Within the book of Ecclesiastes there are five "books"
presenting the words of the Assembler concerning the works of the human,
viewed finally as God's word concerning His works. In the first "book"
(1:12-2:26) the author analyzes the perplexing problems of
individual experience in the spheres of wisdom and toil. First of
all he takes up wisdom, and in tracing knowledge finds that the condition
of affairs under the sun is not what it should be, and that it is beyond
man's power to correct. "What is distorted cannot be set in order, and
what is lacking cannot be counted" (1:15).
Further pursuit of knowledge yields nothing beyond this
positive idea. To go beyond is useless labor ("a grazing on wind"), which,
while augmenting vexation and pain, contributes nothing of value towards
the solution of the riddle (1:12-18):
||I myself , the Assembler, came to be king over
Israel in Jerusalem.|
||I applied my heart to inquiring and exploring by wisdom
concerning all that is done under the
It is an experience of evil Elohim has given to
the sons of humanity
them by it.
||I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun, |
the whole is vanity and a grazing on
||What is distorted cannot be set in order, |
what is lacking cannot be counted
||I spoke with my heart, saying, |
Behold, I have grown great
and have added in wisdom
Over all who were over Jerusalem
My heart has seen much of wisdom and
||Then I applied my heart to know wisdom, |
As well as to
know about raving and frivolity;
I realize that even
this, it is a grazing on wind.
||For in much wisdom is much vexation, |
who adds knowledge adds pain.
DEEDS AND TOIL
The Assembler turns to the sphere of toil. As a king, he
is endowed with the combination of all objects of human envy, and enters
upon an experiment, by which the several kinds of good things are
successively subjected to review. First, he accumulates without limit all
possible objects of pleasure, and then engages in all kinds of human
effort. The experiment includes the pleasures that are called frivolities;
he gives himself freely to them, but while experimenting in frivolity he
retains all the while "wisdom of heart" that could reflect on the
The experiment is successful considered as an experiment.
Success in achieving these enterprises brings with it an impression of
pleasure; but when reflection is turned upon them there is no
satisfaction. Ability to gratify his every wish and carry out his
extensive undertakings has, after all, only met the wants of physical
existence. Rich delights have pandered the soul, pleased the eye, tickled
the palate, but have only appeased the feeling of hunger the same as a
common meal, providing nothing for the spiritual cravings (2:1-11):
||I said in my heart: Do come then, |
Let me probe you
Now look at what is good.
even this was vanity.
||Mirth, I said, is a raving, |
And rejoicing, what then
is it achieving?
||I explored within my heart by stimulating my flesh with
(While my heart was leading with wisdom)
getting a hold on frivolity,
Until I should see just
where good may be for the sons of humanity
they do under the heavens
the number of days in their lives.
||I made great things as my works; |
I built houses for
I planted vineyards for myself;
||I made gardens and parks for myself, |
And I planted in
them trees of every fruit.
||I made reservoirs of water for myself, |
from them the sprouting grove of trees.
||I acquired menservants and maidservants, |
any sons born in the household became mine;
Moreover, abundant cattle, herds and flocks became mine,
More than all who were over Jerusalem before me.
||I collected also silver and gold for myself,
The valuable treasures of kings and provinces;
I provided male singers and female singers for
And with the rich delights of the
sons of humanity,
a wine waiter
and wine waitresses.
||As I grew greater and added more than
who was over Jerusalem before me.
Indeed my wisdom, it stayed by me.
||All that my eyes asked for I did not deny to them;
I did not withhold my heart from any rejoicing,
my heart had rejoicing from all my toil,
itself was my portion from all my toil.
||Yet when I faced all my deeds that my hands had done,
And the toil that I had toiled in doing them,
Behold, the whole was vanity and a grazing
And there was nothing of advantage
under the sun.
TO SEE WISDOM
Next, with burdened heart, the Assembler turns reflection
on to wisdom itself, together with its opposites, raving and frivolity
(2:12), to see if here any genuine satisfaction is to be found. He sees at
once that wisdom excels as light excels darkness; but this is neutralized
by the further consideration that both are involved in the same destiny of
death; so that in the presence of the King of Terrors the pursuit of
wisdom, despite infinite superiority to its opposite, seems not only
profitless but "evil" (vs.17). "Since the destiny of the stupid man is
also mine, and it shall befall me, to what advantage then have I been
wise? Hence I spoke in my heart, This too is vanity" (2:15).
||Then I turned around to see wisdom compared with raving
and frivolity |
(For what will the man who comes after the
Beyond what others have already
||And I saw there is more advantage for wisdom than
for frivolity |
Just as there is more
advantage for light than for darkness;
||The wise man uses his eyes in his head, |
the stupid man walks in darkness;
Yet I realized
indeed that the same destiny befalls them all.
||So I said in my heart, |
Since the destiny of the
stupid man is also mine, and it shall befall me,
To what advantage then have I been wise?
Hence I spoke in my
heart, This too is vanity.
FRUIT OF TOIL
Next he returns to survey the fruit of his toil wherein
he had toiled under the sun. But this again appears hateful in the light
of death, and the necessity of leaving it to a successor, who may prove to
be frivolous. The thought and energy expended in the accumulation of goods
do not even guarantee that after his departure they will be used in
accordance with his wish. The survey has in all its departments ended in
||For there is no remembrance of the wise man
or the stupid man for the
In the days which are already coming everyone
Alas, the wise man dies along with
the stupid one!
||Then I hated life, |
For to me the work was evil that
was done under the sun,
For the whole is vanity and
a grazing on wind.
||And I hated all the fruit of my toil for which I
was toiling under the sun, |
That I would leave to
the man who shall come after me.
||Who knows if he shall be a wise or a
frivolous man? |
Yet he shall have authority over
all the fruit
of my toil
for which I toiled,
And in which I was wise under
This too is vanity.
||So I turned around again with despair in my
Over all the fruit of toil for which I had
toiled under the sun.
||For there is a man whose fruit of toil
in wisdom and in knowledge and
Yet to another man who has not toiled for it,
he must give it as his
This too is vanity and a great
||For what is coming to a man for all his toil,
And for the shepherding of his heart which he is
toiling under the sun?
||For all his days, pains and vexation are his experience;
Even in the night his heart will not lie still;
This too, it is vanity.
THIS TOO IS FROM ELOHIM
The knowledge the Assembler has gained is now summed up
and wisely related to the hand of Elohim (2:24-26):
||There is nothing better for a man
than that he should eat and
And cause his soul to see good from his toil;
This too I see that it is from the hand of Elohim.
||For who can eat, and who can have pleasure outside
||For to the man who is well pleasing before Him,
He gives wisdom and knowledge and rejoicing;
the sinner He gives the experience
of gathering and of collecting
To give it to one who is well
pleasing before the One, Elohim;
This too is
vanity and a grazing on wind.
These concluding verses gather up the results. Thus far
the experiment has shown that while the processes have been satisfactory
and enjoyable the result has invariably been disappointing, even
despairingly so when considered in light of the future. Evidence forces
the conclusion that present enjoyment is man's only portion. But the
important thought occurs that even appreciation of life as it passes is a
gift of God, and is not in the power of the seeker.