Study of Pleasure-seeking. 1I said in my heart,* “Come, now, let me try you with pleasure and the enjoyment of good things.” See, this too was vanity. 2Of laughter I said: “Mad!” and of mirth: “What good does this do?” 3Guided by wisdom,* I probed with my mind how to beguile my senses with wine and take up folly, until I should understand what is good for human beings to do under the heavens during the limited days of their lives.
4I undertook great works; I built myself houses and planted vineyards; 5I made gardens and parks, and in them set out fruit trees of all sorts. 6And I constructed for myself reservoirs to water a flourishing woodland. 7I acquired male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I also owned vast herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, more than all who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8I amassed for myself silver and gold, and the treasures of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and delights of men, many women.* 9I accumulated much more than all others before me in Jerusalem; my wisdom, too, stayed with me. 10Nothing that my eyes desired did I deny them, nor did I deprive myself of any joy; rather, my heart rejoiced in the fruit of all my toil. This was my share for all my toil. 11a But when I turned to all the works that my hands had wrought, and to the fruit of the toil for which I had toiled so much, see! all was vanity and a chase after wind. There is no profit under the sun. 12What about one who succeeds a king? He can do only what has already been done.*
Study of Wisdom and Folly. I went on to the consideration of wisdom, madness and folly. 13And I saw that wisdom has as much profit over folly as light has over darkness.
14Wise people have eyes in their heads,
but fools walk in darkness.
Yet I knew that the same lot befalls both.* b 15So I said in my heart, if the fool’s lot is to befall me also, why should I be wise? Where is the profit? And in my heart I decided that this too is vanity. 16c The wise person will have no more abiding remembrance than the fool; for in days to come both will have been forgotten. How is it that the wise person dies* like the fool! 17Therefore I detested life, since for me the work that is done under the sun is bad; for all is vanity and a chase after wind.
Study of the Fruits of Toil
To Others the Profits. 18And I detested all the fruits of my toil under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who is to come after me. 19And who knows whether that one will be wise or a fool? Yet that one will take control of all the fruits of my toil and wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20So my heart turned to despair over all the fruits of my toil under the sun. 21For here is one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and that one’s legacy must be left to another who has not toiled for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22d For what profit comes to mortals from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which they toil under the sun? 23Every day sorrow and grief are their occupation; even at night their hearts are not at rest. This also is vanity.
24* e There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink and provide themselves with good things from their toil. Even this, I saw, is from the hand of God. 25For who can eat or drink apart from God? 26* f For to the one who pleases God, he gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the one who displeases, God gives the task of gathering possessions for the one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chase after wind.
* [2:1–11] The author here assumes the role of Solomon who, as king, would have had the wealth and resources at his disposal to acquire wisdom and engage in pleasurable pursuits. Verses 4–8 in particular, with their description of abundant wealth and physical gratifications, parallel the descriptions in 1 Kgs 4–11 of the extravagances of Solomon’s reign.
* [2:3] Guided by wisdom: using all the means money can buy, the author sets out on a deliberate search to discover if pleasure constitutes true happiness.
* [2:8] Many women: the final phrase of this verse is difficult to translate. One word, shiddah, which appears here in both singular and plural, is found nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible. A suggested meaning is “woman” or “concubine,” as it is interpreted here: “many women.” The rest of the section (2:1–12) seems to be a description of Solomon’s kingdom, and the “many women” would represent his huge harem (1 Kgs 11:1–3). In rabbinic Hebrew the word comes to mean “chest” or “coffer.”
* [2:12] What…been done: the verse is difficult and elliptical. The words “He can do only” have been added for clarity. The two halves of the verse have been reversed. The author argues that it is useless to repeat the royal experiment described in vv. 1–11. The results would only be the same.
* [2:14] Yet I knew…befalls both: the author quotes a traditional saying upholding the advantages of wisdom, but then qualifies it. Nothing, not even wisdom itself, can give someone absolute control over their destiny and therefore guarantee any advantage.
* [2:16] The wise person dies: death, until now only alluded to (vv. 14–15), takes center stage and will constantly appear in the author’s reflections through the remainder of the book.
* [2:24–26] The author is not advocating unrestrained indulgence. Rather he counsels acceptance of the good things God chooses to give. This is the first of seven similar conclusions that Qoheleth provides; see 3:12–13, 22; 5:17–18; 8:15; 9:7–9; 11:9.
* [2:26] According to 7:15 and 9:1–3, God does not make an objective, evidential, moral distinction between saint and sinner. God “gives” as God pleases.
a. [2:11] Eccl 1:3, 17; Sir 44:9.
e. [2:24] Eccl 3:12–13, 22; 5:17–19; 8:15.