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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 2

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

Verse 1

2:1 "I said to myself, 'Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.' And behold, it too was futility."

"I said to myself" -like the rich man in Luke 12:19. This type of statement reveals something very important about human beings. We can talk to ourselves, we are very aware of the choices we are making, and we often are also just as aware of the motivation behind those choices. Solomon knew exactly what he was looking for, he knew exactly what this search was all about.

"Come now" -indicating a new direction. In this section note the repetition of "I", and "myself". If there is any lasting meaning to be found in pleasure, then Solomon is determined to find it for himself. This is a dedicated man!

"So enjoy yourself" -"have a good time" (Ber). And this is exactly what the world tells us to do, "You deserve a break today, you only go around once, live it up, don't worry, be happy". Solomon is leaving no stone unturned, maybe the meaning of life can be found in having fun, living it up. How many people "just want to have fun" or think that "having fun all the time" will bring happiness?

"behold, it too was futility" -catching the attention of the reader, Solomon says, "pay attention here---a life devoted to pleasure is a hollow life". I found no lasting happiness, values or meaning in such a pursuit. "And there it was: vanity again!" (Jerus). "But you can almost her him saying, 'Are we having fun yet?'" (Ecclesiastes, David Posey p. 15).

Verse 2

2:2 "I said of laughter, 'It is madness', and of pleasure, 'What does it accomplish?'"

"It is madness" -Solomon had realized that behind laughter can be a tremendous amount of pain, "Even in laughter the heart may be in pain" (Prov. 14:13). Most of us have ran into people who try to laugh everything away. Everything is a joke, the response to even the most serious questions of life is some silly or frivolous answer.

"What does it accomplish?" -If more people in life would ask this question concerning what they are presenting pursuing, they would find the gospel message extremely attractive. Pleasure doesn't fill the void.

Verse 3

2:3 "I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives."

"I explored with my mind" -Indicating shrew and prudent human wisdom, a very careful examination. Solomon didn't become a drunk, rather he shrewdly and cleverly attempted to find the ultimate balance, that fine line between what the world calls excess and having a good time. "a consumption of wine which enables a man to get the highest possible enjoyment by a careful use of it, so that appetite is sharpened, enjoyment enhanced, and the finest bouquets sampled and enjoyed" (Leupold p. 60). "though deliberately and with restraint, not blindly or in uncontrolled excess….He wanted to test the effects of pleasure-seeking and frivolity to see if they were really worthwhile" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 981).

"while my mind was guiding me wisely" -The wisdom being used wasn't Divine wisdom, but rather, the best wisdom available "under the sun", human wisdom at its best. Solomon knew that his fine wines could prove deadly to him (Prov. 23:29-35), he knew that he was playing with fire. Even though Solomon never became an alcoholic, for a while he was addicted to such things. It's just that, like many worldly and successful people, Solomon simply moved from one addiction to another. He was addicted to the quest of finding happiness in physical things-a greater addiction than being addicted to any one thing. Solomon's use of wine no more justifies social drinking among Christians then his harem justifies polygamy among Christians.

"how to take hold of folly" -which could be "harmless nonsense". This could include being the class clown, cutting up, being a prankster, and playing practical jokes on others. The type of person who is joking all the time.

"until I could see what good there is" -Any "new" thing seems to offer the promise of genuine happiness. It takes awhile to "see" this new thing (to us) is just like all the old things. Like everything else under the sun, it can only offer happiness for the moment. Solomon tired all the latest fads of his time and found them all the same---unable to deliver lasting happiness. Whether it is hang gliding, scuba diving, snorkeling, skiing, or snow boarding, …they are all the same.

Point To Note:

The same principle applies to human innovations in religion. Among our liberal brethren, various individuals think they have found the ultimate religious experience in having a praise team sing during services or having a religious drama as part of the worship service. But next year, something else is going to be needed to give them the same "high". Unfortunately, some people never "see" the rut they have dug for themselves as they try one "new" thing after another, always thinking that this year they have found the ultimate religious experience. This year, their faith finally has some meaning because they have found something "new"!

Verse 4

2:4 "I enlarged my works; I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself;"

Verse 5

2:5 "I made gardens and parks for myself, and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees;"

Verse 6

2:6 "I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees."

Points To Note:

1 Next, Solomon threw himself into the joys of creativity. Solomon is like many people, who in their teens or early twenties pursued pleasure and having a good time, in their later twenties and thirties try to find fulfillment in building a house, remodeling, landscaping, building a fish pond in the backyard, or whatever the latest home improvement idea might be. 2. In this section no mention is made of the Temple, because Solomon is discussing those things he planned and designed for his own personal use. 3. Solomon's house is described in 1 Kings 7:1-12 and 9:19. He built many public works, including an armory, a citadel which protected the Temple (1 Kings 9:24; 11:27), store-cities, chariot cities, etc…(9:18-19). 4. Solomon inherited the vineyards of his father David and also had his own (1 Chron. 27:27-28; Song of Solomon 8:10-11). 5. The "Parks" of this section were large and enclosed parks for private use, which included all kinds of trees and even animals for hunting. Solomon, like the Persian kings had his own private reserve. 6. Various "pools" which Solomon built have been found. Not far from Bethlehem three such pools, located on separate levels still exist to this day. All are roughly rectangular, the largest measures 200 ft. wide, 600 ft. long and 50 ft. deep. Basically, Solomon built whatever he wanted to build. Someone has noted that the ancient talent of gold was thought to be worth $30,000 dollars (in 1962 dollars). Hence, if Solomon had been alive in 1962, his annual income would have been 20 million (1 Kings 10:14).

Verse 7

2:7 "I bought male and female slaves, and I had home born slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem."

Any big establishment requires "staff". Gardeners, cooks, butlers, hired hands, etc….So many people on a lesser scale have followed down the same track! How many people in search for the same thing that Solomon was looking for finally realized that they had to have a "ranch" at sometime in their lives? 1000 acres with a herd of Buffalo-is that the ultimate? And be impressed that Solomon unlike many people, knew what to do with all this stuff. Solomon had what people today call "class and taste". There was etiquette in his household. Martha Stewart would have been humbled in his presence (1 Kings 10:5-8). Many people who have wealth also face the frustration of not knowing what to do with what they do have. Solomon knew how to decorate! According to 1 Kings 4:22, 60 measures of meal or 28,000 pounds of bread were baked for the household of Solomon each and every day! From these figures it appears that the household of Solomon (his wives, their children, their servants and all his servants) included at least 14,000 people.

Verse 8

2:8 "Also, I collected for myself silver and gold, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men-many concubines."

Solomon possessed wealth which only kings are enabled to acquire (see 2 Chron. 1:15; 9:20 "silver was not considered valuable in the days of Solomon"; 1 Kings 9:28; 10:14-27). Solomon was also a man of the arts and culture. He was that type of person that people simply envy. He seemed to be perfect, the ultimate man, well-balanced and knowledgeable. An expert in virtually every field. A man who could hunt and yet at the same time write poetry. And the women loved him! He had a large harem (1 Kings 11:1-3). As one writer noted, he had all the recreational sex that he wanted.

Verse 9

2:9 "Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me."

"My wisdom also stood by me" -that earthly common sense, self-restraint and prudence. The best human wisdom that man can have. Kidner notes, "He has had the sense, for all this, to avoid the rich man's boredom by strenuous activity, enjoyed and valued for its own sake…and he has kept an appraising eye on his projects, even while in full pursuit of them…He has not lost sight of the quest, the search for meaning" (p. 32). This is why I call Solomon a James Bond type of character. He did everything perfectly (from a human standpoint). He was Mr. Cool. From a human standpoint he appeared to be completely together, always one step ahead of everyone else, on the cutting edge, always leading the trend and never following.

Verse 10

2:10 "And all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor."

"all that my eyes desired" -lest anyone try to argue that his search wasn't thorough or extensive. His search was only limited by what he couldn't see and being the king of a nation-he saw plenty!

"for my heart was pleased" -Solomon wasn't a killjoy or a person who could never have fun. Lest anyone say, "Well, nothing could make this man happy, he was of the wrong temperament, he was too moody". Solomon says, "I had a wonderful time!" "Yes, such pleasures and projects were extremely entertaining at the time, but…."

Kidner notes, "He creates a little world within a world: multiform, harmonious, exquisite: a secular Garden of Eden , full of civilized and agreeably uncivilized delights, with no forbidden fruits---or none that he regards as such" (p. 32).

Verse 11

2:11 "Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun."

"all my activities…all was vanity" -A lesser man would have argued otherwise. "A less exacting mind than Qoheleth's would have found a great to report with satisfaction. The achievements had been brilliant. On the material level, the farmer's perennial ambition to make (in our phrase) 'two blades of grass grow where one had grown before' had been overwhelming fulfilled; while aesthetically he had produced a connoisseur's paradise. If 'a thing of beauty is a joy for ever', he had not searched in vain for what is timeless and absolute. So we tend to think. Qoheleth will have none of it. To call such things eternal is no more than rhetoric…In the brutal colloquial terms of Today's English Version, his report is, 'I realized that it didn't mean a thing'" (Kidner p. 32).

Solomon really looked at what he had accomplished and honestly realized that none of this had given him what he was really looking for---lasting happiness, real satisfaction, true meaning and purpose for his existence. The answer was clear, there is no real and enduring happiness to be found in things "under the sun". Nothing here, in this life can satisfy the needs of our soul, our true selves. But how many people ignore what Solomon said? Ignore the plain and clear sign which is positioned on the roads which Solomon traveled? The sign that reads "dead end".

Kidner is right, lesser men try to bluff and pretend that they are really happy and that they really have accomplished something that will last forever. But Solomon won't allow us to pretend and "play" at being alive.

Solomon was honest! Solomon is giving us insight into the world of the rich and famous. He is saying, "Those people may look happy, but many of them are empty, miserable and depressed. The person who lives in that mansion, or just passed you in that fancy car might be less fulfilled then you are!" "People put up a good front, but here is a picture of what is really going on inside!"

Verse 12

2:12 "So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly, for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done?"

"wisdom, madness and folly" -What is the relative worth of wisdom in contrast to folly and madness? Which is more profitable? It is better to go through life serious, prudent and circumspect, or should I throw caution to the wind? Who finds more fun and enjoyment in life? The cautious person or the carefree individual?

"for what will the man do" -Solomon realizes that while someone after him might be able to duplicate his experiment, no man could ever exceed what he had done. So, others aren't going to find any different results then he found. He found the answer! Solomon didn't say, "Maybe I missed something, maybe I overlooked something…" What hope has anyone else in finding happiness in earthly things, seeing that he, the ideal candidate, failed?

Verse 13

2:13 "And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness."

Yes, prudence, caution, common-sense, wise planning and so on has its advantages (but for how long?).

Verse 14

2:14 "The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both."

Points To Note:

1 "A wise man has the foresight to avoid danger while a fool gets into trouble as though he stumbles around in the dark (cf. Prov. 4:18-19)" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 982). In addition, the fool has an attention problem (Proverbs 17:24). 2. "Any yet"-both die! (Hebrews 9:27). Great human wisdom is only profitable for a little while.

Verse 15

2:15 "Then I said to myself, 'As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?' So I said to myself, 'This too is vanity'".

"it will also befall me" -I wonder how many successful people, how many really famous people have thought the same thing? If this life is really all there is, then in the end the fool and the wise man are equal! "It is little use commending to us the ultimate worth of wisdom, if in the end none of us will be around to exercise it, let alone to value it" (Kidner p. 34).

"Why then have I been extremely wise?" -"what is the use of all my wisdom" (Mof). His great wisdom has really only recoiled upon himself, it taught him much, he was able to look ahead-but only to find a dead end! Maybe the fool is really better off, for at least he or she doesn't think about such things. Do you find yourself envying people who live superficial lives? And on top of it all, all his great wisdom can't stop him from dying. In fact, he might not even get to out live any of his contemporaries who were fools. We have all seen hard working, cautious and prudent individuals die at any early age, while "fools" seem to live to a ripe old age (Psalm 73).

Verse 16

2:16 "For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die!"

"there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man" -Now some will disagree with this statement, "In our society we remember 'great men' of the past". But this is the rare exception. Compared to how many wise men have lived, how many have been remembered? And future generations are not always able to distinguish between "who" was the fool and who was the wise man! At times history will remember the fool and forget the wise man. Solomon has no illusions! This is indeed the last grasp and hope of the successful person who doesn't believe in God: "Maybe I can do something by which all future generations will remember me and in that way continue to live on".

Verse 17

2:17 "So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind".

"So I hated life" -Here is why some people end up old and grumpy. For a while Solomon was disgusted with life. "If, as we might put it, every card in our hand will be trumped, does it matter how we play? Why treat the king with more respect than a knave?" (Kidner p. 34).

"was grievous" -It was grievous in light of the frustrating and unfair things in life which Solomon couldn't change. All his money couldn't keep him from dying, and neither could he permanently hold on to any of this wealth or pleasures. I believe that many famous people have finally hit this same wall. As someone said, "Only to reach the pinnacle of success and realize that you are stranded there."

Verse 18

2:18 "Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me."

"all the fruit of my labor" -not only did life lose its meaning, but all the "things" in 2:1-10 had lost their appeal to Solomon. Solomon grows bitter and cynical. Everything he has worked so hard for-would end up in the hands of someone else. Note the phrase, "I must leave it" , like it or not, this would be inevitable (Psalm 49:10,17; Prov. 27:24; Matt. 6:19; Luke 12:20; 1 Timothy 6:7). He resented all the work that he had expended because there was no permanence to its fruits.

Verse 19

2:19 "And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity."

"who knows" -There isn't any guarantee! And this person will have complete control over everything which I have worked so hard for! In addition, if you can't trust your kids, brother-in-law, or some other relative-somebody is still going to get everything you have. You may establish a "foundation" or a "trust" and still somebody can come along and complete waste the fruits of all your hard work. The son that Solomon had wasn't the brightest of men (1 Kings 11:43-12:15). Eventually everything that Solomon had amassed would be wasted, destroyed or loss through the unfaithfulness of the men who followed him as the kings of Israel.

"for which I have labored by acting wisely" -"The more he has toiled at his life's work….the more galling will be the thought of its fruits falling into other hands---and as likely as not, the wrong hands" (Kidner p. 35). You can almost hear him saying, "It's not fair!"

Verse 20

2:20 "Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun."

"completely despaired" -You can see why people without God commit suicide. I get depressed by just reading this section! Even wealthy people who seemingly have everything to live for (from a human perspective) end up extremely depressed, addicted to alcohol or drugs and finally taking their own lives. "So I turned in despair from hard work as the answer to my search for satisfaction" (Tay).

Verse 21

2:21 "When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil."

"When there is a man" -This verse describes the intense effort and devotion that Solomon had put into his projects. He had worked hard! This was his life-work, his crowning achievements, things which few men had ever accomplished in life! Solomon had spent an entire lifetime working diligently, perfecting his skills, burning the mid-night oil, improving himself, accumulating a fortune and the thought of his successor getting everything he had earned, without any effort-and maybe evening squandering it, or not appreciating it-is more than he could stand! Not only was it "vanity" it was unfair!

"his legacy" -For the successful of this world the last straw that they grasp for as they depart from this life. Solomon, realizes that a physical or material legacy means nothing. We tend to think that our children and grandchildren will greatly prize all our treasures. But think about it, what do you have that belonged to your great-great-great-grandparents? What wealth have you inherited, what possession do you possess that was possessed by an ancestor of yours say, 100 years ago, 150 years ago, 200 years ago? WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THEIR STUFF!

Verse 22

2:22 "For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun?"

"what does a man get" -If this life is all there is, then in the final analysis, all that really results, even from the most prosperous lifestyle imaginable, is a whole lot of painful labor and restless activity.

"in his striving" -"for all the weight of care" (Bas). Solomon, like many individuals had truly thrown himself into trying to find meaning and purpose in this life. He had striven. Solomon was a driven man, a go-getter.

Verse 23

2:23 "Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity."

This is what many "driven" people have found at the end of the road. "The compulsive worker….overloading his days with toil and his nights with worry, has missed the simple joys that God was holding out to him" (Kidner p. 35). For the restless nights of the successful see 5:12.

A Glimpse Of Hope

Verse 24

2:24 "There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen, that it is from the hand of God."

Points To Note:

1 Solomon isn't saying, "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die". For he includes God in this statement. 2. The idea of telling yourself that your labor is good, is that of realizing that you did accomplish some meaningful things in this life. But this life is only meaningful if God exists! 3. Kidner notes, "for in themselves, and rightly used, the basic things of life are sweet and good…. What spoils them is our hunger to get out of them more than they can give " (p. 35). Going out to eat, having nice things, living in a comfortable house, and other pleasures of this life are great----as long as we understand that they aren't the source of our happiness and neither do they add any meaning to our lives. They are simply things, which we appreciate, but which we could also live without and still be completely happy. 4. The verse and context also point out that only God can really enable us to enjoy the things of this life. The Christian, while not being covetous, greedily or materialistic, truly enjoys the nice 'things' of this life more than the sinner.

Verse 25

2:25 "For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?"

I can't truly enjoy the things "under the sun" until my mind is set on things above the sun (Colossians 3:1-2; Philippians 4:11ff). God has enabled me to be freed from my demand that physical things make me happy. No longer do I expect or demand things, events or people to do the impossible (i.e. make me happy). Hence, I can enjoy wonderful things and humble things. Here is a warning to the wealthy or those bent on physical success, without God you will probably end up resenting what you have instead of enjoying it.

Verse 26

2:26 "For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God's sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind."

For a moment we are allowed to look above the sun. The book itself will end strongly on such a positive note. God doesn't simply have favorites, rather, one's relationship with God depends upon one's moral character. The sinner is violating the laws of God (1 John 3:4). And "good" is determined by God, not by some human judgment.

On the one hand we have the righteous individual, who because of their humble obedience, character and mental perspective is allowed to enjoy truly meaningful things, even in this life. Godly wisdom (James 3:17-18), knowledge which leads to freedom (John 8:31-32), rather than mental anguish, and a true and lasting joy with is unaffected by outward circumstances. But look at the task given to the sinner, the frustrating business of amassing what cannot be kept. If you decide to reject God, then this is the lot that you have chosen for yourself in life! And you really don't have any right to complain about being miserable or unhappy if that is your choice. From this chapter it would seem that Solomon is saying, "I walked in the shoes of the sinner! I tried to find happiness in things. And I found it to be a very disappointing, frustrating and miserable experience!"

"This too is vanity" -that is choosing to live in rebellion to God. The idea that the sinner only gathers and collects for the righteous seems to be the same idea as the "meek will inherit the earth". Not that the righteous will get all the things owned by sinners, but the righteous end up appreciating the things of this life more than those who worship the things of this life.

Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dun/ecclesiastes-2.html. 1999-2014.
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