Ecclesiastes 2:3
I sought in my heart to give myself to wine, yet acquainting my heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.
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(3) Sought.—The word translated “search out” (Ecclesiastes 1:13).

“Draw,” margin. There is no Biblical parallel for the use of the word in this sense. The general meaning is plain.

Acquainting.—Rather, guiding. The word is used of the driver of an animal or the shepherd of a flock (2Samuel 6:3; Psalm 80:1; Isaiah 63:4). Kohéleth contemplated not an unrestrained enjoyment of pleasure, but one controlled by prudence.

All the days.—(See margin). This phrase occurs again in Ecclesiastes 5:17; Ecclesiastes 6:12. We have “men of number” in the sense of “few”—i.e., so few that they can be numbered (Genesis 34:30, and often elsewhere). So we may translate here “for their span of life.”

Ecclesiastes 2:3. I sought to give myself unto wine — To gratify myself with delicious meats and drinks; yet acquainting, &c. — Yet resolving to use my wisdom, that I might try whether I could not arrive at satisfaction, by mixing wine and wisdom together. To lay hold on folly, &c. — To pursue sensual pleasure, which was my folly; till I might see, &c. — Till I might find out the true way to contentment and satisfaction, during this mortal life.2:1-11 Solomon soon found mirth and pleasure to be vanity. What does noisy, flashy mirth towards making a man happy? The manifold devices of men's hearts, to get satisfaction from the world, and their changing from one thing to another, are like the restlessness of a man in a fever. Perceiving it was folly to give himself to wine, he next tried the costly amusements of princes. The poor, when they read such a description, are ready to feel discontent. But the remedy against all such feelings is in the estimate of it all by the owner himself. All was vanity and vexation of spirit: and the same things would yield the same result to us, as to Solomon. Having food and raiment, let us therewith be content. His wisdom remained with him; a strong understanding, with great human knowledge. But every earthly pleasure, when unconnected with better blessings, leaves the mind as eager and unsatisfied as before. Happiness arises not from the situation in which we are placed. It is only through Jesus Christ that final blessedness can be attained.I sought ... - Rather, I resolved (literally "I turned in my heart") to draw my flesh with wine (see the margin), my heart guiding me with wisdom. In the course of his attempt to answer the question of Ecclesiastes 1:3, while his heart was directing him (as a charioteer directs his horses or a shepherd his sheep) with wisdom, and while he was following that guidance, he determined to draw with him his flesh by wine, thus making his flesh, which he speaks of as distinct from himself (compare Romans 7:25), a confederate and subsidiary in his attempt. 3-11. Illustration more at large of Ec 2:1, 2.

I sought—I resolved, after search into many plans.

give myself unto wine—literally, "to draw my flesh," or "body to wine" (including all banquetings). Image from a captive drawn after a chariot in triumph (Ro 6:16, 19; 1Co 12:2); or, one "allured" (2Pe 2:18, 19).

yet acquainting … wisdom—literally, "and my heart (still) was behaving, or guiding itself," with wisdom [Gesenius]. Maurer translates: "was weary of (worldly) wisdom." But the end of Ec 2:9 confirms English Version.

folly—namely, pleasures of the flesh, termed "mad," Ec 2:2.

all the days, &c.—(See Margin and Ec 6:12; Job 15:20).

To give myself unto wine; to relax and gratify my flesh with delicious meats and drinks, synecdochically expressed by wine here, as also Proverbs 9:2 Song of Solomon 2:4, &c., as necessary food is by bread, Amos 7:12, compared with Amos 8:2.

Yet acquainting my heart with wisdom; yet resolving to use my wisdom; either,

1. To set bounds to my pleasures. Or rather,

2. That I might try whether I could not arrive at satisfaction, by mixing wine and wisdom together, by using wine to sweeten and allay the toils of wisdom, and wisdom to prevent that destruction which many bring upon themselves by intemperate pleasures whilst they seek for satisfaction, that so I might have the comfort without the danger and mischief of pleasures.

To lay hold on folly; to pursue and addict myself to carnal pleasures, which was my folly.

Till I might see, & c.; till by trying several methods I might find out the true way to contentment and satisfaction, during this mortal life. I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine,.... Not in an immoderate way, so as to intoxicate himself with it, in which there can be no pleasure, nor any show of happiness; but in a moderate, yet liberal way, so as to be innocently cheerful and pleasant, and hereby try what good and happiness were to be possessed in this way. By "wine" is meant, not that only, but everything eatable and drinkable that is good; it signifies what is called good living, good eating and drinking: Solomon always lived well; was brought up as a prince, and, when he came to the throne, lived like a king; but being increased in riches, and willing to make trial of the good that was in all the creatures of God, to see if any happiness was in them; determines to keep a better table still, and resolved to have everything to eat or drink that could be had, cost what it will; of Solomon's daily provision for his household, see 1 Kings 4:22; the Midrash interprets it, of the wine of the law. It may be rendered, "I sought in mine heart to draw out my flesh with wine", or "my body" (y); to extend it, and make it fat and plump; which might be reduced to skin and bones, to a mere skeleton, through severe studies after wisdom and knowledge. The Targum is,

"I sought in my heart to draw my flesh into the house of the feast of wine;''

as if there was a reluctance in him to such a conduct; and that he as it were put a force upon himself, in order to make the experiment;

(yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom); or, "yet my heart led me in wisdom" (z): he was guided and governed by wisdom in this research of happiness; he was upon his guard, that he did not go into any sinful extravagancies, or criminal excesses in eating and drinking;

and to lay hold on folly; that he might better know what folly was, and what was the folly of the sons of men to place their happiness in such things; or rather, he studiously sought to lay hold on folly, to restrain it, and himself from it, that it might not have the ascendant over him; so that he would not be able to form a right judgment whether there is any real happiness in this sort of pleasure, or not, he is, speaking of; for the epicure, the voluptuous person, is no judge of it;

till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life; where the "summum bonum", or chief happiness of man lies; and which he should endeavour to seek after and pursue, that he might enjoy it throughout the whole of his life, while in this world: and that he might still more fully know it, if possible, he did the following things.

(y) "ut diducerem vino carnem meam", Piscator; "ut protraherem, et inde distenderem carnem meam", Rambachius. (z) "et cor meam ducens in sapientia", Montanus; "interim cor meum ducens in sapientiam", Drusius.

I sought in my heart to give myself to wine, yet acquainting my heart with {b} wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.

(b) Even though I gave myself to pleasures, yet I thought to keep wisdom and the fear of God in my heart, and govern my affairs by the same.

3. to give myself unto wine] Literally, and more vividly, to cherish my flesh with wine. The Hebrew word for “give” is unusual and obscure. The primary meaning is “to draw out,” that of the word for “acquainting” is “to guide” or “drive,” as in Exodus 3:1; 2 Samuel 6:3. Possibly, as Lewis suggests in Lange’s Commentary, the idea is like that of the parable in the Phædrus of Plato (p. 54) and the seeker gives the rein to pleasure, yet seeks to guide or drive the steed with his wisdom. The words point to the next stage in the progress of the pleasure seeker. Pleasure as such, in its graceful, lighter forms, soon palls, and he seeks the lower, fiercer stimulation of the wine cup. But he did this, he is careful to state, not as most men do, drifting along the current of lower pleasures

“Till the seared taste, from foulest wells

Is fain to quench its fires,”

but deliberately, “yet guiding mine heart with wisdom.” This also was an experiment, and he retained, or tried to retain, his self-analysing introspection even in the midst of his revelry. All paths must be tried, seeming folly as well as seeming wisdom, to see if they gave any adequate standard by which the “sons of men” might guide their conduct, any pathway to the “chief good” which was the object of the seeker’s quest.Verse 3. - I sought in mine heart; literally, I spied out (as Ecclesiastes 1:13) in my heart. Having proved the fruitlessness of some sort of sensual pleasure, he made another experiment in a philosophical spirit. To give myself unto wine; literally, to draw (mashak) my flesh with wine; i.e. to use the attraction of the pleasures of the table. Yet acquainting my heart with wisdom. This is a parenthetical clause, which Wright translates, "While my heart was acting [guiding] with wisdom." That is, while, as it were, experimenting with pleasure, he still retained sufficient control over his passions as not to be wholly given over to vice; he was in the position of one who is being carried down an impetuous stream, yet has the power of stopping his headlong course before it becomes fatal to him. Such control was given by wisdom. Deliberately to enter upon a course of self-indulgence, even with a possibly good intention, must be a most perilous trial, and one which would leave indelible marks upon the soul; and not one person in a hundred would be able to stop short of ruin, The historical Solomon, by his experiment, suffered infinite loss, which nothing could compensate. The Septuagint renders not very successfully, "I examined whether my heart would draw (ἑλκύσει) my flesh as wine; and my heart guided me in wisdom." The Vulgate gives a sense entirely contrary to the writer's intention; "I thought in my heart to withdraw my flesh from wine, that I might transfer my mind to wisdom." And to lay hold on folly. These words are dependent upon "I sought in my heart," and refer to the sensual pleasures in which he indulged for a certain object. "Dulce est desipere in loco," says Horace ('Canto.,' 4:12. 28); Ἐν μὲν μαινομένοις μάλα μαίνομαι (Theognis, 313). Till I might see. His purpose was to discover if there was in these things any real good which might satisfy men's cravings, and be a worthy object for them to pursue all the days of their life. The judgment contained in the words, "vanity and a striving after the wind," is confirmed: "That which is crooked cannot become straight; and a deficit cannot be numerable," i.e., cannot be taken into account (thus Theod., after the Syro-Hex.), as if as much were present as is actually wanting; for, according to the proverb, "Where there is nothing, nothing further is to be counted." Hitzig thinks, by that which is crooked and wanting, according to Ecclesiastes 7:13, of the divine order of the world: that which is unjust in it, man cannot alter; its wants he cannot complete. But the preceding statement refers only to labour under the sun, and to philosophical research and observation directed thereto. This places before the eyes of the observer irregularities and wants, brings such irregularities and wants to his consciousness, - which are certainly partly brought about and destined by God, but for the most part are due to the transgressions of man himself, - and what avails the observer the discovery and investigation? - he has only lamentation over it, for with all his wisdom he can bring no help. Instead of לתקן (vid., under תקן), לתקן was to be expected. However, the old language also formed intransitive infinitives with transitive modification of the final vowels, e.g., יבשׁ, etc. (cf. ישׁון, Ecclesiastes 5:11).

Having now gained such a result in his investigation and research by means of wisdom, he reaches the conclusion that wisdom itself is nothing.

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