Ecclesiastes 2


The vanity of human courses in the works of pleasure,

planting, equipage, amassing wealth, &c., 1-11.

Wisdom preferable to folly, 12-14;

yet little difference between the wise and the foolish in

the events of life, 15-17.

The vanity of amassing wealth for heirs, when whether they

will be foolish or wise cannot be ascertained, 18-21.

There is much sorrow in the labour of man, 22, 23.

We should enjoy what the providence of God gives, 25, 26.


Verse 1. I will prove thee with mirth] This is well expressed

by the author so often referred to. Having tried speculative

knowledge in vain, passion and appetite whisper,-

"From the rugged thorny road

Of wisdom, which so ill repays thy toil,

Turn back, and enter pleasure's flowery paths.

Go, take thy fill of joy; to passion give

The reins; nor let one serious thought restrain

What youth and affluence prompt."

Verse 2. I said of laughter, It is mad] Literally "To laughter I

said, O mad one! and to mirth, What is this one doing?"

Solomon does not speak here of a sober enjoyment of the things

of this world, but of intemperate pleasure, whose two attendants,

laughter and mirth are introduced by a beautiful prosopopoeia as

two persons; and the contemptuous manner wherewith he treats them

has something remarkably striking. He tells the former to her face

that she is mad; but as to the latter, he thinks her so much

beneath his notice, that he only points at her, and instantly

turns his back.

Verse 3. To give myself unto wine, (yet acquainting

[ noheg, "guiding"] mine heart with wisdom,)] I did not run

into extremes, as when I gave up myself to mirth and pleasure.

There, I threw off all restraint; here, I took the middle course,

to see whether a moderate enjoyment of the things of the world might

not produce that happiness which I supposed man was created to enjoy

here below.

Verse 4. I builded me houses] Palace after palace; the house of

the forest of Lebanon, 1Ki 7:1, &c.; a house for the queen; the

temple, &c., 2Ch 8:1, &c.; 1Ki 9:10, &c., besides many other

buildings of various kinds.

Verse 5. I made me gardens and orchards] pardesim,

"paradises." I doubt much whether this be an original Hebrew word.

[Arabic] ferdoos, is found in the Persian and Arabic; and

signifies a pleasant garden, a vineyard. Hence our word paradise,

a place full of delights. How well Solomon was qualified to form

gardens, orchards, vineyards, conservatories, &c., may be at

once conceived when we recollect his knowledge of natural history;

and that he wrote treatises on vegetables and their properties,

from the cedar to the hyssop.

Verse 6. Pools of water] Tanks and reservoirs.

To water therewith the wood] Aqueducts to lead the water from

the tanks to different parts.

Verse 7. Servants and maidens] For my works, fields, folds, and

various domestic labors.

Servants born in any house] Besides those hired from without, he

had married couples in the precincts of his grounds, palaces, etc.,

who, when their children grew up, got them employment with themselves.

Great and small cattle] Oxen, neat, horses, asses, mules, camels,

and such like; with sheep and goats. And multitudes of most of

these he needed, when we are told that his household consumed daily

ten stall-fed oxen, with twenty from the pasture, with a hundred sheep;

besides harts, roebucks, fallow deer, fatted fowls, and other kinds of

provision. Probably, such another court for splendor and expense was

not in the universe.

Verse 8. The peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces] 1. The

taxes levied off his subjects. 2. The tribute given by the

neighboring potentates. Both these make the "peculiar treasure of kings;"

taxes and tribute.

Men singers and women singers] This includes all instrumental and

vocal performers. These may be called the delights of the sons of men.

Musical instruments, and that of all sorts.] For these seven

words, there are only two in the original, shiddah

veshiddoth. These words are acknowledged on all hands to be utterly

unknown, if not utterly inexplicable. Some render them \@male and

female captives; others, cups and flagons; others, cooks

and confectioners; others, a species of musical compositions

derived from a celebrated Phoenician woman named Sido, to whom

Sanchoniatha attributes the invention of music. Others, with more

probability, wives and concubines; of the former of whom

Solomon had seven hundred, and of the latter, three hundred; and

if these be not spoken of here, they are not mentioned at all; whereas

music, and every thing connected with that, was referred to before. The

author of Choheleth paraphrases thus:-

"To complete

This scene of earthly bliss, how large a span

Of that which most delights the sons of men

Fell to my portion! What a lovely train

Of blooming beauties, by connubial ties,

By purchase, or the gifts of neighboring kings,

Or spoils of war, made mine."

If, after all this, I may add one conjecture, it shall be this;

sadeh, in Hebrew, is a field, and occurs in various parts

of the Bible. sadoth is fields, 1Sa 22:7, the points

in such a case are of no consideration. May not Solomon be speaking here

of farms upon farms, or estates upon estates, which he had added

by purchase to the common regal portion? We know that a king of Israel

(Ahab) once desired to have a vineyard (Naboth's) which he could not

obtain: now, Solomon having spoken before of gardens, orchards, and

vineyards, why may he not here speak of supernumerary estates?

Perhaps every man who critically examines the place will be dissatisfied,

and have a conjecture of his own.

Verse 10. I withheld not my heart from any joy] He had every means

of gratification; he could desire nothing that was not within his

reach; and whatever he wished, he took care to possess.

Verse 11. And, behold, all was vanity] Emptiness and

insufficiency in itself.

And vexation of spirit] Because it promised the good I wished

for, but did not, could not, perform the promise; and left my soul

discontented and chagrined.

Verse 12. For what can the man do that cometh after the king?]

I have examined every thing proposed by science, by maddening

pleasure, and by more refined and regulated mirth. I seized on the

whole, and used them to the uttermost; and so far, that none ever shall

be able to exceed me; as none can, in the course of things, ever have

such power and means of gratification.

Verse 13. Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly] Though in none

of these pursuits I found the supreme good, the happiness my soul

longed after; yet I could easily perceive that wisdom excelled the

others, as far as light excels darkness. And he immediately

subjoins the reasons.

Verse 14. The wise man's eyes, &c.] Well expressed by


"The wise are circumspect, maturely weigh

The consequence of what they undertake,

Good ends propose, and fittest means apply

To accomplish their designs."

But the fool walketh in darkness]

"But fools, deprived

Of reason's guidance, or in darkness grope,

Or, unreflecting like a frantic man,

Who on the brink of some steep precipice

Attempts to run a race with heedless steps,

Rush to their own perdition."

One event happeneth to them all.]

"Though wide the difference, what has human pride

To boast? Even I myself too plainly saw,

That one event to both alike befalls;

To various accidents of life exposed,

Without distinction: nor can wisdom screen

From dangers, disappointments, grief, and pain."

Verse 15. As it happeneth to the fool] Literally, "According as

the event is to the fool, it happens to me, even me." There is a

peculiar beauty and emphasis in the repetition of me. Having

pointed out the advantages that wisdom has over folly, he takes

this opportunity of reminding us of the danger of trusting too

much to it, by showing that it is equally subject to the common

accidents of life; and, therefore, incapable of making us

completely happy. Having given his sentiments on this point in

general terms, he proceeds to those particular instances wherein

human prudence chiefly exerts itself; and shows how egregiously it

is mistaken in every one of them.-C.

Verse 16. There is no remembrance] The wise and the fool are

equally subject to death; and, in most instances, they are equally

forgotten. Time sweeps away all remembrances, except the very few

out of millions which are preserved for a while in the page of


Verse 17. Therefore I hated life] et hachaiyim, the

lives, both of the wise, the madman, and the fool. Also all

the stages of life, the child, the man, and the sage. There

was nothing in it worth pursuing, no period worth re-living and

no hope that if this were possible I could again be more


Verse 18. I hated all my labour] Because, 1. It has not answered

the end for which it was instituted. 2. I can enjoy the fruits of

it but a short time. 3. I must leave it to others, and know not

whether a wise man, a knave, or a fool will possess it.

Verse 19. A wise man or a fool?] Alas! Solomon, the wisest of

all men, made the worst use of his wisdom, had seven hundred wives

and three hundred concubines, and yet left but one son behind him,

to possess his estates and his throne, and that one was the

silliest of fools!

Verse 20. I went about to cause my heart to despair] What makes

all worse, there is no remedy. It is impossible in the present

state of things to prevent these evils.

Verse 21. For there is a man] Does he not allude to himself? As

if he had said, "I have laboured to cultivate my mind in wisdom

and in science, in knowledge of men and things, and have

endeavoured to establish equity and dispense justice. And now I

find I shall leave all the fruits of my labour to a man that hath

not laboured therein, and consequently cannot prize what I have

wrought." Does he not refer to his son Rehoboam?

Verse 22. For what hath man of all his laborer] Labour of body,

disappointment of hope, and vexation of heart, have been all my


Verse 23. His days are sorrows] What a picture of human life

where the heart is not filled with the peace and love of God! All

his days are sorrows; all his labours griefs; all his nights

restless; for he has no portion but merely what earth can give;

and that is embittered by the labour of acquisition, and the

disappointment in the using.

This is also vanity.] Emptiness of good and substantial misery.

Verse 24. There is nothing better for a man] The sense of this

passage is well expressed in the following lines:-

"For these disorders wouldst thou find a cure,

Such cure as human frailty would admit?

Drive from thee anxious cares; let reason curb

Thy passions; and with cheerful heart enjoy

That little which the world affords; for here,

Though vain the hopes of perfect happiness,

Yet still the road of life, rugged at best,

Is not without its comforts.---------

Wouldst thou their sweetness taste, look up to heaven,

And praise the all-bounteous Donor, who bestows

The power to use aright."

Verse 25. For who can eat-more than I?] But instead of

chuts mimmenni, more than I; chuts mimmennu, without

HIM, is the reading of eight of Kennicott's and De Rossi's

MSS., as also of the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic.

"For who maye eat, drynke, or bring enythinge to pass without


I believe this to be the true reading. No one can have a true

relish of the comforts of life without the Divine blessing. This

reading connects all the sentences: "This also I saw, that it was

from the hand of God;-for who can eat, and who can relish without

HIM? For God giveth to man that is good." It is through his

liberality that we have any thing to eat or drink; and it is only

through his blessing that we can derive good from the use of what

we possess.

Verse 26. Giveth-wisdom, and knowledge, and joy] 1. God gives

wisdom-the knowledge of himself, light to direct in the way of

salvation. 2. Knowledge-understanding to discern the operation of

his hand; experimental acquaintance with himself, in the

dispensing of his grace and the gifts of his Spirit. 3. Joy; a

hundred days of ease for one day of pain; one thousand enjoyments

for one privation; and to them that believe, peace of conscience,

and JOY in the Holy Ghost.

But to the sinner he giveth travail] He has a life of labour,

disappointment, and distress; for because he is an enemy to God,

he travails in pain all his days; and, as the wise man says

elsewhere, the wealth of the wicked is laid up for the just. So he

loseth earthly good, because he would not take a heavenly portion

with it.

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