1I said to myself, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself." And behold, it too was futility.
2I said of laughter, "It is madness," and of pleasure, "What does it accomplish?"
Solomon, his heart having been turned away from God by his pagan wives and concubines, decided to seek out wisdom the hard way by trial and error. First he tried hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure for the sake of pleasure itself. This failed, and this speaks volumes, given that he had access to anything and everything he could have ever wanted. There was nothing on earth that could bring his soul satisfaction, not even the greatest pleasures he could find. Then he tried amusement, entertainment, and laughter. Yet these left him empty as well. Both pleasure and laughter for their own sake were folly and vain.
3I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives.
He tried seeing how he could use wine to stimulate his body without totally incapacitating his mind. Total intoxication wouldn’t be the answer because one wouldn’t be aware enough to find satisfaction. Thus, he tried giving himself a “buzz” and still working on solving the meaning of life. He wanted to understand how to limit folly and what good there was for man to do under heaven in their short lifetimes. Obviously, the wine didn’t help him any, and he had to move on to other things.
4I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself;
5I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees;
6I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees.
7I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem.
8Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men--many concubines.
9Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me.
10All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor.
11Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.
Getting more desperate, he tried exploit after exploit and possession after possession. He built houses, planted vineyards, planted fruit trees, built gardens and parks, made ponds, bought slaves, and had herds and flocks larger than all who were before him in Jerusalem. He collected silver and gold and king’s treasure. He hired singers, male and female, to pleasure him with music and singing. He added more and more concubines to get the most sexual pleasure, or so he thought. He was “great” in terms of worldly standards of money, possessions, power, prestige, and pleasure. He had it all, and he had done it all “for himself.” It is not wrong to build a house or make a pond, but Solomon found no joy or purpose in it because he simply did it for himself, trying to find some satisfaction in making himself look better, having accomplished more, or for the sake of the activities themselves. God wasn’t in the picture at all, and his sin abounded in wasteful, lavish, and immoral living. He still had his wisdom; God had not taken it away. But his sin and selfishness prevented him from having joy despite his brainpower and understanding. All that his lusts craved, he fed them. He did not keep any pleasure from his heart. He is not saying that leisure and entertainment is inherently wrong, but, if pursued selfishly or in hope of meeting the soul’s deepest needs, it is not going to satisfy. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes with seeing a job or project accomplished, and Solomon apparently experienced that. But that was the extent of his reward. His soul longings still were not met. He had done all this work, and there had been no profit whatsoever because it had been done “under the sun,” with no seeking of God or gratitude toward Him in the process. No amount of work of achievements will satisfy ever, though they can be a temporary distraction from vanity. Once the job is done, however, futility sinks in at the deepest level.
12So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done?
13And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.
14The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness And yet I know that one fate befalls them both.
15Then I said to myself, "As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me Why then have I been extremely wise?" So I said to myself, "This too is vanity."
16For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten And how the wise man and the fool alike die!
17So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.
Solomon wondered if he would have been better off not having wisdom and being a fool. He pitied the person who would come after him given that there was nothing more to do. There were no distractions for this person to have. Perhaps he would be better off wandering in darkness like a fool so that he couldn’t be as aware of the futility and meaninglessness of his earthly state and condition. This is the result of selfish, sinful pursuits. Loving God and enjoying Him does not lead one to such a sorry conclusion.
Wisdom gives understanding about the true state of life while folly blinds a person to their true condition. Apart from God, is one better than the other? Solomon’s answer is not really. Light isn’t really better than darkness, only different. Wisdom allows a person to see folly, while folly allows a person to be kept back from experiencing all of the pain that comes with recognizing things for what they really are according to wisdom. Solomon recognized that both the fool and the wise man will die, so in light of time and existence, there really is no value to wisdom if God is taken out of the picture. No one will remember the wise man any more than the foolish man. Both will die. This grieved Solomon’s heart even more and caused him to hate life and the work which he had done under the sun. He wondered if he would have been better off wandering through life clueless. Yet either way, whether wise or foolish, life under the sun is a futile striving after the wind, a perpetual emptiness and hopelessness apart from God.
18Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me.
19And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun This too is vanity.
20Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun.
21When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil.
22For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun?
23Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity.
Solomon again contemplated all that he had accomplished and realized that one day it would be passed on to someone else. This made him hate these achievements more because they wouldn’t even remain his. He would have to one day part with his fame, legacy, wealth, and achievements. His wisdom had built these things, and if the person after him was a fool, he could easily undo it all. Again, more despair entered into Solomon’s heart. There is no reward for a person’s labor because he cannot live forever to enjoy it. Even if he could, he wouldn’t want to because it is a grievous task and painful. Even at night, Solomon couldn’t put his mind to rest. He was not at peace at all but full of misery and pain. Sadly, there wasn’t even any purpose in the pain and misery under the sun.
24There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.
25For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?
26For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God's sight This too is vanity and striving after wind.
Solomon had enough wisdom to know the answer, but his heart has been hard to not receive it. Man is best off enjoying his food and his drink and believing that the work that he does is good. If he believes that there is a purpose in it, even though he realizes that it won’t last, he can find joy. This Solomon knows is the truth from God. A person cannot even do the basic things of life with joy, i.e. eating and drinking, without thanking God and doing it for His honor and glory. There is no enjoyment whatsoever under the sun without God. God Himself is what is necessary for enjoyment. If we do our tasks and our work in and through Him and cognizant of His presence, there can be joy. He alone is our joy, and in His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). The person who is good in God’s sight will have wisdom, knowledge, and joy as he follows God’s commands. The person who lives in sin will, as a general rule but by no means absolute, end up doing the difficult labor so that the good can profit even more. Yet even such profit is meaningless as is the labor of the wicked if it is not done under God. God is the One Who gives life meaning. Life must be viewed with an eternal perspective. If all we have is this short time, life really is futile. Death overcomes us all, and there is no way to find lasting satisfaction, apart from God.