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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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ECCLESIASTES 2

THE ILLUSORY SATISFACTIONS OF PLEASURE-SEEKING

(Note: The paragraph headings used here are from the Anchor Bible.)

Verses 1-11
I said in my heart, Come now, I will prove thee with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it? I searched in my heart how to cheer my flesh with wine, my heart yet guiding [me] with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what it was good for the sons of men that they should do under heaven all the days of their life. I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards; I made me gardens and parks, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruit; I made me pools of water, to water therefrom the forest where trees were reared; I bought men-servants and maid-servants, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of herds and flocks, above all that were before me in Jerusalem; I gathered me also silver and gold, and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I gat me men-singers and women-singers, and the delights of the sons of men, musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced because of all my labor; and this was my portion from all my labor. 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 a striving after wind, and there was no profit under the sun.

Therefore enjoy pleasure
(Ecclesiastes 2:1). In these verses, the king tried to find the summum bonum in pleasure.F1 However, this also proved to be a futile search; and he pronounced it also as vanity. As Robert Burns stated it, Pleasures are like poppies spread; You seize the stem, the bloom is shed!

I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it
(Ecclesiastes 2:2)? Solomon had touched on this once before. See comment on Prov. 14:13: Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of mirth is heaviness. The pleasure addict cannot escape `the morning after,' nor the revulsion of satiety.F2 The rhetorical question at the end of this verse has negative intent.F3 It simply means that mirth and laughter accomplish absolutely nothing.

My heart yet guiding me with wisdom
(Ecclesiastes 2:3). This is one of many statements in Ecclesiastes which make it impossible for this writer to accept the current theory adopted by many scholars that the writer here (supposedly living centuries after Solomon's death) was not Solomon at all but one who was placing himself in Solomon's place and putting all these statements in Solomon's mouth. This of course, is the old, discredited device of liberal scholars in making certain Biblical books to be the pseudepigrapha, a device that was thoroughly exploded in 1977 by John A. T. Robinson in his famous book, Redating the New Testament.F4

It seems absolutely incredible that any writer, centuries after Solomon's reprobate life had ended, could possibly have put into Solomon's mouth the conceit that all of his debauchery was committed while he still retained his great wisdom, a notion diametrically opposed to the facts.

"By Solomon's sensual behavior, as indicated here, he suffered infinite loss, which nothing on earth could ever compensate."F5 So! how could any later writer, knowing all the shameful results of Solomon's behavior, have put a falsehood like this in the mouth of any "great wise man" he was trying to impersonate? Also, see Eccl. 2:16 in this same category.

I made me great works
(Ecclesiastes 2:4). This verse and through Eccl. 2:6 stresses Solomon's effort to find earthly satisfaction as a builder, or an achiever. He would build great buildings, amass great riches, gain worldwide fame and power, etc. Many commentators go into great detail here, telling all about Solomon's wonderful achievements; but we have already commented upon all of these things in the historical books of the Old Testament; and there is no need to rehearse it all here. Significantly, one of the greatest things Solomon ever did was to construct the Temple in Jerusalem; but true to his immeasurable conceit, he mentions here that he did it all for ME, not for God. In this one paragraph, Solomon used the words `I,' `my,' `me,' and `mine' 32 times!

I made me gardens and parks
(Ecclesiastes 2:5) Scott noted that the word parks here is a Persian word;F6 and from this and similar words, many scholars postulate a late date for Ecclesiastes, which we reject. Such Persian words might easily have crept into the text from the efforts of copyists. If one doubts that such things occur in `translations' and `versions,' let him compare a copy of the King James Bible published in the 1600's with one printed today.

I bought men-servants and maid-servants. and had great flocks and herds
(Ecclesiastes 2:7). These slaves are mentioned in the same breath with herds of cattle, for Solomon considered such human beings as mere property. Solomon used them for forced-labor.F7 See 1 Kings 9:15-22.

Men-singers, women-singers, and the delights of the sons of men
(Ecclesiastes 2:8). Here again, we have undeniable evidence that it is Solomon, not an impersonator, who is writing. It is impossible to imagine that any right-minded historian who, centuries later, would have skirted around the facts of Solomon's disgraceful harem in the same manner as Solomon did here. Delights of the sons of men! What is he talking about? That godless harem, of course, with its 700 wives and 300 concubines. The scholars all agree that this is what is meant here. An authentic rendition of this is: I provided myself with male and female singers, and with the pleasures of the flesh, concubine after concubine.F8 Deane,F9 Loader,F10 and DelitzschF11 all agree that this is the meaning here.

All that were before me in Jerusalem
(Ecclesiastes 2:9). This expression, as well as earlier uses of it in Ecclesiastes, is not restricted to `kings' in Jerusalem, but applies to any rich persons whomsoever.

Also my wisdom remained with me
(Ecclesiastes 2:9). This, of course, could have been said only by Solomon himself, not an impersonator. All the world knew that Solomon's lustful, extravagant, selfish and inhuman reign was a total disaster, taking Solomon himself to the grave at an early age. His policies wrecked and eventually destroyed Israel; and it was his son's foolish efforts to continue those policies that terminated the united Israel almost before Solomon's body got cold in the grave. And what about all that `wisdom'? What Solomon here called his wisdom was merely his earthly prudence.F12 We might add that there was also very little of earthly prudence in it. Certainly it had no element of the true wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of the Lord. But is not this book inspired by the Holy Spirit? Oh yes. The Holy Spirit here tells us exactly what Solomon said (and did), in the same manner that the Holy Spirit also tells us exactly what Satan said and did in Eden. The Divine endorsement of Solomon's shameless behavior here is certainly not to be found.

This was my portion from all my labor
(Ecclesiastes 2:10). Yes indeed, that was Solomon's `portion,' such as it was. It reminds us of what Abraham said to the rich man as he lifted up his eyes in hell, Son, remember that in thy lifetime thou receivedst thy good things! (Luke 16:25).

All was vanity and a striving after wind
(Ecclesiastes 2:11). Many another profligate playboy has tragically discovered the same truth. The modern playboy still dreams of finding the ultimate pleasure in `recreational sex' and free love, only to find out that venereal disease and early old age and death turn his dream into a nightmare.F13


THE WISE MAN IS NO BETTER OFF THAN THE FOOL

Verses 12-17
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 done long ago. Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. The wise man's eyes are in his head, and the fool walketh in darkness: and yet I perceived that one event happeneth to them all. Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so will it happen even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then said I in my heart, that this also is vanity. For of the wise man, even as of the fool, there is no remembrance for ever; seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. And how doth the wise man die even as the fool! So I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun was grievous unto me; for all is vanity and a striving after wind.

For what can the man do that cometh after the king?
(Ecclesiastes 2:12). Solomon meant by this that no one after him would be able to surpass his pursuit of fulfillment by his unlimited indulgence in everything that came to his mind. He had already done it all; and with the nearly limitless resources in his power, no one after him would be able to exceed the variety and extent of Solomon's extravagant and lustful indulgences.

"Solomon had already concluded that seeking happiness through worldly wisdom was `striving after the wind,' and that in much wisdom there is much grief (Ecclesiastes 1:17-18), yet he makes it clear here that he considers wisdom much better than folly and ignorance."F14 This is true because the wise man can see where he is going, and the fool cannot.

Why was I then more wise
(Ecclesiastes 2:15). Since death comes alike to fool and wise man, why should a wise man be considered any smarter than a fool? Solomon reached this conclusion while alienated from God and while seeking answers through purely worldly wisdom. The Holy Spirit gives us a true record of what he said, but does not guarantee the correctness of his conclusion (which was totally in error).F15

For the wise man. as of the fool, there is no remembrance forever
. (Ecclesiastes 2:16). Here again is a statement that no impersonator, writing centuries after Solomon's death, could have been stupid enough to write. Therefore, these words are Solomon's, not those of an impersonator. If the alleged impersonator ever lived, as claimed, centuries after Solomon's death, he would certainly have been aware that Solomon, the wise king, had not only been gloriously remembered for half a millennium, but that Israel would indeed never forget him. How then could an impersonator have put a falsehood like this in Solomon's mouth? It is NOT an adequate explanation, as suggested by Kidner: There is a lack here in Qoheleth's honesty.F16 NO! Solomon himself is the author here; and, in his state of satiety and despair, he simply feared that subsequent generations would forget all about him.

Thus, for the first time in Ecclesiastes, the terrible fact of man's mortality terminates Solomon's quest for happiness by worldly indulgence, rather than by service of God. The shocker to the sinful, lustful mind of Solomon was the thought of Death, the great Leveler, "Of wise men and fools, the good and the bad, the saints and the sinners,"F17 the sheep and the goats, the rich and the poor, the mighty and the obscure -- name any contrasting pair that comes to mind. Death levels all in that universal cemetery, "Where wronged and wrong-doer alike, with meekened face and cold hands folded o'er a still heart pass the green threshold of our common grave, whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart."F18

Let every unbelieving infidel on earth get the message here. If he has a tenth of the wisdom of Solomon, he also will appraise the situation just like Solomon. "I hate life." This, of course, is true, only for that person whose mind is set on this life alone and who has decided to walk without God.

So I hated life
(Ecclesiastes 2:17). How many infidels and hedonists have there been who have wished that they had never been born; and how many of the thousands of suicides every year are the result of a life lived without God, and which they have found to be grievous, empty, painful and profitless?F19


DEATH ROBS A MAN OF THE FRUITS OF HIS LABOR

Verses 18-26
And I hated all my labor wherein I labored under the sun, seeing that I must leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet will he rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. Therefore I turned about to cause my heart to despair concerning all the labor wherein I had labored under the sun. For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, and with knowledge, and with skillfulness; 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 what hath a man of all his labor, and of the striving of his heart, wherein he laboreth under the sun? For all his days are but sorrows, and his travail is grief; yea, even in the night his soul taketh no rest. This also is vanity.

There is nothing better for a man than that his soul should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment more than I? For to the man that pleaseth him, God giveth 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 pleaseth God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind."

(Ecclesiastes 2:18). Here we learn that Solomon had some misgivings about his son Rehoboam;F20 and there were plenty of reasons why he should have had them. Under the stupid government of his son Rehoboam, his fool of a son soon liquidated the once-powerful empire of his father; and when Shishak, king of Egypt, came up and captured Jerusalem, even the gold-plated treasures of the sacred Temple itself were carried away to Egypt.

Dean wrote that, "It is impossible that Solomon could thus have spoken concerning Rehoboam";F21 but our opinion is that if Solomon was a tenth as wise as the Bible says he was, he would certainly have had sense enough to know that any son raised like a hot-house flower in a godless harem would not have the judgment to govern any nation, much less a worldwide empire; nor would Solomon himself have had such sense, if God had not supernaturally endowed him. Of course, Solomon did indeed have misgivings about Rehoboam.

Who knoweth whether he will be a wise man or a fool
(Ecclesiastes 2:19)? As Solomon thought upon the certainty that he would soon leave his vast riches to another, there was increased bitterness in his heart at the possibility that his heir might be a fool (as indeed he proved to be). Many another rich man has been haunted by the same uncertainty. It was this very question that God Himself hurled in the teeth of the rich fool (Luke 12:20), Thou foolish one, this night is thy soul required of thee; and the things which thou hast prepared, WHOSE SHALL THEY BE? This is the question that every rich man should contemplate. Solomon contemplated it here, but he did not like the obvious answer.

The argument from all of this was thus stated by Loader: "By toil and wisdom Solomon had made great gains, but his successor may well be a fool; and, in that case, wisdom has only served the interests of folly. Therefore wisdom is worthless."F22

Returning again to that example Jesus gave us in Luke 12, "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Right here lies the secret of why despair, disillusionment, disappointment and frustration settled like a dark cloud over Solomon's heart. No wonder he hated life.

Yet to a man that hath not labored therein shall he leave it
(Ecclesiastes 2:21). The great paradox mentioned here is that great reward should go to the wise and the industrious; but, lo, and behold, some lazy and foolish heir inherits every bit of it! No wonder that Solomon's verdict on all this was that, This also is vanity and a great evil. It seems never to have occurred to Solomon that he should have made himself rich toward God with all that wealth. Instead of that, he spent his last days fretting over whether or not a fool would get everything that his wisdom and labor had produced. And sure enough, the fool got it, and promptly lost it. This is a true description of what has happened to many another vast estate.

Even in the night his heart taketh no rest
(Ecclesiastes 2:23). This is indeed an accurate description of people with great possessions whose lives are oriented to this life alone and who neither believe in God nor try to serve him. The result: sleepless nights, one headache after another, and endless worry and apprehension.

There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labor
(Ecclesiastes 2:24). Scholars dispute the obvious meaning here; but what appears is that basic enjoyment comes to the man who works for a living and is blessed of God to enjoy his food and drink. The king with all of his wealth here seems to sense the fact that it has brought him no more, actually, than that which comes from the working man's livelihood.

Waddey, however, interpreted this passage to mean that Solomon concluded that the best policy for life was Epicureanism: "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."F23 If that is what the passage means, it is, of course, a false viewpoint. This was the philosophy of the rich fool in Luke 12, but God Himself condemned it.

"The real value of Ecclesiastes is that it portrays life as it must ever be without Christ."F24 And the picture that emerges in these chapters is so terrible that it should frighten every unbeliever on earth out of his atheism and turn his thoughts to God, who alone is able to bless man eternally.

To the man that pleaseth him, God giveth wisdom, and knowledge, and joy; but to the sinner he giveth travail
(Ecclesiastes 2:26). As Cook said, Here is the doctrine of Retribution, and God is the moral Governor of the world.F25 One may chase any earthly rainbow that he may choose, but, apart from the blessing of God, the utmost futility, despair and destruction will be his eternal reward. The forcefulness with which Ecclesiastes teaches this truth is the secret of its value.


Footnotes for Ecclesiastes 2
1: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 9b, p. 31.
2: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 572.
3: J. A. Loader, Ecclesiastes, p. 27.
4: Redating the New Testament by A. T. Robinson (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976.)
5: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 31.
6: The Anchor Bible Commentary (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1972), Vol. 18, p. 215.
7: J. A. Loader, Ecclesiastes, p. 28.
8: The Anchor Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 214.
9: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 33.
10: J. A. Loader, Ecclesiastes, p. 28.
11: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), Vol. 6b, pp. 239-240.
12: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 34.
13: James Waddey, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, p. 16.
14: Ibid., p. 17.
15: Ibid., p. 18.
16: The Bible Speaks Today, p. 34.
17: Ibid.
18: John Greenleaf Whittier, Forgiveness.
19: James Waddey, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, p. 19.
20: Ibid.
21: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 36.
22: J. A. Loader, Ecclesiastes, p. 30.
23: James Waddey, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, p. 20.
24: J. A. Loader, Ecclesiastes, p. 33.
25: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1989 reprint of the 1878 edition), Ecclesiastes, p. 95.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ec&chapter=002>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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