Notes on Ecclesiastes 2, verses 1-10
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Ecclesiastes 2:1, KJV: I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also (is) vanity.
This may be the beginning of Solomon’s “quest” to explore the non-religious or secular side of life. One very serious mistake is that he spoke to himself that he was going to do this and that—and nowhere is it stated he ever sought the Lord’s will.
Note that he uses the word “vanity” again in this verse.
2 I said of laughter, (It is) mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?
Laughter and mirth are mentioned a few times in the Bible but seldom in a good sense. The irony is that Solomon had written in Proverbs 17:22 that “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine”. The question may arise as to whether or not a “merry heart” would include laughter or mirth. There is no record how often humor was used in the Bible, if at all.
This remark by Solomon again shows his bitterness and cynicism even about laughter!
3 I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what (was) that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.
This verse is nearly impossible to comprehend. Wine and wisdom are seldom mentioned together but Solomon’s own words should have convicted him! Proverbs 20:1 he wrote, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise”. He also wrote in Proverbs 23:29-35, “who hath who? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? “ and went on in the following verses that the ones who seemingly drank wine to excess. Why Solomon wanted to explore becoming drunk is beyond comprehension!
But another puzzling observation is also found in this verse. He speaks of wanting to lay hold on folly (!) and the desire to see what was best for people under heaven (he didn’t say “under the sun” here) during their lifespan. Seeking wisdom, to seek folly, seems to be a quest with no solution or ending.
4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:
Some details of these great works, houses, and other things are found in other Scriptures such as 1 Kings 6, 7and 9, and in 2 Chronicles 7 and 8.
The only readily found mentions about Solomon’s vineyards are in Song of Solomon. One of the characters in this Song speaks of Solomon’s vineyard at Baalhamon (Song 8:11). No doubt he was able to plant vineyards wherever it suited him, even if references are limited.
5 I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all (kind of) fruits:
There are no direct references to these gardens, orchards, or trees in the KJV. One indirect reference is 1 Kings 4:33, “And he (Solomon) spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall:” and another tells how Solomon “ . . . made silver and gold at Jerusalem as plenteous as stones, and cedar trees made he as the sycomore trees that are in the vale for abundance (2 Chronicles 1:15).”
Another unanswered question is how did he get these cedar trees? Could Hiram, king of Tyre, have given his saplings or seeds as part of the other cedar timber he sent to Solomon?
6 I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:
This apparently speaks of Solomon’s water conservation projects”. "Pools” appear to be different than cisterns, fountains, and other bodies of water.
7 I got (me) servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:
These servants and maidens may have come with the foreign wives he married. Some of these foreign lands are mentioned in 1 Kings 11:1-3, in addition to the daughter of Pharaoh (also mentioned in 1 Kings 3:1). Wedding customs, especially among royalty, are scarcely mentioned in Scripture but it seems logical that a princess would never travel alone, especially to a foreign land to marry a foreign king.
Another group of servants may have been the Gibeonites, who had been part of Israel’s history since the days of Joshua (see Joshua 9-10). They had been reduced to being “hewers of wood and drawers of water (Joshua 9:23-27)” since they had surrendered to Israel many years before. Where the others came from is little more than conjecture now.
It is also possible he is speaking of the 180,000 workers: 30,000 men who were sent to Lebanon in three relays; 70,000 more who “bare (sic) burdens” and 80,000 other workers to be “hewers (of wood?) in the mountains (1 Kings 5:15)”“.
Whoever they were, they were listed distinctly from the servants born to Solomon in his house.
Solomon also wrote about the great “possessions of . . . cattle” under his dominion. The menu for his daily meals included 30 oxen, plus other meats (1 Kings 4:22-23) and other animals which he gave as sacrificial offerings.
One final thought is that Solomon had these great herds in order to provide burnt offerings. Soon after he was crowned king, Solomon offered 1000 burnt offerings (unspecified animals) at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:1-5), the location of the Tabernacle at the time.
Later, when the Temple was dedicated in Jerusalem, Solomon offered so many sheep and oxen that an exact count was impossible (2 Chronicles 5:6). Shortly afterwards, he also offered an additional 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep (2 Chronicles 7:4-6).
8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, (as) musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
Solomon’s wealth is legendary (see 1 Kings 10 for details). He had a yearly income of 666 talents of gold (the exact weight and monetary value is uncertain). As an estimate, conservatively making a talent equal to 6 ounces (half of a troy pound at 12 ounces), that would be around 1,332 ounces of gold. At the time of this writing, gold is worth around $1600 USD per ounce—over 2 million USD every year. Again, this is an estimate and only used for comparative purposes. In a word, Solomon was rich!
Silver wasn’t considered anything of value in Solomon’s day (1 Kings 10:21)!
Besides the gold and silver that came in, Solomon’s merchant fleet brought in some exotic cargoes indeed: ivory, apes, peacocks, and perhaps other things not listed in the text. The text also states (1 Kings 10:22) that these ships brought in gold and silver. It is possible these ships brought in at least some of the 666 talents of gold each year. Also, in 2 Chronicles 9:10, the ships of Solomon also brought in precious stones. That these ships survived piracy, shipwreck, or other marine hazards is a tribute to God’s protection of the men and vessels.
Where and how Solomon acquired his singers, and where they sang, is not specified. There were any number of Levites (number not provided) related to Asaph who took part in the Temple dedication (2 Chron. 5:12-13) but these all appear to be male.
Some of the musical instruments mentioned in this verse may be part of what the Temple singers used in the dedication (2 Chron. 5:12-14). David, his father, had played a harp (1 Sam. 16:23) when he ministered to Saul. All in all, this verse indicates Solomon had plenty of everything he wanted to have.
9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
Some have taken this verse to mean that this refers to a later writer than Solomon himself. On the surface, there is no need to think anyone else besides Solomon could fit this description. Some in Israel’s history had been known for wealth and/or wisdom; some, like Saul, were known for his folly. David’s advisers included Ahithophel, whose counsel was both wise and prudent, to the point of being shrewd—witness his advice to Absalom to attack David in 1 Samuel 17.
10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.
He had the wherewithal to get what he wanted and apparently did so! Now note that he (wistfully?) states he had joy in all his efforts. What happened to make him change his mind and declare all was “vanity and vexation of spirit”?
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)