Ecclesiastes 2:1-13 “What Was That Good For The Sons of Men, Which They Should Do Under The Heaven All The Days of Their Life”

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Study Aired July 28, 2013

Ecc 2:1 I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.

Ecc 2:2 I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?

Ecc 2:3 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.

Ecc 2:4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:

Ecc 2:5 I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:

Ecc 2:6 I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:

Ecc 2:7 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:

Ecc 2:8 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.

Ecc 2:9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.

Ecc 2:10 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.

Ecc 2:11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Ecc 2:12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.

Ecc 2:13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.

Introduction

We have been informed clearly that Solomon’s observations are all from a carnal, earthy, “under the sun” perspective, devoid of any understanding of the heavenly, end- game goal of producing a new man, a “last Adam”, who will not have a mind which is so desperate and empty that it cannot see any purpose in life. The theme of this entire book is the futility of life as was expressed in the previous chapter:

Ecc 1:2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

Ecc 1:3 What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

The book of Proverbs was written by this same author, but Proverbs was written before his desire to please his many wives robbed him of his relationship which he once had with his Creator.

Here is how Solomon began His reign:

1Ki 3:5 In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee.

1Ki 3:6 And Solomon said, Thou hast shewed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.

1Ki 3:7 And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in.

1Ki 3:8 And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.

1Ki 3:9 Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?

1Ki 3:10 And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.

The Lord was so pleased with this humble and wise request that He gave Solomon both wisdom to rule as well as “riches and honor”.

1Ki 3:11 And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment;

1Ki 3:12 Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.

1Ki 3:13 And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.

So Solomon certainly had a “first love” experience with the Lord, and it was during that part of his rule that he wrote the book of Proverbs extolling the blessings of wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Notice the striking difference between the tone of Proverbs and the tone of the book of Ecclesiastes:

Pro 1:1 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;

Pro 1:2 To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;

Pro 1:3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;

Pro 1:4 To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.

Pro 1:5 A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:

Pro 1:6 To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

Pro 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

That was the hopeful upbeat beginning of a humble young man who realized his need for the wisdom of God to rule over God’s people. But this was how his life ended while he was “under the sun”.

1Ki 11:1 But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites;

1Ki 11:2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.

1Ki 11:3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.

1Ki 11:4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.

1Ki 11:5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.

1Ki 11:6 And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father.

1Ki 11:7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.

1Ki 11:8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.

1Ki 11:9 And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice,

1Ki 11:10 And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded.

1Ki 11:11 Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.

1Ki 11:12 Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son.

1Ki 11:13 Howbeit I will not rend away all the kingdom; but will give one tribe to thy son for David my servant’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake which I have chosen.

It is this change in his relationship with God which accounts for two different and opposing tones in the book of Proverbs and this book. While the book of Proverbs is full of the hopeful benefits of the spirit of wisdom, understanding and obedience to the laws of God, Ecclesiastes is just the opposite. It is full of a sense of futility as we hear Solomon 29 times repeats this refrain here in this book:

Ecc 2:11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Solomon was told by God that his kingdom would be taken away from his son, because he had turned his back on God and all his own wise admonitions to seek wisdom and understanding and to receive instruction and humility, all of which would have established his kingdom:

Pro 12:3 A man shall not be established by wickedness: but the root of the righteous shall not be moved.

Pro 25:5 Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness.

Pro 29:14 The king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established for ever.

Solomon, along with most of the great men of the Old Testament, did not realize that the Creator’s goal was not this physical, dying body, but a new, healthy and immortal, spiritual body, which will be fulfilled in every way by the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.

Joh 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Knowing God and His Son is life eternal, which knowledge simply was not available to anyone in the Old Testament. Solomon isn’t even attempting to determine what will give him or us “a better resurrection”. His only goal is to “see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.” So He gives himself to mirth and pleasure, and sure enough, it is nothing but vanity.

Ecc 2:1 I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.

Ecc 2:2 I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?

Ecc 2:3 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 is what all mankind lives for “before Faith came”.

Gal 3:22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

Gal 3:23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.

This is what it was like knowing that there was something very satisfying to our souls of which we have not yet taken hold. This is what Job, King David and his son Solomon lived with. Here is a perfect description of that for which Solomon and all of the Old Testament “prophets have inquired and searched diligently”. This is why Solomon’s life seemed to him to be so empty and vain and full of vexation:

1Pe 1:9 Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

1Pe 1:10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:

1Pe 1:11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.

1Pe 1:12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

What Solomon says of Himself is true of all of us when we do not know God and we are doing what we know is folly, and yet want to be more than a fading memory. This is what we all want to do in our own materialistic, carnal lives “under the sun”:

Ecc 2:4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:

Ecc 2:5 I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:

Ecc 2:6 I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:

Ecc 2:7 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:

Ecc 2:8 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.

King Solomon, in this position of knowing that what he is doing is both drunkenness and folly (verse 3), typifies us at this stage of our own spiritual development:

Rom 7:10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.

Rom 7:11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.

Rom 7:13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

Rom 7:15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

Ecc 2:6-8 is written for our admonition (1Co 10:11). There are two sections of scripture in the New Testament which reflect this same fallen, backslid spirit which is within us all in our own appointed time:

Rev 3:17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked

Rev 18:12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,

Rev 18:13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.

Just look at all the parallels. Solomon as the apostatized King of Israel in Jerusalem is a type of the great city in which our Lord was crucified and the city in whom all the blood of all the saints is shed. He is a type of Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of this world.

Ecc 2:9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.

What kind of wisdom would have anyone give themselves over to “mirth… pleasure… wine… and… folly”?

Ecc 2:1 I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.

Ecc 2:2 I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?

Ecc 2:3 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 is all written for our admonition, but we must remember that Solomon has apostatized under the influence of His many pagan wives, who we are told he loved. The humble, zealous Solomon of the book of Proverbs is not the same Solomon of the book of Ecclesiastes. So when he says “[ his] wisdom remained with [ him]” we need to know what the scriptures have to say about such ‘wisdom’.

Here are just a few verses which tell us what God thinks of that wisdom:

1Co 1:20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

1Co 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

1Co 2:6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

1Co 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

2Co 1:12 For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you- ward.

Solomon himself condemns his own actions in this same book:

Ecc 7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

Every time we read the words to the effect “all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun”, Solomon is confirming to us that he himself, as the type of who we are when we “do that we would not do”, is and we also are spiritually “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked”.

Ecc 2:10 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.

So it is with us all when we know nothing about the next realm, the realm of the spirit. All we have in which to take joy is the fruit of all of the labor of our own hands.

An 86 year old family friend of ours has just died. She had left her entire estate to a ministry which does “many wonderful works”. This past week the representative of this ministry, who was the executor of my friend’s estate, called and told me that my friend had told him that she wanted me to have a garden bench which my son- in- law had made for her a decade ago, her lawn mower and all of her yard tools as well as anything in the house that I wanted, as the family members had already taken the things they wanted. So Sandi and I went down to get the bench, the yard tools, and the lawn mower, and to see if there was anything left we might be interested in.

Upon entering that house we saw how everything the family had wanted was already taken, and the things left behind which I knew had meant so much to my friend, had meant nothing to the family. My friend had no children of her own, and here were all her family photo albums, and all the pictures she had taken over many years with all of her nieces and nephews, and pictures of her with her two brothers and all her pictures of her friends and all the trips she and her late husband had taken with her friends; they were lying there in a large pile in the middle of her bedroom. They were unwanted by anyone, even her own family.

It all brought to mind the words of this next verse:

Ecc 2:11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

My friend was very outspoken and had let me know that she knew exactly how Job felt when he wondered why God was doing what He did to Job. Just like Job, and each of us in our own time, she was furious with her own Maker over His method of dealing with her.

This is the tormented life we live until our appointed fiery day of judgement. Once we have accepted that His fiery judgements are for our good, then, and not until then we, unlike our old man and Job’s old man and my beloved friend who died wondering why God healed my daughter, but would not heal her; only then can we learn to rejoice in our trials and in our infirmities and in our weaknesses:

Jas 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;

Jas 1:3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

Jas 1:4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

How unlike the old Job, the old Solomon and our own old man, who has the nerve to reprove, contend with and condemn our Lord for His ways and methods which He employs in dealing with us. How much better it is to rejoice in our trials and come to Him with a heart of gratitude for the love He is showering upon us in His judgments:

Act 5:41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.

What a blessing we have been given to suffer shame for His name’s sake! Let’s compare these two spirits and ask ourselves which is to be desired if we want to please our Lord and inherit His spiritual kingdom?

Here is the spirit we are all first given by having the natural spirit of our old man within our members:

Ecc 2:10 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.

Ecc 2:11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Contrasted with the spirit of Christ Himself, offering Himself up in service to His Father’s will:

Mat 5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Luk 6:22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.

The world and our own old man consider such thinking to be nothing less than illogical and insane.

1Co 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

1Co 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

2Co 1:12 For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the [ chastening] grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you- ward.

Such a spirit comes only through the death of our old, first man Adam. The wisdom of this world simply cannot fulfill that which it does not have to offer. It cannot offer the joy of being a sacrifice for the good of others because that is not what the wisdom of this world is all about. The wisdom of this world is all Solomon and our old man knows, and even he and we must confess what Solomon, for our admonition, had to confess:

Ecc 2:12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.

Ecc 2:13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.

Mankind may have many new toys to occupy him in the labor of his hands under the sun, but he has not naturally evolved spiritually or morally one iota in all his years he has been on this earth since the garden of Eden, and in and of himself and his proud, carnal, natural inclinations, he never will. We all do “that which has been already done”, and without the spirit of Christ coming to destroy that old natural man within us, we will never be the vastly improved “new man, the last Adam”.

2Th 2:2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

2Th 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

2Th 2:4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

2Th 2:5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?

2Th 2:6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.

2Th 2:7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

2Th 2:8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:

It is the old Solomon who sits upon the throne of our hearts until we are granted to see him for the man of sin he is. But that happens only with the brightness of the coming of Christ within us, dethroning that old, proud, carnal beastly “man of sin”, who thinks he is God and that he is rich and in need of nothing, as the apostatized old Kind Solomon thinks within us all.

Next week, if the Lord wills, we will come to better understand how a life of materialism leads us to hate life because we see nothing beyond this material realm.

Ecc 2:14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.

Ecc 2:15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.

Ecc 2:16 For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.

Ecc 2:17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Ecc 2:18 Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.

Ecc 2:19 And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.

Ecc 2:20 Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.

Ecc 2:21 For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.

Ecc 2:22 For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?

Ecc 2:23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.

Ecc 2:24 There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.

Ecc 2:25 For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?

Ecc 2:26 For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

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