2:1 I [the use of this first person pronoun indicates that Solomon was actively engaged in his experiment to find meaning in life through a variety of avenues] thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure [with his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3) Solomon freely explored every possible avenue of sensual pleasure] to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless.
Solomon determined to pursue pleasure and enjoy what is good in his ongoing search for fulfillment. He set out to see if pleasure could satisfy the hunger of his heart for meaning. With his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3), Solomon explored every possible avenue of sensual pleasure. He cast off every restraint and did whatever he wanted. But, at the end of this journey, Solomon reviewed his experiences and considered them all meaningless. Pursuing the good life turned out to be another failed attempt at finding fulfillment.
2:2 “Laughter [cf. Prov. 14:13; 17:22],” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish [it does not of itself give meaning to existence]?”
2:3 I tried cheering myself with wine [as a connoisseur rather than a drunkard], and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom [Solomon attempted to indulge in pleasure while tightly tethered to his senses so that he could analyze his experiences]. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives [Solomon discovered that alcohol does not give meaning to this brief life].
Solomon explored the possibility of finding fulfillment in wine and folly. With his riches, Solomon was able to enjoy the finest wines money could buy. However, Solomon discovered that fulfillment cannot be found in a bottle. Solomon experimented with pleasures, wine and folly because he had hoped to discover what was good for people to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. However, he discovered that each of these pursuits led to a dead-end.
Like Solomon, people today long to find something to fill the divinely created vacuum within. Many people try to fill the emptiness in their lives with sensual pleasures, materialism, or exciting experiences. Neither partying, the things associated with today’s so-called “good life,” nor notable achievements can fill the void at the core of a life lived apart from God.
2:4 I undertook great projects [cf. 1 Kings 7; 9:1; 10:21; 2 Chron. 8:3-6; Solomon enlarged his sphere of activities]: I built houses for myself [“for myself” is the “gospel” of selfishness] and planted vineyards.
Solomon had a knack for making money. He amassed great wealth during his lifetime (see 1 Kings 10:14-29). His fleet of ships sailed the sea to bring him the treasure of kings and provinces (see 1 Kings 9:26-28; 10:22). Solomon also had a knack for spending money and used his wealth to build beautiful houses and to plant magnificent gardens and trees for himself.
2:5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.
2:6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.
2:7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.
2:8 I amassed silver and gold for myself [cf. 1 Kings 10:14-29; Solomon’s wealth was not consumed on wars or paying tribute to another nation], and the treasure of kings and provinces [Solomon’s fleet of ships sailed the sea to bring him these treasures (cf. 1 Kings 9:26-28; 10:22)]. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man.
2:9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me [cf. 1 Kings 10:23-25]. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
2:10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired [cf. Prov. 27:20]; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.
2:11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun [Solomon totaled all of his achievements and realized that all of these efforts resulted in a net loss].
Solomon’s heart took delight in all his work (2:10), but this delight was short-lived. His heart continued to ache for something truly meaningful and satisfying in life. When Solomon added up the value of everything he owned and had experienced, the sum was zero. He learned that self-gratification cannot satisfy the deepest human needs.
While some of the things Solomon experienced can add a measure of meaning to life, none of them led him to find ultimate meaning in life under the sun. Solomon discovered that fulfillment is not found in having a good time, pursuing the things associated with the good life, or impressive accomplishments.
2:12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?
2:13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.
2:14 The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.
2:15 Then I thought in my heart, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said in my heart, “This too is meaningless.”
2:16 For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!
2:17 So 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.
2:18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me [may refer to Solomon’s son Rehoboam who succeeded him].
2:19 [Solomon could not exert control over his heirs after his death] And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control [Solomon’s heir could do as he pleased] over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.
2:20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.
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.
2:22 What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?
2:23 All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.
2:24 [be careful to not take this passage out of its context] A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work [in other words, people should learn to enjoy the return they get on their labor]. This too, I see, is from the hand of God,
Solomon said that there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and the fruit of one’s labor—the normal activities of daily life. He was not advocating a pleasure seeking philosophy nor giving license for gluttony and drunkenness. He had already found those pursuits unfulfilling. Instead, he acknowledged that we should enjoy the things God has given us to enjoy.
Paul echoed this sentiment in the New Testament when he said that it is God “who richly provides us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Although the purpose of life is not found in food or possessions, we should thank God for His daily provisions and enjoy these to His glory.
2:25 for without him [God], who can eat or find enjoyment [in other words, life is empty without God]?
2:26 To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please Him. These gifts enable us to appreciate and enjoy all of God’s daily provisions. Wisdom and knowledge are essential to finding joy in life. The writer of Proverbs said that whoever finds wisdom finds life and receives favor from the Lord (Prov. 8:35).
God gives blessings and benefits to those who are rightly related to Him and who live in a manner pleasing to Him. However, the same cannot be said of the sinner who searches for fulfillment and satisfaction in pursuits apart from God. Those who choose to live their lives apart from God may amass riches, but in the end God will dispose of their riches in such a way that the righteous may benefit (see Prov. 13:22).