Introduction

The opening traditional poem of Ecclesiastes (1:1-11) presents Solomon’s alarming revelation: all of life is futile. No matter how hard a man works, death and entropy will eat away at his accomplishments until there is nothing left. In the next twenty-three verses (1:12-2:16), Solomon gives an account of his attempt to escape futility. Essentially, the elderly king is looking for fruit amid fruitlessness.[1] Solomon eventually finds a satisfactory answer (v.26), but not before he falls into the void of despair (vv.17-23), which is all futility can give him.

Solomon divides his search between pleasure and wisdom. He first summarizes (1:12-18) then elaborates on (2:1-16) his search.[2] First, we will consider the preliminary summaries of his quest (1:12-18).[3] Second, we will consider the elaborate account of pleasure (2:1-11), where he searches “all that is done under heaven” (1:13).[4] Third, we will consider the elaborate account of wisdom (2:12-16), where he searches “wisdom and madness and folly” (v.12). Many commentators and expositors stop frequently in this passage to say, “Yes, but…” We shall do no such thing. Solomon has a point to make, and we shall reap its full benefit only if we first bear its full burden.

Preliminary Summaries (1:12-18)

Solomon’s great search for fruit in fruitlessness came in two installments: testing pleasure and testing wisdom. Each is condensed into the following four basic parts: man, object, conclusion, proverb.

First, notice the man who searched (vv.12, 16). Of course, Solomon is the inquisitor in both cases, but he explains himself distinctly depending on which object he searched. He is first identified as the king over Israel in Jerusalem (v.12), which establishes his credentials for testing pleasure.[5] Next, he says of himself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge” (v.16).[6] This establishes his credentials for testing wisdom. As a great king, he had access to the best pleasures on earth. As the wisest man, he was in his element, his field of expertise, when testing wisdom.[7] On both accounts, we can trust the thoroughness and accuracy of his search.[8]

Second, notice the objects that were searched (vv.13a, 17a). Solomon first made a great search of “all that is done under heaven” (v.13a).[9] This concerned the life of men: what was good to do (2:3) and what would bring pleasure(v.1). Next, he searched wisdommadness, and folly (1:17a). This concerned the supernatural wisdom God had given Solomon (1 Kings 4:29), the instrument by which Solomon had searched the life of men: “And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 1:12).[10] By “madness and folly,” the king means that he will know the opposite of wisdom. As Adam “knew” his wife (Genesis 4:1), Solomon sought an intimate knowledge with not only wisdom, but also those wicked depths adjacent to it.[11]

Third, notice the conclusion of each search (vv.13b-14, 17b). Both objects (pleasure and wisdom) tested positive for the same predicament: vanity. Of life, Solomon concluded, “All is vanity” (v.14). Of wisdom, Solomon likewise said, “This also is but a striving after wind” (v.17; cf. Hosea 12:1). The king found himself back where he began. “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3).

Fourth, notice the point in proverb (vv.15, 18). To conclude each summary, Solomon attaches a proverb. These proverbs explain why the respective searches concluded in futility. Each proverb is also a parallelism: both lines in each proverb make the same point. Further, each proverb foreshadows topics Solomon will elaborate on later in Ecclesiastes. On the futility of life, Solomon laments that there are crooked things in the world that cannot be made straight (vv.15; cf. 7:13). Evil and disastrous events occur every day which cannot be avoided.[12] Solomon, though a powerful and wise king, could not prevent the cycles of nature from overtaking life.[13] On the futility of wisdom, Solomon laments that wisdom and vexation are proportionately linked: the more knowledge one gains, the more sorrow comes along with it (v.18; cf. 12:12). Wisdom, rather than providing an escape from futility, only opened Solomon’s eyes to how futile life is under the sun. Wise or foolish, Solomon was going to die and be forgotten.

This (1:12-18) is the summary of Solomon’s great search, about which he then gave further details (2:1-16). Our study becomes tedious at this point, but I urge you to maintain a vigilant spirit. The grand scope of Solomon’s test demands a thorough treatment, that we may profit thoroughly from his testimony.

Testing Pleasure (2:1-11)

Solomon’s first attempt at escaping futility was a test of pleasure (v.1).[14] Solomon’s mentality is best summarized, “Enjoy yourself” (v.1). This imperative is a call to focus oneself wholly on self-gratification. The conscience should not be fixed upon reason, duty, capability, means, or the like. Pleasure is to be the ethical standard. The concubine’s father persuaded his son-in-law to prolong a visit by saying, “Be pleased to spend the night, and let your heart be merry” (Judges 19:6; emphasis mine). The rich man told himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19; emphasis mine). In the Apocrypha we encounter the proverb, “Give, and take, and indulge yourself, because in Hades one cannot look for luxury” (Sirach 14:16; emphasis mine). Such pleasure was what Paul considered a reasonable reaction if the dead are not raised: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32; cf. Isaiah 22:13). Indeed, the fleeting nature of earthly life, that man only has a few days (Ecclesiastes 2:3), compels many to “live for the moment” and focus on pleasure (cf. Psalm 39:5-6; 90:9-12).[15]

This is not only pleasure as a singular focus, but pleasure as an assertion of human sovereignty. Isaiah wrote, “‘Come,’ they say, ‘Let me get wine; let us fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure’” (56:12). What a foolish thought, that tomorrow will be as today, as though the universe bows to your calendar! James rebuked such attitudes well:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

James 4:13-16

Solomon’s search of pleasure was from the outset wrong-footed.[16] His advice, “Enjoy yourself,” (2:1) was an encouragement toward pride and self-autonomy.[17] Solomon decided to indulge himself in pleasure and live like an atheist.[18] These pleasures fall into three categories: stimulants (vv.2-3), projects (vv.4-6), and wealth (vv.7-10).[19]

First, Solomon indulged in stimulants (vv.2-3). The king gave himself to things which created happiness through artificial means: laughter, raw pleasure (v.2), wine, and folly (v.3). Laughter is the purest image of joy, “when the heart is so full that it cannot contain its delight, but it breaks forth in the face, voice, and outward behavior.”[20] One laughs when he is or needs to be at peace. Men value laughter so highly they pay for it: jesters and comedians have long been customary among the rich and poor alike.[21] Raw pleasure is anything which induces the release of endorphins in the mind. Drugs and pornography are common examples. These are gateways to bliss, perpetually at the fingertips of a king of Jerusalem. Wine is good for the gut (1 Timothy 5:23), but Solomon gladdened himself with it (i.e. became drunk).[22]The cheer of strong drink is more complex than raw pleasure: this would be considered a refined pleasure (e.g. classical music and pipe tobacco).[23] After all this, Solomon sought to grasp folly, which could be either the specific result of wine (Proverbs 20:1) or a general category meant to include any unlisted pleasures.[24] In these four ways, Solomon gave himself to stimulants, while testing the pleasures of life.

Second, Solomon indulged in projects (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6). He summarizes this category as “great works” (v.4). Those who came after him in Jerusalem undoubtedly saw him as a standard of good living (e.g. 2 Chronicles 26:10). He built houses, his own the finest among them. With cedar from the Forest of Lebanon, Solomon’s home boasted forty-five pillars, artisan window frames, and costly stones in the foundation (1 Kings 7:1-12). He built vineyards (cf. Song of Sol. 8:11), a gift to himself (Ecclesiastes 2:4). Solomon was a lover and crafter of high pleasures. He built gardens and parks (cf. Song of Sol. 4:16; 5:1), which housed many fruit trees. To the credit of his ingenuity, pools were constructed for irrigation of whole forests.[25] The king’s projects flourished as he gave himself to them, while testing the pleasures of life.

Third, Solomon indulged in wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:7-8). Solomon was rich in a well-rounded manner, not just in liquid assets. His slaves were numerous and multiplied within his house. To be such a servant of King Solomon was undoubtedly a great blessing, for they regularly heard his wisdom (1 Kings 10:5-8) and their children were born in covenant with God (Genesis 17:12-13).[26] For Solomon, these slaves were an object of indulgence. He owned more herds and flocks than anyone before in Jerusalem. This was not wealth in sign, but in substance.[27] Through trade and warfare, silver and gold poured into Solomon’s coffers.[28] Treasures of cultural and historical value from other rulers and countries were gathered by Solomon. His court never lacked singers nor his bedroom concubines (cf. 1 Kings 11:3). In his day, Solomon had unfathomable wealth which he used to test the pleasures of life. Such an accumulation of wealth was an infringement upon the Mosaic Covenant: “Only [the king] must not acquire many horses for himself… and he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Deuteronomy 17:16-17).[29]

Solomon had determined to enjoy himself (Ecclesiastes 2:1), and so he did: “I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil” (v.10). In this was his folly, that he set his eyes upon pleasure, and pleasure alone. Any stimulant, project, or richness that one may obtain is immediately made an evil when focused upon with all of one’s heart, soul, and mind.[30] “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them” (v.10). Solomon indulged himself like Eve, to whom the fruit was a delight to the eyes (Genesis 3:6). He indulged himself like the sons of God who took any woman they desired for a wife (6:2). Solomon’s advice on self-gratification and the eyes (Ecclesiastes 1:8) was clearly wisdom learned the hard way.

Many people give themselves to pleasure in order to escape mortality. Solomon was looking for something good to do during the few days of his life (Ecclesiastes 2:3). However, pleasure cannot provide an escape from vanity: “There was nothing to be gained under the sun” (v.11). Such a sell-out to pleasure is condemned in Scripture as utmost folly, for in it a man misses mercy en route to destruction.

They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all.

Luke 17:27-29

This warning is for men in these last days, for “so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (v.30). Man’s great projects go the way of Babel. “Let us make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4), they cry today, but tomorrow they are scattered (v.8) and soon no one will know what they accomplished. Man lives a lifetime and heaps up wealth, but never knows who will gather it all (Psalm 39:5-6; cf. Proverbs 23:4-5; James 5:1). This all is the danger of wealth and power. In the Old Covenant, stimulants, projects, and wealth quickly lifted up the heart of Israel to forget their God (Deuteronomy 8:12-14).

So the test of pleasure turned up dry. Solomon discovered, after many years of indulgence, that “enjoy yourself” is foolish advice. The king examined all these pleasures by means of wisdom: “My wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them” (Ecclesiastes 2:9-10; cf. v.3). When he arises empty-handed from the long search, Solomon holds wisdom itself in suspicion.

Testing Wisdom (2:12-16)

When the search of pleasure (i.e. life under the sun) failed, Solomon began to question wisdom itself (v.12). Wisdom was the tool Solomon used to search the ways of man on the earth (1:13; 2:3). Perhaps the king could not find anything worthwhile in life because the instrument he was searching with was flawed. There was no pleasure left to test (“For what can the man do who comes after the king?” [v.12]),[31] and wisdom alone remained. Solomon made two observations.

First, wisdom is good (vv.12-14a). Wisdom and folly are analogous to light and darkness. Wisdom is like light, and there is much gain in it (v.13). Therefore, wisdom was “an excellent instrument in such an enquiry” as Solomon’s.[32] The light allows for vision and clarity: “The wise person has his eyes in his head” (v.14). The darkness blinds and obscures: “The fool walks in darkness” (v.14). The former option – that of light, sight, and wisdom – is clearly the better one. Wisdom is like the sun, shining above a man and illuminating where he should step. Without wisdom, we are blindfolded by darkness and bound to fall at some arbitrary juncture. “Wisdom possesses the same advantage over folly, that sight does over blindness.”[33]

Elsewhere, God has correlated truth with light, wickedness with darkness. “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble” (Proverbs 4:18-19). Christians are not those who never stumble over sin (1 John 1:8), but those who see and lament what they stumble over. Those outside of Christ don’t see the evil of wickedness, and do not understand the vices which spill them hellward (Romans 3:11). Solomon noted that “the wise person has his eyes in his head” (Ecclesiastes 2:14). Jesus agreed: “The eye is the lamp of the body” (Matthew 6:22), and when the eye of a man is bad even the lighter parts of his life are darkness (v.23; Luke 11:34-35).[34]

Christians are those who were in darkness, but now are in light in the Lord (Ephesians 5:8). “Walk as children of light,” Paul exhorted the Ephesians, “and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (vv.8, 10). God’s people should be marked by discernment. We are those who can see where we are going, not those who hide secrets in darkness (v.12), nor those “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (4:14). Our light of wisdom is the Word of God. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (v.130).

For this reason, shepherds of God’s flock simply need to light the candle in their exposition. We must turn on the floodlight of wisdom every Lord’s Day among the covenant people of God! Those who refuse this simple, weighty task are giving themselves to the senseless task of tickling ears with a cold wick (2 Timothy 4:1-5). Pew dwellers who want the cold wick of eisegesis instead of the raging fire of exegesis should remember that “everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:20-21). We must strive to grow into the likeness of Jethro, to whom Moses said, “You will serve as eyes for us” (Numbers 10:31).

Second, wisdom is futile (vv.14b-16). Solomon saw the general equity of wisdom, that seeing was better than groping in darkness. However, he also saw the futility of wisdom. “The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them” (Ecclesiastes 2:14; cf. Job 21:23-26). Abel offered a pleasing sacrifice, and Cain had no discipline to this end (Genesis 4:1-7) – yet both died in due time. Samuel served God faithfully for many decades, and Saul turned away shortly after becoming king (1 Samuel 15:11) – yet both returned to dust. Joseph preserved the might of Egypt for life (Genesis 50:20), and Pharaoh preserved it for death (Exodus 1:8-22) – yet both labors were undone and forgotten in time. To the wise and the foolish alike, God has assigned not only death, but various pains of futility. Upon both seems to be an “indiscriminate administration of Divine providence.”[35]

Wisdom can show a man where to step, but it does not give him ground to step on. Wisdom illuminates the way ahead, but it does not make the way. Why should be wise if “what happens to the fool will happen to me also?” (Ecclesiastes 2:15).[36] Solomon was under such righteous constraint to be wise (2 Chronicles 1:10), only to conclude his wisdom was for naught. The lament is over a two-fold loss. Not only will the wise die as the fool (vv.14b-15), but, because of death, the wise will also be forgotten as the fool. “In the days to come all will have been forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!” (v.16). Even the geniuses among us cannot attain in substance the fame “that all hunt after in their lives.”[37] Thus, Solomon’s great search – of pleasure and wisdom, of life and truth – concluded in futility. “All is vanity,” he comes to lament again (1:2).

Toil: The First Gift of God

In the third part (2:17-26) of this opening section (1:1-2:26), we will study Solomon’s great despair over this conclusion. Solomon found no gladness in the toil of life: “It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (1:13). The king’s conclusion, due to his credentials (vv.12, 16), applies to all of us. The life and toil that God has given to us all is an unhappy one (v.13).[38] In the first part (1:1-11), we learned that there is an order to the universe that cannot be undone. In the second part (1:12-2:16), we glimpsed who fashions this order: God our Creator. Solomon believed God has given business to every man – a toil, a work, a life to be busy with (1:13). This gift of toil brought no gladness (1:12-18), no matter what it constituted (2:1-16). And so, Solomon “hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to [him], for all is vanity and a striving after wind” (v.17).

By “gift” we do not mean “grace,” for the futility which weighs upon every man is the just result of Adam’s fall.[39] God gives each man an unhappy business, not arbitrarily or impishly, but righteously and nobly. The vanity of life is the death promised Adam for partaking of the forbidden fruit. This point is emphasized by Solomon’s nine references to people as “the children of man” (1:13; 2:3, 8; 3:10, 18, 19; 8:11; 9:3, 12), where “man” is the word “Adam.”[40] To Adam’s seed, the unhappy business called “toil” has been given.[41] Men live in futility because they are sinners, through and through. Therefore, how much more certainly are men doomed to this fate, and no wonder Solomon could not escape it by means of pleasure and wisdom! One may not evade the judgment of God by pleasing himself any more than a prisoner may escape his chains by daydreaming. And for all our wisdom, we have yet to find a loophole in God’s justice.

One Eye on the Map

This large portion of didactic poetry is the second part of the first section of Ecclesiastes. The first section encompasses 1:1-2:26. In this larger section, Solomon walks us through his journey to find fruit in fruitlessness. In the first part (1:1-11), Solomon comes to the realization that everything is futile. In the second part (1:12-2:16), Solomon summarizes and elaborates on his great search for fruit in futility. In the third and final part (2:17-26), Solomon will reveal the answer: the point of our toil is joy, and the kind of joy only God can give. The second section of Ecclesiastes is about the sovereignty of God (3:1-8:17). The third and final section of Ecclesiastes is about wisdom (9:1-12:14).

Exhortations

First, remember always the true nature of laughter. Laughter is the purest image of joy, yet the sign never guarantees the substance. Obtaining the flavor of joy is not the same thing as obtaining joy itself. It is possible to paint the face with a smile, yet be lonely in mind and grieved in soul. This is the sorrow of a baptized reprobate. So guard yourself against chasing laughter: the symbol of joy but not joy itself.

Second, beware of tunnel vision in your labors. God created man to work (Genesis 2:15). Slothfulness is an abandonment of humanity at a basic level, but this does not mean labor and projects are the end-all of life. Solomon has taught us this, has he not? In your strain and sweat, watch out for tunnel vision. By this I mean any time we employ our faculties solely for work. Work hard, but remember your Maker. Work hard, but remember your family.

Third, take Solomon’s advice and strive for heavenly coffers. “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” Christ said (Luke 12:15). The one who “lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” is a fool (vv.20-21). Ours is a heavenly city prepared by God (Hebrews 11:16), not an earthly one built by Solomon. Therefore make today the time where your eyes become fixed upon the prize, those eternal delights of God’s glory kept in the deepest of cellars for your joy, where aged wine and warm bread await our feasting, behind high walls of bright stone and gates of gleaming iron. His is a storehouse which cannot be robbed or flooded, ravaged or forgotten. Make your deposits there.[42]

Fourth, live with your head toward Zion, not with your neck turned back to Eden. Most of Solomon’s projects were related to gardening or cultivating. It is hard to read of them and not be reminded of Eden, as if the king were attempting to re-create the Garden in the height of Old Covenant glory. By God’s grace, he found the error of his ways: we cannot return to Eden. Only onward may we go – forward and upward. There is no going back to Genesis, to the first Adam, but only going forward to Heaven, to the second Adam. Ours is a glory Adam never dreamed of, a delight Adam only glimpsed in probation. Therefore, do not live for “heaven on earth.” Live your pilgrim life and be content until Christ calls us home (cf. Revelation 2:7). “An earthly paradise can never make up for the want of the heavenly.”[43]

Fifth, sanctify all pleasure to God. Do not take Solomon’s former advice, “enjoy yourself” (Ecclesiastes 2:1). Joy in the earth God made is not the problem. We shall demonstrate this in subsequent studies. The problem is when we enjoy life as an atheist. God gives good gifts, but these gifts become idols when God is forgotten (cf. Romans 1:25). Enjoy nothing in this world outside of the context of your Creator.

Sixth, expect nothing but Christ to rescue you from the futility of life. Solomon’s search was thorough. There is no delicacy hiding under a rock, no meal awaiting you in a corner shop, no dress hanging in a thrift store, which Solomon has not touched upon in his indictment of toil. It all ends in futility. None of it can deliver you from death, from the crushing cycle of life on earth. Therefore, place your faith in the only One Who has escaped from the cycle – the One Who rose from the dead. He alone can bear you to a glad land, where life abounds and fruit is plenty.

Seventh, do not envy the prosperous. By seeing the emptiness of Solomon’s grandeur, we should have little doubt concerning the true benefit of prosperity. Whatever wealth can do, it can’t bring meaning and fruition to life. Therefore, why should you covet the prosperous? Why should you care whether your neighbor has a nice car or house? Use your head, and tell me: what cause have you to scowl at the mansion you drive by, when you know full and well that everyone will sleep in the dirt inside of a few decades? Let us come to our senses and mortify envy. Let us learn contentment (Philippians 4:11-13), as the joy of the Lord is our strength.[44]

Eighth, look for peace in Christ, not wisdom. Knowledge is cheese on a mouse trap. Men time and again fling themselves into the academy like mice eager for cheese, only to be crushed by vexation. There is a peace which comes from knowledge, but it is only false peace. One convinces himself that he is better off than others because he understands. “I really comprehend what’s going on around here.” This peace of knowledge is light and hollow because, true as it may be that the erudite comprehends, he can’t do anything about it all. He will die, his fortunes will be dispersed, and his achievements will be forgotten. Walking through a philosopher’s mind is like walking through a wax museum – how chilling it is to gaze upon models of people, the mere sculptures of peace. We must learn sooner rather than later that wisdom lights the way, but it does not make the way. Wisdom cannot give you peace any more than floodlights can stop a tsunami.

Ninth, strive to be wise. With the above precaution, I urge you to acquire wisdom. Wisdom cannot be your savior, but that does not mean wisdom is good for nothing. Seek to be wise, for wisdom has true value. This will require two things. First, you must plant your head in the Bible, to become a hearer and doer of the Word. Make a daily habit of reading Scripture. Second, you must ask God for wisdom. He has promised to grant wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5).

Tenth, make Scripture, not experience, your tutor. The best way of learning is not from experience, but from God’s Word. You do not have to test everything as Solomon did (Ecclesiastes 1:14) to know it is vain. We learn more from obedience than disobedience. How foolish are those parents who let their children indulge in the world, telling themselves, “They must learn!” Scripture is enough for our training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, let us train ourselves and our children in the Word of God, compelling them to trust God without a need for tasting sin. Learning from experience is an acquirement of intimate knowledge – such knowledge of wickedness is not appropriate for Christians to obtain. It is a knowledge from which we must be redeemed.

Eleventh, men, don’t let peace make you soft. Solomon ruled Israel in its most peaceful, prosperous era. In Solomon, we see the depraved tendency of a man who has no war to fight or dragon to slay: he grows soft and effeminate, comfortable and lazy. But there is always a battle to join, until Christ’s Kingdom is fully realized. We must daily reinvigorate ourselves as soldiers of Christ and discipline ourselves in His service.


[1] He phrases the conclusion he desires in two ways. What is there to be gained by man (v.11)? What is there which is good for man to do (v.3)?

[2] The passage (1:12-2:16) follows an “A1-B1-A2-B2” pattern. In the “A” sections, Solomon searches various pleasures; in the “B” sections, Solomon searches wisdom. The first sections (A1, B1) are preliminary summaries; the second sections (A2, B2) are elaborate accounts. This is a stylistic choice on Solomon’s part, as he rehearses the details of his quest.

[3] Several commentators suggest Solomon does not comment on the utility of wisdom until 2:12 (e.g. Reynolds, 55). Wardlaw agrees that Solomon speaks of wisdom in 1:16-18 (pg. 40). Bridges agrees with me that Solomon twice comments on wisdom (pg. 60). Lloyd outlines the passage thus: 1:12-18, Wisdom; 2:1-11, Folly; 2:12ff, Contrasting Wisdom and Folly (pg. 30; see also Macdonald, 161).

[4] See also Stuart, 123.

[5] Here is further evidence for Solomonic authorship. David ruled from Hebron then Jerusalem, and after Solomon no man could be said to rule Israel from Jerusalem (see Jamieson, 404).

[6] As we posit Solomon as wiser than any man before or after his time, we of course do not mean to suggest he was greater in wisdom than Christ. Jamieson notes: “His wisdom exceeded that of all before Jesus Christ, the antitypical Koheleth, or ‘Gatherer of men,’ (Lu 13:34), and ‘Wisdom’ incarnate (Mt 11:19; 12:42)” (404). Buchanan adds, “Let us rejoice that One has arisen who is greater than Solomon… He, too, has seen the sore travail which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith—how the earth has been cursed for sinful man’s sake, and how laboriously he eats of it in the sweat of his brow—how man wearies himself amid toils and cares which, after all, leave him as unsatisfied as ever. But, unlike the literal Solomon, this mightier son of David, this more glorious King over Israel, has found out a way whereby that which is crooked can be made straight, and that which is wanting can be numbered. The Lord Jesus Christ has come down from heaven to look upon this fallen world… He has redeemed us from the curse under which we groaned, by himself bearing that curse for us; and there is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus” (pg. 49-50).

[7] “If Solomon with his mighty grasp of intellect could find no rest in earthly wisdom, who else can expect it?” (Bridges, 47). See also Hengstenberg, 80.

[8] See also Bridges, 38; Young, 55.

[9] Stuart rightly comments, “Everything which is done, refers to the actions of men, and not the objects of nature” (pg 119).

[10] All instances of Solomon applying or utilizing his heart in Ecclesiastes are probably best understood as him deciding something, or deciding to do something. For Hebrews, the heart was the seat of thought (Holden, 57-58; Ginsburg, 269).

[11] Wardlaw, 42-43.

[12] “The reference is to what is perverse or calamitous in the circumstances of human life, conf. 7:13, where מְעֻוָּת [“that which is crooked”] is termed the work of God, i.e., of His providence” (Lloyd, 17). Ginsburg favors “depressed” over “crooked” (pg. 271), for which I see no good cause.

[13] Hengstenberg seems to contend Solomon is not alluding to meticulous sovereignty here, but he provides no exegetical support (pg. 64-66). He merely quotes Luther at length – but Luther himself does not grasp the simplicity of Solomon’s statement, that you cannot make crooked things straight because God has made them crooked in the first place. This will be evident later in Ecclesiastes. Stuart seems to make the best sense of this concept and Solomon’s intent when labeling human toil as vain: “Human efforts are vain and fruitless, because they cannot change or amend the constitution and course of things” (pg. 121).

[14] Reynolds, Henry, and Hodge consider Solomon like a spy in enemy territory: his experiments with pleasure in 2:1-11 a noble act for our benefit. However, they provide no warrant for this interpretation, whereas I have belabored a defense. See Bridges, 53. There is no Rhineland between sin and righteousness – no neutral territory. If Solomon was not seeking pleasure in God (which he was not in 2:1-11), then he was in sin. Coleman rightly calls Solomon’s “enjoy yourself” (v.1) era of life “apostasy” (pg. 8), from which Solomon returned to God as a prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). That Solomon retained wisdom while indulging himself does not mean his indulgence was righteous, but that his wisdom aided him in his indulgence. The gift of God because a shovel for the scooping and devouring of the king’s fancies (see Hengstenberg, 79-80).

[15] As shall become evident later in Ecclesiastes, God Himself, when the focal point and context of our joy, makes all gladness true, as the sun makes our waking hours bright. “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

[16] While it was wrong-footed and indulgent, it was also systematic and deliberate. He had a clear aim in mind (“till I might see what was good for the children of man to do”) and a steady instrument with which to achieve it (“my heart still guiding me with wisdom” [2:3]; see also Reynolds, 53). Buchanan considers it not systematic (pg. 42-44), but “the natural result… of that pride of knowledge to which he had been tempted to give way” (pg. 45). I see no reason why it cannot be both. Solomon’s motivations were probably complicated: a systematic test of pleasure, yet an indulgence in anything his heart desired.

[17] Bridges warns, “The soul that has wandered from God will search heaven and earth in vain for rest” (pg. 44).

[18] “Live like an atheist,” as in, living as if God did not exist. I do not mean as in, confessing God does not exist. The difference is between pragmatic and metaphysical atheism. Metaphysical atheists deny the existence of God with their mouths. Pragmatic atheists deny the existence of God with their behaviors. It is possible for regenerate Christians to be pragmatic atheists. See also Wardlaw, 35-36.

[19] See also Young, 67. I agree with Wardlaw: “It is unnecessary to dwell long on the various particulars in this enumeration” (pg. 64).

[20] Reynolds, 41-42.

[21] Of Solomon’s claim that laughter is madness, Reynolds says, “Excess of joy transports the mind, and by displacing reason, argues much levity, vanity, and uncomposedness of judgment” (pg. 42).

[22] Literally, “body to wine,” which pictures Solomon pulled by wine as a captive behind a chariot of triumph (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:2; 2 Peter 2:18-19) (Jamieson, 404).

[23] Reynolds, 44. For evidence of the grandeur of Solomon’s regular festivities, see 1 Kings 4:22-23.

[24] “There is, indeed, a great subtilty of delusion in the effort to lay hold on folly, as an experiment, for the purpose of exposure. Self-discipline and self-distrust are the laws of self-preservation” (Bridges, 54). On my interpretation of both “wine” and “folly,” see Holden, 65.

[25] Three of these pools are still visible, called “Solomon’s Cisterns” near Jerusalem (Jamieson, 405).

[26] Solomon’s riches, therefore, extended into covenantal corners, yet so did his sin. House-born slaves (called “sons of the house” [Genesis 15:3] or “sons of the handmaid” [Exodus 23:12] [Michaelis referenced by Holden, 65-66]) were usually more trustworthy (Genesis 14:4), which was one reason Solomon had to boast in them.

[27] For an entry-level treatment on possessions as wealth, see Douglas Wilson, Ploductivity, 21-26. From Israel’s beginnings, such things were a matter of wealth (Genesis 24:35).

[28] I believe 2 Chronicles 9:20 captures the wealth of Solomon in one fact: “Silver was not considered as anything [i.e as valuable] in the days of Solomon.”

[29] Coleman, 8. This is evidence enough that Solomon was not acting honorably, as if these indulgences were only a mental exercise or shepherdly testing. Solomon’s indulgences were sinful through and through, top to bottom.

[30] Many of the things Solomon lists are not evil in and of themselves. For example, Abraham was very wealthy (Genesis 13:2) and God restored to Job twice the wealth he possessed beforehand (Job 42:12).

[31] This expression in verse 12 means, “If I, the king over Jerusalem, with great power and access to unending wealth – if I cannot find something good to do with my life, then what man after me can? If I cannot escape vanity, then who can?”

[32] Reynolds, 28. In other words: Solomon was not wrong to search these matters “by wisdom.”

[33] Wardlaw, 87.

[34] “To [the blind man], sin is not sin—God is not God—Christ is not Christ—heaven is not heaven—hell is not hell—because he walks in darkness” (Mylne, 16).

[35] Wardlaw, 88.

[36] Looking forward into the rest of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs 14:32 is a necessary cross-reference here: “The wicked is overthrown through his evildoing, but the righteous finds refuge in his death.”

[37] King Lear, Shakespeare.

[38] One way we know that Solomon’s conclusion applies to us all is that he was the most qualified man to conduct this search, being a powerful king and most wise (see “Preliminary Studies” above).

[39] See Bridges, 39-40.

[40] Coleman, 7; Young, 57.

[41] See Wardlaw, 33-34.

[42] “If we are not seeking heavenly pleasures, we shall soon be hankering after those that are shadowy and delusive” (Bridges, 52).

[43] Jamieson, 404-405.

[44] See also Young, 78-79; Wardlaw, 75-77.

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