Ecclesiastes 2:12
And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(12) This verse presents some difficulties of translation which need not be discussed here. The Authorised Version gives the following very good sense: If the king has failed in his experiment, what likelihood is there that a private person should be more successful? Yet bearing in mind that in Ecclesiastes 5:18 the “man that cometh after the king” means his successor, and also that the theme of the whole section is that in human affairs there is no progress, it is more simple to understand this verse: the king’s successor can do no more than run the same round that has been trodden by his predecessor.

Ecclesiastes 2:12. And I turned myself, &c. — Being frustrated of my hopes in pleasure, I returned to a second consideration of my first choice, to see whether there was not more satisfaction to be gotten from wisdom, than I discovered at my first view. For what can the man do — To find out the truth in this matter; to discover the utmost satisfaction possible to be found in pleasure; that cometh after the king — That succeeds me in this inquiry. So this is added as a reason why he gave over the pursuit of pleasures, and directed his thoughts to another object; and why he so confidently asserted the vanity of pleasures, from his own particular experience; namely, because he had made the best of them, and it was a vain thing for any private man to expect that from them which could not be found by a king, and such a king, who had so much wisdom to invent, and such great riches to pursue and enjoy all imaginable delights; and who had made it his design and business to search this matter to the bottom. Even that which, hath been already done — As by others, so especially by myself. They can make no new discoveries as to this point. They can make no more of the pleasures of sense than I have done. Let me then try, once more, whether wisdom can give happiness.

2:12-17 Solomon found that knowledge and prudence were preferable to ignorance and folly, though human wisdom and knowledge will not make a man happy. The most learned of men, who dies a stranger to Christ Jesus, will perish equally with the most ignorant; and what good can commendations on earth do to the body in the grave, or the soul in hell? And the spirits of just men made perfect cannot want them. So that if this were all, we might be led to hate our life, as it is all vanity and vexation of spirit.Solomon having found that wisdom and folly agree in being subject to vanity, now contrasts one with the other Ecclesiastes 2:13. Both are brought under vanity by events Ecclesiastes 2:14 which come on the wise man and the feel alike from without - death and oblivion Ecclesiastes 2:16, uncertainty Ecclesiastes 2:19, disappointment Ecclesiastes 2:21 - all happening by an external law beyond human control. Amidst this vanity, the good (see Ecclesiastes 2:10 note) that accrues to man, is the pleasure felt Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 in receiving God's gifts, and in working with and for them.

Ecclesiastes 2:12

What can the man do ... - i. e., "What is any man - in this study of wisdom and folly - after one like me, who, from my position, have had such special advantages (see Ecclesiastes 1:16, and compare Ecclesiastes 2:25) for carrying it on? That which man did of old he can but do again: he is not likely to add to the result of my researches, nor even to equal them." Some hold that the "man" is a reference to Solomon's successor - not in his inquiries, but in his kingdom, i. e., Jeroboam.

12. He had tried (worldly) wisdom (Ec 1:12-18) and folly (foolish pleasure) (Ec 2:1-11); he now compares them (Ec 2:12) and finds that while (worldly)

wisdom excelleth folly (Ec 2:13, 14), yet the one event, death, befalls both (Ec 2:14-16), and that thus the wealth acquired by the wise man's "labor" may descend to a "fool" that hath not labored (Ec 2:18, 19, 21); therefore all his labor is vanity (Ec 2:22, 23).

what can the man do … already done—(Ec 1:9). Parenthetical. A future investigator can strike nothing out "new," so as to draw a different conclusion from what I draw by comparing "wisdom and madness." Holden, with less ellipsis, translates, "What, O man, shall come after the king?" &c. Better, Grotius, "What man can come after (compete with) the king in the things which are done?" None ever can have the same means of testing what all earthly things can do towards satisfying the soul; namely, worldly wisdom, science, riches, power, longevity, all combined.

I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly; of which see Ecclesiastes 1:7. Being frustrated of my hopes in pleasure, I returned to a second and more serious consideration of my first choice, to see whether there was not more satisfaction to be gotten from wisdom, than what I discovered at my first view.

What can the man do, to find out the truth in this matter, to discover the utmost satisfaction which was possibly to be found in pleasures? So this is added as a reason why he gave over the thoughts of pleasures, and directed them to another object, and why he so confidently asserted their vanity from his own particular experience, because he had made the best of them, and it was a vain thing for any private man to expect that from them which could not be found by a king, and such a king, who had so much wisdom to invent, and such vast riches to pursue and enjoy, all imaginary delights, and who had made it his design and business to search this to the bottom. That cometh after the

king; that succeeds me in this inquiry. That which hath been already done; as by others in former times, so especially by myself. They can make no new discoveries as to this point.

And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly,.... Being disappointed in his pursuit of pleasure, and not finding satisfaction and happiness in that, he turns from it, and reassumes his study of natural wisdom and knowledge, to make a fresh trial, and see whether there might be some things he had overlooked in his former inquiries; and whether upon a revise of what he had looked into he might not find more satisfaction than before; being convinced however that the pursuit of pleasure was less satisfying than the study of wisdom, and therefore relinquished the one for the sake of the other: and in order, if possible, to gain more satisfaction in this point, he determined to look more narrowly, and penetrate into the secrets of wisdom, and find out the nature of it, and examine its contraries; that by setting them in a contrast, and comparing them together, he might be the better able to form a judgment of them. Jarchi interprets "wisdom" of the law, and "madness" and "folly" of the punishment of transgression. Alshech also by "wisdom" understands the wisdom of the law, and by madness external wisdom, or the knowledge of outward things. But Aben Ezra understands by "madness" wine, with which men being intoxicated become mad; and by "folly" building houses, and getting riches;

for what can the man do that cometh after the king? meaning himself; what can a man do that comes after such a king as he was, who had such natural parts to search into and acquire all sorts of knowledge; who was possessed of such immense riches, that he could procure everything that was necessary to assist him in his pursuit of knowledge; and who wanted not industry, diligence, and application, and who succeeded above any before or after him? wherefore what can any common man do, or anyone that comes after such a person, and succeeds him in his studies, and treads in his steps, and follows his example and plan, what can he do more than is done already? or can he expect to outdo such a prince, or find out that which he could not? nay, it is as if he should say, it is not only a vain thing for another man to come after me in the search of knowledge, in hopes of finding more than I have done; but it is a fruitless attempt in me to take up this affair again; for, after all that I have done, what can I do more? so that these words are not a reason for his pursuit of wisdom, but a correction of himself for it; I think the words may be rendered, "but what can that man do that comes after the king?" so the particle is sometimes used (t); meaning himself, or his successor, or any other person; since it was only going over the same thing again, running round the circle of knowledge again, without any new improvement, or fresh satisfaction, according to the following answer;

even that which hath been already done; it is only doing the same thing over again. The Targum and Jarchi interpret it of the vain attempt of a man to supplicate a king after a decree is passed and executed. The Midrash by the king understands God himself, and interprets it of the folly of men not being content with their condition, or as made by him. So Gussetius renders it, "who made him" (u); that is, the king; even God, the three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit; the word being plural.

(t) Vid. Noldii Concordant. Partic. Ebr. p. 404, (u) "qui fecerunt euum", vid. Ebr. Comment. p. 605.

And I turned myself to behold {h} wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.

(h) I thought to myself whether it was better to follow wisdom, or my own affections and pleasures, which he calls madness.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
12. I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly] We enter on yet another phase of the life of the seeker after happiness. He falls back with a cynical despair, when mere pleasure left him a prey to satiety and ennui, upon his former study of human nature in its contrasted developments of wisdom, and madness, and folly (see note on chap. Ecclesiastes 1:17).

what can the man do that cometh after the king?] Literally, What is the man.… The words are apparently a kind of proverb. No other child of man could try the experiment under more promising conditions than a king like the Solomon of history, and therefore the answer to the question, What can such a man be or do? is simply (if we follow the construction of the A. V.) “Even that which men did before.” He shall tread the same weary round with the same unsatisfying results. The verse is, however, obscure, and has been very variously rendered. So (1) the LXX., following another text, gives “What man will follow after counsel in whatsoever things they wrought it;” (2) the Vulgate, “What is man, said I, that he can follow the King, his Maker;” and (3) many modern interpreters. “What can the man do that comes after the king, whom they made long ago?” i.e. Who can equal the time-honoured fame of Solomon?

Verses 12-26. - Section 3. Vanity of wisdom, in view of the fate that awaits the wise man equally with the fool, and the uncertainty of the future of his labors, especially as man is not master of his own fate. Verse 12. - And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly (Ecclesiastes 1:17). He studied the three in their mutual connection and relation, comparing them in their results and effects on man's nature and life, and deducing thence their real value. On one side he set wisdom, on the other the action, and habits which he rightly terms "madness and folly," and examined them calmly and critically. For what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done. Both the Authorized Version and Revised Version render the passage thus, though the latter, in the margin, gives two alternative renderings of the second clause, viz. even him whom they made king long ago, and, as in the Authorized Version margin, in those things which have been already done. The LXX., following a different reading, gives, "For what man is there who will follow after counsel in whatsoever things he employed it?" Vulgate, "What is man, said I, that he should be able to follow the King, his Maker?" Wright, Delitzsch, Nowack, etc., "For what is the man that is to come after the king whom they made so long ago?" i.e. who can have greater experience than Solomon made king in old time amid universal acclamation (1 Chronicles 29:22)? or, who can hope to equal his fame? - which does not seem quite suitable, as it is the abnormal opportunities of investigation given by his unique position which would be the point of the query. The Authorized Version gives a fairly satisfactory (and grammatically unobjectionable) meaning - What can any one effect who tries the same experiment as the king did? He could not do so under more favorable conditions, and will only repeat the same process and reach the same result. But the passage is obscure, and every interpretation has its own difficulty. If the ki with which the second portion of the passage begins ("for what," etc.) assigns the reason or motive of the first portion, shows what was the design of Koheleth in contrasting wisdom and folly, the rendering of the Authorized Version is not inappropriate. Many critics consider that Solomon is here speaking of his successor, asking what kind of man he will be who comes after him - the man whom some have already chosen? And certainly there is some ground for this interpretation in vers. 18, 19, where the complaint is that all the king's greatness and glory will be left to an unworthy successor. But this view requires the Solomonic authorship of the book, and makes him to refer to Rehoboam or some illegitimate usurper. The wording of the text is too general to admit of this explanation; nor does it exactly suit the immediate context, or duly connect the two clauses of the verse. It seems best to take the successor, not as one who comes to the kingdom, but as one who pursues similar investigations, repeats Koheleth's experiments. Ecclesiastes 2:12"And I turned myself to examine wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what is the man who could come after the king, him whom they have made so long ago!" Mendelssohn's translation, Ecclesiastes 2:12: "I abandoned my design of seeking to connect wisdom with folly and madness," is impossible, because for such a rendering we should have had at least מלּראות instead of לראות. Hitzig, otherwise followed by Stuart: "I turned myself to examine me wisdom, and, lo, it was madness as well as folly." This rendering is impossible also, for in such a case הנּהו ought to have stood as the result, after חכמה. The pasage, Zechariah 14:6, cited by Hitz., does not prove the possibility of such a brachyology, for there we read not veqaroth veqeppayon, but eqaroth iqeppaūn (the splendid ones, i.e., the stars, will draw themselves together, i.e., will become dark bodies). The two vavs are not correlative, which is without example in the usage of this book, but copulative: he wishes to contemplate (Zckler and others) wisdom on the one side, and madness and folly on the other, in their relation to each other, viz., in their relative worth. Hitzig's ingenuity goes yet further astray in Ecclesiastes 2:12: "For what will the man do who comes after the king? (He shall do) what was long ago his (own) doing, i.e., inheriting from the king the throne, he will not also inherit his wisdom." Instead of āsūhū, he reads ǎsōhū, after Exodus 18:18; but the more modern author, whose work we have here before us, would, instead of this anomalous form, use the regular form עשׂותו; but, besides, the expression ēth asher-kevar 'asotho, "(he will do) what long ago was his doing," is not Heb.; the words ought to have been keasotho kevar khen i'sah, or at least 'asāhū. If we compare Ecclesiastes 2:12 with 18b, the man who comes after the king appears certainly to be his successor.

(Note: The lxx and Symm. by hammělêk think of melak, counsel, βουλή, instead of melek, king; and as Jerome, so also Bardach understands by the king the rex factor, i.e., God the Creator.)

But by this supposition it is impossible to give just effect to the relation (assigning a reason or motive) of Ecclesiastes 2:12 to 12a expressed by כּי. When I considered, Knobel regards Koheleth as saying, that a fool would be heir to me a wise man, it appeared strange to me, and I was led to compare wisdom and folly to see whether or not the wise man has a superiority to the fool, or whether his labour and his fate are vanity, like those of the fool. This is in point of style absurd, but it is much more absurd logically. And who then gave the interpreter the right to stamp as a fool the man who comes after the king? In the answer: "That which has long ago been done," must lie its justification; for this that was done long ago naturally consists, as Zckler remarks, in foolish and perverse undertakings, certainly in the destruction of that which was done by the wise predecessor, in the lavish squandering of the treasures and goods collected by him. More briefly, but in the same sense, Burger: Nihil quod a solita hominum agendi ratione recedit. But in Ecclesiastes 2:19, Koheleth places it as a question whether his successor will be a wise man or a fool, while here he would presuppose that "naturally," or as a matter of course, he will be a fool. In the matter of style, we have nothing to object to the translation on which Zckler, with Rabm., Rosenm., Knobel, Hengst., and others, proceeds; the supplying of the verb יעשׂה to meh hāādām equals what can the man do? is possible (cf. Malachi 2:15), and the neut. interpret. of the suffix of עשׂוּהוּ is, after Ecclesiastes 7:13; Amos 1:3; Job 31:11, admissible; but the reference to a successor is not connected with the course of the thoughts, even although one attaches to the plain words a meaning which is foreign to them. The words עשׂוּהוּ...את are accordingly not the answer to the question proposed, but a component part of the question itself. Thus Ewald, and with him Elster, Heiligst., construes: "How will the man be who will follow the king, compared with him whom they made (a king) long ago, i.e., with his predecessor?" But את, in this pregnant sense, "compared with," is without example, at least in the Book of Koheleth, which generally does not use it as a prep.; and, besides, this rendering, by introducing the successor on the throne, offends against the logic of the relation of Ecclesiastes 2:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:12.

The motive of Koheleth's purpose, to weigh wisdom and folly against each other as to their worth, consists in this, that a king, especially such an one as Solomon was, has in the means at his disposal and in the extent of his observation so much more than everyother, that no one who comes after him will reach a different experience. This motive would be satisfactorily expressed on the supposition that the answer begins with את, if one should read עשׂהוּ for עשׂוּהוּ: he will be able to do (accomplish) nothing but what he (the king) has long ago done, i.e., he will only repeat, only be able to confirm, the king's report. But if we take the text as it here stands, the meaning is the same; and, besides, we get rid of the harsh ellipsis měh hāādām for měh yǎǎsěh hāādām. We translate: for what is the man who might come after the king, him whom they have made so long ago! The king whom they made so long ago is Solomon, who has a richer experience, a more comprehensive knowledge, the longer the time (viz., from the present time backwards) since he occupied the throne. Regarding the expression eth asher equals quem, instead of the asher simply, vid., Khler under Zechariah 12:10. עשׂוּהוּ, with the most general subj., is not different from נעשׂה, which, particularly in the Book of Daniel (e.g., Daniel 4:28.), has frequently an active construction, with the subject unnamed, instead of the passive (Gesen. 137, margin). The author of the Book of Koheleth, alienated from the theocratic side of the kingdom of Israel, makes use of it perhaps not unintentionally; besides, Solomon's elevation to the throne was, according to 1 Kings 1, brought about very much by human agency; and one may, if he will, think of the people in the word 'asuhu also, according to 1 Kings 1:39, who at last decided the matter. Meh before the letters hheth and ayin commonly occurs: according to the Masora, twenty-four times; before other initial letters than these, eight times, and three of these in the Book of Koheleth before the letter he, Ecclesiastes 2:12, Ecclesiastes 2:22; Ecclesiastes 7:10. The words are more an exclamation than a question; the exclamation means: What kind of a man is that who could come after the king! cf. "What wickedness is this!" etc., Judges 20:12; Joshua 22:16; Exodus 18:14; 1 Kings 9:13, i.e., as standing behind with reference to me-the same figure of extenuatio, as mah adam, Psalm 144:3; cf. Ecclesiastes 8:5.

There now follows an account of what, on the one side, happened to him thus placed on a lofty watch-tower, such as no other occupied.

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