The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Ecclesiastes 2

Ecc 2:1

Ecc 2: The vanity of materialism: cp Ecc 2/Luk 12:

Harvests, wealth
Ecc 2:4-10
Luk 12:16-19
The certainty of death
Ecc 2:18,19
Luk 12:20
Toil, food, clothing
Ecc 2:22,23
Luk 12:22,23
Eat and drink
Ecc 2:24
Luk 12:24
The need for God
Ecc 2:25
Luk 12:27
Wisdom and the kingdom
Ecc 2:26
Luk 12:28-31

Vv 1-3: Is pleasure the answer? He said: "I will try everything -- every excess of sensation, indulgence, and excitement." What did he find? It was madness and folly. It mocked him with empty disillusionment. There was no real happiness, no satisfaction.

I THOUGHT IN MY HEART, "COME NOW, I WILL TEST YOU WITH PLEASURE TO FIND OUT WHAT IS GOOD." BUT THAT ALSO PROVED TO BE MEANINGLESS: "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure... Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless." (Ecc 7:4,6).

Ecc 2:2

LAUGHTER... IS FOOLISH: Cp Ecc 7:6. "Qoheleth does not condemn ordinary laughter, for there is a time for such (Ecc 3:4), nor the laughter that is the result of righteous joy (Luk 6:21; Psa 126:2), but the loud, inane laughter of fools (Ecc 7:6) -- that which is the result of derision and scorn is utterly condemned (Psa 22:7; Job 12:4)" (Krygger).

AND WHAT DOES PLEASURE ACCOMPLISH?: "Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief" (Pro 14:13). This kind of laughter, or pleasure, can accompany the worship of idols also, as with the children of Israel in the wilderness: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry" (1Co 10:7).

Ecc 2:3

I TRIED CHEERING MYSELF WITH WINE: But see the results of such over-indulgence in Pro 23:29-35: more pain and woe (cp also Pro 20:1; 21:17; 31:4,5)! And so the prodigal son also discovered, when he "squandered his wealth in wild living" (Luk 15:13).

MY MIND STILL GUIDING ME WITH WISDOM: Qoheleth maintained a measure of detachment, "examining" his pursuit of pleasure even while he pursued it!

Ecc 2:4

Vv 4-7: The satisfaction of creative impulses. Certainly true of the reign of Solomon (1Ki 7:8; 9:17; 10:18; 2Ch 9:15). Cp also similar achievements in the reign of Uzziah: towers, wells, cattle, vineyards (2Ch 26:10) -- and of Hezekiah (2Ch 32:5,27-29; 2Ki 19:29). The vanity of possessions and power.

Ecc 2:5

Vv 5,6: Cp Isa 36:16,17.

I MADE GARDENS AND PARKS AND PLANTED ALL KINDS OF FRUIT TREES IN THEM: Luxurious gardens and parks were characteristic of royalty and nobility in the ANE, and are attested in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Ugarit. A "king's garden" is mentioned in Jer 39:4. "Parks" (Heb "pardes") is translated by the Greek "paradise" in the LXX -- the original "paradise" was of course a garden (cp Song 4:13; Neh 2:8)! Ages ago, mankind was driven out of the garden, or paradise, of God (Gen 3:24) -- one of the great urges latent in human nature is surely to return to such a place; and men and women will labor practically endlessly to create such a "paradise" for themselves.

"Instead of going up to the mountain, we visited a highly finished bit of clearing some miles out, the work of a single man, who has found his happiness in subduing and tilling a small portion of 'the face of the ground' with his own hands. Years ago, it was virgin forest; now it is a flower-garden, with an artificial lake, as fair and well-kept as any gentleman's grounds in the neighborhood of London... The whole place was very interesting; but how will it evaluate as a life's work? There were well-kept villas in Pompeii: but 'lo, they are not,' and their proprietors are unknown. So it is in a thousand cities that were not overwhelmed in volcanic ash. So it is in every generation. Human industry is good, but not sufficient by itself. A man must know, love, and serve God to fulfil a part in this universe equal to his original design and adaptability. He got away from that ideal. Christ is bringing him back, where men will listen. They need not give up their gardening to listen, but they must give the listening at least an equal place" (RR, Diary of Voyage).

Ecc 2:6


RESERVOIRS: Hezekiah's tunnel?: 2Ki 20:20.

Ecc 2:7

I... HAD OTHER SLAVES WHO WERE BORN IN MY HOUSE: Highly esteemed, because assumed to have greater loyalty and devotion. Similar in character to Abraham's servants who were born in his house (Gen 14:14,15; 17:27). Such servants typify Christ's servants, who have been spiritually "born" to new life as members of his household (cp Heb 3:6).

HERDS AND FLOCKS: Better translation than "great and small cattle" (KJV). Hezekiah had great wealth: 2Ch 32:29; 30:24.

Ecc 2:8

SILVER AND GOLD: Cp, generally, Mat 6:25-34. For the wealth of Solomon, see 1Ki 9:28; 10:14-27; 2Ch 1:15; 9:20-27.

Silver and gold, along with other treasures, are listed among the possessions of Hezekiah (2Ki 20:13; 2Ch 32:27).

THE TREASURE OF KINGS: "Segullah" = the peculiar treasure, of kings. Sw used of Jewish nation: Exo 19:5,9; Mal 3:17; Psa 135:4. That which is esp close and personal property of the monarch.

This could also refer to the "gifts" and "spoils" brought to Hezekiah by Gentile kings, after the great defeat of Sennacherib (2Ch 32:23).

I ACQUIRED MEN AND WOMEN SINGERS: Cp 2Sa 19:35. These were also organized by Hezekiah, and used presumably in the temple worship (see 2Ch 29:28).

HAREM: "The delights of the sons of men" (AV) is vague. And Clarke translates it by "estates", meaning possessions in general. But these are only guesses.

The NIV, however, has "harem". The significance of this phrase is uncertain; perhaps it means "concubines", of which Solomon had 300 (1Ki 11:3). This is the approach taken by other English versions: "many concubines" (NAS, RV, RSV, Ellicott, JFB), "women of all sorts" (Anchor Bible), and "many a mistress" (Moffatt). In this these translators are following BDB, which connects the Heb "shadah" to the Heb "shad", or "breast" (eg, Gen 49:25; Isa 28:9; Eze 16:7; 23:3,21,34; Hos 2:2; 9:14; Song 1:13; 4:5; 7:3,7,8; 8:1,8,10; Job 3:12). Thus the part (breast) may be taken for the whole -- a woman -- in the same way "one womb, two wombs" (a rather crude expression) may mean "one girl, two girls" in Jdg 5:30.

Concubines were slave women in ANE societies who were the legal property of their master, but who could have legitimate sexual relations with their master. A concubine's status was more elevated than a mere servant, but she was not free and did not have the legal rights of a free wife. The children of a concubine could, in some instances, become equal heirs with the children of the free wife. After the period of the Judges concubines may have become more of a royal prerogative (2Sa 21:10–14; 1Ki 11:3).

THE DELIGHTS OF THE HEART OF MAN: "Musical instruments" (KJV). As to Uzziah, cp 2Ch 29:28: "singers... trumpeters".

Ecc 2:9

I BECAME GREATER BY FAR...: This may be alluding to Hezekiah's greatness (2Ch 32:23), recognized after the defeat of Sennacherib.

But, of course, becoming someone great is no guarantee of happiness, or of final reward (see 1Co 1:27,28; Jam 2:5).

THAN ANYONE IN JERUSALEM BEFORE ME: Suggests some author other than Solomon; ie, more than one king "before me".

IN ALL THIS MY WISDOM STAYED WITH ME: His mental capacity was not adversely affected by his indulgences (cp v 3). But was this true of Solomon -- since his foreign wives and their false gods ultimately turned him away from Yahweh (1Ki 11:2-4,8,9)?

Ecc 2:10

I DENIED MYSELF NOTHING MY EYES DESIRED; I REFUSED MY HEART NO PLEASURE: Having planted and prepared his "gardens and parks" (ie, his "paradise"), he now made the same mistake as Adam and Eve in their "paradise": he sought after all his other desires (Gen 3:6; cp 1Jo 2:16)!

Ecc 2:11


Ecc 2:12

Vv 12-17: In Ecc 2:1–11, Qoheleth had evaluated the merits of merrymaking (vv 1–3), accomplishing grand things (vv 4–6), amassing great wealth (vv 7,8), and secular acquisitions and accomplishments (vv 9,10). Now, he reflects on the benefit in life in living wisely and not giving oneself over to frivolous self-indulgence or egotistical empire-building.

Wisdom (by which is meant a worldly sort of "wisdom") is better than folly in some respects, but neither provides a key to producing a "profit" rather than a "loss". Consequently Qoheleth concludes that being wise only has temporary and limited advantages over being foolish. Ultimately there is not much difference. "The wisdom of this world is (at last) foolishness in God's sight" also (1Co 3:19). Apart from God, both the wise man and the fool die, and their survivors forget them.

THEN I TURNED MY THOUGHTS: Suggesting now a complete change of perspective...

TO CONSIDER WISDOM, AND ALSO MADNESS AND FOLLY: Cp Ecc 1:17; 7:25. If wisdom is sorrow, is it better to be just stupid and contented like the cattle of the field, without the capacity to wonder about life's meaning? No. That, too, is not the answer (see v 13)!

WHAT MORE CAN THE KING'S SUCCESSOR DO THAN WHAT HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE?: Since Solomon had such wisdom and such wealth at his disposal, how could any successor hope to duplicate, much letter surpass, his inquiries into all aspects of life? Perhaps a reference to the folly of Solomon's successor, Rehoboam, who caused the kingdom of Israel to be divided (1Ki 12).

Or perhaps Uzziah viewing his successor, the hopeless Ahaz, with a sense of foreboding and doom for his nation.

Ecc 2:13

Vv 13-15: "Here... we have observations of the Preacher ('I saw... I myself perceived...'). Within those two observations, however, there is another saying which appears to have the character of [a] quoted proverbs: 'The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness' (v 14a). We would not be at all surprised to find such a verse in the book of Proverbs, yet here it is in the middle of two of the Preacher's observations. We shall have to look at the argument more closely to work out what is going on.

"First, the Preacher sees that wisdom is better than folly. Indeed, to corroborate this, he quotes a traditional proverb (or one that he has created himself for the purpose: v 14a, 'The wise man's eyes are in his head...'). He then undercuts this with an observation-bordering-on-contradiction which severely limits its value: 'I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all' (v 14b). While assenting to the truth that wisdom is better than folly, the Preacher points out another truth which undercuts it: since they both die there is no ultimate difference between the wise of this world and the fool. In this way, recognising that v 14a is a quotation -- or at the very least, a foil for a contrasting or contradictory truth -- is very useful. He might well conclude as he does: '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' (v 15). The one observation (wisdom is better than folly) is all very well, but it has to be put in context by another fact, that one event, death, reigns over all -- wise or fool" (MV).

I SAW THAT WISDOM IS BETTER THAN FOLLY: The NET reasonably adds the word "relative" to this phrase: "Wisdom has a RELATIVE advantage over folly." This is surely the sense. Wisdom is better because, even if only for a short time, it preserves the life of its possessor (Ecc 7:12).

And if -- by the grace of God -- a secular wisdom grows and develops into a spiritual wisdom, well then, so much the better, and more (cp Pro 4:7)! "The Proverbs are all about wisdom and folly: the infinite beauty of wisdom, and the tragic foolishness of folly. Perhaps this is one of the biggest lessons we have to learn, and self-changes we have to make. Once 'in the Truth,' few of us are in great danger of what we would call 'wickedness'; but all of us are naturally very, very prone to folly. It takes many forms. All natural thinking is folly. Anything light or childish or silly or 'funny' or selfish or unkind or fleshly or worldly -- in short, anything below the ideal level to which we strive, of perfect unity and harmony with the Divine Mind -- is folly. May God in His love grant us the inestimable blessing of increasingly perceiving and overcoming our follies and growing out of them -- up and into full spiritual wisdom and maturity" (GVG).

JUST AS LIGHT IS BETTER THAN DARKNESS: "Light" symbolizes wisdom in Isa 50:10; Psa 36:9; Joh 8:12. "Folly", ignorance in Job 12:25; 27:19; Pro 4:19. Light and darkness are by nature diametrically opposed -- in both the natural and the spiritual realm (2Co 6:14; Mat 6:22,23; 15:14). Sadly, some people -- even knowing this difference -- prefer darkness to light (Joh 3:19-21; 8:12). (Note God's warning: "Woe to those... who put darkness for light and light for darkness": Isa 5:20-24. And Paul's counsels to walk in light: Eph 5:8; 1Th 5:5.)

Ecc 2:14

THE WISE MAN HAS EYES IN HIS HEAD: Of course, this is true of EVERY man. But the meaning here is, the wise man USES his eyes! Cp Pro 4:25: "Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you."

WHILE THE FOOL WALKS IN THE DARKNESS: A parabolic example is to be found in Pro 1:20-33. Cp also Joh 3:19-21; 11:9,10.

BUT I CAME TO REALIZE THAT THE SAME FATE OVERTAKES THEM BOTH: While there may be a "relative" advantage (as in v 12), yet there is no "ultimate" advantage. Qoheleth ponders the fact that the righteous and the wicked both suffer the fate of death, and concludes that this is another example of "hebel" (v 15), that which is "vain" or "meaningless". Even though wisdom as such is vastly superior to folly, nevertheless it has its limits: on another level -- ie as related to life and death and eternity -- both the wise and foolish come to the same end. See Psa 49:10; Rom 5:12,18; Job 21:23-26.

Bertrand Russell was widely regarded as a very wise man, although an atheist. (Incidentally, he wrote in quite a complimentary vein, however, about Christadelphians, saying they were the closest of all churches to the first-century Christian ideal and standard). This was his view of life: "One by one as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight -- seized by the silent orders of omnipotent death. Brief and powerless is man's life. On him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls, pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way. For man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little days." Very sad, yet very wise, so far as it goes, for a mere "secular" wisdom.

Ecc 2:15

THEN I THOUGHT IN MY HEART, "THE FATE OF THE FOOL WILL OVERTAKE ME ALSO": And so it is taught more thoroughly in Ecc 3:19,20: "Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return." And in Ecc 9:2 as well: "All share a common destiny -- the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them."

Ecc 2:16

FOR THE WISE MAN, LIKE THE FOOL, WILL NOT BE LONG REMEMBERED; IN DAYS TO COME BOTH WILL BE FORGOTTEN: Just as one example, consider how quickly the extraordinary wise and foresighted man Joseph was forgotten in Egypt (Exo 1:8). "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?" (1Co 1:20).

But -- in wonderful contrast -- the names and deeds of the RIGHTEOUS "wise" are recorded forever: "written in heaven" or "the book of life" (Psa 112:6; Pro 10:7; Mal 3:16; Dan 12:1; Luk 10:20; Phi 4:3; Heb 12:23; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 20:12,15; 21:27). THEY will be remembered (Joh 5:28; 6:39; 11:25; Isa 26:19; Hos 13:14; 1Th 4:14-17).

Ecc 2:17

Vv 17-23: "The expression of a complete revulsion against life itself. Nothing is worthwhile at all. It is better never to have been born.

"Every aspect of natural human life -- from the highest and most noble and most worthy right down to the lowest and most abused -- is alike vanity and mockery when analyzed through to its final end.

"Have we not seen how the highest accomplishments and labor of one generation are abused and abased by the next?

"Think of the wonderful inventions of the past one hundred years. Have they made man better? Is he using them for worldwide good, or for evil, selfish ends?

"Every development of the past one hundred years -- which could have made the whole earth a practical paradise -- is rather being prostituted to the superhuman effort to build up colossal means of domination and mass destruction. There is more fear and misery and oppression in the earth than ever before in all history.

"How much more true and forceful are the Preacher's words in the present generation than they have ever been before!" (GVG).

SO I HATED LIFE: "Was disgusted with". And so have many of God's most special servants felt, when faced with the sorrow and futility of so much labor, even in spiritual matters -- men like Moses (Num 11:15) and Elijah (1Ki 19:4) and Job (Job 7:6) and Jeremiah (Jer 20:18), and Jonah (Jon 4:3). To such men at such times, even death seemed like a release!

BECAUSE THE WORK THAT IS DONE UNDER THE SUN WAS GRIEVOUS TO ME: Viewed temporally, everything seemed... simply... wrong.

"I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." Here, in Ecclesiastes, may be the place where eastern philosophies come into closest intersection with the truth of the Bible. The Buddha, for example, stated: "True wisdom is a desire to be nothing, to be blown out, to enter into Nirvana", that is, to become extinct, with the residue of life, in some sense, mingled into the Eternal. And so much of the religions that characterize the Far East breathe out this same spirit: the spirit of self-abnegation, or stoic calm and resigned acceptance of the inevitable -- as though (which Zen Buddhism teaches us) "life and death are all the same", and...

"Life is like a dewdrop,
Empty and fleeting;
My years are gone
And now, quivering and frail,
I must fade away."

It IS true -- so sadly true... if a man knows not God, or even if -- knowing God -- he lives a life as though he has no care for the Eternal and His principles and purpose.

True Christianity has much in common with this sort of pessimism. The only feature that makes it different is the hope of eternal life, beyond a life of frustration and futility and vanity. Without the empty tomb of Christ, and the heart-skipping hope it gives us, our lives would be not one whit beyond or above those of the countless millions who have gone on before us, into the oblivion of their own final resting places.

Ecc 2:18

Vv 18-21: The writer viewed all his labor during his lifetime with despair because there was no real permanence to its fruits.

I HATED ALL THE THINGS I HAD TOILED FOR UNDER THE SUN: As v 17. Cp the rich fool in Christ's parable: "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' " (Luk 12:20).

BECAUSE I MUST LEAVE THEM TO THE ONE WHO COMES AFTER ME: And why would the writer so hate this fact? After Solomon was Rehoboam. After Uzziah were Jotham and Ahaz. After Hezekiah was Manasseh. Enough said!

More generally, David writes: "Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath... Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it" (Psa 39:4-6).

Ecc 2:19

YET HE WILL HAVE CONTROL OVER ALL THE WORK INTO WHICH I HAVE POURED MY EFFORT AND SKILL UNDER THE SUN: Here again, as in v 18, "all the work" really signifies "the results, or fruits, of all the work".

Ecc 2:20

SO MY HEART BEGAN TO DESPAIR OVER ALL MY TOILSOME LABOR UNDER THE SUN: "His experience is one of increasing dislike because there is a diminishing return of pleasure for all the effort he makes to enjoy life. Have you ever seen people determined to have fun even if it kills them? They try their best to extract from the moment all the joy they can, but they get very little for their efforts... [They are] helpless to change this law of diminishing returns. I think this is the explanation for the phenomenon of the sudden, unexpected suicides of popular idols, of men and women who apparently had seized the keys to life, who had riches and fame, and whom the media constantly held up as objects worthy of imitation. Every now and then, however, finding nothing but frustration and despair as he has used up life too quickly and there is no joy left in it, one of these beautiful people takes a gun and blows his brains out. Think of people like Jack London, and Ernest Hemingway... of Elvis Presley, who virtually killed himself with drugs... Emptiness and vexation were Qoheleth's own experience when he tried to live it up without the missing element that it took to meet the hunger of his heart" (RS).

ALL MY TOIL: See vv 18,19n.

Ecc 2:21

FOR A MAN MAY DO HIS WORK WITH WISDOM, KNOWLEDGE AND SKILL, AND THEN HE MUST LEAVE ALL HE OWNS TO SOMEONE WHO HAS NOT WORKED FOR IT. THIS TOO IS MEANINGLESS AND A GREAT MISFORTUNE: Cp Ecc 5:15; Psa 49:10,13. There is an unwritten rule acknowledged by all, that the one who has not spent time and effort building up something of value, will not appreciate what is involved, and will not give it due attention. Handing one's life work over to another is fraught with danger and disappointment. He will not be careful to insure that the same procedures are followed. He will think it all happens by magic.

Ecc 2:22

WHAT DOES A MAN GET FOR ALL THE TOIL AND ANXIOUS STRIVING WITH WHICH HE LABORS UNDER THE SUN?: The cost is too high. When he thought about the anxious nights grappling with insurmountable problems he was overwhelmed with grief. It cost him dearly in nervous energy, personal relationships, enjoyment and relaxation. He was willing to pay the price until he objectively viewed what was likely to happen, and then he despaired.

Ecc 2:23

ALL HIS DAYS HIS WORK IS PAIN AND GRIEF... THIS TOO IS MEANINGLESS: "Every aspect of natural human life from the highest and most noble and most worthy right down to the lowest and most abused is alike vanity and mockery when analyzed through to its final end.

"Have we not seen how the highest accomplishments and labor of one generation are abused and abased by the next?

"Think of the wonderful inventions of the past one hundred years. Have they made man better? Is he using them for worldwide good, or for evil, selfish ends?

"Every development of the past one hundred years -- which could have made the whole earth a practical paradise -- is rather being prostituted to the superhuman effort to build up colossal means of domination and mass destruction. There is more fear and misery and oppression in the earth than ever before in all history.

"How much more true and forceful are the Preacher's words in the present generation than they have ever been before!" (GVG).

Even the life of a righteous man may look exactly this way. And so, near the end of a long and eventful life, Jacob may say to Pharaoh: "The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult" (Gen 47:9). And Job may also say: "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble" (Job 14:1).

EVEN AT NIGHT HIS MIND DOES NOT REST: Compare and contrast Ecc 5:12: "The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep" (also cp Job 7:3,4). Anxiety ruins sleep, while pharmaceutical firms get rich on sleeping aids.

Ecc 2:24

Vv 24-26: Since we cannot expect really significant changes to come out of our work, the best we can do is to enjoy its fruits and find some satisfaction in the work itself (cf Ecc 3:12,13,22; 5:18,19; 8:15; 9:7,9). However this is possible only with God's help (vv 24-25). Sometimes God even channels the fruits of a wicked person's work into a righteous person's hands (v 26).

V 24: At this point, Qoheleth introduces God into the general picture, and from here on we start to see meaning in the picture. We stand farther back for a broader view, and what has seemed to be but an endless, hopeless, meaningless repetition of futility, begins now to show signs of order and purpose and development.

A MAN CAN DO NOTHING BETTER THAN TO EAT AND DRINK: The basic meaning of this -- the underlying message of Ecclesiastes -- to rejoice in what God has provided. Paul, from his dark prison cell, emphasizes this deep, basic theme of godly living throughout his message of comfort to the brethren at Philippi: "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice!" (Phi 4:4).

The expression "to eat and drink" is sometimes used of thoughtless indulgence in the present, as: "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." But it has a better and deeper meaning, which seems to be the meaning here. That meaning is a contentment and rejoicing in God for the basic simplicities of life, contrasted to pride and seeking great things. This is illustrated very clearly in God's words through Jeremiah to Jehoiakim, the wicked son of the good king Josiah (Jer 22:15): "Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? Did not thy father EAT AND DRINK, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him... but THINE eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness."

The words of Nehemiah, too, help us to perceive the meaning of "eating and drinking" as related to contentment and rejoicing in God's goodness. He says: "Mourn not, nor weep... eat the fat, and drink the sweet... for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry, for the JOY OF THE LORD is your strength" (Neh 8:9,10). This is the meaning of the first half of Ecclesiastes' simple, two-fold creed of life -- contentment and rejoicing in God, because rejoicing is a mighty power for good -- a mighty power for the purifying and softening and sweetening of the character (cp Ecc 5:18). As soon as we allow the pressures and problems of the present to dislodge us from this haven of strength, we begin to flounder and sink.

Secondly, there is the figure of the eating and drinking of the marvelous feast of God's revealed Word and thus growing in spiritual grace and knowledge.

AND FIND SATISFACTION IN HIS WORK: The second half of this creed of life is equally important: to find spiritual good in labor. Labor is not in itself the curse. The curse was the sorrow and hardship and handicap under which man was condemned to labor because of sin. Labor itself is good. Labor is the purpose of life. Jesus said: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (Joh 5:17). and Paul exhorted the brethren to "work out" their salvation (Phi 2:12)... and spoke of "always abounding in the work of the Lord" and "workers that need not to be ashamed" and "workers together with God". But the Preacher's main point is rejoicing in labor, enjoying it, being thankful of the opportunity and ability of doing it. It is only the cheerful giver that God loves (2Co 9:7). Anything done or given grudgingly or with self-pity lacks the pure oil of rejoicing that was required to make a sacrifice acceptable to God. The manna in the wilderness -- the spiritual food -- had the taste of fresh oil (Num 11:8), because God's mercies are "new every morning" (Lam 3:23). A joyful recognition of God's goodness must be the spirit with which we greet each new day.

The Preacher does not define the labor, because he is just giving the general principle here, but it includes every activity of the well-ordered life, for everything that is done should be done with rejoicing as unto the Lord (Eph 6:5-8; Col 3:23). And Qoheleth continues: "For God giveth to a man that is good in His sight wisdom and knowledge and joy" (Ecc 2:26).

All good is of God. The introduction of God changes the picture from futility to rejoicing. Man can accumulate wisdom and knowledge in the natural sense of which the Preacher has spoken earlier, but only God can give it life and meaning with the great gift of joy.

Ecc 2:25

FOR WITHOUT HIM, WHO CAN EAT OR FIND ENJOYMENT?: This one point makes all the difference: is a man "with God", or "without Him"? No real enjoyment, no lasting pleasure, not even any lasting sense of accomplishment, can ever exist without God!

Ecc 2:26

TO THE MAN WHO PLEASES HIM, GOD GIVES WISDOM, KNOWLEDGE AND HAPPINESS: The righteous is not forsaken (Psa 37:23-25), but has knowledge to enjoy God's present gifts, and wait for future blessings. Note the case of king Hezekiah (2Ch 31:20,21). The good person before God may not always be happy, but he or she will have a feeling of satisfaction and gladness in being content with God's gifts: "But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that" (1Ti 6:8). Cp also Jos 24:13.

BUT TO THE SINNER HE GIVES THE TASK OF GATHERING AND STORING UP WEALTH TO HAND IT OVER TO THE ONE WHO PLEASES GOD: Such happened exactly with the houses and wells and vineyards of the Canaanites -- which properties passed into the possession of the Israelites (Deu 6:11; cp Pro 13:22; 28:8).

More specifically, this may possibly refer to Uzziah here, seeing the first glimmers of hope -- not in the wicked Ahaz -- but in his young son Hezekiah?

In the broadest sense, what is the whole world (replete with the results of all the labors of all its inhabitants, since the beginning of time)? It is that which is "stored up" for those who please God. And to those, and those alone, it will all be handed over by Almighty God. "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom" (Luk 12:32).

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