Ecclesiastes 2:13
Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(13) Wisdom surely has an advantage over folly, yet how full of “vanity” is that advantage. Let the wise man have done his best, soon death comes; the wise man is forgotten, and all he has gained by his labour passes, without labour, into the hands of one who may be no inheritor of his wisdom.

Excelleth.—There is profit in wisdom more than in folly. The same word “profitis used as in Ecclesiastes 5:11. (See Note on Ecclesiastes 1:3.)

Ecclesiastes 2:13-14. I saw that wisdom — I allowed thus much. Although wisdom is not sufficient to make men happy, yet it is of far greater use than vain pleasures, or any other follies. The wise man’s eyes are in his head — In their proper place. He hath the use of his eyes and reason, and foresees, and so avoids, many dangers and mischiefs. But the fool walketh in darkness — Manages his affairs ignorantly, rashly, and foolishly, whereby he shows that his eyes are not in his head, or are not used aright. And, or yet, I myself perceived also, &c. — That, notwithstanding this excellence of wisdom above folly, at last they both come to one end. Both are subject to the same calamities, and to death itself, which takes away all difference between them.

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.

13, 14. (Pr 17:24). The worldly "wise" man has good sense in managing his affairs, skill and taste in building and planting, and keeps within safe and respectable bounds in pleasure, while the "fool" is wanting in these respects ("darkness," equivalent to fatal error, blind infatuation), yet one event, death, happens to both (Job 21:26). Then I saw; or, yet I saw; for this is added to prevent an Objection or mistake.

Wisdom excelleth folly; although wisdom is not sufficient to make men truly and perfectly happy, yet it is of a far greater use and excellency than vain pleasures, or any other follies.

As far as light excelleth darkness, i.e. vastly and unspeakably. Light is very pleasant and comfortable, and withal of great necessity and singular use to discover the differences of persons and things, to prevent mistakes and dangers, and to direct all a man’s paths in the right way; whereas darkness is in itself doleful, and leads men into innumerable confusions, and errors, and miseries.

Then I sat that wisdom excelleth folly,.... However, this upon a review of things he could not but own, that natural wisdom and knowledge, though there was no true happiness and satisfaction in them, yet they greatly exceeded folly and madness;

as far as light excelleth darkness; as the light of the day the darkness of the night; the one is pleasant and delightful, the other very uncomfortable; the one useful to direct in walking, the other very unsafe to walk in: light sometimes signifies joy and prosperity, and darkness adversity; the one is used to express the light of grace, and the other the darkness of sin and ignorance; now as the natural light exceeds darkness, and prosperity exceeds adversity and calamities, and a state of grace exceeds a state of sin and wickedness, so wisdom exceeds folly.

Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
13. I saw that wisdom excelleth folly] Better, as keeping up, in the English as in the Hebrew, the characteristic word of the book, There is profit in wisdom more than in folly, and so in the second clause. Something then had been gained by the experience. In language like that of the Stoics he sings the praises of wisdom. Even the wisdom that brings sorrow (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:13) is better than the mirth of fools. A man is conscious of being more truly man when he looks before and after, and knows how to observe. Light is, after all, better than darkness, even if it only shews us that we are treading the path that leads to nothingness. The human heart obeys its instincts when it cries out with Aias,

ἐν δὲ φάει καὶ ὄλεσσον.

“And if our fate be death, give light, and let us die.”

Hom. Il. xvii. 647.

Verse 13. - Then (and) I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness; or, there is profit, advantage (περίσσεια Septuagint, Ecclesiastes 1:3) to wisdom over folly, as the advantage of light over darkness. This result, at any rate, was obtained - he learned that wisdom had a certain value, that it was as much superior to folly, in its effects on men, as light is more beneficial than darkness. It is a natural metaphor to represent spiritual and intellectual development as light, and mental and moral depravity as darkness (comp. Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5). Ecclesiastes 2:13"And I saw that wisdom has the advantage over folly, as light has the advantage over darkness. The wise man has eyes in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness." In the sacred Scriptures, "light" is generally the symbol of grace, Psalm 43:3, but also the contrast of an intellectually and morally darkened state, Isaiah 51:4. To know a thing is equivalent to having light on it, and seeing it in its true light (Psalm 36:10); wisdom is thus compared to light; folly is once, Job 38:19, directly called "darkness." Thus wisdom stands so much higher than folly, as light stands above darkness.יתרון, which hitherto denoted actual result, enduring gain, signifies here preference; along with כּיתרון

(Note: Thus written, according to J and other authorities.)

there is also found the form כּיתרון

(Note: Thus Ven. 1515, 1521; vid., Comm. under Genesis 27:28-29; Psalm 45:10.)

(vid., Proverbs 30:17). The fool walks in darkness: he is blind although he has eyes (Isaiah 43:8), and thus has as good as none, - he wants the spiritual eye of understanding (Job 10:3); the wise man, on the other hand, his eyes are in his head, or, as we also say: he has eyes in his head, - eyes truly seeing, looking at and examining persons and things. That is the one side of the relation of wisdom to folly as put to the test.

The other side of the relation is the sameness of the result in which the elevation of wisdom above folly terminates.

"And I myself perceived that one experience happeneth to them all. And I said in my heart, As it will happen to the fool, it will happen also to me; and why have I then been specially wise? Thus I spake then in my heart, that this also is vain." Zckler gives to גּם an adversative sense; but this gam ( equals ὃμως, similiter) stands always at the beginning of the clause, Ewald, 354a. Gam-ani corresponds to the Lat. ego idem, which gives two predicates to one subject; while et ipse predicates the same of the one of two subjects as it does of the other (Zumpt, 697). The second gam-ani serves for the giving of prominence to the object, and here precedes, after the manner of a substantival clause (cf. Isaiah 45:12; Ezekiel 33:17; 2 Chronicles 28:10), as at Genesis 24:27; cf. Gesen. 121. 3. Miqrěh (from קרה, to happen, to befall) is quiquid alicui accidit (in the later philosoph. terminol. accidens; Venet. συμβεβεεκός); but here, as the connection shows, that which finally puts an end to life, the final event of death. By the word יד the author expresses what he had observed on reflection; by בּל...אם, what he said inwardly to himself regarding it; and by דּבּ דל, what sentence he passed thereon with himself. Lammah asks for the design, as maddu'a for the reason. אז is either understood temporally: then when it is finally not better with me than with the fool (Hitz. from the standpoint of the dying hour), or logically: if yet one and the same event happeneth to the wise man and to the fool (Eslt.); in the consciousness of the author both are taken together.The זה of the conclusion refers, not, as at Ecclesiastes 1:17, to the endeavouring after and the possession of wisdom, but to this final result making no difference between wise men and fools. This fate, happening to all alike, is הבל, a vanity rendering all vain, a nullity levelling down all to nothing, something full of contradictions, irrational. Paul also (Romans 8:20) speaks of this destruction, which at last comes upon all, as a ματαιότης.

The author now assigns the reason for this discouraging result.

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