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, Δεῦρο δὴ πειράσω σε ἐν

εὐφροσύνῃ - 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 (περιφοράνperiphoran - 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



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

(ἑλκύσαι - elkusei -  a forceful pulling that overcomes any resistance) 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.




            An Experiment: Riotous Mirth (vs. 1-3)


Solomon had found that wisdom and knowledge are not the means by

which the search after happiness is brought to a successful issue. He then

resolved to try if indulgence in sensual delights would yield any lasting

satisfaction. This, as he saw, was a course on which many entered, who

like him desired happiness, and he would discover for himself whether or

not they were any nearer the goal than he was. And so he resolved to enjoy

pleasure“to give his heart to wine,” and “to lay hold of folly.” Like the

rich man in the parable, who said to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods

laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:16-21),

so did he address his heart, “Come, I will prove thee with mirth.” He had tried

wisdom, and found it fruitless for his purpose, and now would try folly. He

lays aside the character and pursuits of a student, and enters the company

of fools, to join in their revelry and mirth. The conviction that his learning

was useless, either to satisfy his own cravings or to remedy the evils that

exist in the world, made it easy for him to cast away, for a time at any rate,

the intellectual employments in which he had engaged, and to live as others

do who give themselves up to sensual pleasures. Wearied of the toil of

thought, sickened of its illusions and of its fruitlessness, he would find

tranquility and health of mind in frivolous gaiety and mirth. This was not an

attempt to stifle his cravings after the highest good, for he deliberately

determined to analyze his experience at every point, in order to discover

whether any permanent gain resulted from his search in this new quarter. “I

sought,” he says, “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.” For the sake of others as well as for himself, he

would try this pathway and see whither it would lead. But the experiment

failed. In a very short time he discovered that vanity was here too. The

laughter of fools was, as he says elsewhere (ch. 7:6), like the

crackling of burning thorns; the blaze lasted but for a moment, and the

gloom that followed was but the deeper and more enduring. Where the fire

of jovial revelry and boisterous mirth had been, there remained but cold,

gray ashes. The mood of reckless enjoyment was followed by that of

cynical satiety and bitter disappointment. He said of laughter, “It is mad,”

and of mirth, “What doeth it?” In his moments of calm reflection, when he

communed with his own heart, he recognized the utter folly of his

experiment, and felt that from his own dear-bought experience he could

emphatically warn all in time to come against seeking satisfaction FOR THE

SOUL in sensual pleasures. Not in this way can the hunger and thirst with

which the spirit of man is consumed be allayed. At most, a short period of

oblivion can be secured, FROM WHICH THE AWAKENING IS ALL

THE MORE TERRIBLE!  The  sense of personal responsibility, the feeling

that we are called to seek the highest good and are doomed to unrest and

misery until we find it, the conviction that our failures only make ultimate

success the more doubtful, is not to be quenched by any such coarse anodyne

(drug or medicine).  Various reasons may be found to explain why this kind of



·         In the first place, it consisted in AN ABUSE OF NATURAL

FACULTIES AND APPETITES. Some measure of joy and pleasure is

needed for health of mind and body. Innocent gaiety, enjoyment of the gifts

God has bestowed upon us, reasonable satisfaction of the appetites

implanted in us, have all a rightful place in our life. But over-indulgence in

any one of them violates the harmony of our nature. They were never

intended to rule us, but to be under our control and to minister to our

happiness, and we cannot allow them to govern us WITHOUT THROWING



·         In the second place, THE PLEASURE EXCITED IS ONLY

TRANSITORY. From the very nature of things it cannot be kept up for

any long time by mere effort of will; the brain grows weary and the bodily

powers become exhausted. A jest-book is proverbially very tiresome

reading. At first it may amuse, but the attention soon begins to flag, and

after a little the most brilliant specimen of wit can scarcely evoke a smile.

The drunkard and the glutton find that they can only carry the pleasures of

the table up to a certain point; after that has been reached the bodily

organism refuses to be still further stimulated.  (When I taught United

States History in high school, of the roaring twenties and loose sexual

behavior, I remember this point:  If sex is a pleasure of a moment, is it

any wonder that it is a “momentary pleasure.”  CY - 2021)


·         In the third place, SUCH PLEASURE CAN ONLY BE GRATIFIED

BY SELF-DEGRADATION. It is inconsistent with the full exercise of the

intellectual faculties which distinguish man from the brute, and destructive

of those higher and more spiritual faculties by which God is apprehended,

served, and enjoyed. Self-indulgence in the gross pleasures of which we are

speaking actually reduces man below the level of the beasts that perish, for

they are preserved from such folly by the natural instincts with which they

are endowed.  (Of which chapter 2 of II Peter is very explicit.  CY - 2021)


·         In the fourth place, THE INEVITABLE RESULT OF SUCH AN


reproach, enfeeblement of mind and body, satiety and disgust, come on

when the mad fit is past, and, what is still worse, the apprehension of evils

yet to come — the knowledge that the passions excited and indulged will

refuse to die down; that they have a life and power of their own, and will

stimulate and almost compel THEIR SLAVE to enter again on the evil courses

which he first tried of his own free will and with a light heart. The prospect

before him is that of bondage to habits which he knows will yield him no

lasting pleasure, and very little of the fleeting kind, and must involve the

enfeeblement and destruction of all his powers. Mirth and laughter and

wine did not banish Solomon’s melancholy; but after the feverish

excitement they produced had passed away, they left him in a deeper

gloom than ever. “Like phosphorus on a dead man’s lace, he felt that it was

all a trick, a lie; and like the laugh of a hyena among the tombs, he found

that the worldling’s frolic CAN NEVER reanimate the joys which guilt has

 slain and buried.” “I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?’

The well-known story of the melancholy patient being advised by a doctor

to go and see Grimaldi, and answering, “I am Grimaldi,” and that of

George Fox being recommended by a minister whom he consulted to dispel

the anxieties which his spiritual fears and doubts and aspirations had

excited within him, by “drinking beer and dancing with the girls” (Carlyle,

‘Sartor Resartus,’ 3:1), may be used to illustrate the teaching of our text.

Some stanzas, too, of Byron’s last poem give a pathetic expression to the

feelings of satiety and disappointment which are THE RETRIBUTION



“My days are in the yellow leaf;

The flowers and fruits of love are gone;

The worm, the canker, and the grief

Are mine alone!

“The fire that on my bosom preys

Is lone as some volcanic isle;

No torch is kindled at its blaze —

A funeral pile.

“The hope, the fear, the jealous care,

The exalted portion of the pain

And power of love I cannot share,

But wear the chain.”


The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too strong to be broken!”

(I saw this somewhere once upon a time but it is true for the ages!  CY - 2021)


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, Ἐμεγάλυνα ποίημά μου

- 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.





   Another Experiment: Refined Voluptuousness (luxury and sensual behavior)

                                                                (v. 4)


Riotous mirth having failed miserably to give him the settled happiness

after which he sought, our author records another and more promising

experiment which he made, the search for happiness in a life of culture —

the pursuit of beauty and magnificence in art.” More promising it was,

because it brought into play higher and purer emotions than those to which

ordinary sensuality appeals; it cultivated the side of the nature which

adjoins, and almost merges into, the spiritual. The Law of Moses,

forbidding as it did the making of images or representations of natural

objects or of living creatures for purposes of worship, had prevented much

advance being made in sculpture and painting; but there were still extensive

fields of artistic development left for cultivation. Architecture and

gardening afforded abundant scope for the exhibition and gratification of a

refined taste. And so Solomon built splendid palaces, and planted

vineyards, and laid out parks and gardens, and filled them with the choicest

fruit trees, and dug pools for the irrigation of his plantations in the time of

summer drought. Nothing was omitted that could minister to his sense of

the beautiful, or that could enhance his splendor and dignity. A large

household, great flocks of cattle, heaps of silver and gold, precious

treasures from distant lands, the pleasures of music and of the harem are all

enumerated as being procured by his wealth and power, and employed for

his gratification. All that the eye could rest on with delight, all that the

heart could desire, was brought within his reach. And all the time wisdom

was with him, guiding him in the pursuit of pleasure, and not abandoning

him in the enjoyment of it. Nothing occurred to prevent the experiment

being carried through to the very end. The delights he enumerates were in

themselves lawful, and therefore were indulged in without any uneasy

sensation of transgressing against the Law of God or the dictates of

conscience. Nay, the very fact that he had a moral end in view when he

began the experiment seemed to give a high sanction to it. He was not

interrupted by the intrusion of other thoughts and cares. No foreign enemy

disturbed his peace; sickness did not incapacitate him; his wealth was not

exhausted by the large demands made upon it for the support of his

magnificence and luxury. And so he went to the utmost bounds of refined

enjoyment, and found much that for a time amply rewarded him for the

efforts he put forth. “My heart,” he says, “rejoiced in all my labor” (v.10).

His busy mind was kept occupied; his senses were charmed by the

beauty and richness of the treasures he had gathered together, and of the

great works which gave such abundant evidence of his taste and wealth.

His experiment was not quite fruitless, therefore. Present gratification he

found in the course of his labors; but when they were completed, the

pleasure they had yielded passed away. The charm of novelty was gone.

Possession did not yield the joy and delight which acquisition had done.

When the palaces were finished, the gardens planted, the gems and rarities

accumulated, the luxurious household established, and nothing left to do

but to rest in the happiness that these things had been expected to secure,

the sense of defeat and disappointment again fell upon the king. 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.” He does not try to explain the cause of

his failure, but simply records the fact that he did fail. “He does not

moralize, still less preach; he just paints the picture of his soul’s sad

wanderings, of the baffled effort of a human heart, and passes on.” But we

may find it highly profitable to inquire what were the causes why the life of

culture — which, without harshness, may be called a refined

voluptuousness fails to give satisfaction to the human soul.


·         In the first place, IT IS A LIFE OF ISOLATION FROM GOD. As

Solomon represents the course he followed, we see that the thought of

God was excluded from his mind. The Divine gifts were enjoyed, the love

of the beautiful which is implanted in the soul of man was gratified, every

exquisite sensation of which we are capable was indulged, but the one

thing needed to sanctify the happiness obtained and render it perfect WAS

OMITTED. “God,” says St. Augustine, “has made us for Himself, and we

cannot rest until we rest in Him.” Emotions of gratitude, adoration,

humility, and self-consecration to His service cannot be suppressed without

great loss — the loss even of that security and tranquility of spirit which

are essential to true happiness. All the resources upon which Solomon

drew may furnish helps to happiness, but none of them, nor all of them

together, could, apart from God, secure it. Compare with the failure of

Solomon the success of those who have often, in circumstances of extreme

discomfort and suffering, enjoyed the peace of God that passeth all

understanding.  (Philippians 4:7)  The sixty-third psalm, written by David

in the time of exile and hardship, illustrates the truth that in communion with

God the soul enjoys a happiness which cannot be found elsewhere. “A man’s life

 does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

(Luke 12:15)  Apart from the favor of God and the service of God, the richest

possessions and the most skilful employment of them can secure no lasting

satisfaction. For we are so constituted as creatures that our life is not complete



·         In the second place, IT IS A SELFISH LIFE. All that Solomon

describes are his efforts to secure certain durable results for himself; to

indulge his love for the beautiful in nature and art, and to surround himself

with luxury and splendor. He would have been more successful in his

search for happiness if he had endeavored to relieve the wants of others —

to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to comfort the afflicted, and to

instruct the ignorant. Self-denial and self-sacrifice for the sake of others

would have brought him nearer the gem of his desire. The penalty of his

selfish pursuit fell heavily upon him. He could not live at a height above

mankind, in the enjoyment of his own felicity, for long; “the riddle of the

painful earth” filled him with thoughts of self-loathing and despair, which

shattered all his happiness. Do what he might, old age, disease, and death

were foes he could not conquer, and all about him in human society he

could discern moral evils and inequalities which he could not set right nor

even explain. Such selfish isolation as that into which for a time he had

withdrawn himself failed to secure the object he had in view, for he could

not really dissever his lot from that of his fellows, or escape the evils which

afflicted them. The idea of a life of luxurious ease, undisturbed by the sight

or thought of the miseries and hardships of life, was a vain dream, from

which he soon awoke. In his poem, ‘The Palace of Art,’ Tennyson has

given a most luminous and suggestive commentary upon this portion of the

Book of Ecclesiastes. In it he represents the soul as seeking forgiveness for

the sin of selfish isolation by penitence, prayer, and self-renunciation, and

as anticipating a resumption of all the joys of culture and art in

companionship with others. In communion with God, in fellowship with

others, all things that are noble and pure and lovely are taken into holy

keeping, and form a lasting source of joy and happiness.


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

παράδειος 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, οἰκογενεῖςoikogeneis  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

מְדִינָה (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, οἰνοχόον καὶ οἰνοχόας - 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, σύστημα καὶ συστήματα -

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); ἐστάθη μοι 

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




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:




        • 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




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



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


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


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


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

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




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.”



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.





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



(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)





                                                The Trial of Pleasure (vs. 1-11)


We have to consider:



shall we find the good which will make our life precious to us? What is

there that will meet the cravings of the human heart, and cover our whole

life with the sunshine of success and of contentment?


·         A VERY NATURAL RESORT. We have recourse to some kind of

excitement. It may be that:


Ø      which acts upon the senses (vs. 3, 8).

Ø      that which gratifies the mind; the sense of possession and of power

            (vs. 7-9). Or

Ø      it may be found in agreeable and inviting activities (vs. 4-6).


·         ITS TEMPORARY SUCCESS. “My heart rejoiced” (v. 10). It

would be simply false to contend that there is no delight, no satisfaction, in

these sources of good. There is, for a while. There is a space during which

they fill the heart as the wine fills the cup into which it is poured. The heart

rejoices; it utters its joy in song; it declares itself to be completely happy.

It “sits in the sun;” it rolls the sweet morsel between its teeth. It flatters itself

that it has found its fortune, while the angels of God weep over its present

folly and its coming doom.


·         ITS ACTUAL AND UTTER INSUFFICIENCY. (v. 11.) Pleasure

may be coarse and condemnable; it may go down to fleshly gratifications

(vs. 3, 8); it may be refined and chaste, may expend itself in designs and

executions; it may be moderated and regulated with the finest calculation,

so as to have the largest measure spread over the longest possible period; it

may “guide itself with wisdom” (v. 3). But it will be a failure; it will

break down; it will end in a dreary exclamation of “Vanity!” Three things

condemn it as a solution of the great quest after human good.


Ø      Experience. This proves, always and everywhere, that the deliberate and

systematic pursuit of pleasure fails to secure its end. Pleasure is not a

harvest, to be diligently sown and reaped; it is a plant that grows,

unsought and uncultivated, all along the path of duty and of service. To

seek it and to labor for it is to miss it. All human experience shows that it

soon palls upon the taste, that it fades fast in the hands of its devotee; that

there is no company of men so utterly weary and so wretched as the tired

hunters after pleasurable excitement.


Ø      Philosophy. This teaches us that a being made for something so much

higher than pleasure can never be satisfied with anything so low; surely

we cannot expect that the heart which is capable of worship, of service,

of holy love, of heroic consecration, of spiritual nobility, will be filled

and satisfied with “the delights of the sons of men.”


Ø      Religion. For this introduces the sovereign claims of the Supreme One;

it places man in the presence of God; it shows a life of frivolity to be a

life of culpable selfishness, of sin, of shame. It summons to a purer

and a wiser search, to a worthier and a nobler course; it promises the

peace which waits on rectitude; it offers the joy which ONLY GOD

CAN GIVE and which no man can take away.





     Vanity of Wisdom (vs. 12-26)


Section 3. Vanity of wisdomin view of the fate that awaits the wise man equally

with the fooland the uncertainty of the future of his laborsespecially as man is

not master of his own fate


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 (περίσσειαperisseia

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); συνάντημα -  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.




                                    Sagacity and Stupidity (vs. 12-14)


The “wisdom” and the “folly” of the text are perhaps best represented by

the words “sagacity” and “stupidity.” The distinction is one of the head

rather than of the heart; of the understanding rather than of the entire spirit.

We are invited, therefore, to consider:




Ø      It stands much lower down than heavenly wisdom; that is the direct

product of the Spirit of God, and makes men blessed with a good which

cannot be taken away. It places them above the reach of adversity, and

makes them invulnerable to the darts of death itself (see v. 14).


Ø      It has its own distinct advantages. “The wise man’s eyes are in his

      head;” he sees whither he is going; he does not delude himself with the

idea that he can violate all the laws of his nature with impunity. He

knows that the wages of sin is death, that if he sows to the flesh he

will reap corruption; he understands that, if he would enjoy the

esteem of men and the favor of God, he must subdue his spirit,

control his passions, regulate his life according to the standards

of truth and virtue. This sagacity of the wise will therefore:


o       save him from some of the most shocking and fatal blunders;

o       keep him sufficiently near to the path of virtue to be saved from the

darker excesses and more crushing sorrows of life;

o       secure for himself and his family some measure of comfort and respect,

and place some of the purer pleasures within his reach;

o       keep him within hearing of the truth of God, where he is more likely

to find his way into the kingdom of God.  “Not forsaking the

assembling of yourselves together...”  (Hebrews 10:25)


·         THE PITIFULNESS OF STUPIDITY. “The fool walketh blindly.”


Ø      He has no eye to see the fair and the beautiful around him, no heart to

appreciate the nobility that might be within him or the glories that are

above him.


Ø      He fails to discern the real wretchedness of his present condition

his destitution, his condemnation, his exile.


Ø      He does not shrink from the evil which impends. He is walking toward

the precipice, below which is utter ruin, ETERNAL DEATH. Truly

the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to depart from

evil, that is understanding”  (ch. 28:28)


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” (אז), 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 (הכל) 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” (אֵידּ) 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  (ἀσεβεῖςasebeis

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.


                                                Wisdom and Folly (vs. 12-16)


·         FOLLY AS GOOD AS WISDOM. Three things seemed to proclaim



Ø      The chances of life. These appeared to be as favorable to the fool as to

the wise man. The experiences of both were much alike; the lot of each

little different. “I perceived,” said he, “that one event happeneth to them

all (v. 14). “As it happeneth to the fool, so will it happen even to me;

and why was I then more wise?” (v. 15). This observation apparently had

struck him with much force, as he refers to it more than once

(ch. 8:14; 9:2). It was not an original observation, as long

before Job had remarked upon the seeming indifference with which

providential allotments were made to the righteous and the wicked (Job

9:22; 21:7). Nevertheless, it was and is a true observation that, so far as

purely external circumstances are concerned, it may be doubtful if the

wise man fares better than the fool.


Ø      The onrush of oblivion. With pitiless maw this devours the wise and the

fool alike (v. 16). If the human heart craves after one thing more than

another, it is an assurance that name and memory shall not quite perish

from the earth when one himself is gone. Such as are indifferent to a

personal immortality beyond the grave in a realm of heavenly felicity,

are often found to be supremely desirous of this lesser immortality

which men call posthumous fame. For this the Egyptian Pharaohs

erected pyramids, temples, mausoleums; for this men strive to set

themselves on pinnacles of power, fame, wealth, or wisdom before

they die; yet the number of those who are remembered many weeks

beyond the circle of their immediate friends is small. Even of the

so-called great who have flourished upon the earth, how few are

rescued from oblivion!


“Their memory and their name are gone,

Alike unknowing and unknown.”


Who beyond a few scholars knows anything of the Pharaohs who built

the pyramids, or of Assurbanipal, the patron of learning in Assyria,

of Homer, of Socrates, or of Plato? If one thinks of it, the amount

of remembrance accorded to almost all the leaders of mankind

consists in this — that their names will be found in dictionaries.


Ø      The descent of death. The wise man might have derived consolation

from the fact, — had it been a fact — that though after death his fate

would be hardly distinguishable from that of the fool, nevertheless before

and at death, or in the manner of dying, there would be a wide distinction.

But even this poor scrap of comfort is denied him, according to the

Preacher. “How doth the wise man die? as the fool!” (v. 16). To

appearance, at least, it is so, because in reality a difference wide asunder

as the poles separates the dying of him who is driven away in his

wickedness, and him who has hope in his death” (Proverbs 14:32). But

contemplating death from the outside, as a purely natural phenomenon,

it is the same exactly in the experience of the wise man as in that of

the fool. In both the process culminates in the loosening of the silver

cord and the breaking of the golden bowl (ch. 12:6).


·         WISDOM SUPERIOR TO FOLLY. As light excelleth darkness, so

wisdom excels folly. Three grounds of superiority.


Ø      The path of wisdom a way of light; that of folly a way of darkness. That

the latter is essentially a way of darkness, and therefore of uncertainty,

difficulty, and danger, had been declared by Solomon (Proverbs 2:13;

4:19). The Preacher adds an explanation by likening the foolish man to a

person walking backwards, or “with his eyes behind;” so that he knows

neither whither he is going, nor at what he is stumbling, nor the peril into

which he is advancing. Had the Preacher said nothing more than this, he

would have been entitled to special thanks. Thousands live in the delusion

that the way of pleasure, frivolity, dissipation, extravagance, prodigality,

is the way of light, wisdom, safety, felicity — which, it. is not. The

traveler who would journey in comfort and security must walk with

his eyes to the front, considering the direction in which he moves,

pondering the paths of his feet, and turning neither to the right hand

nor to the left (Proverbs 4:25-27). In other words, the wise man’s eyes

must be in his head, exercising at once forethought, circumspection,

and attention.


Ø      The source of wisdom from above; that of folly from beneath. As the

light descends from the pure regions of the upper air, so this wisdom of

which the Preacher speaks, like that to which:


o       Job (Job 28:23),

o       David (Psalm 51:6),

o       Solomon (Proverbs 2:6),

o       Daniel (Daniel 2:23),

o       Paul (1 Corinthians 1:30), and

o       James (James 1:5; 3:15) allude,


comes from God (v. 26). As the darkness may be said to spring from the

earth, so folly has its birthplace in the heart. The individual that turns

away from the light of wisdom presented to him in the moral intuitions

of the heart, the revelations of scripture, or the teachings of nature,

by that act condemns his spirit to dwell in darkness.


Ø      The end of wisdom, safety; that of folly, destruction. The light of wisdom

      illuminates the path of duty for the individual; the darkness of folly

covers it with gloom. Specially true of heavenly wisdom as contrasted

with wickedness and sin. Even with regard to ordinary wisdom, its

superiority over folly is not to be denied. The wise man has at least the

satisfaction of knowing whither he is going, and of realizing the

unsatisfactory character of the course he is pursuing. It may not be a

great advantage which the wise man has over the fool, that whereas

the fool is a madman and knows it not, the wise man cannot follow

after wisdom (in itself and for itself) without discovering that it is

vanity; but still it is an advantage — an advantage like that which

a man has who walks straight before him, with his eyes in his head

and directed to the front, over him who either puts out his eyes, or

blindfolds himself, or turns his eyes backward before he begins

to travel.


“If I willfully keep my conscience in darkness and continue

             in errors which I might easily know to be such by a little

            thought and searching of God’s Word, then my conscience

             can offer me no excuse for I am guilty of

            blindfolding the guide which I have chosen and then

knowing him to be blindfolded, I am guilty of the folly of

letting him lead me into rebellion against God.”




·         LESSONS.


1. Get wisdom, especially the best.

2. Eschew folly, more particularly that which is irreligious.

3. Learn to discriminate between the two; much evil will thereby be



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, Πονηρὸν ἐπ ἐμὲ τὸ ποίημα

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


comment after v. 11 – CY – 2013) 



            The Comparison between Wisdom and Folly (vs. 12-17)


To the ordinary observer the contrast between men’s condition and

circumstances is more expressive than that ‘between their character. The

senses are attracted, the imagination is excited, by the spectacle of wealth

side by side with squalid poverty, of grandeur and power side by side with

obscurity and helplessness. But to the reflecting and reasonable there is far

more interest and instruction in the distinction between the nature and life

of the fool, impelled by his passions or by the influence of his associations;

and the nature and life of the man who considers, deliberates, and judges,

and, as becomes a rational being, acts in accordance with nature and well-

weighed convictions. Very noble are the words which the poet puts into

the lips of Philip van Artevelde


“All my life long

Have I beheld with most respect the man

Who knew himself, and knew the ways before him;

And from amongst them chose deliberately,

And with clear foresight, not with blindfold courage;

And having chosen, with a steadfast mind

Pursued his purposes.”





Ø      The distinction is one founded in the very nature of things, and is similar

to that which, in the physical world, exists between light and darkness.

This is as much as to say that God Himself is the All-wise, and that

reasonable beings, in so far as they participate in His nature and

character, are distinguished by true wisdom; whilst, on the other

hand, departure from God is the same thing as abandonment to folly.


Ø      The distinction is brought out by the just exercise or the culpable misuse

of human faculty. “The wise man’s eyes are in his head,” which is a

proverbial and figurative way of saying that the wise man uses the powers

of observation and judgment with which he is endowed. The position and

the endowments of the organs of vision is a plain indication that they

were intended to guide the steps; the man who looks before him will

not miss his way or fall into danger. Similarly, the faculties of the

understanding and reason which are bestowed upon man are

intended  for the purpose of directing the voluntary actions,

which, becoming habitual, constitute man’s moral life. The

wise man is he who not only possesses such powers, but

makes a right use of them, and orders his way aright. The fool,

on the contrary, walketh in darkness;” i.e. he is as one who, having

eyes, makes no use of them — shuts his eyes, or walks blindfold.

The natural consequence is that he wanders from the path, and

probably falls into perils and into destruction.



AND THAT OF THE FOOL. The writer of this Book of Ecclesiastes was

impressed with the fact that in this world men do not meet with their

deserts; that, if there is retribution, it is of a very incomplete character; that

the fortune of men is not determined by their moral character. This is a

mystery which has oppressed the minds of observant and reflecting men in

every age, and has been to some the occasion of falling into skepticism and

even atheism.


Ø      The wise man and the fool in many cases meet with the same fortune

here upon earth: “One event happeneth to them all.” Wisdom does not

always meet with its reward in earthly prosperity, nor does folly always

bring down upon the fool the penalty of poverty, suffering, and shame. A

man may be ignorant, unthinking, and wicked; yet by the exercise of

shrewdness and cunning he may advance himself. A wise man may be

indifferent to worldly ends, and may neglect the means by which

prosperity may be secured. Moral means secure moral ends; but

there may be spiritual prosperity which is not crowned by worldly

greatness and wealth.


Ø      The wise man and the fool are alike forgotten after death. “All shall be

forgotten;” “There is no remembrance of the wise more than of the

fool for ever.” All men have some sensitiveness to the reputation

which shall survive them: the writer of this book seems to have been

particularly sensitive upon this point. He was impressed by the fact

that no sooner has a wise and good man departed this life than

straightway men proceed to forget him. A few years past, and

the memory of the dead itself dies, and good and bad alike are

forgotten by a generation interested only in its own affairs.

A common oblivion overtakes us all such considerations led the

author of this book into distress and disheartenment. He was

tempted to hate life; it was grievous unto him, and all was vanity

and vexation of spirit. A voice within, plausible and seductive,

urges — Why trouble as to the moral principles by which you are

guided? Whether you are wise or foolish, will it not soon be all

the same? Nay, is it not all the same even now?



were to look at some verses of this book only, we might infer that the

author’s mind was quite unhinged by the spectacle of human-life; that he

really doubted the superintendence of Divine providence; that he did not

care to make aright for truth, righteousness, and goodness. But although

he had doubts, and difficulties, though he passed through moods of a

pessimistic character, it appears plain that when he came to state his

deliberate and reasoned convictions, he showed himself to be a believer in

God, and not in fate; in resolute and self-denying virtue, and not in self-

indulgence and cynicism. In this passage are brought together facts which

occasion most men perplexity, which bring some men into skepticism. Yet

the deliberate conclusion to which the author comes is this: “I saw that

wisdom excelleth folly.” He had, as we all should have, a better and higher

standard of judgment, and a better and higher law of conduct, than the

phenomena of this world can supply. It is not by temporal and earthly

results that we are to form our judgments upon morality and religion;

we have a nobler and a truer standard, even our own reason and conscience,

the voice of Heaven to which to listen, the candle of the Lord by which to

guide our steps. Judged as God judges, judged by the Law and the Word

of God, “wisdom excelleth folly.” Let the wise and good man be afflicted

in his body, let him be plunged into adversity, let him be deserted by his

friends, let him be calumniated or forgotten; still he has chosen the better

part, and need not envy the good fortune of the fool. Even the ancient

Stoics maintained this. How much more the followers of Christ, who

Himself incurred the malice and derision of men; who was despised and

rejected and crucified, but who, nevertheless, was approved and accepted

of God the All-wise, and was exalted to everlasting dominion! Wisdom is

justified of her children.” (Luke 7:35)  The wise man is not to be shaken

either by the storms of adversity or by the taunts of the foolish. His is the

right path, and he will persevere in it; and he is not only sustained by the

approbation of his conscience, he is satisfied with the fellowship of his

Master, Christ.


                        The Value and the Futility of Wisdom (vs. 12-17)


Solomon had now made many experiments to try and discover something

that was good in itself, that was an end for which one might labor, a goal

for which one might make, a resting-place for the soul. The acquisition of

knowledge had first of all attracted him, but after a long course of study, in

which he traversed the whole field of learning and reached the limits of

human thought, the futility of his labors dawned upon him. Then he turned

to sensual enjoyments, and gave himself up to them for a time, with the

deliberate purpose of seeking to discover if there were in this quarter any

permanent gain; if it were possible so to prolong the pleasures of life as to

silence, if not to satisfy, the cravings of the soul. The experiment was but a

short one; he soon found out that pleasure is short-lived, and that mirth and

laughter are followed by weariness and melancholy. His resources were

not, however, yet exhausted. A new course was open to him, and one

which his richly endowed nature qualified him for trying, and his kingly

power and wealth laid open to him. This was the cultivation of those arts

by which human life is beautified; the gratification of those tastes that

distinguish man from the lower creatures, and that have something in them

that is noble and pure. He built stately palaces, planted gardens and forests;

he surrounded himself with all the luxury and pageantry of an Oriental

court; he accumulated treasures such as kings only could afford to procure;

music and song, and whatever could delight a refined taste, and a love of

the beautiful were diligently cultivated. But all in vain; aestheticism

proved as fruitless as the pursuit of knowledge, or the indulgence of the

coarser appetites, to give rest to the soul. And now in sober meditation he

reviewed all his experience; having come to the end of his resources, he

inquires into actual results attained, and pronounces upon them. First of all,

he is convinced that he has given a fair trial to all the various means by

which men seek for the highest good. He had failed to find that

satisfaction, but it was not because he had been ill equipped for carrying on

the search. No one that came after him (v. 12) could surpass him by a

more complete and thorough investigation. God had given him “a wise and

understanding heart,” and had endowed him with wealth and power; and in

both particulars he excelled all his fellows. Accordingly, he has no

hesitation in laying down great general principles drawn from careful

observation of the phenomena of human life.



FOLLY. The wise man walks in light, and has the use of his eyes; the fool

is blind, and walks in darkness. The wisdom here praised is not that holy,

spiritual faculty which springs from the fear of God and obedience to his

will (Job 28:28; Deuteronomy 4:6; Psalm 111:10), and which is

so strikingly personified, almost deified, in the Book of Proverbs and in

that of Job (Proverbs chps. 8 and  9.; Job 28:12-28); but is ordinary science,

knowledge of the laws of nature, and of the powers and limitations of

human life. This wisdom can only be acquired by long and painful labor,

and though by it we cannot discover God or find out the way of winning

and retaining His favor, or provide for the wants of the soul, it has, in its

sphere, high value. It gives some pleasure; it affords some guidance and

direction to its possessor. It enables him to acquire some good; it teaches

him to avoid some evils. Progress in civilization is only possible by the

cultivation of this wisdom. Wider acquaintance with the laws of health, for

example, has enabled men to stamp out certain forms of disease, or, at any

rate, to prevent their frequent recurrence, and to alleviate the sufferings

caused by others. Consider the immense benefit to the race the progress of

medical science has secured. The inventions that we owe to the cultivation

of natural knowledge are beyond number, and by them incalculable benefits

have been brought within our reach — better cultivation of the soil, less

exhausting labor, discovery of the uses of the metals stored up in the

bowels of the earth, more rapid distribution of the productions of nature

and of human industry, swifter means of communication between one part

of the world and another. “The improvement of natural knowledge,” says a

great authority, “whatever direction it has taken, and however low the aims

of those who may have commenced it, has not only conferred practical

benefits on men, but in so doing has effected a revolution in their

conceptions of the universe and of themselves, and has profoundly altered

their modes of thinking and their views of right and wrong” (Huxley, ‘Lay

Sermons’). Does not this amply justify Solomon’s assertion that wisdom

excels folly, as light darkness; that the wise man hath the use of his eyes,

the fool is blind”?


·         THE FUTILITY OF WISDOM. All the delight in the charms of

wisdom is quenched by the thought of the leveling power of death, which

overwhelms both the wise and the foolish indiscriminately (vs. 14b —17).

For a brief space there is a distinction between them — the one

endowed with priceless gifts, the other ignorant and poor. But what, after

all, was the use of the short-lived superiority? Like an extinguished torch,

the wisdom of the sage is blown out by death, and the very memory of his

attainments and triumphs is buried in oblivion. For a time, perhaps, he is

missed, but the gap is soon filled up, the busy world goes on its way, and in

a very short time it forgets all about him. Thus even the posthumous fame,

after which the purest and noblest minds have longed, to secure which they

have been content to endure poverty, hardship, and neglect in their lifetime,

is denied to the vast majority, even of those who have richly deserved it.

There were wise men before Solomon (1 Kings 4:31), but no memorial

survives of them but their names; no illustrations of their wisdom are given

to explain their reputation. And how faint is the impression which the

wisdom of Solomon himself makes upon the actual life of the present

world! Enshrined though it is in the sacred volume, it seems foreign to our

modes of thought; its voice is not heard in our schools of philosophy. The

fact of death is a certainty both to the wise and to the fool; the manner of it

may be similar; the doubts and fears and anxieties concerning the life to

come may perplex both. What can we suggest to relieve the sad picture, or

to counteract the paralyzing effect which the spectacle of the futility of

wisdom and effort is calculated to produce? The conviction that this life is

not all, that there is a life beyond the grave, is the great corrective to the

gloom in which otherwise every thinking mind would be enwrapped. This

present life is a state of infancy, of probation, in which we receive

EDUCATION FOR ETERNITY!   And to ask in melancholy tones what is the

use of acquiring wisdom if death is so soon to cut short our career here, is as

foolish as to ask what is the use of a sapling growing vigorously in a

nursery garden if it is to be afterwards transplanted. The place from which

it was taken may soon know it no more. But the loss is slight; the tree itself

lives and flourishes still under the eye and care of the Almighty

Husbandman. No fruitless regrets over the brevity and uncertainty of

human fame need interfere with present effort. We may soon be forgotten

on earth, but no attainments in wisdom or holiness we have made will have

been in vain; they will have qualified us for a higher service and a truer

enjoyment of God than we could otherwise have known.


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;  Ἐπέστρεψα ἐγὼ  - 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 ἐπέβλεψαepeblepsaI 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, Τοῦ ἀποτάξασθαι τὴν καρδίαν μου

ἐν παντὶ μόχθῳ μου tou apotaxasthai taen kardian mou en panti mochtho mou

to cause my heart to despair concerning all my labor.



                                                The Vanity of Toil (vs. 17-20)



that one applies himself to business, and succeeds through ability,

perseverance, and skill in building up a fortune, if he looks for happiness

either in his labor or in his riches, he will find himself mistaken. Three

things are fatal to a man’s chances of finding happiness in the riches that

come from business success.


Ø      Sorrow in the getting of them. Toiling and moiling, laboring and striving,

drudging and slaving, planning and plotting, scheming and contriving,

rising up early and lying down late, hurrying and worrying — by these

means for the most part are fortunes built up. How expressive is the

Preacher’s language concerning the successful man of business, that

all his days are sorrows, and his travail is grief,” or “all his days

are pains, and trouble is his occupation,” “yea, even in the night his

heart taketh no rest” (v. 23)!


Ø      Sorrow in the keeping of them. A constant anxiety besets the rich man,

night and day, lest the riches he has amassed should suddenly take wings

and flee away; by day looking out for safe investments, and by night

wondering if his ventures will prove good, if the money he has painfully

collected may not some day disappear and leave him in the lurch. And

even should this not happen, how often is it seen that when a man has

made his fortune, he finds there is nothing in it; that success has been

too long in coming, and that now, when he has wealth, he wants the

power to enjoy it (v. 22; compare ch. 6:2); as the duke says to Claudio

in the prison —


“And when thou art old and rich,

Thou hast neither heat. affection, limb, nor beauty,

To make thy riches pleasant.”

(‘Measure for Measure,’ act 3. sc. 1.)


Ø      Sorrow in the parting with them. The results of all his labor he must

leave to the man who shall be after him, without knowing whether that

successor shall be a wise man or a fool (vs. 18-19; compare ch. 5:15);

and though this does not greatly trouble the Christian, who knows

there is laid up for him a better and more enduring substance in heaven,

yet for the worldly or insincerely religious man it is an agitating thought.

Mazarin, the cardinal, and first minister of Louis XIV., was accustomed,

as he walked through the galleries of his palace, to whisper to himself,

“I must quit all this;” and Frederick William IV. of Prussia on one

occasion, as he stood upon the Potsdam terrace, turned to Chevalier

Bunsen beside him, and remarked, as they looked out together on the

garden,” This too I must leave behind me” (see Plumptre, in loco).



Preacher does not wish to teach that happiness lies beyond man’s reach,

but rather that it is attainable, if sought in the right way.  (Jesus gave the

key in Matthew 6:33 - “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and Hiss

righteousness and all these things shall be added unto thee.”) He recognizes:


Ø      That there is nothing wrong in seeking after happiness, or even earthly

enjoyment. He admits there is nothing better, more permissible or

desirable, among men than that one “should eat and drink, and make his

soul enjoy good in his labor” (v. 24). He even allows that this is from

the hand of God, which makes it plain that he is not now alluding to

sinful indulgence of the bodily appetite, but speaking of that moderate

enjoyment of the good things of life God has so richly provided for

man’s support and entertainment. It is not God’s wish, he says, that

man should be debarred or should debar himself from all enjoyment.

Rather it is His earnest desire that man should eat and drink and enjoy

what has been furnished for his entertainment, should not make of

himself an ascetic, under pretence of religion denying himself of

lawful pleasures and gratifications, but should so use them as to

contribute to HIS HIGHEST WELFARE!


Ø      That no man can make a good use of lifes provisions unless in

connection with the thought of God. “Who can eat or have enjoyment,

apart from him [i.e. God]?” (Revised Version, margin): This corrective

thought the Preacher lays before his readers, that while the world’s good

things cannot impart happiness by themselves and apart from God,


recognized as coming from Him (1 Chronicles 29:14; 1 Timothy 6:17;

James 1:17), and used for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). The last

passages show that this was THE NEW TESTAMENT IDEAL OF

LIFE!  (1 Timothy 4:4).


Ø      That he who seeks happiness in this way will succeed. “For God giveth

to a man that is good in his sight [or, ‘that pleaseth Him’] wisdom, and

knowledge, and joy” (v. 26). So far from pronouncing happiness a dream,

an unattainable good, a shadow without a substance, the Preacher

believes that if a man will take God and religion with him into the

world, and, remembering both the shortness of time and the certainty

of a future life, will enjoy the world’s good things in moderation and

with thankfulness, he will derive therefrom, if not absolute and

unmixed happiness, as near an approximation to it as man can

expect to reach on earth. God will graciously assist such a man to

gather the best fruits of wisdom and knowledge, both human and

Divine, and will inspire him with a joy the world can neither give

nor take away (Job 22:21; Psalm 16:8-9; 112:1, 7-8; John 16:22). This,

if not happiness, is at least a lot immensely superior to that God assigns

to the sinner, i.e. to the man who excludes God, religion, and

immortality from his life. The lot of such a man is often as the Preacher

describes, to toil away in making money, to heap it up till it becomes a

pile, and then to die and leave it to be scattered to the winds, enjoyed

by he knows not whom, and not infrequently by the good

men he has despised (Job 27:16-17; Proverbs 13:22; 28:8).


·         LESSONS.


1. Be diligent in business (Romans 12:11). “Whatsoever thy hand

    findeth to do,” etc. (ch. 9:10).

2. But be “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11).

3. Seek happiness in God Himself rather than in His gifts (Genesis 15:1;

    Psalm 4:7; 9:2; 40:16; Luke 1:47; Philippians 3:1).


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,” בְּ, “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


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; ἀνδρείαandreia 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? Γίνεται ἐν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ - 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 (λυπηρὸς

 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.




            Riches, though Obtained by much Toil, are Vanity (vs. 18-23)


The thought of death, which sweeps away the wise man as well as the fool,

and of the eternal oblivion which swallows up the memory of them both,

was very depressing; but a new cause for deeper dejection of spirit is round

in the reflection that the man who has toiled in the accumulation of wealth

must leave it all to another, of whom he knows nothing, and who wilt

perhaps dissipate it in a very brief time.


·         The first mortifying thought is — HE BUT GATHERS FOR A

SUCCESSOR. (v. 18.) He himself, when the moment of death comes,

must leave his possessions and depart into the world of shadows as naked

as he was when he entered upon life. The fact that such a reflection should

be bitter proves how deeply the soul is corroded by covetous and selfish

aggrandizement. The heart is absorbed in the things of the present, and the

anticipation of heavenly and spiritual joys grows faint and dies away. To be

torn from the wealth and possessions acquired upon earth is regarded as

losing everything; to be forced to leave them to another, even to a son, is

almost as bad as being plundered of them by a thief. This feeling of bitter

regret at having to give up all they possess at the call of death, has often

been experienced by those who have found their chief occupation and

happiness in life in the acquisition of earthly treasures.Mazarin walks

through the galleries of his palace and says to himself, ‘Il taut quitter tout

cela.’ Frederick William IV. of Prussia turns to his friend Bunsen, as they

stand on the terrace at Potsdam, and says as they look out on the garden,

‘Das auch, das soil ich lassen’ (‘This too! must leave behind me’)”



·         The second mortifying thought isTHAT IT IS QUITE



He may be a wise man, or he may be a fool; he may make a prudent use of

his inheritance, or he may in a very short time scatter it to the winds. The

very change in his circumstances, the novelty of his new situation, may turn

his head and lead him into courses of folly which otherwise he might have

avoided. Some have thought that the character of the youthful Rehoboam

was already so far developed as to suggest this mortifying reflection to

Solomon. But this is quite conjectural. The early career of the headstrong,

arrogant sovereign whose folly broke up the kingdom of Israel is an

illustration of the truth of this general statement, and may have been in the

thoughts of the writer, if he were not Solomon but some later sage. The

special reference to this one historical example of an inheritance dissipated

by an unworthy son need not be pressed. For, unfortunately, in every

generation there are only too many instances of a like kind. So frequent are

they, indeed, as to suggest very humiliating reflections to every one who

has spent his life in acquiring riches or collecting treasures of art. As he

sees fortunes squandered and collections of rarities broken up, the thought

must recur to his mind whose are to be the things which he has treasured

up so carefully (Psalm 39:6; Luke 12:20).


·         The third mortifying thought is — THAT THE CHARACTER OF


a man of a positively foolish and vicious disposition (v. 21). The case

presents itself of a man who has labored in wisdom and knowledge and

equity having to leave to another who is devoid of these virtues, who has

never sought to acquire them, all that his prudence and diligence have

enabled him to acquire. There is thus a climax in the thoughts of the writer.

First of all, there is some matter for irritation, especially to a selfish mind,

in the idea of giving up to another what one has spent years of laborious

toil m gathering together. Then there is the torturing doubt as to the

possible character of the new owner, and the use he will make of what is

left to him. But worst of all is the conviction that he is both foolish and

vicious. This is enough to poison all present enjoyment, and to paralyze all

further effort. Why should a man spend laborious days and sleepless nights,

if this is to be the end of it all? What has he left to show for all his

exertions? What but weariness and exhaustion, and the bitter reflection that

all has been in vain? Yet a little time after he has been forced by death to

part with his possessions, and they will be made to minister to the frivolity

and vice of one who has never labored for them, and ultimately will be

scattered like chaff before the wind. Thus a final discovery of the vanity of

all earthly employments is made. The acquisition of wisdom and

knowledge,, the gratification of the pleasures of sense, the cultivation and

indulgence of artistic tastes, had all been tried as possible avenues to lasting

happiness, and tried in vain. To these must now be added the accumulation

by prudent and lawful means, of great wealth. This, too, was discovered to

be vanity. It could only be accomplished by years of toil, and brought with

it fresh cares; and in the end all that had been gained must be given up to

another. Mortifying though the experiments had turned out to be, they had

at least been of negative value. Though they had not revealed where

happiness was to be found, they had revealed where it was not to be found.

The last disappointment, the discovery of the vanity of riches, taught the

great truth which might become a clue to lead to the much-desired

happiness, that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things

which he possesseth (Luke 12:15).




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.




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)




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



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 “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?



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 Οὐκ ἔστιν ἀγαθὸν ἀνθρώπῳ ο{ φάγεται καὶ ο{ πίεται,

- 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 (בָּ) 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 מ (“than”)

before שֶׁיּלֺאכַל, 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 ב, 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

point — the power of enjoyment depends on the will of God. The next

verse substantiates this assertion.




                                    The Complaint of the Successful (vs. 18-24)


The man who labors and who fails to acquire may be pitied, and if he finds

his life to have a large measure of vanity he may be excused for

complaining; but here is:


·         THE COMPLAINT OF THE SUCCESSFUL. The speaker (of the text)

is made (or makes himself) miserable because he has gained much by the

expenditure of time and strength, and he has to leave it behind him when he

dies; he has to leave it to one who has not labored” (v. 21), and possibly

to a man who is not as wise as himself, but is a fool” (v. 19), and he

may scatter or misuse it. And the thought of the insecurity of life, together

with the certainty of leaving all behind to the man who comes after,

whoever or whatever he may be, makes day and night wretched (v. 23).


·         WHEREIN IT IS SOUND. It is quite right that a man should ask

himself what will become of his acquisition. To be satisfied with present

pleasure is ignoble; to be careless of what is coming after us — “Apres moi

le deluge” (after me the deluge) is shamefully selfish. It becomes every

man to consider what the long results of his labor will be, whether

satisfactory or unfruitful.




Ø      There is nothing painful in the thought of parting with our treasure. We

inherited much from those who went before us, and we may be well

content to hand down all we have to those who come after us. We spent no

labor on that which we inherited: why should we be aggrieved because our

heirs will have spent none on what they take from us?


Ø      If we did not hoard our treasures, but distributed them while we lived,

putting them into the hands of the wise; or if (again) we chose our heirs

according to their spiritual rather than their fleshly affinities, we should

be spared the misery of accumulating the substance which a fool will

scatter.  But let us look at a still better aspect of the subject.




Ø      His best legacy. We may and we should so spend our time and our

strength that what we leave behind us is not wealth that can be dissipated

or stolen, but worth that cannot fail to bless — Divine truth lodged in

many minds, good principles planted in many hearts, a pure and noble

character built up in many souls. This is what no fool can divert or

destroy; this is that which will live on, and multiply and bless, when

we are far from all mortal scenes. Immeasurably better is the legacy

of holy influence than that of “uncertain riches;” the former must be

a lasting blessing, the latter may be an incalculable curse.


Ø      His best and purest hope. What if the dying man feels that his grasp on

earthly gain is about to be finally relaxed? is he not about to open his

hand in a heavenly sphere, where the Divine Father will enrich him

with a heavenly heritage, which will make all material treasures seem

poor indeed?




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.”



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




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.



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






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.”




                        The Conclusion of Folly or the Faith of the Wise? (v. 24)


In what catalogue shall we place these words of the text? On whose lips

are they to be found? Are they:


·         THE REFUGE OF THE SKEPTIC? They may be such. The epicure

who has lost his faith in God says, “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we

die.” There is no sacredness in the present, and no solid hope for the

future. What is the use of aiming at a high ideal? Why waste breath and

strength on duty, on aspiration, on piety? Why attempt to rise to the

pursuit of the eternal and the Divine? Better lose ourselves in that which is

at hand, in that which we can grasp as a present certainty. The best thing,

the only certain good, is to eat and drink and to labor; is to minister to our

senses, and to work upon the material which is visible to our eye and

responsive to our touch. So speaks the skeptic; this is his miserable

conclusion; thus he owns himself defeated and (we may say) dishonored.

For what is human life worth when the element of sacredness is expunged,

when piety and hope are left out of it? It is no wonder that the ages of

unbelief have been the times when men have had no regard for other

people’s dues, and very little for their own. Or shall we rather find here:


·         AN ARTICLE, OF A WISE MAN’S FAITH? It is not certain what

was the mood in which the Preacher wrote; but let us prefer to think that

behind his words, actuating and inspiring him, was a true spirit of faith in

God and in Divine providence; let us take him to mean — what we know

to be true — that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, a wise and loyal-

hearted man will hold that there is much that is worth pursuing and

possessing in the simple pleasures, in the daily duties, and in the ordinary

services which are open to us all.


Ø      Daily God invites us to eat and drink, to partake of the bounties of His

hand; let us appreciate His benefits with moderation and gratitude.


Ø      Daily He bids us go forth to “our work and to our labor until the

evening;” let us enter upon it and carry it out in the spirit of

conscientiousness and fidelity toward both God and man (Colossians



Ø      Daily God gives us the means of getting good to ourselves and doing

good to others; let us eagerly embrace our opportunity, let us gladly avail

ourselves of our privilege; so doing we shall make our life peaceful,

happy, worthy.


Ø      In the light that shines into our hearts from the truth of Christ we judge:


o       That these lesser things — pleasure, activity, acquisition — are well in

their way and in their measure. “Bodily exercise profiteth a little, but

godliness is profitable unto all things having promise of the life that

now is and of that is to come..” (I Timothy 4:8)  But:


o       That human life has possibilities and obligations which immeasurably

transcend these things; such, that to put these into the front rank and

to fill our life with them is a fatal error. Made subordinate to that

which is higher, they take their place and they render their service —

a place and a service not to be despised; but made primary and

supreme, they are usurpers that do untold injury, and that must

      be relentlessly dethroned


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 מִמֶּנִּי, they read מִמֶּנְּוּ,

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

shall drink without Him (πάρεξ αὐτοῦ  - 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


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.




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:



(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!




                                                Retribution (V. 26)


Here at length the Preacher propounds the doctrine of God’s moral

government, which in the earlier part of the book has been kept in

abeyance. It is one thing to treat of human life, and another thing to treat of

theology. The first may, and does to the thoughtful mind, suggest the

second; but there are many who never take the step from the one to the

other. The author of this book has recorded his experience, with such

generalizations and obvious lessons as such experience naturally suggests;

he has drawn such conclusions as an observant and reflecting student could

scarcely avoid. But hitherto he has refrained from the province of faith, of

insight, of revelation. Now, however, he boldly affirms the fact that the

world is the scene of Divine retribution; that behind all natural law there is

a law which is supernatural; that the Judge of all the earth doeth right.



ancient Epicurean notions that the gods were above all care for the

concerns of men is not extinct; for many even now deem it derogatory to

the Deity that he should be considered to interest himself either in the

experiences or in the character of men. This passage in Ecclesiastes justly

assumes that what men are and what they pass through are matters of real

concern to the Creator and Lord of all.




with a constitution properly supernatural, with capacities and faculties

higher than those which are amenable to physical law. Interesting as is the

necessary development of the universe under the control of natural forces,

far more interesting is the unfolding of the moral character of men. This,

indeed, is for us the most significant and momentous of all things that exist.

Man is made not merely to enjoy or to suffer, but to form character, to

acquire habits of virtue and piety; to become assimilated, in moral

disposition and purpose, to the Divine Author of His being. To this end all

circumstances may conduce; for experience shows us that there is no

condition of human life, no range of human experience, which may not

minister to spiritual improvement and welfare.



human relationships fail adequately to set forth the character and offices of

the Eternal; yet many such relationships serve to afford us some glimpse

into the excellences of Him who is judicially and morally the Supreme.

There is no incompatibility between the representation that God is a Father,

and that which attributes to Him the functions of a Judge. The human

relationships are based upon the Divine, and it is unjust to regard the

human as simply figures of the Divine. Having all power, God is able to

apportion the lot of the creature; being infinitely righteous, such

apportionment on His part must be beyond all criticism and censure. The

life of man should be lived under a constant sense of the Divine observation

and judgment; for thus the probationer of earth will secure the advantage

of the loftiest standard of righteousness, and the motive to rectitude and to

progress which the Divine government is fitted to supply. Distributive

justice — to use the expression familiar in moral philosophy — is the

function of the Supreme.




The passage now under consideration lays stress upon the earthly reward

and penalty, though it does not represent these as exhaustive and complete.

“God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and

joy.” This is something very different from what is termed “poetical

justice;” these are gifts which are consistent with adversity and affliction. In

fact, the lesson seems to be conveyed that moral goodness meets with

moral recompense, as distinct from the doctrine of children’s story-books,

which teach that “virtue will be rewarded with a coach-and-six”! And the

sinner is warned that he will receive the reward of his sin in travail,

disappointment, and dissatisfaction. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall

he also reap.” A man must be blind who does not see in the constitution of

human nature and human society the traces of a righteous Lawgiver and

Administrator; and at the same time, the man must be short-sighted who

does not detect indications of incompleteness in these judicial






the convictions and expectations of the ancient Hebrews with regard to a

future existence were as developed and decisive as those of Christians,

none would contend. But this and other books afford indications that the

enlightened Jews had an anticipation of judgment to come. If this world

were all, vanity and vexation of spirit would have been the only impression

produced by the experience and contemplation of human life. But it was

seen, even if dimly, that this earthly state requires, in order to its

completeness, an immortality which is the scene of Divine judgment and of

human retribution.




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



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



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)






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