Ecclesiastes 2:12 Then I turned myself to consider wisdom and madness and folly; For what can the man do who succeeds the king?-- Only what he has already done. 13 Then I saw that wisdom excels folly As light excels darkness. 14 The wise man's eyes are in his head, But the fool walks in darkness. Yet I myself perceived That the same event happens to them all. 15 So I said in my heart, "As it happens to the fool, It also happens to me, And why was I then more wise?" Then I said in my heart, "This also is vanity." 16 For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, Since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die? As the fool! 17 Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. 18 Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. 19 And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun. 21 For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? 23 For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity. 24 Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I? 26 For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind. (NKJV)
Solomon, son of David, was the king of Israel for some forty years (1 Kings 11:42) from 970 B.C. until his death at the age of fifty-nine in 931 B.C. He wrote the book of Ecclesiastes likely near the end of his life, about 935 B.C.
Solomon, being the son of a king, had received the best education known to man at the time. He learned the best of human wisdom. He also was blessed by God with true wisdom, the wisdom from God.
In this passage Solomon is considering “wisdom and madness and folly” (v. 12). Wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness (v. 13). The wise man walks in light, knowledge, but the fool walks in darkness, the lack of light, without knowledge, and yet “the same event happens to them all”, they all die (v. 14).
So, since we all die, why be more wise (v. 15)? The legacy of the wise is not remembered any more than the legacy of the fool (v. 16).
Solomon was distressed and hated life because he felt that all of his hard work was in vain (v. 17). He would have to leave the fruits of his labor to someone else when he died (v. 18). It was even possible that a fool would receive his heritage (v. 19).
In his despair he realized that all of his work would be in vain if he had to leave it to someone who did not deserve it (vv. 20-22). All of his hard work, and restless nights of worry, would all be in vain (v. 23).
His conclusion was to enjoy life, his work and his play. After all, it was all given to him by God (v. 24). “For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight” (v. 26a). But God takes from the sinner and gives the fruits of his labor to those whom He loves (v. 26b). In this, Solomon expresses the Biblical principle that God blesses obedience but punishes disobedience.
God gives us all that we have. He gives us work, and He gives us enjoyment. We should live balanced lives. As they say, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Take time to enjoy the blessings God puts in your life. Take time to smell the roses. Life is short. Take time to enjoy life.
Online Bible Commentary