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A. Personal Observations 1:12-2:17
There are four parts to this section that fall into two pairs. Solomon first related his investigations (in Ecclesiastes 1:12-15 and Ecclesiastes 2:1-11), and then gave his evaluations of each of these experiments (in Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 and Ecclesiastes 2:12-17).
Pleasure produces no lasting accomplishment, either. That is, while it has some temporary, immediate value (e.g., relieving grief or boredom), it does not produce anything permanently or ultimately worthwhile. Rather, the pursuit of pleasure yields a hollow life. It is clear from Ecclesiastes 2:3 that Solomon’s investigation of pleasure was not a mindless dive into the morass of hedonism. Wisdom guided him throughout. He evidently pursued every pleasure available to an oriental monarch.
3. Solomon’s investigation of pleasure 2:1-11
"After having proved that secular wisdom has no superiority to folly in bringing true happiness to man, he [the writer] seeks his happiness in a different way, and gives himself up to cheerful enjoyment." [Note: Delitzsch, p. 232.]
"Solomon . . . decided to test his own heart to see how he would respond to two very common experiences of life: enjoyment (1-3) and employment (4-11)." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 487.]
"A sensible use of money may be a form of creativity; so Solomon expressed himself in extensive buildings and the planting of vineyards, fruit trees, and gardens (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6). [Note: J. S. Wright, p. 1156. Cf. 1 Kings 9:19.]
Some of this experimentation involved sin (Ecclesiastes 2:8; cf. Numbers 15:39; Psalms 131:1). Solomon did not say he experienced no pleasure; he did. Nevertheless, his final evaluation was that pleasure does not yield long-term profit, i.e., real significance in this life (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
4. Solomon’s evaluation of his investigation of pleasure 2:12-17
The king realized that few people would be able to check the results of his experiments. Few if any would have the resources he had at his disposal to duplicate his experiments (Ecclesiastes 2:12).
Wisdom is better than folly in some respects, but neither provides a key to discovering real profit. Consequently, Solomon concluded that being wise only has temporary and limited advantages over being foolish. Ultimately there is not much difference. Both the wise man and the fool die, and their survivors forget them. "Grievous" (4:17, Heb. ra) is the opposite of "advantage" (Ecclesiastes 1:3, profit). It is loss. The fact that Solomon could find nothing in work or pleasure that could yield anything ultimately profitable led him to view life itself as distasteful and repugnant (Ecclesiastes 2:17). [Note: For a study of how the writer of Ecclesiastes viewed death, see James L. Crenshaw, "The Shadow of Death in Qoheleth," in Israelite Wisdom . . ., pp. 205-16.]
B. General Observations 2:18-6:9
Thus far, Solomon had reflected on the futility of all human endeavor generally (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11), and the futility of human achievement (Ecclesiastes 1:12-15) and his own achievements in particular (Ecclesiastes 2:1-17). Next, he turned to an evaluation of labor, his own (Ecclesiastes 2:18-20), as well as that of all other people (Ecclesiastes 2:21 to Ecclesiastes 6:9). What he described in this section did not require a privileged position; it can be observed by anyone.
Solomon viewed all his labor during his lifetime ("under the sun," Ecclesiastes 2:18) with despair, because there was no real permanence to its fruits. He could not take them with him.
"A Jewish proverb says, ’There are no pockets in shrouds.’" [Note: Wiersbe, p. 490.]
Solomon would have no control over what he had accumulated or accomplished after he died, either (Ecclesiastes 2:19). The idea so common today that a good job is more desirable than a bad job because it yields benefits the worker can enjoy is a very short-sighted, selfish view. It seems to contradict Solomon’s conclusion, but it does not. Solomon’s perspective was much broader and more altruistic. He was thinking about what long-range changes for good could come out of all human toil.
1. The outcome of labor 2:18-26
In Ecclesiastes 2:18-26, the emphasis is on what happens to the fruits of labor that one accumulates over a lifetime of toil. These fruits include: money and all it can buy, fame, and happiness.
In view of what comes of it all, Solomon concluded that human labor costs more pain and restlessness than it is worth.
Since we cannot expect permanent changes to come out of our work, changes that will continue forever after, the best we can do is to enjoy its fruits and find some satisfaction in the work itself (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-19; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7; Ecclesiastes 9:9). This is the first of seven passages in which the writer recommended the wholehearted pursuit of enjoyment (Ecclesiastes 2:24 a; Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:22 a; Ecclesiastes 5:17; Ecclesiastes 8:15 a; Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 a; and Ecclesiastes 11:7 to Ecclesiastes 12:1 a), and they make the point with increasing intensity and solemnity. [Note: For a study of these passages, see R. N. Whybray, "Qoheleth, Preacher of Joy," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 23 (1982):87-98, reprinted in Zuck, ed., Reflecting with . . ., pp. 203-12.] However, this is possible only with God’s help (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).
"Solomon is not advocating ’Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!’ That is the philosophy of fatalism not faith. Rather, he is saying, ’Thank God for what you do have, and enjoy it to the glory of God.’" [Note: Wiersbe, p. 491.]
Sometimes God channels the fruits of a wicked person’s work into a righteous person’s hands (Ecclesiastes 2:26). [Note: See J. Stafford Wright, "The Interpretation of Ecclesiastes," in Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation, pp. 144-45.]
". . . in themselves, and rightly used, the basic things of life are sweet and good. Food, drink and work are samples of them, and Qoheleth will remind us of others [cf. Ecclesiastes 9:7-10; Ecclesiastes 11:7-10]. What spoils them is our hunger to get out of them more than they can give; a symptom of the longing which differentiates us from the beasts, but whose misdirection is the underlying theme of this book." [Note: Kidner, p. 35.]
In these verses, Solomon implied that God’s rewarding or punishing a person for his trust in God and his ethical behavior would take place before death. This is normally what happens (cf. Proverbs). Therefore, Solomon’s counsel is good advice. However, from later revelation we learn that final judgment will take place after this life, and that God’s rewards are not just temporal but eternal (cf. Job’s problem). Therefore, as believers, we can find greater satisfaction in our work itself than Solomon could. In short, later revelation has not invalidated Solomon’s views but enriched them.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20