7I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house; I also had great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines.*
9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. 10 Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I
kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind,* and there was nothing to be gained under the sun"
So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly; for what can the one do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. 14 the wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness.
Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them. 15 Then I said to myself, 'What
happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?'
And I said to myself that this also is vanity. 16 for there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How can the wise die just like fools? 17So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.* (Ecclesiastes 2: 4-17, NRSV).
This is the longest section of the chapter, during which Solomon seeks to see what he can accomplish and try to find satisfaction ion that. Throughout the entire book, Solomon is trying to find satisfaction in something other than God. Since wisdom did not work in chapter one, and pleasure did not work at the beginning of chapter two. He is now trying for something more noble. Solomon has come to realize that maybe he was trying to go about it in the wrong way. He was trying to please himself. It was not at the expense of others necessarily (at least the book never gives that impression), but he does not try to leave a lasting legacy of good either. So, his experiment takes a new turn. He decides that instead of just temporary pleasure, he should invest in things that stand the test of time.
He builds houses, parks, and pools. He hires singers, fills his house with male and female slaves to cater to his every wish and concubines for "the delights of the flesh." However, there is one interesting word he keeps using through all of this first section "myself." Solomon is making these things for himself. He is trying to satisfy his own selfish urges through the acquiring of things.
At the beginning of verse 12 he again says that "y wisdom remained with me." It is an interesting thing to note. It seems that he is saying that God allowed him to proceed with his folly. Without his wisdom he would be lacking two things. He would not be able to see all that there is that is available for man "under the sun," and he would not be able to analyze it with any amount of understanding. God allows Solomon to test the waters, as it were, because God knows the outcome of all of the folly that Solomon will undergo. God also has a greater purpose for the Solomon's experiment. God knows also that the book of Ecclesiastes will be written and that the folly of Solomon can be a benefit to the rest of humanity. For these reasons, Solomon is allowed to retain his wisdom throughout the entire trial (Rainey 155b).
This is important because toward the end if this section Solomon will "consider wisdom and madness and folly" (2:12). He starts to look at all that he has done in the light of permanence. He sees first that wisdom is superior to folly "as light is to darkness." Here he is again using the symbolism that is common throughout the Bible. Of course, people prefer light, on a practical level, since it is easier to see, and more difficult for things that may harm to hide. But on a spiritual level (between God and a man), he is also making a statement. In many other places in the Bible is a statement similar to man preferring darkness to light in a spiritual sense. People are able to conduct their sinful acts much easier away from the holy eyes of God (of course God sees all), but they are exposed when they are in the light. Solomon is making the statement that the light is preferable to the darkness, both temporally and spiritually, and wisdom is preferable to folly. This alludes to the fact that God is wisdom and light, while Satan is darkness and folly. This statement points toward his eventual conclusion in Ecclesiastes12:13. He realizes that anything apart from God is folly (that is apart from light and wisdom), and is not to be desired (McGee).
He comes to this realization, but he also realizes that earthly wisdom (some would call it intelligence (McGee)) does not avail a person to any greater preference from God. The fool and the wise will both die the same death. They cannot escape from it no matter how wise they have been throughout their lives. God does not honor earthly wisdom in this matter and more than He disdains folly. Solomon then sees that even this is a vanity (Constable).
Because he has come to this realization, at the end of this section he hates his life. This does not mean that he sought to take his life, but he probably did go through a period of intense depression. Solomon identified with the fact that he was wise. Since God had given him this as a special favor, Solomon was proud of it. Now, he realizes that even he, the wisest man that will ever live, does not get any special dispensation from God in the end. Meaning, long life here in Earth does not follow wisdom. He will die and be forgotten just the same as the basest of fools. All of his pride in what he believes himself to be is shaken. A modern example could be the people who based their entire existence on their wealth prior to the stock market collapse of 1929, and jumped out of windows because all that they had accumulated was lost.
I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19 -- and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23 for all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 2: 18-23, NRSV).
This section is a continuation of the first two sections of the chapter and the last part of chapter one, in part, but it is also a new section because he is talking specifically about the vanity of toil (Padfield 1). Here he comes back to the specter that has haunted him from the beginning -- death (Welch). He realizes that he may have built all of this for his own pleasure, from the wealth and wisdom he has accumulated, but those who come after him will be able to enjoy it without the toil. Thus, he hates what he has done. Not necessarily the objects themselves, but the fact that he wasted time doing them. He has still not come to the realization that he will at the end of the book, but he is starting to see that there is fruit in only one thing. Also, this is a foreshadowing of grace. God does not require us to work for our salvation. If we had to put in any amount of effort to gain salvation, then…