If ever there were a man who could find the meaning and purpose in all of life's enigmas it was Solomon. Ecclesiastes 2 is the record, indeed the personal diary, of Solomon's efforts to do precisely that. Sadly, though, his conclusion will be a familiar one: "Vanity, futility, and a striving after wind."
1. The Pleasures of the World - 2:1-11
a. his explanation - vv. 1-2
1) resolve - v. 1a
As Hubbard has noted, Solomon "gave his senses every chance to thrill and tingle, to stir and soothe. Would he uncover life's full purpose by arousing his sensitivities? He thought it worthy a try. . . . [So] with wine he cheered his body while dulling his feelings of anguish and despair (2:3). With slaves, he eased his load of work, while increasing his sense of power (2:7). With wealth he enhanced his feelings of security, while indulging his every whim (2:8). With entertainers he while away his evenings, while satiating his drives in sexual pleasures (2:8)" (32-33).
2) results - vv. 1b-2
b. his exploration - vv. 3-10
1) liquor and laughter - v. 3
"With what hilarity and laughter must the palace halls have echoed as Solomon, his courtiers, and his guests exchanged jokes, drank wine, listened to the witty merrymakers from all over the region, and feasted bountifully" (Kaiser, 55). And consider their feast - 1 Kings 4:22-23. This would require 30-40,000 people a day to consume it all. Regarding Solomon's use of wine, Leupold writes:
"'To nourish my flesh with wine' should be taken as a reference to a consumption of wine which enables a man to get the highest possible enjoyment by a careful use of it, so that appetite is sharpened, enjoyment enhanced, and the finest bouquets sampled and enjoyed. Approximating or falling into drunkenness is plainly not under consideration. The very thought of such crude extravagance is barred by the expression, 'my mind was still keeping control by means of wisdom.' In other words, here was a carefully controlled experiment" (60).
Thus, we read here of the pleasures of the connoisseur, not the over-indulgence of the drunkard.
2) projects and possessions - vv. 4-8a
a. projects - vv. 4-6
He begins with the joy and satisfaction of creativity, the sense of accomplishment that comes with constructing something from start to finish. See 1 Kings 7:1-12; 9:15-23; 2 Chron. 8:2-6. Note the four-fold occurrence of the phrase "for myself". Solomon's purpose was not philanthropic but self-centered. He was seeking the personal satisfaction that comes with building and producing, but it eluded him.
1. houses - v. 4a
2. vineyards - v. 4b
3. gardens - v. 5a
4. parks - v. 5b
5. fruit trees - v. 5c
6. reservoirs - v. 6a
7. trees - v. 6b
b. possessions - vv. 7-8a
See 1 Kings 10:14-29. Solomon's yearly intake of gold alone, if calculated at $400 an ounce, was over $300 million!
1. purchased slaves - v. 7a
2. home born slaves - v. 7b
3. herds and flocks - v. 7c
4. silver, gold, other treasures - v. 8a
3) song and sex - v. 8b
See 1 Kings 11:1-4!
4) fame and fulfillment - vv. 9-10
Solomon denied himself nothing that might be visibly entertaining or physically satisfying.
c. his evaluation - v. 11
Solomon here combines all his key terms to make the point: toiled, meaningless, chasing after wind, nothing gained or no profit, under the sun. The piling up of terminology conveys the feeling of utter disillusionment and frustration. It is not the morality of these many worldly pleasures that is in question, but their ability to provide a reasonable solution to the mysteries of life. And on all counts, they fail. Far from yielding satisfaction, each experience demands another deeper and more intense experience. Such pleasures result either in boredom, because we tire of them, or frustration, because they cannot supply the answers we seek.
2. The Power of Wisdom - 2:12-17
a. a comparison of the wise and the foolish - vv. 12-14a
b. the consequence that befalls them both - vv. 14b-16
1) the wise and the fool both die - vv. 14b-15
"Now for the first time Koheleth faces us with that supreme vanity death, death that beats at every man's door, death that comes when man least expects him, death that undoes man's finest plans. Death can make a man hate life, not because he wants to die, but because it renders life so futile, just as a child on the seashore may grow weary of the sand castles that he builds so patiently only to have them swallowed up by the inexorable sea" (Wright, 143).
2) the wise and the fool are both forgotten - v. 16
c. conclusion - v. 17
He hated or was disgusted with life because no aspect of it yielded the answers he desired. Life itself is a gift of God and to be enjoyed, but it does not hold the key to itself.
3. The Pursuit of Work - 2:18-26
a. his observations - vv. 18-23
Here the teacher describes "the frustrating uncertainty of all our enterprises once they slip from our control, as sooner or later they must" (Kidner, 35). The more we toil at our work in life, "the more galling will be the thought of its fruits falling into other hands and as likely as not, the wrong hands" (35).
1) the futility of work - vv. 18-21
2) the frustration of work - vv. 22-23
b. his recommendations - vv. 24-26