|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:12-18 Solomon tried all things, and found them vanity. He found his searches after knowledge weariness, not only to the flesh, but to the mind. The more he saw of the works done under the sun, the more he saw their vanity; and the sight often vexed his spirit. He could neither gain that satisfaction to himself, nor do that good to others, which he expected. Even the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom discovered man's wickedness and misery; so that the more he knew, the more he saw cause to lament and mourn. Let us learn to hate and fear sin, the cause of all this vanity and misery; to value Christ; to seek rest in the knowledge, love, and service of the Saviour.
Verse 17. - And I gave my heart. He reiterates the expression in order to emphasize his earnestness and energy in the pursuit of wisdom. And knowing, as St. Jerome says, that "contrariis contraria inteiliguntur," he studies the opposite of wisdom, and learns the truth by contrasting it with error. And to know madness and folly (Ecclesiastes 2:12). The former word, holeloth (intensive plural), by its etymology points to a confusion of thought, i.e. an unwisdom which deranges all ideas of order and propriety; and folly (hero sikluth), throughout the sapiential books, is identified with vice and wickedness, the contradictory of practical godliness. The LXX. has παραβολὰς καὶ ἐπιστήμην, "parables and knowledge," and some editors have altered the Hebrew text in accordance with this version, which they consider more suitable to the context. But Koheleth's standpoint is quite consistent. To use the words of St. Jerome in his 'Commentary,' "AEqualis studii fuit Salomoni, scire sapientiam et scientiam, et e regione errores et stultitiam, ut in aliis appetendis et aliis declinandis vera ejus sapientia probaretur." On the other hand, Den-Sirs gives a much-needed warning against touching pitch (Ecclus. 13:1), and argues expressly that "the knowledge of wickedness is not wisdom" (Ecclus. 19:22). Plumptre unnecessarily sees in the use of the term" madness 'an echo of the teaching of the Stoics, who regarded men's weaknesses as forms of insanity. The moralist had no need to travel beyond his own experience in order to learn that sin was the acme of unwisdom, a declension from reason which might well be called madness. The subject is handled by Cicero, 'Tusc. Disput.,' 3:4, 5. We are reminded of Horace's expression ('Carm.,' 2:7. 27) -
"Recepto Dulce mihi furere est amico." And Anacreon's (31.), Θέλω θέλω μανῆναι. Thus far we have had Koheleth's secret thoughts - what he communed with his own heart (ver. 16). The result of his studies was most unsatisfying I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit; or, a striving after wind, as ver. 14 Though the word is somewhat different. As such labor is wasted, for man cannot control issues.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And I gave my heart to know wisdom,.... Which is repeated, for the confirmation of it, from Ecclesiastes 1:13, and that it might be taken notice of how assiduous and diligent he had been in acquiring it; a circumstance not to be overlooked;
and to know madness and folly: that he might the better know wisdom, and learn the difference between the one and the other, since opposites illustrate each other; and that he might shun madness and folly, and the ways thereof, and expose the actions of mad and foolish men: so Plato (s) says, ignorance is a disease, of which there are two kinds, madness and folly. The Targum, Septuagint, and all the Oriental versions, interpret the last word, translated "folly", by understanding, knowledge, and prudence; which seems to be right, since Solomon speaks of nothing afterwards, as vexation and grief to him, but wisdom and knowledge: and I would therefore read the clause in connection with the preceding, thus, "and the knowledge of things boasted of", vain glorious knowledge; "and prudence", or what may be called craftiness and cunning; or what the apostle calls "science falsely so called", 1 Timothy 6:20; see Proverbs 12:8;
I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit; See Gill on Ecclesiastes 1:14; the reason follows.
(s) In Timaeo, p. 1084.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
17. wisdom … madness—that is, their effects, the works of human wisdom and folly respectively. "Madness," literally, "vaunting extravagance"; Ec 2:12; 7:25, &c., support English Version rather than Dathe, "splendid matters." "Folly" is read by English Version with some manuscripts, instead of the present Hebrew text, "prudence." If Hebrew be retained, understand "prudence," falsely so called (1Ti 6:20), "craft" (Da 8:25).
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