Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.Ecclesiastes 2:4
He who watches winds that blow
May too long neglect to sow;
He who waits lest clouds should rain
Harvest never shall obtain.
Signs and tokens false may prove;
Trust thou in a Saviour's love,
In His sacrifice for sin,
And His Spirit's power within.
Faith in God, if such be thine,
Shall be found thy safest sign,
And obedience to His will
Prove the best of tokens still.
—Bernard Barton. Ecclesiastes 2:4-6; Ecclesiastes 2:8; Ecclesiastes 2:11.
If any resemblance with Tennyson's poetry is to be found in Ecclesiastes, it should be with the 'Palace of Art'.
—Sir Alfred Lyall.
See Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, canto I. iv. vi., for the description of the dull satiety that follows self-indulgence.
Reference.—II. 4-11.—J. J. S. Perowne, Expositor (1st (Series), vol. x. p. 313.
He rushed through life.... He desired too much; he wished strongly and greedily to taste life in one draught, thoroughly; he did not glean or taste it, he tore it off like a bunch of grapes, pressing it, crushing it, twisting it; and he remained with stained hands, just as thirsty as before. Then broke forth sobs which found an echo in all hearts.
—Taine on Alfred de Musset.
All is vanity; that is the low cry of the tired heart when the buoyant strength of youth dies away, and when the brave shows of the glittering world, the harsh inspiriting music of affairs, the ambition to speak and strive, to sway heart and minds or destinies, fade into the darkness of the end. Against the assaults of this nameless fear men hold out what shields they can; the shield of honour, the shield of labour, and, best of all, the shield of faith. But there are some who have found no armour to help them, and who can but sink to the ground, covering their face beneath the open eye of heaven, and say with Fitz Gerald, 'It is He that hath made us,' resigning the mystery into the hands of the power that formed us and bade us be. For behind the loud and confident voice of work and politics and creeds there must still lurk the thought that whatever aims we propose to ourselves, though they be hallowed with centuries of endeavour and consecration, we cannot know what awaits us or what we shall be.
—A. C. Benson.
Reference.—II. 12-23.—T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 49.
Mr. Arthur Symons, discussing Villiers, the French decadent, in his Symbolist Movement in Literature (pp. 56 f.), quotes the poet thus: '"As at the play, in a central stall, one sits out, so as not to disturb one's neighbours—out of courtesy, in a word—some play written in a wearisome style, and of which one does not like the subject, so I lived, out of politeness": je vivais par politesse. In this haughtiness towards life, in this disdain of ordinary human motives and ordinary human beings, there is at once the distinction and the weakness of Villiers.'
See Quarles's Emblems, book i. 6, and Religio Medici, ii. sec. xiv. (close).
In Cromwell's fourth speech to the Parliament of 1655, he discusses, towards the end, the pressing question of the government in relation to his own family. He declares that he has been ever opposed to making his office hereditary. 'I am speaking as to my judgment against making government hereditary. To have men chosen for their love to God, and to truth and justice; and not to have it hereditary. For as it is in the Ecclesiastes: "Who knoweth whether he may beget a fool or a wise man?" Honest or not honest, whatever they be, they must come in, on that plan; because the government is made a patrimony.'
What a deal of cold business doth a man misspend the better part of life in! in scattering compliments, tendering visits, gathering and venting news, following feasts and plays, making a little winter-love in a dark corner.
I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?
I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine 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.
I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:
I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:
I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:
I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:
I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
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.
Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.
The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.
Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.
For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.
Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.
And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.
Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.
For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.
For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?
For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.
There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.
For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?
For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.