For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4


Ecclesiastes 2

A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

2:1.  “I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold this also is vanity.”


“Go to now” is better translated “Come now.”  Having found that human wisdom, apart from God, is as worthless as chasing the wind, he determined to examine or test pleasure to see whether it might afford something of lasting value, but found that it too was the equivalent of pursuing the wind.


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


This laughter is not that which is the expression of true joy, but rather, that which, as far as affording lasting satsifaction is concerned, is worthless.  It is momentarily evoked by some fleeting earthly pleasure, and proves to be also as worthless as chasing the wind.


“What doeth it?” is also translated, What use is it?  What does it accomplish?  It is worthless.


2:3.  “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.”


Having found earthly pleasure to be incapable of giving lasting satisfaction, he decided to give himself to wine, and to the examination of foolishness - while at the same time retaining his innate wisdom - in order to find out whether wine might perhaps prove to be a dependable source of enduring happiness.


Like many another before and after him, he found, in fact, that overindulgence in wine not only yielded no enduring peace and happiness, but was more likely to be the road to ruin.


2:4.  “I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:”


2:5.  “I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted tres in them of all kings of fruit:”


2:6.  “I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:”


“... works” applies to anything with which one may busy himself, and in the present context it applies to Solomon’s occupation with the planning and building of beautiful parks and gardens, with pools or miniature lakes from which everything could be watered.


2:7.  “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:” 


His servants were multiplied, as were also his flocks of sheep and goats, and his herds of cattle: all of them were more than had been possessed by anyone before him in Jerusalem.


2:8.  “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.”


“Peculiar” in the present context means proper, special, good, closely guarded; and “provinces” means a jurisdiction, district, region, ruled by a governor or judge; and “... delights” means things that are luxurious, delicate, pleasant.


2:9.  “So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.”


Neither his greatness nor his possessions had robbed him of wisdom, as they have so many of those who have preceded and followed him.


2:10.  “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.”


He denied himself nothing either in the way of pleasures or possessions.  In fact it was the gratification of every desire that gave him joy, that pleasure being the recompense of whatever effort he may have had to expend to obtain what he desired.


2:11.  “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.”


In the final analysis, however, all his vast possessions had brought him no lasting satisfaction, his disappointment being variously expressed as all was vanity and a striving after the wind; like chasing the wind; worthless; there was no enduring advantage.  Many another who has pursued the same foolish path has been brought to make the same sad acknowledement.  The truth is that lasting peace and satisfaction become the possession only of those who have recognized that they were sinners on the broad and crowded road that leads to hell, and who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.


William MacDonald has summed it all up, “That is where our contemporary society is - in a hell of materialism, trying to satisfy the human heart with things that cannaot bring lasting enjoyment.”


2:12.  “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.”


Having contemplated the accumulation of wealth, and having found it to be as worthless as chasing after the wind, he then turned to examine the difference between wisdom and madness or folly, for he knew that those who would follow him would be unable to do more than he himself had done.


2:13.  “Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as the light excelleth darkness.”


He perceived, as must every rational person, that as light is superior to darkness, so is wisdom to folly.


2:14.  “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 knows that everything he does will have consequences according to whether he does good or evil; but the fool fails to consider the outcome of his conduct; yet the end of each is the same: both eventually die.


2:15.  “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.”


As Solomon considered that death would claim both him and the fool, he was prompted to ask what advantage there was in his having been endued with wisdom; and his conclusion was that there was none: his wisdom was as worthless as the wind.  It couldn’t save him from death.


2:16.  “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.”


Death claims the wise man as well as the fool, and with the passage of time both alike are forgotten.


2:17.  “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.”


“... grievious” is also translated vexatious, evil, irrational, disgusting, and it was so to Solomon because he realized that all of it was as worthless as chasing the wind.


2:18.  “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.”


He hated, detested all that his labor had produced, because he realized that all of it would pass into the possession of his successor.


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.”


He knew not whether that successor would be wise or foolish, and if he should prove to be foolish then all of Solomon’s labor would have been wasted, worthless, the equivalent of his having chased the wind.  His son Rehoboam proved to be a foolish son indeed, for he listened to the advice of his young companions, and ignored the counsel of the older wiser men, with the result that the kingdom was divided into two.


2:20.  “Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labor which I took under the sun.”


Taylor has translated this verse, “So I turned in despair from hard work as the answer to my search for satisfaction.”


2:21.  “For there is a man whose labor is in wisdom, and in knowldedge, and in equity (skilfulness); yet to a man that hath not labored therein shall he leave it for his portion.  This also is vanity and a great evil.”


A man may labor wisely, knowledgeably, and skilfully, only to have all his estate pass into the hands of one who lacks all of these virtues, a fact which caused Solomon to realize that all human effort here on earth was no better than chasing the wind, for a man can take nothing with him when he leaves this world.


2:22.  “For what hath man of all his labor, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath labored under the sun?”


When it comes his time to leave this world, what eternal gain will remain to a man as a result of all his work and worry in the course of his earthly life?  Nothing!


2:23.  “For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night.  This is also vanity.”


In all of his days there are sorrows and toil; nor does he find rest even at night, for when he should be enjoying restful sleep, his mind dwells on the problems, real and imaginary, which occupy most of his days.  This too is as profitless as chasing the wind.


2:24.  “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.”


His reasonings had led to the conclusion that a man should eat his meals and perform his daily work joyfully, in the realization that this is what God has appointd for man, desiring him to walk in the enjoyment of that knowledge.


2:25.  “For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?”


According to most scholars better translations of this verse are, “Who can eat or have enjoyment, apart from Him;” “for apart from Him, who can eat or have enjoyment.” 


2:26.  “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.”


“...good” as used here is better translated “who pleases God; who does right in His sight.”  This may not be taken to imply a sinless condition, but rather, a heart that tries to be obedient to God, as the expression of gratitude for eternal salvation made available at such cost.  Nor does it imply a life free from the ills that beset humanity, but rather the enjoyment of peace in the midst of every adversity, based on the certain knowledge that “All things work together for good to those who love God,” Romans 8:28.  This is a peace the unconverted man can never enjoy.


Neither may this verse be understood to teach that God permits unbelievers to accumulate wealth so that He may then take it from them and give it to believers, for experience teaches that this is very rarely the case.  The reference may therefore be to what will occur at the end of the Great Tribulation, when unbelievers will be banished bodily into hell, and the living believers will “inherit the earth,” Mt 5:5, i.e., remain on the earth to enjoy millennial blessings.


Whatever the correct interpretation, the fact remains that the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake is as worthless as chasing the wind.

[Ecclesiastes 3]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough