Ecclesiastes 2:1-26

Submitted by admin on Fri, 2010-12-03 15:08.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

Koheleth referred to speaking “in his heart,” signifying that he thought to himself. The Hebrew text then reads, “Come now, I will test you with gladness, and see about good. And look! Also this ― vanity.” (2:1)

Addressing his “heart” (or himself), Koheleth determined to “try,” or “make an attempt” with, “gladness.” He wanted to try out whatever could delight the senses. The objective was to “see” or to experience “good” or whatever gave promise of being pleasurable. (2:1)

Taking note of what he had done, really looking at it, he appears to have been surprised to find that it was unsatisfying. Like other pursuits he had investigated, the result from “gladness” or mirth also proved to be vain, empty, or meaningless. The end product had no lasting value. (2:1)

Koheleth said of laughter, “insane,” “senseless,” or “mad.” Laughter stemming from attempts to gratify the senses can distort reality, making light of very serious matters. It may conceal the actual feelings of the individual. (Proverbs 14:13) Inappropriate laughter is annoying to observers and makes those indulging in it appear as persons who have lost their senses. When representing matters and situations in a way that is contrary to the facts, laughter is irrational, senseless, insane, or mad. (2:2)

Regarding gladness, Koheleth asked, “What is this doing?” The implied answer is, “Nothing.” At best, pursuing whatever appears to have potential for pleasing the senses produces only fleeting enjoyment. Afterward, the harsh realities that gladness, mirth, or cheer may have masked appear even more distressing than before the brief period of hilarity. (2:2; see the Notes section.)

Koheleth, with his “heart” (his mind or his deep inner self) involved, “investigated” or explored, “drawing out” (mashákh) his “flesh” with wine. The literal significance of the Hebrew term mashákh is to “draw out” and, in this context, may denote “to excite” or “to stimulate.” Wine, the fermented juice of grapes, does affect the “flesh,” the sensual nature of humankind. (2:3)

Koheleth did not give himself up to unrestrained revelry. “Wisdom” or good judgment continued to be the controlling force. As he expressed matters, “I guided my heart with wisdom.” “Heart” may here signify “mind” or may be representative of Koheleth in his inner self. He spoke of “grasping,” “seizing,” or “taking hold” of “folly,” probably meaning his indulging in the pleasures of life’s lighter side. They are the kind of pleasures that reflect a carefree recklessness, a disregard for possible unpleasant consequences. As was true of Koheleth’s investigation with wine, “wisdom” (sound judgment) exercised a restraint on his endeavor respecting folly. His purpose was to “see” or to discern what was “good” for “earthlings” (literally, “sons of the man [earthling]”) to pursue during their short life (“number of days of their life”) “under the heavens” (on earth beneath the skies). It was a matter of determining whether “wisdom” or “folly” would be better, requiring his being familiar with both in order to make a proper evaluation. (2:3)

Koheleth mentioned his “works,” saying that he made them “great.” These were outstanding accomplishments in construction and cultivation. The reference to his making them great could indicate the works were impressive. Another significance could be that he increased the products of his activity. (2:4) Both meanings can be found in translations. “I undertook great works.” (NAB, REB) “I worked on a grand scale.” (NJB) “I multiplied my possessions.” (Tanakh)

Koheleth engaged in building “houses,” not ordinary abodes but luxurious palaces. According to the scriptural record, Solomon devoted about six years more time in constructing his own palace than he did in building the magnificent temple. For this purpose, he used the best craftsmen. With stone saws, the workers smoothed all sides of the building stones. Likely cedar was used for floors and interior paneling. The paneling may have been adorned with stylized carvings of fruit, plants, blossoms, birds, and beasts, perhaps overlaid with gold and inlaid with ivory. The palace that was constructed for Pharaoh’s daughter must likewise have been an imposing structure. (2:4; 1 Kings 6:29; 7:1-11, 18; 10:18-22)

Koheleth planted vineyards, probably to supply the royal table with choice wine and also to provide a source of revenue. Each vineyard doubtless was surrounded by a wall and equipped with a tower, where a watchman would be stationed. The watchman guarded the produce from theft and from the depredations of animals, particularly foxes. Additionally, keepers were in charge of the vineyards, and they received a percentage of the proceeds for their labors. (2:4; Song of Solomon 2:15; 8:11)

Koheleth developed gardens, likely near the palaces. These gardens would have been enclosed cultivated areas with winding paths. Irrigated or watered by streams, they could support a variety of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs. Refreshing shade, coupled with the delightful fragrance of aromatic plants, made the gardens pleasant refuges from the intense summer heat. (2:5)

Koheleth laid out parks. The Hebrew word for “park” (pardés) is generally thought to be of foreign derivation. Solomon had extensive contact with other nations. So it would not have been unusual for non-Hebrew words to have been introduced into the language during his reign. (2:5)

The “parks” may have been enclosed preserves that supported a great variety of plant and animal life. Greek historian Xenophon used the term parádeisos when describing the enclosed hunting grounds of the Persian kings, and this is also the expression appearing in the Septuagint as a rendering for pardés. Likely the hunting done in these parks supplied the deer, gazelles, roebucks, and birds that became part of the daily royal fare. (2:5; 1 Kings 4:23)

Both in the gardens and in the parks, Koheleth planted a variety of “fruit trees.” The trees may have included the apricot, citron, apple, quince, orange, fig, olive and pomegranate. (2:5)

Koheleth constructed “pools” or “reservoirs.” Perhaps through channels, water from these pools flowed into the gardens and parks, making it possible for trees to flourish. Water from the pools served to irrigate “woodland sprouting with trees.” The Hebrew word for “sprout” (tsamách) signifies to “spring up” or “sprout luxuriantly.” Therefore, the reference may be to the growth of young trees. (2:6)

Apparently to have sufficient workers for rendering personal services to the entire royal household and maintaining the palace complex, parks, gardens, and other cultivated areas, Koheleth obtained male and females slaves. He also came to have “sons of the house [household].” These “sons” were the offspring of slaves in the king’s service and, therefore, themselves slaves ― home-born slaves. (2:7)

Koheleth accumulated more livestock than anyone who preceded him in Jerusalem. Both the cattle herds and the flocks of sheep and goats were extraordinarily large. It may be noted that the daily meat consumption for Solomon’s royal household was tremendous. Thirty cattle and one hundred sheep were slaughtered daily. (1 Kings 4:23) This necessitated raising livestock on an unprecedentedly large scale. (2:7)

Koheleth amassed gold, silver and “treasure of kings and provinces.” “Treasure of kings” denotes the kind of fabulous wealth that only royalty could accumulate. The “treasure of provinces” likely consisted of the costly possessions, including rarities, obtained from the administrative regions with which Koheleth had dealings. (2:8) His comments reflect circumstances that are described in 1 Kings 10:14-27 (Tanakh). “The weight of the gold which Solomon received every year was 666 talents of gold, besides what came from tradesmen, from the traffic of the merchants, and from all the kings of Arabia and the governors of the regions. … For the king had a Tarshish fleet on the sea, along with Hiram’s fleet. Once every three years, the Tarshish fleet came in, bearing gold and silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks. King Solomon excelled all the kings on earth in wealth and in wisdom. All the world came to pay homage to Solomon and to listen to the wisdom with which God had endowed him; and each one would bring his tribute — silver and gold objects, robes, weapons and spices, horses and mules — in the amount due each year. … The king made silver as plentiful in Jerusalem as stones.”

For his own enjoyment and the entertainment of the royal household, Koheleth acquired male and female singers. They may often have sung to the accompaniment of instruments. (Compare Isaiah 23:16.) In group singing, half of the musicians may have alternated with the other half in singing parallel stanzas. At times a soloist may have thus alternated with an entire chorus. (Compare Exodus 15:21; 1 Samuel 18:6, 7.) It is noteworthy that Solomon had great interest in music, as evident from his knowing 1,005 (5,000, LXX) songs. (2:8; 1 Kings 4:32 [3 Kings 5:12, LXX])

Additionally, Koheleth acquired what he called “delights of the sons of the man [the earthling].” In the Tanakh, the expression “sons of the man” is represented as meaning ordinary men, “commoners,” and the Hebrew term for “delights” is rendered “luxuries” (as also in a number of other translations). (2:8)

The “delights” are specified as being shiddáh weshiddóth. There is considerable uncertainty about the significance of this Hebrew expression. The Greek terms found in the Septuagint signify “male and female cupbearers,” and the Latin words in the Vulgate mean “cups” and “pitchers.” These renderings seem to have arisen from linking the expression with a Hebrew root denoting to “pour out.” Since the reading of the Syriac is like that of the Septuagint, George Lamsa’s translation says, “I appointed for myself butlers and waitresses.” In the Mishnah, shiddáh designates a kind of chest. This meaning, or a more general sense, is reflected in the renderings of various translations (“luxuries of commoners — coffers and coffers of them” [Tanakh]; “every human luxury, chest on chest of it” [NJB]; “everything that affords delight” [REB]; “all human luxuries” [NAB]). (2:8)

The lexicographer Gesenius defined shiddáh as meaning “mistress, lady.” When commenting on Ecclesiastes 2:8, he considered the singular shiddáh to refer to the “queen,” and the plural shiddóth to “the other wives and the concubines of the king.” This is the basic sense that numerous translators have adopted (“the pleasures of men — many concubines” [NASB], “many concubines, the delights of men” [HCSB]; “many concubines, the delight of the children of man” [ESV]; “all the women a man could ever want” [NCV]; “the luxuries of the sons of man — a wife and wives” [Young]; “the delights of the sons of men, a wife and wives” [Rotherham]); “a harem as well — the delights of the heart of man” [NIV]; “delights of the flesh, and many concubines” [NRSV]). (2:8)

Such renderings make the Hebrew term for “delights” apply to what was particularly delightful or pleasurable to men — “a lady, even ladies.” (2:8) Koheleth does speak elsewhere (9:9) about enjoying life with a wife. Moreover, the words of the Song of Solomon (6:8-10, Tanakh) indicate that the king found delight in women. “There are sixty queens, and eighty concubines, and damsels without number. Only one is my dove, my perfect one, the only one of her mother, the delight of her who bore her. Maidens see and acclaim her; queens and concubines, and praise her. Who is she that shines through like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, radiant as the sun, awesome as bannered hosts?”

Commenting on his attainments, Koheleth continued, “I became great and increased more than all who were before me in Jerusalem.” His becoming “great” and increasing may relate to his coming to exercise extensive dominion and amassing tremendous wealth, surpassing all who had lived in Jerusalem since its founding. Despite his varied pursuits, he did not deplete his resources but continued to become wealthier. (2:9)

Regarding wisdom, Koheleth said, “My wisdom remained with me.” He did not lose good judgment, becoming a dissipated pleasure-seeker. Instead, the wisdom with which he had been endowed continued to be his possession. Wisdom (sound judgment) guided everything that he undertook. (2:9)

As king, with unparalleled resources at his disposal, Koheleth could pursue whatever appealed to him. Whenever his “eyes” beheld something that appeared desirable, he did not deny them from beholding as a possession the object upon which they had initially fixed their gaze. Anything that he really wanted proved to be attainable. Koheleth did not hold back his “heart” (his inmost self) from any kind of “gladness,” from anything that he perceived as being conducive to pleasure. (2:10)

He added, “My heart rejoiced in all my labor [‘amál].” His “heart” may be understood as signifying Koheleth himself, indicating that he found delight in all his accomplishments. This joy, delight, or pleasure was his lot, portion or reward for all his labor. The Hebrew term for “labor” (‘amál) conveys the thought of heavy, wearying, or exhausting labor, suggesting that Koheleth’s attainments required a tremendous expenditure of time and effort. (2:10)

“Turning,” considering, looking at or surveying all the “work” his “hands had done” — the “labor” at which he “labored” to achieve what he did — Koheleth experienced a feeling of emptiness, dissatisfaction. Everything was “vanity,” meaninglessness, purposelessness, or futility. It was all a chasing after “wind” (rúach), a striving after what lacked any real substance. There was no advantage, profit, or gain from anything “under the sun.” This proved to be so because nothing could be enjoyed permanently in the earthly realm beneath that celestial body. (2:11; see the Notes section.)

Again, Koheleth “turned,” possibly to take a closer look. His “turning” may, on the other hand, simply indicate the introduction of a new subject. He wanted to “see,” consider, or examine “wisdom,” “madness,” and “folly,” appraising or evaluating their relative worth. Personal experience and careful observation proved to be the basis for this appraisal. (2:12)

“Wisdom” would include one’s having an extensive fund of knowledge, coupled with the insight or good judgment to use it properly and for the benefit of others. Wise persons are competent, usually by reason of experience, in dealing with life’s problems and in being able to give sound advice to others. “Madness” refers to delusion, derangement, or distraction. It is a distortion of sound judgment, giving rise to speaking and behaving in an irrational manner and violating customary standards of propriety. “Folly” manifests itself in an inconsiderate and reckless disregard for what is becoming in speech and conduct. (2:12)

Perhaps to discourage others from making a similar attempt, Koheleth added, “For what the man who comes after the king?” The reading of the Septuagint does not depart as greatly as may appear on the surface. A literal reading of the Greek is, “For what [the] man who will come after the counsel?” The reason for the use of “counsel,” instead of “king,” is readily apparent. Written Hebrew and Aramaic consisted of consonants only, and an Aramaic word for “counsel” (found at Dan. 4:24 [verse 27, most translations]) has the same consonants as the Hebrew word for “king.” So the Septuagint rendering reflects the basic Hebrew/Aramaic consonantal text. (2:12; see the Notes section for comments on the LXX rendering.)

Many understand the “man” to be a royal successor. “What can the successor of a king do … ?” (NJB) “What more can the king’s successor do … ?” (NIV) “What can the next king do … ?” (CEV) The Hebrew term for “man,” however, is ’adhám, (“earthling”) and so could mean an ordinary man. (2:12)

To make the question in the original-language text understandable, a verb has to be supplied. The question may be rendered in two ways: (1) “For what can the man do who comes after the king?” or (2) “For what is the man who comes after the king?” The insertion of “can do” or “will do” seems to fit the flow of thought better. (2:12)

The answer to the question is (1) “what they did already” or (2) “what they already did to him.” According to the first literal rendering of the Hebrew, the man coming after the king would be able to do nothing more than people had already done. Lacking the resources and advantages of the king, an ordinary man would simply be repeating what others had already accomplished. Nothing new would be learned. In fact, because of having so little at his disposal for making the kind of examination undertaken by the king, he would only be able to cover some of the same ground. (2:12)

If the “man” is to be regarded as a successor to the throne, this would signify that he would basically do what the former king had done. The nature of the accomplishments and pursuits would follow a similar pattern. (2:12) “For instance, what can the successor of a king do? What has been done already.” (NJB) “I [Koheleth] asked myself, ‘What can the next king do that I have not already done?’” (CEV) “What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?” (NIV)

Considering Koheleth’s words to mean “what they already did,” the question could be rendered, “For what is the man who succeeds the king upon whom people earlier had bestowed royal dignity?” The thought would then be that Koheleth’s conclusion about the vanity of his works was due to his not knowing what the royal successor would be like. By transposing the word order and thereby endeavoring to avoid a seeming abrupt change of thought, the Tanakh (2:11, 12) conveys a similar meaning. “Then my thoughts turned to all the fortune my hands had built up, to the wealth I had acquired and won ― and oh, it was all futile and pursuit of wind; there was no real value under the sun! For what will the man be like who will succeed the one who is ruling over what was built up long ago? My thoughts also turned to appraising wisdom and madness and folly.”

Koheleth “saw” or discerned that “wisdom” was of greater value (yithróhn, “advantage” or “gain”) than “folly.” Persons who act wisely, with sound judgment, are certainly far better off than those who act foolishly. Wise persons avoid the problems and frustrations that come from ignoring future consequences. Guided by wisdom, they are better equipped to deal with life’s problems, give sound advice when asked, and do not waste their energies and resources on reckless or purposeless endeavors. Those who act foolishly, on the other hand, heedlessly disregard the injury their words and actions can cause. As a result, they repeatedly find themselves in problematic situations from which they find it almost impossible to extricate themselves. Often the problems they make for themselves leave no room for viable options or solutions. (2:13)

The superiority of wisdom over folly is comparable to the superiority of light over darkness. Much more can be accomplished in the light than in the darkness. Light makes it possible to see dangers and to avoid them, while darkness obscures and conceals hazards. (2:13)

The eyes of a wise person are in his head. They are where they should be, enabling him to see clearly the course that is appropriate under the circumstances. He sees where he is going and avoids obstacles that could cause him to stumble. The “fool” (the person who lacks good sense in the practical affairs of life and who deliberately refuses to follow an upright course) “walks in darkness.” He simply does not see where his feet are taking him. His whole life is characterized by a reckless disregard of what is appropriate in speech and conduct. Despite the fact that wisdom is better than folly, the wise person and the foolish one share the same inevitable outcome — death. When it comes to death itself, wise persons have no advantage over individuals who fail to use good judgment. (2:14)

Speaking within himself, in his “heart,” Koheleth concluded that the ultimate end of the fool would also befall him. This prompted his question, “And why have I become wise?” (LXX) The Hebrew text reads, “And why should I be wise―I―then [’az] gain [yohthér]?” (2:15; see the Notes section.)

The Hebrew word for “and” may also be understood to mean “then” in this case. Quite a number of translators render the first two words of the question as “why, then.” This rendering, however, does not preserve the distinction between the Hebrew word for “and” (represented by the letter “waw”[W]) and “then” (’az), the term occurring later in the question. (2:15)

Numerous translators have viewed the Hebrew word yohthér (“what remains,” “what is over and above,” “advantage”) as qualifying wise, and this has given rise to such renderings as “so very wise” (ESV, NLB, NRSV), “overly wise” (HCSB), and “extremely wise” (NASB). The Hebrew may, however, also be understood to express two separate thoughts. “To what purpose have I been wise? Where is the profit?” (REB) Although considering yohthér to mean “profit,” “gain,” or “advantage,” numerous translators have expressed the thought of the Hebrew text as one question. “What then do I gain by being wise?” (NIV) “To what advantage, then, have I been wise?” (Tanakh) “Being wise got me nowhere!” (CEV) “What is the point of my having been wise?” (NJB) These renderings do seem to fit the context well. Wisdom provides no gain or advantage in the ultimate end, for both the wise one and the foolish one die. (2:15)

Koheleth said to himself, in his “heart,” “this also is vanity.” In view of the certainty of his own death, he sensed that his having become wise was meaningless, empty, futile, or purposeless. (2:15)

As is true of the “fool” (the one acting recklessly and defying sound judgment), the wise person is not remembered “forever” (‘ohlám, time without a set limit). For both of them, a future remembrance is temporary. There simply is no enduring memory. In the “days” to come, “all” will be forgotten. Koheleth then asked, “How will the wise one die?” The answer is, “with the fool,” or “like the fool.” (2:16)

The fact that nothing would endure caused Koheleth to look upon life, with its accompanying toil, as frustrating, empty. He spoke of hating or loathing life. This does not mean that he hated being alive but that he loathed the mundane existence that would terminate in death and reduce all the products of the exhausting toil to nothingness. This is evident from what he specifically refers to as his reason for “hating” life ― because “evil” (ra‘, “bad,” “calamitous,” “disagreeable,” “undesirable”) to me was the “work” (“doing”) that was “done” under the sun, in the earthly realm that is dependent on the sun for light and warmth. (2:17)

All the activity, the continual hustle and bustle, that is a daily part of human affairs accomplishes nothing that endures. Everything is subject to coming to a comparatively swift end. Koheleth added, “All [is] vanity and a chasing after wind.” Absolutely nothing had any permanent value. Because of belonging to the realm of the temporary, everything proved to be empty, meaningless, vain, or futile. No human accomplishment, regardless of how impressive it might appear, would remain forever. So everything in the realm of human endeavor was a chasing after “wind” (rúach, also meaning “spirit”), a meaningless pursuit after something that had no enduring substance. (2:17; see the Notes section for verses 11, 17, and 26.)

Koheleth hated “all [his] labor” (the sum total of the products of his toiling) for which he “labored.” Both the Hebrew noun and verb forms for “labor” and “to labor” convey the thought of wearying or exhausting toil. By repetition, the expression “all my labor in which I labored” stresses the wearying aspect associated with his achievements. The reason for Koheleth’s hatred was that the products of his exhausting labor (performed “under the sun” or in the earthly realm beneath the sun) would come to nothing. Despite his having expended much time and great effort, he would be forced to leave everything behind to his successor. (2:18)

This was frustrating for him, for neither he nor any other human knew whether the successor would prove to be wise or foolish. Koheleth simply could not determine beforehand what would become of all that he had built up. He had no assurance that the products of his toil would survive because of coming into his successor’s possession. Regardless of whether the successor would prove to be wise or foolish, he would still take control over the “labor” (the products of the toiling) for which Koheleth had “labored.” (2:19)

Koheleth added that he had shown himself to be “wise” or “skillful” in this exhausting laboring. So, besides much effort, great skill was required for all that Koheleth achieved in the mundane realm (“under the sun”). The thought of leaving everything to a successor who could be either wise or foolish brought Koheleth to the conclusion that “this also is vanity.” In the hands of a foolish successor, everything could quickly be brought to ruin. (2:19)

With the benefit of the historical perspective, one can, for example, see that much of what Solomon achieved during his reign proved to have been futile or in vain. His successor, Rehoboam, foolishly heeded the advice of inexperienced counselors. This prompted ten tribes to revolt, leaving him as king over only two tribes — Judah and Benjamin. Because of disloyalty to YHWH, Rehoboam and his subjects lost divine favor and protection. In the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign, the Egyptian ruler Shishak (Sheshonk I) invaded his realm, captured numerous cities, and seized much of the wealth that Solomon had amassed. Thus the extensive realm and great prosperity that had existed during Solomon’s reign came to a sudden end. A greatly weakened and impoverished kingdom remained. (1 Kings 12:1–20; 14:21–27; 2 Chronicles 12:1-10).

After sober reflection, Koheleth gave up his “heart” (his inmost self or his mind) to despair over all that he had built up through his wearisome laboring “under the sun” (in the mundane sphere). He felt downcast in spirit because all the exhausting laboring had produced nothing of enduring value. (2:20)

Koheleth repeated the observation about a man’s “labor” (what is produced through wearisome toil). What a person achieved required “wisdom” (skill), “knowledge” (a fund of information and thought), and “ability” (kishróhn, “usefulness,” “success,” “skill”; andreía [LXX], “manliness,” “with a manly spirit,” “with fortitude”). Yet all that a man may have built up would come to belong to one who had not labored in this way. Because of not having expended time and great effort, the heir may have very little appreciation for the inheritance and soon squander everything. Koheleth saw sheer vanity, emptiness or meaninglessness in this outcome of the wearisome toil. He also called it “great evil” (“misfortune” or “calamity”). (2:21)

Koheleth raised the question as to what a man comes to have for all his “labor” (the product of his exhausting toil), and for the “striving of his heart,” with which he “labors” under the sun” (in the earthly realm beneath the sun). The striving of the heart may signify the anxious care of the mind or the inner self. In the Septuagint, the rendering of the Hebrew word for “striving” is proaíresis, meaning “choice,” “preference,” or “commitment,” and has also been translated “striving” (Streben, Septuaginta Deutsch). In the context of this verse, however, the Greek text could be understood to mean that the laboring involved a choice of the “heart,” either the person’s mind or the individual’s inner self. (2:22)

The implied answer to Koheleth’s question is that the individual gains nothing from his arduous laboring. “All his days” (throughout his entire life) the man’s “occupation” (business, task, or activity) is associated with “pains” and “vexation” or “grief.” Even at night he is unable to get any rest. “His heart” (his mind, his inner self, or he himself) remains in a state of disturbance; it does not “lie down.” There simply is no such thing as a peaceful repose. Koheleth sums up the situation with the words, “this also is vanity” (meaninglessness, emptiness, purposelessness, or futility). (2:23)

Since nothing lasting can be produced in the mundane sphere, Koheleth (according to a literal reading of the Hebrew) continued, “No good for a man, that he should eat and drink and have his soul see good in his labor. Also this I saw―that it [is] from the hand of God.” The introductory “no good” could signify “no good other than,” or that “there is nothing better than.” (2:24) “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and provide himself with good things by his labors.” (NAB). “There is nothing worthwhile for a man but to eat and drink and afford himself enjoyment with his means.” (Tanakh) “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.” (NIV). “There is no happiness except in eating and drinking, and in enjoying one’s achievements.” (NJB)

It could be, however, that the eating, drinking, and seeing good from labor are not to be viewed as a good depending on man. This sense is expressed in the rendering of The Revised English Bible. “To eat and drink and experience pleasure in return for his labours, this does not come from any good in a person: it comes from God.” (2:24)

Another possibility is that “no good” denotes “not a genuine good,” not a good in the true sense of the word. This, though, appears less likely, since it does not fit in well with the point that “his soul should see good.” (2:24)

Whether signifying “no good other than” or “not a good depending on man,” the basic meaning about enjoyment is the same. For “his soul” (he himself) to “see good” would mean for the worker to be able to enjoy the fruit of his labor, experiencing personal benefit from what he has accomplished. Accordingly, he should use his means in a way that brings him wholesome pleasure. (2:24)

Koheleth referred to one’s being able to “eat,” “drink,” and “see good” from one’s labor (the products of wearying toil) as coming from “the hand of God.” It is a divine gift, for God has endowed humans with the capacity to work and to enjoy what can be obtained through exhausting labor. (2:24)

Speaking about enjoyment from experience, Koheleth raised the question, “Who eats and who rejoices [chush, literally, ‘hastens,’ but here probably meaning to ‘rejoice’ or to ‘find pleasure’] except for me?” The Septuagint associates the question with God. “Who shall eat, or who shall drink [‘refrain’ (from eating), according to another manuscript reading], without him?” (2:25) A similar rendering is found in a number of translations. “For who can eat or drink apart from him?” (NAB) “For who could get anything to eat or drink, unless all this came from him?” (NJB). “For without God who can eat with enjoyment?” (REB)

Koheleth mentioned what God has given to the “man who is good before his face [before him].” This would be the “man” (the earthling), who pleases God by living an upright life and coming to the aid of persons in real need. To such a one, God gives “wisdom,” “knowledge,” and “joy.” The Most High provides the basis for wisdom and knowledge. His commands make a person truly wise, enabling the individual to use assets and abilities in beneficial ways. “Knowledge” consists of thorough acquaintance with all divinely given guidelines. One’s acting in harmony with the wisdom and knowledge that have the Creator as their source results in the very best way of life possible in one’s circumstances, contributing to joy. Apart from an approved relationship with God, true wisdom, knowledge, and joy are missing. (2:26)

The sinner is one who deliberately chooses to ignore God’s commands and is, therefore, deprived of the essential wisdom and knowledge that contribute to real joy. The occupation or pursuit that God has “given” to the sinner (allowed to be the sinner’s lot) is a gathering and an amassing of belongings that will eventually be given to the “one who is good before God [literally, ‘before the face of God’],” the person who pleases his Maker. Without the benefit of divine guidance, the sinner goes ahead with his selfish pursuits, piling up possessions without ever experiencing any real contentment. He may be totally consumed by his toiling, always thinking up new schemes for increasing his belongings. To achieve his ends, he may resort to lawless means. Eventually his wrongdoing may catch up with him. According to the Mosaic law that was in effect in Koheleth’s time, he would have to make restitution to those whom he defrauded. (Exodus 22:1–9) Thus he would lose all his ill-gotten gain. Koheleth fittingly added, “this also is vanity and a chasing after wind.” It is purposelessness, futility, or emptiness, and a pursuit of what has no substance. (2:26; see the Notes section regarding verses 11, 17, and 26.)


In verse 2, the question in the Septuagint is, “Why are you doing this?”

The Hebrew word rúach and its Greek equivalent pneúma can mean either “wind” or “spirit.” Instead of “striving after wind” or a similar expression (in verses 11, 17, and 26), a number of translations read “vexation of spirit” (KJV, Young). In its rendering of the Septuagint, a new English translation (NETS) uses the expression “preference of spirit,” whereas The Orthodox Study Bible says “choice of one’s spirit.” A German translation of the Septuagint (Septuaginta Deutsch), however, reads “a striving after wind” (ein Streben nach Wind). The Greek term rendered “preference,” “choice,” or “striving” is proaíresis and can also signify “commitment.” Persons who have committed themselves to, chosen, or preferred something that is mere wind could be spoken of as striving after wind.

In verse 12, the words of the Septuagint could be translated, “For who is the man who will follow after the counsel insofar as he did it?” The Orthodox Study Bible says, “For who is the man who will follow after counsel, whatever it is, to do it?” A New English Translation of the Septuagint reads, “For who is the person who will come to follow the plan [counsel, footnote] in as many things as he made it.” The German translation of the Septuagint (Septuaginta Deutsch) renders the Greek text, “For who is the man who will follow the counsel insofar as he has carried it out?” (denn wer ist der Mensch, der dem Ratschlag folgen wird, insofern er ihn ausgeführt hat?) An alternate rendering in the footnote reads, “For who is the man who will follow the counsel insofar as he (himself) has given it?” (denn wer ist der Mensch, der dem Ratschlag folgen wird, insofern er ihn (selbst) gegeben hat?)

The Septuagint (in verse 15) departs significantly from the reading of the Masoretic Text after the question (“And why have I become wise?”). “Then I excessively said in my heart, Because the fool will speak out of excess, this also indeed [is] vanity.” Koheleth’s observation suggests that the many words of a fool are vain, empty, or worthless.