entering had been and still is:

 

Ø      Much traveled. The number of those who abandon themselves to wine

and wassail, drunkenness and dissipation, chambering and wantonness,

may not be so great as that of those who join in the pursuit of pleasure,

many of whom would disdain to partake of the intoxicating cup; but still

it is sufficiently large to justify the epithet employed.

 

Ø      Appallingly fatal. Apart altogether from the rightness or the

wrongness of total abstinence, which the Preacher is not commending

or even thinking of, this much is evident, that no one need hope to

secure true happiness by surrendering himself without restraint to

the appetite of intemperance.  Nor is the issue different when the

experiment is conducted with moderation, i.e. without losing one’s

self-control, or abandoning the search for wisdom. Solomon and

the Preacher found that the result was, as before VANITY and

A STRIVING AFTER THE WIND.

 

Ø      Perfectly avoidable. One requires not to tread in this way in order to

perceive whither it leads. One has only to observe the experiment, as

others are unfortunately conducting it (“Surely in vain the net is

spread in the sight of any bird”  (Proverbs 1:17),  to discern

that its goal is not felicity.

 

·        THE WAY OF CULTURE AND REFINEMENT. (vs. 4-11.) In

the third stage of this experiment the picture is drawn from the experiences

of Solomon — whether by Solomon himself or by the Preacher is

immaterial, so far as didactic purposes are concerned. Solomon is

introduced as telling his own story.

 

Ø      His magnificence had been most resplendent.

 

o       His works were great. He had prepared for himself buildings

of architectural beauty, such as “the house of the forest of

Lebanon, the pillared hall [porch], the hall of judgment,

 the palace intended for himself and the daughter of

Pharaoh” (I Kings 7:1-12); he had strengthened his

kingdom by the erection of such towns as Tadmor in the

wilderness, the store-cities of Hamath and Baalath, with

the two fortresses of Beth-heron the Upper and Beth-heron

the Nether (II Chronicles 8:3-6); he had planted vineyards,

of which Baal-hamon, with its choicest wine, was one

(Song of Solomon 8:11), and perhaps those of Engedi

(Ibid. ch.1:14) others; he had caused to be constructed,

no doubt in connection with his palaces, gardens and

orchards, with all kinds of fruit trees, and “pools of water

to water therefrom the forest where trees were

reared(Ibid. ch.4:13; 6:2).

 

o       His possessions were varied. In addition to those above

mentioned, he had slaves, male and female, purchased with

money (Genesis 37:28), and born in his house (Ibid. ch.15:3;

17:12), with great possessions of flocks and herds. The number

of the former was so large as to excite the Queen of Sheba’s

astonishment (I Kings 10:5), while the abundance of

the latter was proved both by the daily provision for Solomon’s

household (Ibid. ch.4:22-23), and by the hecatombs sacrificed

at the consecration of the temple (Ibid. 8:63).

 

o       His wealth was enormous. Of silver and gold, and the

peculiar treasure of the kings and of the provinces, he had

amassed a heap. The ships of Hiram had fetched him from

Ophir four hundred and twenty talents of gold (I Kings 9:28);

the Queen of Sheba presented him with one hundred

and twenty talents of gold (Ibid. ch.10:10); the weight of

gold which came to him in one year was six hundred and

sixty-six talents (Ibid. v.14); while as for silver “the king

 made it to be in Jerusalem as stones” (Ibid. v.27).

“The peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces”

may either signify such rare and precious jewels as were

prized by foreign sovereigns and states and presented to

him as tribute; or describe Solomon’s wealth as royal and

public, in contradistinction from that of private citizens.

 

o       His pleasures were delicious. He had singing-men and

singing-women to regale his jaded senses with music

 at court banquets, after the manner of Oriental sovereigns;

while over and above he had “the delights of the sons

of men,” or “concubines very many “ — “a love and loves”

mistress and mistresses”  Clearly Solomon had conducted

the experiment of extracting happiness from worldly glory

under the most favorable circumstances; hence special interest

attaches to the result he obtained. What was it?

 

Ø      His misery was most pronounced. Although he had had every

gratification that eye could desire, heart wish, or hand procure,

he had found to his chagrin THAT TRUE HAPPINESS

ELUDED HIM LIKE A PHANTOM;  that all was VANITY

 and A STRIVING AFTER THE WIND; that, in fact, there

was NO PROFIT OF A LASTING KIND TO BE DERIVED

FROM PLEASURE  in its highest any more than in its lowest forms.

 

  • Learn:

 

Ø      The way of pleasure, however inviting, is not the way of safety or the

way of peace.

Ø      While it cannot impart happiness to any, it may lead to

EVERLASTING MISERY AND SHAME!

Ø      The pursuit of pleasure is not only incompatible with religion,

 but even at the best its sweets are not to be compared with

GOD’S CHOICEST BLESSINGS AND JOYS!

 

 

The Vanity of Wealth, Pleasure, and Greatness (vs. 1-11)

 

There is certainly a strange reversal here of the order of experience which

is usual and expected. Men, disappointed with earthly possessions and

satiated with sensual pleasures, sometimes turn to the pursuit of some

engrossing study, to the cultivation of intellectual tastes, But the case

described in the text is different. Here we have a man, convinced by

experience of the futility and disappointing character of scientific and

literary pursuits, applying himself to the world, and seeking satisfaction in

its pleasures and distractions. Such experience as is here described is

possible only to one in a station of eminence; and if Solomon is depicted as

disappointed with the result of his experiment, there is no great

encouragement for others, less favorably situated, to hope for better results

from similar endeavors.  (If a man robs a bank and gets put in jail for thirty

years, why should I attempt the same and expect different results? – CY – 2013)

 

  • THE WORLDLY MAN’S AIM. This is to learn what the human heart

and life can derive from the gifts and enjoyments of this world. Man’s

nature is impulsive, acquisitive, yearning, aspiring. He is ever seeking

satisfaction for his wants and desires. He turns now hither and now thither,

seeking in every direction that which he never finds in anything earthly, in

anything termed “real.”

 

  • THE WORLDLY MAN’S MEANS TO THIS END. How shall

satisfaction be found? The world presents itself in answer to this question,

and invites its votary to acquisition and appropriation of its gifts. This

passage in Ecclesiastes offers a remarkable and exhaustive catalogue of the

emoluments and pleasures, the interests and occupations, with which

 the world PRETENDS TO SATISFY the yearning spirit of man.

There are enumerated:

 

Ø      Bodily pleasure, especially the pleasure of abundance of choice wine.

Ø      Feminine society,

Ø      Riches, consisting of silver and gold, of flocks and herds.

Ø      Great works, as palaces, parks, etc.

Ø      Household magnificence.

Ø      Treasures of art, and especially musical entertainments.

Ø      Study and wisdom, associated with all diversions and distractions

of every kind.

 

It seems scarcely credible that one man could be the possessor of so many

means of enjoyment, and it is not to be wondered at that “Solomon in all

his glory” should be mentioned as the most amazing example of this

world’s greatness and delights. It needed a many-sided nature to appreciate

so vast a variety of possessions and occupations; the largeness of heart

which is ascribed to the Hebrew monarch must have found abundant scope

in the palaces of Jerusalem. It is instructive that Holy Writ, which presents

so just a view of human nature, should record a position so exalted and

opulent and a career so splendid as those of Solomon.

 

  • THE WORLDLY MAN’S FAILURE TO SECURE THE END BY

THE USE OF THE MEANS DESCRIBED.

 

Ø      All such gratifications as are here enumerated are in themselves

insufficient to satisfy man’s spiritual nature. There is a

disproportion between the soul of man and the pleasures of sense

and the gifts of fortune. Even could the wealth and luxury, the delights

and splendor, of an Oriental monarch be enjoyed, the result would

not be the satisfaction expected. There would still be the ACHING

VOID the world can never fill.”

 

Ø      It must also be remembered that, by a law of our constitution, even

pleasure is not best obtained when consciously and deliberately

sought. (For example, one can get sick by eating too much ice

cream.  – CY – 2013)  To seek pleasure is to miss it, whilst it

often comes unsought in the path of ordinary duty.  (One chases

a butterfly and never can catch it, but by sitting still, it will come

and light on your nose.  – CY – 2013)

 

Ø      When regarded as the supreme good, worldly possessions and

enjoyments may HIDE GOD FROM THE SOUL!   They obscure

the shining of the Divine countenance, as the clouds conceal the sun

that shines behind them.  (“In whom the god of this world hath

blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest THE LIGHT

OF THE GLORIOUS GOSPEL OF CHRIST, WHO IS THE

IMAGE OF GOD, SHOULD SHINE UNTO THEM.” 

(II Corinthians 4:4)  The works of God’s hand sometimes absorb

the interest and attention which are due to their Creator; the bounty

and beneficence of the Giver are sometimes lost sight of by those

who partake of His gifts.  (worship and served the creature

[creation] more than the Creator” (Romans 1:25)

 

Ø      The good things of earth may legitimately be accepted and enjoyed

when received as God’s gifts, and held submissively and gratefully

with a light hand.”  (“But seek ye first the kingdom of God,

and His righteousness; and ALL THESE THINGS shall

be added to thee  - Matthew 6:33).   (“Every good gift and

every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the

Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither

shadow of turning” - James 1:17)  (“For the Lord is a

sun and shield:  the Lord will give grace and glory:

no good thing will He withhold from them that WALK

UPRIGHTLY” - Psalm 84:11)

 

Ø      Earth’s enjoyments may be a true blessing if, failing to satisfy the soul,

they induce the soul to turn from them TO THE LIVING GOD,

in whose favor is life!  (Psalm 30:5)

 

 

Vanity of Wisdom (vs. 12-26)

 

12 “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.”  And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and

madness, and folly (ch.1:17). He studied the three in their mutual

connection and relation, comparing them in their results and effects on

man’s nature and life, and deducing thence their real value. On one side he

set wisdom, on the other the action, and habits which he rightly terms

madness and folly,” and examined them calmly and critically. For what

can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been

already done. Both the Authorized Version and Revised Version render

the passage thus, though the latter, in the margin, gives two alternative

renderings of the second clause, viz. even him whom they made king long

ago, and, as in the Authorized Version margin, in those things which have

been already done. The Septuagint, following a different reading, gives, “For

what man is there who will follow after counsel in whatsoever things he

employed it?” Vulgate, “What is man, said I, that he should be able to

follow the King, his Maker?” Wright, Delitzsch, Nowack, etc., “For what

is the man that is to come after the king whom they made so long ago?”

i.e. who can have greater experience than Solomon made king in old time

amid universal acclamation (I Chronicles 29:22)? or, who can hope to

equal his fame? — which does not seem quite suitable, as it is the abnormal

opportunities of investigation given by his unique position which would be

the point of the query. The Authorized Version gives a fairly satisfactory

(and grammatically unobjectionable) meaning — What can any one effect

who tries the same experiment as the king did? He could not do so under

more favorable conditions, and will only repeat the same process and reach

the same result. But the passage is obscure, and every interpretation has its

own difficulty. If the ki with which the second portion of the passage

begins (“for what,” etc.) assigns the reason or motive of the first portion,

shows what was the design of Koheleth in contrasting wisdom and folly,

the rendering of the Authorized Version is not inappropriate. Many critics

consider that Solomon is here speaking of his successor, asking what kind

of man he will be who comes after him — the man whom some have

already chosen? And certainly there is some ground for this interpretation

in vs. 18-19, where the complaint is that all the king’s greatness and

glory will be left to an unworthy successor. But this view requires the

Solomonic authorship of the book, and makes him to refer to Rehoboam or

some illegitimate usurper. The wording of the text is too general to admit

of this explanation; nor does it exactly suit the immediate context, or duly

connect the two clauses of the verse. It seems best to take the successor,

not as one who comes to the kingdom, but as one who pursues similar

investigations, repeats Koheleth’s experiments.

 

13 “Then (and) I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light

excelleth darkness.” or, there is profit, advantage (peri>sseia perisseia

excels - Septuagint, 1:3) to wisdom over folly, as the advantage of light over

darkness. This result, at any rate, was obtained — he learned that wisdom

had a certain value, that it was as much superior to folly, in its effects on

men, as light is more beneficial than darkness. It is a natural metaphor to

represent spiritual and intellectual development as light, and mental and

moral depravity as darkness (compare Ephesians 5:8; I Thessalonians 5:5).

 

14 “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.”  The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh

in darkness. This clause is closely connected with the preceding verse,

showing how wisdom excelleth folly. The wise man has the eyes of his

heart or understanding enlightened (Ephesians 1:18); he looks into the

nature of things, fixes his regard on what is most important, sees where to

go; while the fool’s eyes are in the ends of the earth (Proverbs 17:24);

he walks on still in darkness, stumbling as he goes, knowing not whither

his road shall take him. And I myself also (I even I) perceived that one

event happeneth to them all. “Event” (mikreh); suna>nthma -  sunantaema -

 (Septuagint); interitus (Vulgate); not chance, but death, the final event.

The word is translated “hap” in Ruth 2:3, and “chance” in I Samuel

6:9; but the connection here points to a definite termination; nor would it

be consistent with Koheleth’s religion to refer this termination to fate or

accident. With all his experience, he could only conclude that in one

important aspect the observed superiority of wisdom to folly was illusory

and vain. He saw with his own eyes, and needed no instructor to teach,

that both wise and fool must succumb to death, the universal leveler.

 

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.” Then (and) said I in my heart (ch.1:16),

As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me. He applies the

general statement of v. 14 to his own case. The end that overtakes the

fool will ere long overtake him; and he proceeds, Why was I then more

wise? Then” (za), may be understood either logically, i.e. in this case,

since such is the fate of wise and foolish; or temporally, at the hour of

death regarded as past. He puts the question — To what end, with what

design, has he been so excessively wise, or, as it may be, wise overmuch

(ch. 7:16)? His wisdom has, as it were, recoiled upon himself

it taught him much, but not content; it made him keen-sighted in seeing

the emptiness of human things, but it satisfied not his cravings. Then I said

in my heart, that this also is vanity. This similarity of fate for

philosopher and fool makes life vain and worthless; or rather, the meaning

may be, if the superiority of wisdom over folly conduces to no other end

than this, that superiority is a vanity. The Septuagint has glossed the passage,

followed herein by the Syriac, “Moreover, I spake in my heart that indeed

this is also vanity, because the fool speaks out of his abundance” — v. 16

giving the substance of the fool’s thoughts. Vulgate, Locutusque cum

mente mea, animadverti quod hoc quoque esset vanitas. Our Hebrew text

does not confirm this interpretation or addition.

 

16 “For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for

ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be

forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.”   For there is no

 remembrance of the wise more than of the fool forever; Revised Version,

more emphatically, for of the wise man, even as of the fool, there is no

 remembrance forever. This, of course, is not absolutely true. There are men

whose names are history, and will endure as long as the world lasts; but speaking

generally, oblivion is the portion of all; posterity soon forgets the wisdom of

one and the folly of another. Where the belief in the future life was not a strong

and animating motive, posthumous fame exercised a potent attraction for many minds.

To be the founder of a long line of descendants, or to leave a record which

should be fresh in the minds of future generations, these were objects of

intense ambition, and valued as worthy of highest aspirations and best

efforts.  But Koheleth shows the vanity of all such hopes; they are based

on sounds which experience PROVES TO BE UNSUBSTANTIAL! 

 Though Solomon’s own fame gives the lie to the statement received without

limitation, yet his reflections might well have taken this turn, and the writer is

quite justified in putting the thought into his mouth, as the king could not

know how subsequent ages would regard his wisdom and attainments.

Seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten.

The clause has been variously translated. Septuagint, “Forasmuch as the

coming days, even all the things, are forgotten;” Vulgate, “And future

times shall cover all things equally with oblivion.” Modern editors give,

“Since in the days that are to come they are all forgotten;” “As in time past,

so in days to come, all will be forgotten.... In the days which are coming [it

will be said by-and-by], The whole of them are long ago forgotten.’” This

is a specimen of the uncertainty of exact interpretation, where the intended

meaning is well ascertained. All (lkh) may refer either to wise and

foolish, or to the circumstances of their lives. And how dieth the wise

man? as the fool. Better taken as one sentence, with an exclamation, How

doth the wise man die with (even as) the fool!  (For “with” (ira), equivalent

to “as,” compare 7:11; Job 9:26; Psalm 106:6.) “How” (Dyae) is sarcastic, as

Isaiah 14:4, or sorrowful, as II Samuel 1:19. The same complaint falls from a

psalmist’s lips, “He seeth that wise men die; the fool and the brutish together

 perish (Psalm 49:10). So David laments the death of the murdered leader,

“Should Abner die as a fool dieth?” (II Samuel 3:33). Plumptre considers that

the author of the Book of Wisdom expands this view with the design of exposing

its fallacy, and introducing a better hope (vs.1-9). But that writer

would not have designated Solomon’s sentiments as those of  (ajsebei~v asebeis

the ungodly), nor foisted these utterances of sensualists and materialists upon

so honored a source. At the same time, it is only as being victims, nil

miserantis Opel, the prey of the pitiless and indiscriminating grave, that the

wise and foolish are placed in the same category. There is the widest

difference between the death-beds of the two, as the experience of any one

who has watched them will testify, the one happy with the consciousness of

duty done honestly, however imperfectly, and bright with the hope of

immortality; the other darkened by vain regrets and shrinking despair,

 or listless in brutish insensibility.

 

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.”

Therefore I hated life; et idcirce taeduit me vitae meae. Be a

man wise or foolish, his life leads only to one end and is soon forgotten;

hence life itself is burdensome and hateful. The bitter complaint of Job

(Job 3:20-26; 6:8-9) is here echoed, though the words DO NOT

POINT TO SUICIDE  as the solution of the riddle. (I recommend

II Samuel 17 – Notes on Suicide – this web site – CY – 2013).  It is the

ennui and  unprofitableness of all life and action in view of the inevitable

conclusion, which is here lamented. Because the work that is wrought under

the sun is grievous unto me; literally, for evil unto me is the work

which is done under the sun. The toil and exertions of men pressed upon him

like a burden too heavy for him to bear.  Septuagint, Ponhro<n ejp ejme< to< poi>hma

Ponaeron ep eme to poiaema – work was grievous. He repeats the

expression, “under the sun,” as if to show that he was regarding human

labor only in its earthly aspect, undertaken and executed for temporal and

selfish considerations alone. The apostle teaches a ‘better lesson, and the

worker who adopts his rule is saved from this crushing disappointment:

Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the

inheritance: ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24). For all is

vanity. He comes back to the same miserable refrain; IT IS ALL

EMPTINESS; A STRIVING AFTER THE WIND!  (See my

comment after v. 11 – CY – 2013)

 

18 “Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because

I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.”  Such had been his

general view of men’s actions; he now brings the thought home to his own case,

which makes his distress more poignant. Yea (and), I hated all my labor which

I had taken under the sun. He is disgusted to reflect upon all the trouble he has

taken in life, when he thinks of what will become of the productions of his genius

and the treasures which he has amassed. Because I should leave it (my labor,

i.e. its results) unto the man that shall be after me. It is impossible that

Solomon could thus have spoken of Rehoboam; and to suppose that he

wrote thus after Jeroboam’s attempt (I Kings 2:26, etc.), and in

contemplation of a possible usurper, is not warranted by any historical

statement, the absolute security of the succession being all along expected,

and the growing discontent being perfectly unknown to, or contemptuously

disregarded by, the king. The sentiment is general, and recurs more than

once; e.g. ch. 4:8; 5:14; 6:2.

 

19 “And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet

shall he have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and

wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also

vanity.”  Who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?

The bitter feeling that he has to leave the fruits of his lifelong labor to

another is aggravated by the thought that he knows not the character of

this successor, whether he will be worthy or not. As the psalmist says, “He

heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them” (Psalm

39:6). Again in the parable, “The things which thou hast prepared, whose

shall they be?” (Luke 12:20). Yet shall he have rule, etc. Whatever may

be his character, he will have free use and control of all that I have gathered

by my labor directed by prudence and wisdom. Vulgate, Domina-bitur in

laboribus meis quibus desudavi et sollicitus fui.

 

20 “Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labor

which I took under the sun.” Therefore I went about to cause my heart

to despair;  Epe>streya ejgw< - epestrepsa ego – I began to cause; I turned;

(Septuagint). in order to examine more closely. So in v. 12 we had, “I turned

myself,” though the verbs are not the same in the two passages, and in the former

the Septuagint has ejpe>bleya epeblepsaI turned myself.  I turned from my

late course of action to give myself up to despair. I lost all hope in labor; it had no

longer any charm or future for me. Septuagint, Tou~ ajpota>xasqai th<n kardi>an

mou ejn panti< mo>cqw| mou tou apotaxasthai taen kardian mou en panti

 mochtho mou – to cause my heart to despair concerning all my labor.

 

21 “For there is a man whose labor is in wisdom, and in knowledge,

and in equity; yet to a man that hath not labored therein shall he

leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.”

For there is a man whose labor is in wisdom. “In,” B], “with,” directed

and performed with wisdom. The author speaks of himself objectively, as

Paul (II Corinthians 12:2) says, “I know a man in Christ,” etc. His complaint

now is, not that his successor may misuse his inheritance (v. 19), but that this

person shall have that on which he has bestowed no skill or toil, shall enjoy what

modern phraseology terms “unearned increment.” This, which was set forth as

ONE OF THE BLESSINGS OF THE PROMISED LAND (Deuteronomy

6:10-11), Koheleth cannot bear to contemplate where it touches himself — not

from envy or grudging, but from the feeling of dissatisfaction and want of energy

which it generates. In (with) knowledge and in (with) equity. Kishron,

translated “equity” in the Authorized Version; ajndrei>a andreia manliness

in the Septuagint: and sollicitudine in the Vulgate, seems rather here to signify

skill or “success.” It occurs also in ch.4:4 and 5:10, and there only in

the Old Testament.

 

22 “For what hath man of all his labor, and of the vexation of his heart,

wherein he hath labored under the sun?” What hath man of all his labor?

 i.e. what is to be the result to man? Gi>netai ejn tw~| ajnqrw>pw| - ginetai en to

anthropo  - for what has a man - (Septuagint); Quidenim proderit

homini? (Vulgate). There is, indeed, the pleasure that accompanies the

pursuit of objects, and the successful accomplishment of enterprise; but this

is poor and unsubstantial and embittered. And of the vexation of his

heart; the striving, the effort of his mind to direct his labor to great ends.

What does all this produce? The answer intended is,” Nothing.” This

striving, with all its wisdom and knowledge and skill (v. 21), is for the

laborer fruitless.

 

23 “For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart

taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.” All his days are sorrow,

 and his travail grief (compare ch.5:16-17). These are the real results of his

lifelong efforts. All his days are pains and sorrows, bring trouble with them,

and all his labor ends in grief. “Sorrows” and “grief” are pretreated

respectively of “days” and “travail.” Abstract nouns are often so used. Thus

ch.10:12, “The words of a wise man’s mouth are grace.” The free-thinkers

in Wisdom of Solomon 2:1 complain that life is short and tedious (luphro<v

 lupaeros). Yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. He cannot sleep

for thinking over his plans and hopes and disappointments. Not for him is

the sweet sleep of the laboring man, who does his day’s work, earns his

repose, and frets not about the future. On the one hand care, on the other

satiety, murder sleep, and make the night torment.

 

 

Concern for Posterity (vs. 18-23)

 

It is distinctive of man that he is a being that looks before and after; he

cannot be satisfied to regard only the present; he investigates the former

days, and the ancestry from which he has derived life and circumstances

(witness the great interest today in genealogy – CY – 2013);  he

speculates as to the days to come, and “all the wonder yet to be.” It

appeared to the “Preacher” of Jerusalem that too great solicitude regarding

our posterity is an element in the “vanity” which is characteristic of this life.

 

  • IT IS NATURAL THAT MEN SHOULD ANTICIPATE THEIR

POSTERITY WITH INTEREST AND SOLICITUDE. Family life is so

natural to man that there is nothing strange in the anxiety which most men

feel with regard to their children, and even their children’s children. (This

is one of the obvious handicaps of homosexuality and lesbianism that

should GET THEIR ATTENTION!   – CY – 2013)  Men

do not like the prospect of their posterity sinking in the social scale.

Prosperous men find a pleasure and satisfaction in “founding a family,” in

perpetuating their name, preserving their estates and possessions to their

descendants, and in the prospect of being remembered with gratitude and

pride by generations yet unborn. In the case of kings and nobles such

sentiments and anticipations are especially powerful.  (It is even so to

common folks like me – CY – 2013)

 

  • IT IS A MATTER OF FACT THAT IN MANY INSTANCES MEN’S

ANTICIPATIONS REGARDING POSTERITY ARE DISAPPOINTED.

The wide and accurate observations of the author of Ecclesiastes

convinced him that such is the case.

 

Ø      The rich man’s descendants scatter the wealth which he has accumulated

by means of labor and self-denial. It need not be proved, for the fact is

patent to all, that it is the same in this respect in our own days as it was in

the Hebrew state. In fact, we have an English proverb, “One generation

makes money; the second keeps it; the third spends it.”  (Have you

ever seen the bumper sticker “Retired and  spending my kids

 inheritance.”

 

Ø      The wise man’s descendant proves to be a fool. Notwithstanding what

has been maintained to be a law of “hereditary genius,” the fact is

unquestionable that there are many instances in which the learned, the

accomplished, the intellectually great, are succeeded by those bearing

their name, but by no means inheriting their ability. And the contrast is

one painful to witness, and humiliating to those to whose disadvantage

it is drawn.

 

Ø      The descendants of the great in many instances fall into obscurity and

contempt. History affords us many examples of such descent; tells of the

posterity of the noble, titled, and powerful working with their hands for

daily bread, etc.

 

  • THE PROSPECT OF AN UNFORTUNATE POSTERITY OFTEN

DISTRESSES AND TROUBLES MEN, ESPECIALLY THE GREAT.

The “wise man” knew what it was to brood over such a prospect as

opened up to his foreseeing mind. He came to hate his labor, and to cause

his heart to despair; all his days were sorrow, and his travail grief; his heart

took not rest in the night; and life seemed only vanity to him. Why should I

toil, and take heed, and care, and deny myself? is the question which many

a man puts to himself in the sessions of silent thought. My children or my

children’s children may squander my riches, alienate my estates, sully my

reputation; my work may be undone, and my fond hopes may be mocked.

What is human life but hollowness, vanity, wind?

 

  • THE TRUE CONSOLATION BENEATH THE PRESSURE OF

SUCH FOREBODINGS. It is vain to attempt to comfort ourselves by

denying facts or by cherishing unfounded and unreasonable hopes. What

we have to do is to place all our confidence in a wise and gracious God,

and to leave the future to His providential care; and at the same time to do

our own duty, not concerning ourselves overmuch as to the conduct of

others, of those who shall come after us. It is for us to “rest in the Lord”

(Psalm 37:7), who has not promised to order and overrule all things for our

glory or happiness, but who will surely order and overrule them for the

advancement of His kingdom and the honor of His Name.

 

From what has been said, in vs. 24-26, Koheleth concludes that man

may indeed enjoy the good things which he has provided, and find a certain

happiness therein, but only according to God’s will and permission; and to

expect to win pleasure at one’s own caprice is vain.

 

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 labor. This also

I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” There is nothing better for a man,

 than that he should eat and drink. The Vulgate makes the sentence interrogative,

which the Hebrew does not sanction, Nonne melius est comedere et bibere?

Septuagint Oujk e]stin ajgaqo<n ajnqrw>pw| o{ fa>getai kai< o{ pi>etai

- Ouk estin agathon anthropo ho phagetai kai ho pietai - “There is naught

good to a man to eat or drink;” St. Jerome and others insert misi, “except for

a man to eat,” etc. This and the Authorized Version, which are more or less

approved by most critics, make the writer enunciate a kind of modified

Epicureanism. It is not pretended that the present Hebrew text admits this

exposition, and critics have agreed to modify the original in order to express

the sense which they give to the passage. As it stands, the sentence runs,

“It is not good in (B;) man that he should eat,” etc. This is supposed to

clash with later statements; e.g. ch. 3:12-13; 8:15; and to condemn all bodily

pleasure even in its simplest form. Hence commentators insert m (“than”)

before lk"aOYv,, supposing that the initial mere has dropped out after the

terminal of the preceding word, adam (compare ch.3:22). This solution of a

difficulty might be allowed were the Hebrew otherwise incapable of

explanation without doing violence to the sentiments elsewhere expressed.

But this is not the case. The great point lies in the preposition b, and what

is stated is that it does not depend on man, it is not in his power, he

 is not at liberty to eat and drink and enjoy himself simply

at his own will; his power and ability proceed WHOLLY FROM

GOD!   A higher authority than man decides the matter. The phrase,

to eat and drink,” is merely a periphrasis for living in comfort, peace,

and affluence. St.Gregory, who holds that here and in other places

Koheleth seems to contradict himself, makes a remark which is of general

application, “He who looks to the text, and does not acquaint himself with

the sense of the Holy Word, is not so much furnishing himself with instruction

as bewildering himself in uncertainty, in that the literal words sometimes

contradict themselves; but whilst by their oppositeness they stand at

variance with themselves, they direct the reader to a truth that is to be

understood” (‘Moral.,’ 4:1). They who read Epicureanism into the text fall

into the error here denounced. They take the expression, “eat and drink,”

in the narrowest sense of bodily pleasure, whereas it was by no means so

confined in the mind of a Hebrew. To eat bread in the kingdom of God, to

take a place at the heavenly banquet, represents the highest bliss of

glorified man (Luke 14:15; Revelation. 19:9, etc.). In a lower degree it

signifies earthly prosperity, as in Jeremiah 22:15, “Did not thy father

eat and drink, and do judgment and justice? then it was well with him.”

So in our passage we find only the humiliating truth that man in himself is

powerless to make his life happy or his labors successful. There is no

Epicureanism, even in a modified form, in the Hebrew text as it has come

down to us. With other supposed traces of this philosophy we shall have to

deal subsequently (see on 3:12; 6:2). And that he should make his soul

 enjoy good in his labor; i.e. taste the enjoyment of his labor, get pleasure

 as the reward of all his exertions, or find it in the actual pursuit.

This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. This is the

pointthe power of enjoyment depends on the will of God. The next

verse substantiates this assertion.

 

 

All Good is from God (v. 24)

 

Revelation ever presents to man a standard of conduct equally removed

from selfish gratification and from proud asceticism. It condemns the habit,

too common with the prosperous and fortunate, of seeking all satisfaction

in the pleasures and luxuries of the world, in the enjoyments of sense; and

it at the same time condemns the tendency to despise the body and the

things of time and sense, as if such independence of earth were of necessity

the means to spiritual enrichment and blessing. On the one hand, we are

invited to partake freely and gladly of the gifts of Divine providence;

on the other hand, we are admonished to receive all things as “from the

 hand of God.”

 

  • GOD’S BOUNTY PROVIDES THE FAVORS BY WHICH MAN’S

EARTHLY LIFE IS ENRICHED. Food and drink are mentioned here as

examples of the good gifts of the Eternal Father, who “openeth His hand,

and supplieth the wants of every living thing.” (Psalm 104:28; 145:16).

Manifold is the provision of the Divine beneficence. The whole material

 world is AN APPARATUS  by which the bounty of the Creator

 ministers to the wants of his creatures. And all God’s gifts have a

meaning and value beyond themselves; they reveal the Divine character,

they symbolize the Divine goodness. To despise them is to DESPISE

THE GIVER.

 

  • GOD’S KINDNESS BESTOWS FACULTIES ADAPTED TO THE

ENJOYMENT OF HIS GIFTS.  (Witness taste; feeling; sight; hearing;

the ability to smell, etc. – CY – 2013) The adaptation is obvious and instructive

between the bounties of God’s providence, and the bodily constitution in

virtue of which man is able to appropriate and enjoy what God bestows.

Food and drink presuppose the power to partake of them, and to use them

for the continued life, health, and vigor of the body. (Just think of the

nutrients in food that are necessary for health and strength, which God

provides every day! – CY – 2013)  The correspondence may be traced

throughout the whole of our physical nature; between the

eye and light, between hearing and sound, between the lungs and the

atmosphere — in fact, between the organism and the environment.

 

  • GOD EXPECTS THAT WE SHOULD USE HIS GIFTS AS HE

COMMANDS, AND FOR HIS GLORY. All Divine bestowments are a

kind of test and trial for man, who does not of necessity follow appetite,

but who can exercise his reason and his will in dealing with the

circumstances of his being, with the provisions of God’s bounty. All are

susceptible of use and of abuse. The Preacher gives us the key to a right

use of providential bounties, when he reminds us that ALL IS  “from the

hand of God.” The man who sees the Giver in the gift, who partakes with

gratitude of that which is bestowed, recognizing its spiritual significance,

and using it as the means to spiritual improvement, — such a man fulfils his

probation aright, and DOES NOT LIVE HIS EARTHLY LIFE IN

VAIN!

 

  • UPON COMPLIANCE WITH OR NEGLECT OF THE DIVINE

REQUIREMENT DEPENDS THE EFFECT OF GOD’S GIFTS UPON

US, WHETHER THEY SHALL BE A BLESSING OR A CURSE. It

would be very easy to read amiss the teaching of this Book of Ecclesiastes.

Let a man read it when under the influence of a hedonistic and optimistic

temper of mind, and he may be encouraged to abandon himself to the

pleasures of life, to the joys of sense, to seek his welfare and satisfaction in

what this world can give. Let a man read the book when passing through

bitter experience of the ills and woes and disappointments of life, in a

pessimistic mood, and he may be encouraged to dejection, despondency,

and cynicism. But the true lesson of the book is this: Life is a Divine

discipline, and its purpose should never be lost sight of; the gifts of

Providence are intended for our enjoyment, our grateful appropriation, but

not for the satisfaction of the spiritual nature; Divine wisdom summons us

to the reverential service of THE ETERNAL HIMSELF;  we should

 then receive with joy what God bestows, and give up without undue mourning

what God takes away, for all of life is “FROM THE HAND OF GOD.”

 

25 “For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?”

This is the translation of the received text. “Eat” means enjoy

one’s self, as in the preceding verse; “hasten hereunto” implies eager

pursuit of pleasure; and Koheleth asks — Who had better opportunity than

he for verifying the principle that all depends upon the gift of God?

Vulgate, Quis ita devorabit, et deliciis affluet ut ego? The Septuagint had

a different reading, which obtains also in the Syriac and Arabic versions,

and has been adopted by many modern critics. Instead of yNiM,mi, they read

WN]M,mi, “without Him,” i.e. except from God. “For who shall eat or who

shall drink without Him (pa>rex aujtou~ - parex autou)?” This merely repeats

the thought of the last verse, in agreement with the saying of James (1:17),

“Every good gift and every perfect boon is from above, coming down from

the Father’ of lights.” But the received reading, if it admits the rendering of the

Authorized Version (which is somewhat doubtful), stands in close

connection with the personal remark just preceding, “This also I saw,” etc.,

and is a more sensible confirmation thereof than a tautological observation

can be. The next verse carries on the thought that SUBSTANTIAL

ENJOYMENT IS ENTIRELY A GIFT OF GOD  and granted by

Him as the moral Governor of the world.

 

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.” For God giveth to a man

that is good in His sight. The subject “God” is not, in the Hebrew, an

omission which is supposed to justify its virtual insertion in v. 25. The Vulgate

boldly supplies it here, Homini bone in conspectu sue dedit Deus. To the

man that finds favor in God’s sight (I Samuel 29:6; Nehemiah 2:5), i.e. who

pleases Him, He gives blessings, while He withholds them or takes them away

from the man who displeases Him. The blessings specified are wisdom, and

knowledge, and joy. The only true wisdom which is not grief, the only

true knowledge which is not sorrow (ch.1:18), and the only joy in life, are the

gifts of God to those whom He regards as good. But to the sinner He giveth

travail, to gather and to heap up. The sinner takes great pains, expends

continuous labor, that he may amass wealth, but it passes into other. (more worthy)

hands.  The moral government of God is here recognized, as below, ch.3:15, 17, etc.,

and a further thought is added on the subject of retribution: That he may give to him

that is good before God.  This idea is found in Proverbs 28:8, “He that augmenteth

 his substance by usury and increase, gathereth it for him that hath pity upon

the poor;” and Ibid. ch.13:22, “The wealth of the sinner is laid up for the

righteous(compare Job 27:16-17). So in the parable of the talents, the

talent of the unprofitable servant is given unto him who had made best use

of his money (Matthew 25:28). This also is vanity. It is a question

what is the reference here. Delitzsch considers it to be the striving after

pleasure in and from labor (v. 24); Knobel, the arbitrary distribution of

the good things of this life; but, put thus baldly, this could hardly be termed

a “feeding on wind;” nor could that expression be applied to the “gifts of

God. “ Others deem that what is meant is the collecting and heaping up

of riches by the sinner, which has already been decided to be vanity (vs.11,17-18);

and this would limit the general conclusion to a particular instance. Taking the view

contained in v. 24 as the central idea of the passage, we see that Koheleth feels that

the restriction upon man’s enjoyment of labor imposed by God’s moral government

makes that toil vain because its issue is not in men’s hands, and it is a striving for or a

feeding on wind because the result is unsatisfying and vanishes in the grasp.

 

 

Piety and Impiety; Recompense and Penalty (v. 26)

 

We ask and answer the twofold question, viz. what is:

 

  • OUR EXPECTATION. We should certainly expect two things, judging

antecedently.

 

Ø      That piety would be richly rewarded; for who would not expect that

the bountiful, just, and resourceful Father would give liberally, in many

ways, to those who sought His favor, and were “good in His sight”?

 

Ø      That impiety would bear plain marks of Divine disapproval; for

who would suppose:

 

o       that men would defy their Maker,

o       break His laws,

o       injure His children,

o       spoil His holy and benignant purpose, and

 

not suffer marked and manifold evils as the just penalty of

their presumption and their guilt? We naturally look for much

happiness and prosperity in piety, much misery and defeat

                        in impiety!

 

  • OUR EXPERIENCE. What do we find?

 

Ø      That God does reward His servants. The Preacher mentions three

good gifts of his hand; they are not exhaustive, though they include or

suggest much of the righteous man’s heritage.

 

o       Knowledge. Most of all and best of all, the knowledge of God

Himself; and to know God is the very essence and substance of

true human life, and beside this, the knowledge of man. It is, in

 truth, only the good man who understands human nature.

Vice and iniquity, flatter themselves that they have this

knowledge. But it is mistaken; its conception of mankind is

distorted, erroneous, FATALLY MISTAKEN.   It does not

know what it is in man to be and to do and to become. “Only the

good discern the good,” and only they have a knowledge of our

race which is profoundly true.

 

o       Wisdom. An enlightened conception of human life, so that its

beauty and its blessedness are APPRECIATED AND

PURSUED,  so that, on the other hand, its ugliness and its

evil are RECOGNIZED AND SHUNNED.   The wisdom of

the wise includes also that practical good sense which keeps its

disciples from the mistakes and entanglements that lead to

destitution, which also leads its possessors to heights of

honor and well-being.

 

o       Joy. In the worship of Christ, in the service of man, in the culture

of our own character, in walking along the path of sacred duty

and holy usefulness, is abounding and abiding joy.

 

Ø      That sin is visited with penalty. Do we find that God giveth “to the

sinner travail, to gather and to heap up”? We do.

 

o       Sin necessitates the worst of all bad labors:

 

§         that of deliberately and persistently breaking down the

walls of conscience,

§         of breaking through the fences which the God of

righteousness and love has put up to guard his

children from moral evil.  (Ten Commandments)

 

o       Sin includes much hurtful and damaging struggle against the will

and against the laws of the wise and good. Bad men have to

encounter and to contest the opposition of the upright.

 

o       Sin frequently means low and degrading toil. The “sinner” is

brought down so low that he is fain to “go into the fields to feed

swine (Luke 15:16); to do that from which he would once have

indignantly recoiled.

 

o       Sin constantly condemns the toiler to labor on in UTTER

DISCONTENT, IF NOT IN POSITIVE WRETCHEDNESS

OF SOUL!   LIFE WITHOUT the light of HEAVENLY

TRUTH  and the song of sacred service proves an

INTOLERABLE BURDEN!  (Dear Reader:  If you do not

                              know Jesus today I would like to refer you to “How to Be Saved” –

      # 5 – this web site – CY – 2013)

 

 

The Condition of Pure Enjoyment (vs. 24-26)

 

Up to this point the thoughts of our author have been gloomy and

despairing. Wisdom is better, he declares, than folly, but death sweeps

away both the wise and the foolish. The learning of the sage, the fortune

accumulated by the successful worker, represent the labors of a lifetime;

but at the end, WHAT ARE THEY WORTH?  The results are twofold, partly

internal and partly external. The student or worker acquires skill in the use of his

faculties, he develops his strength, he becomes, as his life goes on, more

proficient in his profession or craft; but death quenches .all these

attainments. He leaves to those who are perhaps unworthy of them all the

external results of his labors, and perhaps in a very little time it will be

difficult to find anything to remind one of him. We who have the light of

Christian truth may have much to console us and give us strength, even

when we are brought face to face with the dark and dreary facts upon

which our author dwells. We may think of this life as a preparation for a

new and higher existence in the world to come, and believe that every

effort we make to use rightly the faculties God has given us will tend to

equip us better for service of Him in another state of being. But to our

author’s mind the thought of a future life is not vivid enough to be the

source of consolation and strength. What then? Does he find no escape

from the gloomy labyrinth of withering doubt, and decide that happiness is

a boon for which one may sigh in vain? No; strangely enough, at the very

moment when the depression is deepest, light breaks upon him from an

unexpected quarter. Simple joys, moderate hopes, contentment with one’s

lot, thankful acceptance of the gifts of God, may yield a peace and

satisfaction unknown to those who are consumed by ambition, who make

riches, state, luxury, the object of their desires. The darkness of night will

soon close upon our lives. Our tenure of our possessions is precarious in the

extreme, but some measure of joy is within the reach of us all. In few but

suggestive words the Preacher describes:

 

  • THE NATURE OF A HAPPY LIFE. (v. 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 labor.” At first one might think the judgment here

expressed somewhat poor and gross, and unworthy of the reputation of the

wise king to whom it is ascribed, not to say of the Word of God in which

we find it. But when we look more closely into is, these impressions

disappear. It is not an idle, useless life of self-enjoyment that is here

commended to us, but one in which useful labor is seasoned by healthy

pleasures. The man eats and drinks, and makes his soul enjoy good in his

labor. The enjoyment is not such as to waste and exhaust the energies of

the soul, otherwise it would be very short-lived. The risk of abusing the

counsel in the first part of the sentence is avoided by attending to the

safeguard implied in the concluding words. It is not the decision of the

Sensualist, “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die” (I Corinthians

15:32), but the admonition of one who perceives that a thankful

participation of the good things of life is compatible with the sincerest

piety. Eating and drinking mean satisfying the natural appetites, and not

ministering to artificial and self-created cravings; and overindulgence in so

doing is tacitly forbidden. The words suggest to us the simple healthy life

and habits of the industrious peasant or workman, who takes pleasure

 in his daily employment, and finds in the innocent joys which sweeten

his lot a happiness which MERE WEALTH CANNOT BUY!

 

“The shepherd’s homely curds,

His cold thin drink out of his leather bottle,

His wonted sleep under a fresh tree’s shade,

All which secure and sweetly he enjoys,

Is far beyond a prince’s delicates,

His viands sparkling in a golden cup,

His body couched in a curious bed,

When care, mistrust, and treason wait on him.”

(‘Henry VI.,’ Part III., act it. so. 5.)

 

In the second place, our author tells us:

 

  • THE SOURCE OF THIS HAPPINESS — IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD.

(v. 24b.)This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. For who

 can eat or who can have enjoyment apart from him?” (Revised Version

margin). These words are quite sufficient to convince us that a low Epicureanism

is far from the writer’s thoughts when he speaks of there being nothing better for

a man than to eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labor.”

One thing is necessary for the accomplishment of this end, and that is THE

DIVINE BLESSING!   Satisfaction in work and in pleasure is a gift bestowed

by Him upon those who deserve it. “What we get here is the recognition of what

we have learned to call the moral government of God in the distribution of

happiness. It is found to depend, not on outward but inward condition, and

the chief inward condition is the character that God approves. The

Preacher practically confesses that the life of the pleasure-seeker, or the

ambitious, or the philosopher, seeking wisdom as an end, was not good

before God, and therefore failed to bring contentment. THE SOURCE,

 then, of happiness in life is in obedience to the Divine will. To the

gifts of his providence GOD ADDS  the temper in which to enjoy them;

from His hand BOTH MUST BE SOUGHT!   Those who seek to be

independent of Him find that all they may acquire is insufficient to

satisfy them; those who place all their confidence in Him are contented

with even the hardest lot (Philippians 4:11-13). “Wisdom, knowledge, and

joy are the portion of the good, whether they be poor or rich in this world’s

wealth; but the sinner has only the fruitless labor FROM WHICH HE

CAN DERIVE NO SATISFACTION! (v. 21). And over again the

Preacher writes the dreary sentence, “This also is vanity and vexation

 of spirit,” upon the life in which GOD IS NOT!

 

 

"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.

Materials are reproduced by permission."

 

This material can be found at:

http://www.adultbibleclass.com

 

If this exposition is helpful, please share with others.