Ecclesiastes Chapter 1:1-4,12-14; 2:1-3,12-14, 24-26 Antique Commentary Quotes

Adam Clarke

Ecclesiastes 1:1

The words of the Preacher – Literally, “The words of Choheleth, son of David, king of Jerusalem.” But the Targum explains it thus: “The words of the prophecy, which Choheleth prophesied; the same is Solomon, son of David the king, who was in Jerusalem. For when Solomon, king of Israel, saw by the spirit of prophecy that the kingdom of Rehoboam his son was about to be divided with Jeroboam, the son of Nebat; and the house of the sanctuary was about to be destroyed, and the people of Israel sent into captivity; he said in his word – Vanity of vanities is all that I have labored, and David my father; they are altogether vanity.” The word קהלת Koheleth is a feminine noun, from the root קהל kahal, to collect, gather together, assemble; and means, she who assembles or collects a congregation; translated by the Septuagint, ekklhsiasthv, a public speaker, a speaker in an assembly; and hence translated by us a preacher. In my old MS. Bible it is explained thus: a talker to the peple; or togyder cleping.

Pulpit Commentary



The words of the Preacher, the son of David, King in Jerusalem; Septuagint, “King of Israel in Jerusalem” (comp. Ecc_1:12). The word rendered “Preacher” is Koheleth, a feminine noun formed from a verb kalal, “to call” (see Introduction, § 1), and perhaps better rendered” Convener” or “Debater.” It is found nowhere else but in this book, where it occurs three times in this chapter (Ecc_1:1, Ecc_1:2, Ecc_1:12), three times in Ecc_12:8, Ecc_12:9, Ecc_12:10, and once in Ecc_7:27. In all but one instance (viz. Ecc_12:8) it is used without the article, as a proper name. Jerome, in his commentary, translates it, ‘Continuator,’ in his version ‘Ecclesiastes.’ It would seem to denote one who gathered around him a congregation in order to instruct them in Divine lore. The feminine form is explained in various ways. Either it is used abstractedly, as the designation of an office, which it seems not to be; or it is formed as some other words which are found with a feminine termination, though denoting the names of men, indicating, as Gesenius notes, a high degree of activity in the possessor of the particular quality signified by the stem; e.g. Alemeth, Azmaveth (1Ch_8:36; 1Ch_9:42), Pochereth (Ezr_2:57), Sophereth (Neh_7:57); or, as is most probable, the writer desired to identify Koheleth with Wisdom, though it must be observed that the personality of the author often appears, as in Ecc_1:16-18; Ecc_7:23, etc.; the role of Wisdom being for the nonce forgotten. The word “king” in the title is shown by the accentuation to be in apposition to “Koheleth” not to “David;” and there can be no doubt that the description is intended to denote Solomon, though his name is nowhere actually given, as it is in the two other works ascribed to him (Pro_1:1; So Pro_1:1). Other intimations of the assumption of Solomon’s personality are found in Ecc_1:12, “I Koheleth was king,” etc.; so in describing his consummate wisdom, and in his being the author of many proverbs—accomplishments which are not noted in the case of any other of David’s descendants. Also the picture of luxury and magnificence presented in Ecc_2:1-26. suits no Jewish monarch but Solomon. The origin of the name applied to him may probably be traced to the historical fact mentioned in 1Ki_8:55, etc; where Solomon gathers all Israel together to the dedication of the temple, and utters the remarkable prayer which contained blessing and teaching and exhortation. As we have shown in the Introduction (§ 2), the assumption of the name is a mere literary device to give weight and importance to the treatise to which it appertains. The term, “King in Jerusalem,” or, as in 1Ki_8:12, “King over Israel in Jerusalem,” is unique, and occurs nowhere else in Scripture. David is said to have reigned in Jerusalem, when this seat of government is spoken of in contrast with that at Hebron (2Sa_5:5), and the same expression is used of Solomon, Rehoboam, and others (1Ki_11:42; 1Ki_14:21; 1Ki_15:2, 1Ki_15:10); and the phrase probably denotes a time when the government had become divided, and Israel had a different capital from Judah.

Albert Barnes

Ecclesiastes 1:1

Preacher – literally, Convener. No one English word represents the Hebrew קהלת qôheleth adequately. Though capable, according to Hebrew usage, of being applied to men in office, it is strictly a feminine participle, and describes a person in the act of calling together an assembly of people as if with the intention of addressing them. The word thus understood refers us to the action of Wisdom personified Pro_1:20; Pro_8:8. In Proverbs and here, Solomon seems to support two characters, speaking sometimes in the third person as Wisdom instructing the assembled people, at other times in the first person. So our Lord speaks of Himself (compare Luk_11:49 with Mat_23:34) as Wisdom, and as desiring Luk_13:34 to gather the people together for instruction; It is unfortunate that the word “Preacher” does not bring this personification before English minds, but a different idea.

Pulpit Commentary


Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity (comp. Ecc_12:8). “Vanity” is hebel, which means “breath,” and is used metaphorically of anything transitory, frail, unsatisfying. We have it in the proper name Abel, an appropriate designation of the youth whose life was cut short by a brother’s murderous hand. “Vanity of vanities,” like “heaven of heavens” (1Ki_8:27), “song of songs” (So Ecc_1:1), etc; is equivalent to a superlative, “most utterly vain.” It is here an exclamation, and is to be regarded as the key-note of the whole subsequent treatise, which is merely the development of this text. Septuagint, ματαιότης ματαιοτήτων; other Greek translators, ἀτμὶς ἀτμίδων, “vapor of vapors.” For “saith” the Vulgate gives dixit; the Septuagint, εἶπεν; but as there is no reference to any previous utterance of the Preacher, the present is more suitable here. In affirming that “all is vanity,” the writer is referring to human and mundane things, and directs not his view beyond such phenomena. Such reflection is common in sacred and profane writings alike; such experience is universal (comp. Gen_47:9; Psa_39:5-7; Psa_90:3-10; Jas_3:14). “Pulvis et umbra sumus,” says Horace (‘Carm.,’ 4.7. 16. “O curas hominum! O quantum est in rebus inane!” (Persius, ‘Sat.,’ 1.1). If Dean Plumptre is correct in contending that the Book of Wisdom was written to rectify the deductions which might be drawn from Koheleth, we may contrast the caution of the apocryphal writer, who predicates vanity, not of all things, but only of the hope of the ungodly, which he likens to dust, froth, and smoke (see Wis. 2:1, etc.; 5:14). St. Paul (Rom_8:20) seems to have had Ecclesiastes in mind when he spoke of the creation being subjected to vanity (τῇ ματαιότητι), as a consequence of the fall of man, not to be remedied till the final restitution of all things. “But a man will say, If all things are vain and vanity, wherefore were they made? If they are God’s works, how are they vain? But it is not the works of God which he calls vain. God forbid! The heaven is not vain; the earth is not vain: God forbid! Nor the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor our own body. No; all these are very good. But what is vain? Man’s works, pomp, and vain-glory. These came not from the hand of God, but are of our own creating. And they are vain because they have no useful end That is called vain which is expected indeed to possess value, yet possesses it not; that which men call empty, as when they speak of ’empty hopes,’ and that which is fruitless. And generally that is called vain which is of no use. Let us see, then, whether all human things are not of this sort” (St. Chrysostom, ‘Hem. 12. in Ephes.’).

Albert Barnes

Ecclesiastes 1:2

Vanity – This word הבל hebel, or, when used as a proper name, in Gen_4:2, “Abel”, occurs no less than 37 times in Ecclesiastes, and has been called the key of the book. Primarily it means “breath,” “light wind;” and denotes what:

(1) passes away more or less quickly and completely;

(2) leaves either no result or no adequate result behind, and therefore

(3) fails to satisfy the mind of man, which naturally craves for something permanent and progressive: it is also applied to:

(4) idols, as contrasted with the Living, Eternal, and Almighty God, and, thus, in the Hebrew mind, it is connected with sin.

In this book it is applied to all works on earth, to pleasure, grandeur, wisdom, the life of man, childhood, youth, and length of days, the oblivion of the grave, wandering and unsatisfied desires, unenjoyed possessions, and anomalies in the moral government of the world.

Solomon speaks of the world-wide existence of “vanity,” not with bitterness or scorn, but as a fact, which forced itself on him as he advanced in knowledge of men and things, and which he regards with sorrow and perplexity. From such feelings he finds refuge by contrasting this with another fact, which he holds with equal firmness, namely, that the whole universe is made and is governed by a God of justice, goodness, and power. The place of vanity in the order of Divine Providence – unknown to Solomon, unless the answer be indicated in Ecc_7:29 – is explained to us by Paul, Rom. 8, where its origin is traced to the subjugation and corruption of creation by sin as a consequence of the fall of man; and its extinction is declared to be reserved until after the Resurrection in the glory and liberty of the children of God.

Vanity of vanities – A well-known Hebrew idiom signifying vanity in the highest degree. Compare the phrase, “holy of holies.”

All – Solomon includes both the courses of nature and the works of man Ecc_1:4-11. Compare Rom_8:22.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecc 1:2. Vanity of vanities] The form is the highest type (as in the “servant of servants” of Gen. 9:25, the “chief over the chief” of Num. 3:32) of the Hebrew superlative. The word translated “vanity,” identical with the name Abel or Hebel (Gen. 4:2) means primarily a “breath,” or “vapour,” and as such becomes the type of all that is fleeting and perishable (Ps. 62:9, 144:4). It is uniformily translated by “vanity” in the English Version of this book, which is moulded on the Vulgate as that was upon the LXX. The other Greek versions gave “vapour of vapours” (Hieron. in loc.) and this may perhaps be regarded as, in some respects, a preferable rendering. The watchword of the book, the key-note of its melancholy music, meeting us not less than thirty-nine times, is therefore, whether we take it as a proposition or an exclamation, like that of the Epicurean poet “Pulvis et umbra sumus” (Hor. Od. iv. 7. 9), like that also, we may add, of St James (Jas. 3:14) and the Psalmist (Ps. 90:3–10). In the Wisdom of Solomon apparently written (see Introduction, chap. v.) as a corrective complement to Ecclesiastes we have a like series of comparisons, the “dust,” the “thin froth,” the “smoke,” but there the idea of ‘vanity’ is limited to the “hope of the ungodly” and the writer, as if of set purpose, avoids the sweeping generalizations of the Debater, who extends the assertion to the “all” of human life, and human aims. It is not without significance that St Paul, in what is, perhaps, the solitary reference in his writings to this book, uses the word which the LXX. employs here, when he affirms that “the creature was made subject to vanity” and seeks to place that fact in its right relation to the future restitution of the Universe (Rom. 8:20).

Pulpit Commentary


What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? Here begins the elucidation of the fruitlessness of man’s ceaseless activity. The word rendered “profit” (yithron) is found only in this book, where it occurs frequently. It means “that which remains over, advantage,” περισσεία, as the LXX. translates it. As the verb and the substantive are cognate in the following words, they are better rendered, in all his labor wherein he laboreth. So Euripides has, Τί μόχον μοχθεῖς, and (‘And. Fragm.,’ 7.4), Τοῖς μοχθοῦσι μόχθους εὐτυχῶς συνεκπόνει. Man is Adam, the natural man, unenlightened by the grace of God. Under the sun is an expression peculiar to this book (comp. Ecc_1:9, Ecc_1:14; Ecc_2:11, Ecc_2:17, etc.), but is not intended to contrast this present with a future life; it merely refers to what we call sublunary matters. The phrase is often tact with in the Greek poets. Eurip; ‘Alcest.,’ 151—

Γυνή τ ἀρίστη τῶν ὑφ ἡλίῳ μακρῷ

“By far the best of all beneath the sun.”

Homer, ‘Iliad,’ 4:44—

Αἳ γὰρ ὑπ ἠελίῳ τε καὶ οὐρανῷ ἀστερόεντι

Ναιετάουσι πόληες ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων.

“Of all the cities occupied by man

Beneath the sun and starry cope of heaven.”


Theognis, ‘Parcem.,’ 167—

Ὄλβιος οὐδεὶς

Ἀνθρώπων ὁπόσους ἠέλιος καθορᾷ.

“No mortal man

On whom the sun looks down is wholly blest.”

In an analogous sense we find in other passages of Scripture the terms “under heaven” (Ecc_1:13; Ecc_2:3; Exo_17:14; Luk_17:24) and “upon the earth” (Ecc_8:14, Ecc_8:16; Gen_8:17). The interrogative form of the verse conveys a strong negative (comp. Ecc_6:8), like the Lord’s word in Mat_16:26, “What shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” The epilogue (Ecc_12:13) furnishes a reply to the desponding inquiry.

Pulpit Commentary


One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh. The translation rather weakens the force of the original, which is, a generation goeth, and a generation cometh. Man is only a pilgrim on earth; he soon passes away, and his place is occupied by others. Parallelisms of this sentiment will occur to every reader. Thus Ben-Sira, “All flesh waxeth old as a garment: for the covenant from the beginning is, Thou shalt die the death. As of the green leaves on a thick tree, some fall and some grow; so is the generation of flesh and blood, one cometh to an end, and another is born. Every work rotteth and consumeth away, and the worker thereof shall go withal” (Ecclesiasticus 14:17, etc.; comp. Job_10:21; Psa_39:13). The famous passage in Homer, ‘Iliad,’ 6.146, etc; is thus rendered by Lord Derby—

“The race of man is as the race of leaves:

Of leaves, one generation by the wind

Is scattered on the earth; another soon

In spring’s luxuriant verdure bursts to light.

So with our race: these flourish, those decay.”

(Comp. ibid; 21.464, etc.; Horace, ‘Ars Poet.,’ 60.) But (and) the earth abideth forever. While the constant succession of generations of men goes on, the earth remains unchanged and immovable. If men were as permanent as is their dwelling-place, their labors might profit; but as things are, the painful contrast between the two makes itself felt. The term, “for ever,” like the Greek εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, does not necessarily imply eternity, but often denotes limited or conditioned duration, as when the slave is engaged to serve his master “for ever” (Exo_21:6), or the hills are called “everlasting” (Gen_49:26). This verse gives one instance of growth and decay in contrast with insensate continuance. The following verses give further examples.

Adam Clarke

Ecclesiastes 1:12

I the Preacher was king – This is a strange verse, and does not admit of an easy solution. It is literally, “I, Choheleth, have been king over Israel, in Jerusalem.” This book, as we have already seen, has been conjectured by some to have been written about the time that Ptolemy Philadelphus formed his great library at Alexandria, about two hundred and eighty-five years before our Lard; and from the multitude of Jews that dwelt there, and resorted to that city for the sake of commerce, it was said there was an Israel in Alexandria. See the introduction.

It has also been conjectured from this, that if the book were written by Solomon, it was intended to be a posthumous publication. “I that was king, still continue to preach and instruct you.” Those who suppose the book to have been written after Solomon’s fall, think that he speaks thus through humility. “I was once worthy of the name of king: but I fell into all evil; and, though recovered, I am no longer worthy of the name.” I am afraid this is not solid.

Daniel Whedon

Ecclesiastes 1:12

12.I the Preacher was king — All scholars agree that was implies am not now, and to fit this word to the historic Solomon many an ingenious fiction has been devised. The Chaldee exposition says, that he was dethroned by Ashmodai, king of the demons. Others think that he wrote in old age, and here referred to his previous lifetime. But in Hebrew, the “was” is emphatic, and no man would use it in speaking of what still continued, and in speaking also to his contemporaries. [But, says Bullock, (Speaker’s Commentary): “This tense does not imply that Solomon had ceased to be king when the word was written. ‘The preterite is frequently used in describing a past which reaches forward into the present.’” — Hengstenberg.] 13. I gave my heart — The heart is often used to express the sum of thought and feeling, and this phrase is equal to, “I devoted myself wholly.” Seek and search out are intensive of each other, and mean “seek diligently.”

By wisdom — Hebrew, into wisdom. which here means a philosophical view — just, acute, and comprehensive. A complete expression for the guidance of life.

Sore travail — Plainer, sad task; that of wide observation of human conduct and fortune. One sees much that is painful to see, and one’s inferences must be so often gloomy! Koheleth sets himself to the task as moved by a call from God. Not all “children of men” have taste or faculty for philosophic research. He alludes to himself as belonging to a class to whom this special work is assigned. He feels his calling to be real though peculiar.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecc 1:12. I the Preacher was king over Israel] Better, “I … have been king.” It would, perhaps, be too much to say that this mode of introducing himself, is so artificial as to exclude, as some have thought, the authorship of the historical Solomon. Louis XIV.’s way of speaking of himself “Quand ĵ etois roi” may well have had its parallel, as Mr Bullock suggests in the Speaker’s Commentary, in the old age of another king weary of the trappings and the garb of Majesty. As little, however, can they be held to prove that authorship. A writer aiming at a dramatic impersonation of his idea of Solomon would naturally adopt some such form as this and might, perhaps, adopt it in order to indicate that it was an impersonation. The manner in which the son of David appears in Wisd. 7:1–15 presents at once a parallel and a contrast.

Pulpit Commentary


I gave my heart (Ecc_1:17; Ecc_7:25; Dan_10:12). The heart, in the Hebrew conception, was the seat, not of the affections only, but of the understanding and intellectual faculties generally. So the expression here is equivalent to “I applied my mind.” To seek and search out. The two words are not synonymous. The former verb (דָּרַשׁ, darash) implies penetrating into the depth of an object before one; the other word (תּוּר, tur) taking a comprehensive survey of matters further away; so that two methods and scopes of investigation are signified. By wisdom; ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ. Wisdom was the means or instrument by which he carried on his researches, which were directed, not merely to the collecting of facts, but to investigating the causes and conditions of things. Concerning all things that are done under heaven; i.e. men’s actions and conduct, political, social, and private life. We have “under the sun” in Ecc_1:9, and again in Ecc_1:14. Here there is no question of physical matters, the phenomena of the material world, but only of human circumstances and interests. This sore travail (rather, this is a sore travail that) God hath given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. The word rendered “travail” (עִנְיָן, inyan) occurs often in this book (e.g. Ecc_2:23, Ecc_2:26, etc.), and nowhere else in the Old Testament. The same root is found in the word translated “exercised;” hence Wright has, “It is a woeful exercise which God has given to the sons of men wherewith to exercise themselves.” If we keep to the word “travail,” we may render, “to travail therein.” It implies distracting business, engrossing occupation. Septuagint, περισπασμόν; Vulgate, occupationem. Man feels himself constrained to make this laborious investigation, yet the result is most unsatisfactory, as the next verse shows. “God” is here Elohim, and so throughout the book, the name Jehovah (the God of the covenant, the God of Israel) never once occurring. Those who regard Solomon as the author of the book account for this on the plea that the king, in his latest years, reflecting sadly on his backsliding and fall, shrank from uttering with his polluted lips the adorable Name once so often used with filial reverence and beloved. But the true reason is found in the design of Koheleth, which was to set forth, not so much Israel’s position under the covenant, as the condition of man in the face of the God of nature. The idiosyncrasies and peculiar features of the chosen people are not the subject of his essay; he deals with a wider sphere; his theme is man in his relation to Divine providence; and for this power he uses that name, common alike to the true and false religions, Elohim, applied to the Supreme Being by believers and idolaters.

Albert Barnes

Ecclesiastes 1:13

Wisdom – As including both the powers of observation and judgment, and the knowledge acquired thereby (1Ki_3:28; 1Ki_4:29; 1Ki_10:8, …). It increases by exercise. Here is noted its application to people and their actions.

Travail – In the sense of toil; the word is here applied to all human occupations.

God – God is named as אלהים ‘elohı̂ym thirty-nine times in this book; a name common to the true God and to false gods, and used by believers and by idolators: but the name Yahweh, by which He is known especially to the people who are in covenant with Him, is never once used.

Perhaps the chief reason for this is that the evil which is the object of inquiry in this book is not at all unique to the chosen people. All creation Rom. 8 groans under it. The Preacher does not write of (or, to) the Hebrew race exclusively. There is no express and obvious reference to their national expectations, the events of their national history, or even to the divine oracles which were deposited with them. Hence, it was natural for the wisest and largest-hearted man of his race to take a wider range of observation than any other Hebrew writer before or after him. It became the sovereign of many peoples whose religions diverged more or less remotely from the true religion, to address himself to a more extensive sphere than that which was occupied by the twelve tribes, and to adapt his language accordingly. See the Ecc_5:1 note.

Pulpit Commentary


Here is the result of this examination of human actions. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun. In his varied experience nothing had escaped his notice. And behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit; reuth ruach; afflictio spiritus (Vulgate); προαίρεσις πνεύματος, “choice of spirit,” or, “wind”; νομὴ ἀνέμου (Aquila and Theodotion); βοσκήσις ἀνέμου, “feeding on wind” (Symmachus). This last translation, or “striving after wind,” seems to be most agreeable to the etymology of the word רְעוּת, which, except in this book (Ecc_2:11, Ecc_2:17, Ecc_2:26, etc.), occurs elsewhere only in the Chaldee portion of Ezra (Ezr_5:17; Ezr_7:18). Whichever sense is taken, the import is much the same. What is implied is the unsubstantial and unsatisfying nature of human labors and endeavors. Many compare Hos_12:2, “Ephraim feedeth on wind,” and Isa_44:20, “He feedeth on ashes.” In contrast, perhaps, to this constantly recurring complaint, the author of the Book of Wisdom teaches that murmuring is unprofitable and blasphemous (Wis. 1:11).

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecc 1:14. all is vanity and vexation of spirit] The familiar words, though they fall in with the Debater’s tone and have the support of the Vulg. “afflictio spiritus,” hardly express the meaning of the Hebrew and we must read “vanity and feeding upon wind.” The phrase has its parallel in Hos. 12:2 (“Ephraim feedeth on wind”) and Isai. 44:20 (“feedeth on ashes”) and expresses, with a bold vividness, the sense of emptiness which accompanies unsatisfied desire. Most commentators, however, prefer the rendering “striving after the wind” or “windy effort,” but “feeding” expresses, it is believed, the meaning of the Hebrew more closely. The LXX. gives προαίρεσις πνεύματος (= resolve of wind, i.e. fleeting and unsubstantial). Symmachus gives βόσκησις and Aquila νομή (= feeding). The word in question occurs seven times in Ecclesiastes but is not found elsewhere. The rendering “vexation” rests apparently on a false etymology.

Pulpit Commentary


Dissatisfied with the result of the pursuit of wisdom, Koheleth embarks on a course of sensual pleasure, if so be this may yield some effect more substantial and permanent. I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth. The heart is addressed as the seat of the emotions and affections. The Vulgate misses the direct address to the heart, which the words, rightly interpreted, imply, translating, Vadam et offluam delieiis. The Septuagint correctly gives, Δεῦρο δὴ πειράσω σε ἐν εὐφροσύνῃ. It is like the rich fool’s language in Christ’s parable, “I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry” (Luk_12:10). Therefore enjoy pleasure; literally, see good (Ecc_6:6). “To see” is often used figuratively in the sense of “to experience, or enjoy.” Wright compares the expressions, “see death” (Luk_2:26), “see life” (Joh_3:36). We may find the like in Psa_34:13; Jer_29:32; Oba_1:13 (comp. Ecc_9:9). The king now tries to find the summum bonum in pleasure, in selfish enjoyment without thought of others. Commentators, as they saw Stoicism in the first chapter, so read Epieureanism into this. We shall have occasion to refer to this idea further on (see on Ecc_3:22). Of this new experiment the result was the same as before. Behold, this also is vanity. This experience is confirmed in the next verse.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecc 2:1. I will prove thee with mirth] The self-communing of the man talking to his soul, like the rich man in Luke 12:18, 19, in search of happiness, leads him to yet another experiment. He will lay aside philosophy and try what pleasure will do, and live as others live. The choice of Faust in Goethe’s great drama, presents a striking parallel in the world of creative Art. The fall of Abelard is hardly a less striking parallel in the history of an actual life. Consciously or unconsciously (probably the former) the Debater had passed from the Hebrew and the Stoic ideals of wisdom to that of the school of Epicurus. The choice of the Hebrew word for “pleasure” (literally “good”) implies that this now appeared the summum bonum of existence. But this experiment also failed. The doom of “vanity” was on this also. The “laughter” was like the crackling of burning thorns (chap. 7:6) and left nothing but the cold grey ashes of a cynical satiety. In the “Go to now” with which the self-communing begins we trace the tone of the irony of disappointment.

Adam Clarke

Ecclesiastes 2:2

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.

Pulpit Commentary


I sought in mine heart; literally, I spied out (as Ecc_1:13) in my heart. Having proved the fruitlessness of some sort of sensual pleasure, he made another experiment in a philosophical spirit. To give myself unto wine; literally, to draw (mashak) my flesh with wine; i.e. to use the attraction of the pleasures of the table. Yet acquainting my heart with wisdom. This is a parenthetical clause, which Wright translates, “While my heart was acting [guiding] with wisdom.” That is, while, as it were, experimenting with pleasure, he still retained sufficient control over his passions as not to be wholly given over to vice; he was in the position of one who is being carried down an impetuous stream, yet has the power of stopping his headlong course before it becomes fatal to him. Such control was given by wisdom. Deliberately to enter upon a course of self-indulgence, even with a possibly good intention, must be a most perilous trial, and one which would leave indelible marks upon the soul; and not one person in a hundred would be able to stop short of ruin, The historical Solomon, by his experiment, suffered infinite loss, which nothing could compensate. The Septuagint renders not very successfully, “I examined whether my heart would draw (ἑλκυ ́σει) my flesh as wine; and my heart guided me in wisdom.” The Vulgate gives a sense entirely contrary to the writer’s intention; “I thought in my heart to withdraw my flesh from wine, that I might transfer my mind to wisdom.” And to lay hold on folly. These words are dependent upon “I sought in my heart,” and refer to the sensual pleasures in which he indulged for a certain object. “Dulce est desipere in loco,” says Horace (‘Canto.,’ 4.12. 28); Ἐν μὲν μαινομένοις μάλα μαίνομαι. Till I might see. His purpose was to discover if there was in these things any real good which might satisfy men’s cravings, and be a worthy object for them to pursue all the days of their life.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecc 2:3. to give myself unto wine] Literally, and more vividly, to cherish my flesh with wine. The Hebrew word for “give” is unusual and obscure. The primary meaning is “to draw out,” that of the word for “acquainting” is “to guide” or “drive,” as in Exod. 3:1; 2 Sam. 6:3. Possibly, as Lewis suggests in Lange’s Commentary, the idea is like that of the parable in the Phædrus of Plato (p. 54) and the seeker gives the rein to pleasure, yet seeks to guide or drive the steed with his wisdom. The words point to the next stage in the progress of the pleasure seeker. Pleasure as such, in its graceful, lighter forms, soon palls, and he seeks the lower, fiercer stimulation of the wine cup. But he did this, he is careful to state, not as most men do, drifting along the current of lower pleasures

“Till the seared taste, from foulest wells

Is fain to quench its fires,”

but deliberately, “yet guiding mine heart with wisdom.” This also was an experiment, and he retained, or tried to retain, his self-analysing introspection even in the midst of his revelry. All paths must be tried, seeming folly as well as seeming wisdom, to see if they gave any adequate standard by which the “sons of men” might guide their conduct, any pathway to the “chief good” which was the object of the seeker’s quest.

Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown

Ecclesiastes 2:12

He had tried (worldly) wisdom (Ecc_1:12-18) and folly (foolish pleasure) (Ecc_2:1-11); he now compares them (Ecc_2:12) and finds that while (worldly)

wisdom excelleth folly (Ecc_2:13, Ecc_2:14), yet the one event, death, befalls both (Ecc_2:14-16), and that thus the wealth acquired by the wise man’s “labor” may descend to a “fool” that hath not labored (Ecc_2:18, Ecc_2:19, Ecc_2:21); therefore all his labor is vanity (Ecc_2:22, Ecc_2:23).

what can the man do … already done — (Ecc_1:9). Parenthetical. A future investigator can strike nothing out “new,” so as to draw a different conclusion from what I draw by comparing “wisdom and madness.” Holden, with less ellipsis, translates, “What, O man, shall come after the king?” etc. Better, Grotius, “What man can come after (compete with) the king in the things which are done?” None ever can have the same means of testing what all earthly things can do towards satisfying the soul; namely, worldly wisdom, science, riches, power, longevity, all combined.

Pulpit Commentary


And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly (Ecc_1:17). He studied the three in their mutual connection and relation, comparing them in their results and effects on man’s nature and life, and deducing thence their real value. On one side he set wisdom, on the other the action, and habits which he rightly terms “madness and folly,” and examined them calmly and critically. For what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done. Both the Authorized Version and Revised Version render the passage thus, though the latter, in the margin, gives two alternative renderings of the second clause, viz. even him whom they made king long ago, and, as in the Authorized Version margin, in those things which have been already done. The LXX; following a different reading, gives, “For what man is there who will follow after counsel in whatsoever things he employed it?” Vulgate, “What is man, said I, that he should be able to follow the King, his Maker?” Wright, Delitzsch, Nowack, etc; “For what is the man that is to come after the king whom they made so long ago?” i.e. who can have greater experience than Solomon made king in old time amid universal acclamation (1Ch_29:22)? or, who can hope to equal his fame?—which does not seem quite suitable, as it is the abnormal opportunities of investigation given by his unique position which would be the point of the query. The Authorized Version gives a fairly satisfactory (and grammatically unobjectionable) meaning—What can any one effect who tries the same experiment as the king did? He could not do so under more favorable conditions, and will only repeat the same process and reach the same result. But the passage is obscure, and every interpretation has its own difficulty. If the ki with which the second portion of the passage begins (“for what,” etc.) assigns the reason or motive of the first portion, shows what was the design of Koheleth in contrasting wisdom and folly, the rendering of the Authorized Version is not inappropriate. Many critics consider that Solomon is here speaking of his successor, asking what kind of man he will be who comes after him—the man whom some have already chosen? And certainly there is some ground for this interpretation in Ecc_2:18, Ecc_2:19, where the complaint is that all the king’s greatness and glory will be left to an unworthy successor. But this view requires the Solomonic authorship of the book, and makes him to refer to Rehoboam or some illegitimate usurper. The wording of the text is too general to admit of this explanation; nor does it exactly suit the immediate context, or duly connect the two clauses of the verse. It seems best to take the successor, not as one who comes to the kingdom, but as one who pursues similar investigations, repeats Koheleth’s experiments.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecc 2:12. I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly] We enter on yet another phase of the life of the seeker after happiness. He falls back with a cynical despair, when mere pleasure left him a prey to satiety and ennui, upon his former study of human nature in its contrasted developments of wisdom, and madness, and folly (see note on chap. 1:17).

what can the man do that cometh after the king?] Literally, What is the man.… The words are apparently a kind of proverb. No other child of man could try the experiment under more promising conditions than a king like the Solomon of history, and therefore the answer to the question, What can such a man be or do? is simply (if we follow the construction of the A. V.) “Even that which men did before.” He shall tread the same weary round with the same unsatisfying results. The verse is, however, obscure, and has been very variously rendered. So (1) the LXX., following another text, gives “What man will follow after counsel in whatsoever things they wrought it;” (2) the Vulgate, “What is man, said I, that he can follow the King, his Maker;” and (3) many modern interpreters. “What can the man do that comes after the king, whom they made long ago?” i.e. Who can equal the time- honoured fame of Solomon?

Pulpit Commentary


Then (and) I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness; or, there is profit, advantage to wisdom over folly, as the advantage of light over darkness. This result, at any rate, was obtained—he learned that wisdom had a certain value, that it was as much superior to folly, in its effects on men, as light is more beneficial than darkness. It is a natural metaphor to represent spiritual and intellectual development as light, and mental and moral depravity as darkness (comp. Eph_5:8; 1Th_5:5).

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecc 2:13. I saw that wisdom excelleth folly] Better, as keeping up, in the English as in the Hebrew, the characteristic word of the book, There is profit in wisdom more than in folly, and so in the second clause. Something then had been gained by the experience. In language like that of the Stoics he sings the praises of wisdom. Even the wisdom that brings sorrow (ch. 1:13) is better than the mirth of fools. A man is conscious of being more truly man when he looks before and after, and knows how to observe. Light is, after all, better than darkness, even if it only shews us that we are treading the path that leads to nothingness. The human heart obeys its instincts when it cries out with Aias,

ἐν δὲ φάει καὶ ὄλεσσον.

“And if our fate be death, give light, and let us die.”

Hom. Il. xvii. 647.

Pulpit Commentary


The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh ‘in darkness. This clause is closely connected with the preceding verse, showing how wisdom excelleth folly. The wise man has the eyes of his heart or understanding enlightened (Eph_1:18); he looks into the nature of things, fixes his regard on what is most important, sees where to go; while the fool’s eyes are in the ends of the earth (Pro_17:24); he walks on still in darkness, stumbling as he goes, knowing not whither his road shall take him. And I myself also (I even I) perceived that one event happeneth to them all. “Event” (mikreh); συνάντημα; interitus (Vulgate); not chance, But death, the final event. The word is translated “hap” in Rth_2:3, and “chance” in 1Sa_6:9; but the connection here points to a definite termination; nor would it be consistent with Koheleth’s religion to refer this termination to fate or accident. With all his experience, he could only conclude that in one important aspect the observed superiority of wisdom to folly was illusory and vain. He saw with his own eyes, and needed no instructor to teach, that both wise and fool must succumb to death, the universal leveler.

Pulpit Commentary


There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink. The Vulgate makes the sentence interrogative, which the Hebrew does not sanction, Nonne melius est comedere et bibere? Septuagint Οὐκ ἔστιν ἀγαθο ̀ν ἀνθρω ́πῳ ὃ φάγεται καὶ ὃ πίεται, “There is naught good to a man to eat or drink;” St. Jerome and others insert misi, “except for a man to eat,” etc. This and the Authorized Version, which are more or less approved by most critics, make the writer enunciate a kind of modified Epicureanism, quotations in confirmation of which will be found set forth by Plumptre. It is not pretended that the present Hebrew text admits this exposition, and critics have agreed to modify the original in order to express the sense which they give to the passage. As it stands, the sentence runs, “It is not good in (בָּ) man that he should eat,” etc. This is supposed to clash with later statements; e.g. Ecc_3:12,Ecc_3:13; Ecc_8:15; and to condemn all bodily pleasure even in its simplest form. Hence commentators insert מ(“than”) before שֶׁיּאֹכַל, supposing that the initial mere has dropped out after the terminal of the preceding word, adam (comp. Ecc_3:22). This solution of a difficulty might be allowed were the Hebrew otherwise incapable of explanation without doing violence to the sentiments elsewhere expressed. But this is not the case. As Metals has seen, the great point lies in the preposition ,ב and what is stated is that it does not depend on man, it is not in his power, he is not at liberty to eat and drink and enjoy himself simply at his own will; his power and ability proceed wholly from God. A higher authority than his decides the matter. The phrase, “to eat and drink,” is merely a periphrasis for living in comfort, peace, and affluence. St. Gregory, who holds that here and in other places Koheleth seems to contradict himself, makes a remark which is of general application, “He who looks to the text, and does not acquaint himself with the sense of the Holy Word, is not so much furnishing himself with instruction as bewildering himself in uncertainty, in that the literal words sometimes contradict themselves; but whilst by their oppositeness they stand at variance with themselves, they direct the reader to a truth that is to be understood” (‘Moral.,’ 4.1). They who read Epicureanism into the text fall into the error here denounced. They take the expression, “eat and drink,” in the narrowest sense of bodily pleasure, whereas it was by no means so confined in the mind of a Hebrew. To eat bread in the kingdom of God, to take a place at the heavenly banquet, represents the highest bliss of glorified man (Luk_14:15; Rev_19:9, etc.). In a lower degree it signifies earthly prosperity, as in Jer_22:15, “Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice? then it was well with him.” So in our passage we find only the humiliating truth that man in himself is powerless to make his life happy or his labors successful. There is no Epicurean-ism, even in a modified form, in the Hebrew text as it has come down to us. With other supposed traces of this philosophy we shall have to deal subsequently (see on Ecc_3:12; Ecc_6:2). And that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor; i.e. taste the enjoyment of his labor, get pleasure as the reward of all his exertions, or find it in the actual pursuit. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. This is the point—the power of enjoyment depends on the will of God. The next verse substantiates this assertion.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecc 2:24. There is nothing better for a man] The Hebrew, as it stands, gives a meaning which is partly represented by the LXX., “There is no good for a man which he shall eat and drink,” as though the simplest form of bodily pleasure were condemned. Almost all interpreters however are agreed in adopting a conjectural emendation, which again in its turn has given rise to two different renderings: (1) “Is it not better (or “Is it not good”) for a man to eat and drink …?” or (2) “there is nothing good for a man but to eat and drink.…” The two last are of course substantially the same in their teaching, and both express what we may call the higher type of Epicureanism which forms one element of the book. The pursuit of riches, state, luxury, is abandoned for the simple joys that lie within every man’s reach, the “fallentis semita vitae” of one who has learnt the lesson of regulating his desires. The words “to eat and drink” are closely connected with “enjoying good in his labour.” What is praised is not the life of slothful self-indulgence or æsthetic refinement, but that of a man who, though with higher culture, is content to live as simply as the ploughman, or the vinedresser, or artificer. Λάθε βιώσας, “live in the shade,” was the Epicurean rule of wisdom. Pleasure was not found in feasts and sensual excess but in sobriety of mind, and the conquest of prejudice and superstition (Diog. Laert. x. 1. 132). The real wants of such a life are few, and there is a joy in working for them. Here again the thought finds multiform echoes in the utterances of men who have found the cares and pleasures and pursuits of a more ambitious life unsatisfying. It is significant that the very words “eat and drink” had been used by Jeremiah in describing the pattern life of a righteous king (Jer. 22:15). The type of life described is altogether different from that of the lower Epicureans who said “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32).

So we have one Epicurean poet singing

“Si non aurea sunt iuvenum simulacra per aedes

Lampadas igniferas manibus retinentia dextris,

Lumina nocturnis epulis ut suppeditentur,

Nec domus argento fulget auroque renidet

Nec citharae reboant laqueata aurataque templa,

Cum tamen inter se prostrati in gramine molli

Propter aquae rivum sub ramis arboris altae

Non magnis opibus iucunde corpora curant,

Praesertim cum tempestas adridet et anni

Tempora conspergunt viridantis floribus herbas.”

“What though no golden statues of fair boys

With lamp in hand illumine all the house

And cast their lustre on the nightly feast;

Nor does their home with silver or with gold

Dazzle the eye; nor through the ceilèd roof,

Bedecked with gold, the harps re-echo loud.

Yet, while reclining on the soft sweet grass

They lie in groups along the river’s bank,

Beneath the branches of some lofty tree,

And at small cost find sweet refreshment there,

What time the season smiles, and spring-tide weeks

Re-gem the herbage green with many a flower.”

Lucret. De Rer. Nat. ii. 24–33.

So Virgil sang:

“O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint,


and of these good things dwelt chiefly on

“At secura quies et nescia fallere vita.

Dives opum variarum, at latis otia fundis,

Speluncae, vivique lacus, et frigida Tempe,

Mugitusque boum, mollesque sub arbore somni

Non absunt; illic saltus ac lustra ferarum,

Et patiens operum exiguoque adsueta juventus,

Sacra deum, sanctique patres; extrema per illos

Justitia excedens terris vestigia fecit.”

“Ah! but too happy, did they know their bliss

The tillers of the soil!…

Their’s the calm peace, and life that knows no fraud,

Rich in its varied wealth; and leisure their’s

In the broad meadows; caves and living lakes

And Tempe cool, and lowing of the kine;

Nor want they slumber sweet beneath the trees;

There are the thickets and the wild beasts’ haunts,

And youth enduring toil and trained to thrift;

There Gods are worshipped, fathers held in awe,

And Justice, when she parted from the earth

Left there her latest foot-prints.”

Georg. ii. 467–474.

So Horace, in the same strain:

“Beatus ille qui procul negotiis,

Ut prisca gens mortalium,

Paterna rura bubus exercet suis,

Solutus omni foenore.”

“Thrice blest is he who free from care

Lives now, as lived our fathers old,

And free from weight of honoured gold,

With his own oxen drives the share

O’er fields he owns as rightful heir.”

Horace, Epod. ii. 1.

So Shakespeare once more makes a king echo the teaching of Ecclesiastes:

“And to conclude: the shepherd’s homely curds,

His cold thin drink out of his leather bottle,

His wonted sleep under a fresh tree’s shade,

All which secure and sweetly he enjoys,

Is far beyond a prince’s delicates,

His viands sparkling in a golden cup,

His body couched in a curious bed,

When care, mistrust, and treason wait on him.”

Henry VI., Part III. Act ii. 5.

This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God] In the thought which is thus expressed, we find, however, something more than an echo of Greek Epicureanism. The Debater recognises a Divine Will in this apportionment of happiness, just as he had before recognised that Will in the toil and travail with which the sons of man were exercised (ch. 1:13). The apparent inequalities are thus, in part at least, redressed, and it is shewn as the teaching of experience no less than of the Divine Master, that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).

Pulpit Commentary


For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I? This is the translation of the received text. “Eat” means enjoy one’s self, as in the preceding verse; “hasten hereunto” implies eager pursuit of pleasure; and Koheleth asks—Who had better opportunity than he for verifying the principle that all depends upon the gift of God? Vulgate, Quis ita devorabit, et deliciis affluet ut ego? The Septuagint had a different reading, which obtains also in the Syriac and Arabic versions, and has been adopted by many modern critics. Instead of מִמֶּנִּי, they read מִמֶּנְּוּ, “without him,” i.e. except from God. “For who shall eat or who shall drink without him (πάρεξ αὐτοῦ)?” This merely repeats the thought of the last verse, in agreement with the saying of St. James (Jas_1:17), “Every good gift and every perfect boon is from above, coming down from the Father’ of lights.” But the received reading, if it admits the rendering of the Authorized Version (which is somewhat doubtful), stands in close connection with the personal remark just preceding, “This also I saw,” etc; and is a more sensible confirmation thereof than a tautological observation can be. The next verse carries on the thought that substantial enjoyment is entirely the gift of God, and granted by him as the moral Governor of the world.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecc 2:25. For who can eat] The sequence of thought is obscure, and many commentators follow the LXX. and the Syriac version, as implying an original text which gives a better meaning, Who can eat and who can hasten (i.e. be eager in this pursuit of pleasure), or, as some take the words, have enjoyment, without Him, i.e. without God. This, it is obvious, follows on the thought of the preceding verse, that the calm enjoyment of which it speaks as “good,” is “from the hand of God.” Those who keep to the received text give it very different meanings, of which the two most prominent are: (1) that we have, as it were, the words of the labourer whose lot the Debater here admired, “Who has a right to eat and enjoy himself, if not I?” the thought being parallel to that of 2 Tim. 2:6 (“The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits”); and (2) that the Debater speaks in his own person, “Who could eat or enjoy more than I? Who therefore can better attest that it is all in vain without the gift of God.” On the assumption that the writer was one who had come into contact with Greek thought, we may trace in this utterance partly the old faith of Israel reasserting itself and giving a higher sanction to the life of regulated enjoyment which the Greek teachers counselled, partly, perhaps, the mingling of Stoic and Epicurean counsels natural in a mind that had listened to both and attached himself definitely to neither. So in the Meditations of Aurelius we have like thoughts: πάντα γὰρ ταῦτα θεῶν βοηθῶν καὶ τύχης δειται (“all these things require the help of the Gods and of Fortune”); and again τὰ τῶν Θεῶν προνίας μεστὰ (“the works of the Gods are full of Providence” (Meditt. ii. 3). Koheleth, of course, as an Israelite, used the language of the wiser Stoics, like Cleanthes, and spoke of one God only.

Pulpit Commentary


For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight. The subject “God” is not, in the Hebrew, an omission which is supposed to justify its virtual insertion in Ecc_2:25. The Vulgate boldly supplies it here, Homini bone in conspectu sue dedit Deus. To the man that finds favor in God’s sight (1Sa_29:6; Neh_2:5), i.e. who pleases him, ha gives blessings, while he withholds them or takes them away from the man who displeases him. The blessings specified are wisdom, and knowledge, and joy. The only true wisdom which is not grief, the only true knowledge which is not sorrow (Ecc_1:18), and the only joy in life, are the gifts of God to those whom he regards as good. But to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up. The sinner takes great pains, expends continuous labor, that he may amass wealth, but it passes into other. (more worthy) hands.

The moral government of God is here recognized, as below, Ecc_3:15, Ecc_3:17, etc; and a further thought is added on the subject of retribution: That he may give to him that is good before God. This idea is found in Pro_28:8, “He that augmenteth his substance by usury and increase, gathereth it for him that hath pity upon the poor;” and Ecclesiastes 13:22, “The wealth of the sinner is laid up for the righteous” (comp. Job_27:16, Job_27:17). So in the parable of the talents, the talent of the unprofitable servant is given unto him who had made best use of his money (Mat_25:28). This also is vanity. It is a question what is the reference here. Delitzsch considers it to be the striving after pleasure in and from labor (verse 24); Knobel, the arbitrary distribution of the good things of this life; but, put thus baldly, this could hardly be termed a “feeding on wind;” nor could that expression be applied to the “gifts of God” to which Bullock confines the reference. Wright, Hengstenberg, Gratz, and others deem that what is meant is the collecting and heaping up of riches by the sinner, which has already been decided to be vanity (verses 11, 17, 18); and this Would limit the general conclusion to a particular instance. Taking the view contained in verse 24 as the central idea of the passage, we see that Koheleth feels that the restriction upon man’s enjoyment of labor imposed by God’s moral government makes that toil vain because its issue is not in men’s hands, and it is a striving for or a feeding on wind because the result is unsatisfying and vanishes in the grasp.

Daniel Whedon

Ecclesiastes 2:26

26.God giveth — A final comparison to the advantage of obedience to God, is now drawn. No solid, satisfying good is obtained from worldly pursuits, as thus far tried. But Koheleth affirms from his experience that God gives to the obedient much gratification as they pass through life, and the sinner seems often as a servant working for the happiness of better men than himself. Yet even this — the experience of a brief and transient life — cannot satisfy the craving of a human soul.

Leaving now the experiments of wisdom and pleasure, which are so entwined with each other by comparison and contrast that we have to treat them as one, Koheleth proceeds to investigate concerning industry, or, as we would be more likely to say, business, to see what it can do to relieve a dejected mind.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecc 2:26. For God giveth] The word for God, as the italics shew, is not in the Hebrew, but it is obviously implied, and its non-appearance justifies the change in the text of the previous verse, which preserves the sequence of thought unbroken. What we get here is the recognition of what we have learnt to call the moral government of God in the distribution of happiness. It is found to depend not on outward but inward condition, and the chief inward condition is the character that God approves. The Debater practically confesses that the life of the pleasure-seeker, or the ambitious, or the philosopher seeking wisdom as an end, was not good before God, and therefore failed to bring contentment.

wisdom, and knowledge, and joy] The combination forms an emphatic contrast with ch. 1:18, and marks a step onward in the seeker’s progress. There is a wisdom which is not grief, an increase of knowledge which is not an increase of sorrow. We are reminded of the parallel thought which belongs to a higher region of the spiritual life, “The Kingdom of God … is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). Here the lesson is that the man who seeks great things fails to find them, that he who is content with a little with God’s blessing on it, finds in that little much. He becomes αὐτάρκης (= self-sufficing)—and has enough.

but to the sinner he giveth travail] The words point to a further perception of a moral order in the midst of the seeming disorders of the world. The fruitless labour of the sinner in heaping up his often ill-gotten gains is not altogether wasted. His treasure passes into hands that make a better use of it than he has done. So we find a like thought in Prov. 28:8, “He that by usury and unjust gains increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor,” and in Job 27:16, 17, “Though he heap up silver as the dust, and prepare raiment as the clay; he may prepare it, but the just shall put it on, and the innocent shall divide the silver” (comp. Prov. 13:22).

This also is vanity] The question which we have to answer is whether this sentence is passed only on the travail of the sinner, as in verse 11, or whether it includes also the measure of joy attainable by him who is “good” in the sight of God. From one point of view the former interpretation gives a preferable meaning, as more in harmony with what immediately precedes. On the other hand, it is characteristic of the cynical pessimism into which the Preacher has, by his own confession, fallen, that he should fall back into his despondency even after a momentary glimpse of a truth that might have raised him from it. The “Two Voices” utter themselves, as in Tennyson’s poem, (see Appendix II.) in a melancholy alternation and there comes a time when the simple joys which God gives to the contented labourer, no less than the satiety of the voluptuous and the rich, seem to him but as “vanity and feeding upon wind.”


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