Essay: Ecclesiastes, Chapter

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Exegesis on Ecclesiastes - Chapter 2

The task of elaborating on the second chapter of Ecclesiastes is not to be taken lightly. The perfection of Solomon's words are revealed in the fact that God chose to use him as a trumpet many times. The book of Ecclesiastes both autobiographical and proverbial. Since Solomon had the means to accomplish any desire, he was able to sample anything humanity could wish. He was able to sin against God with all the depravity of his heart. He says "my mind still guiding me with wisdom" in verse three meaning that throughout the entire process he maintained his wisdom. Thus, he was able to analyze, better than any man, the extent of his depravity, and the extent to which it is all "vanity" and madness. He even reasoned with himself "how to lay hold on folly, until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life" at the end of the same verse. Unfortunately, his search was fruitless. In the final chapter of the book, he concludes that to "fear God and keep His commandments" is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

An exegesis of the second chapter of Ecclesiastes, in which Solomon continues the process of laying down a foundation for the rest of the book (Copeland 5), must include certain elements if it is to be complete. The first purpose, as Gorman says in his book Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers, is to answer "What great theological question does the text engage" (10). To do this one must examine the intended area of study using the three dimensions of exegesis: recovering the text; from text to context; and, theology renewed, revisioned and implemented. All three will be accomplished in the following narrative.

The author of the book is not precisely known to be Solomon because the author only calls himself "the Preacher" (1:1). However, he gives several clues to his identity throughout the book that make it difficult to refute that the author is indeed Solomon. He talks of his wisdom, wealth and power as exceeding any who had come before him in Jerusalem (2:8 and 2:9). He also identifies himself as a son of King David in (1:1) and the king of Jerusalem in the same verse. With these evidences, it easy to pinpoint the book as that of king Solomon (Copeland 3).

The author uses the second chapter to continue talking about how he proceeded with his experiment. The second chapter can be broken down into four distinct parts: "vanity of striving after pleasure; vanity of great accomplishments; vanity of hard labor; and, a conclusion" (Padfield 1). In each of the first three sections the Preacher discusses what he did to arrive at the conclusion of vanity in those pursuits. At the conclusion of the chapter, he offers a preview of his concluding statements in chapter 12. Therefore the chapter is properly sectioned into verses 1-3, 4-17, 18-23, and 24-26 (Padfield 1). Some break the chapter down into different divisions, but using these four is an easy way to look at the book in sections first.

The answer to the question of theme must come first though because that sets the tone of the book. J. Vernon McGee, a renowned scholar and teacher, says that the theme is the obvious. He says of Solomon "his conclusion was, "All is vanity" (McGee). Another researcher, Roy Zuck, says that many have come to a similar conclusion in that they believe Solomon says that "life is pointless, totally absurd." Charles Welch looks at the theme from many different angles and from scripture throughout the Bible and comes to a similar conclusion for the second chapter, and the whole book, but words it a different way. He says that "Here, it will be observed, the vanity of man is seen in the one great fact that stands at the end of his career -DEATH. Death writes vanity over the whole creation of man. His labours are spent in accumulating that which some unknown person shall use" (Welch 9). Thus, the overriding theme of the chapter (the same as the rest of the book) is that all is vanity because death awaits every man regardless their accomplishments, and honoring and obeying God is the only way that man can hope to have any reward for all of his labor.

So the task now is to examine the chapter in detail with a view toward the theme and the divisions that make up the chapter. It must be noted that the arrangement of the sections was not random. Solomon tried all that could be done with human strength. First he observed pleasure, next he tried to satisfy himself with his own accomplishments and ability to gather, then he worked with his own hands rather than rely on the work of others. When he had finished all that he could do, he rendered a conclusion to the matter of all that any human could possibly do of himself.

"I said to myself, 'Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.' But again, this also was vanity. 2I said of laughter, 'It is mad', and of pleasure, 'What use is it?' 3I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine -- my mind still guiding me with wisdom -- and how to lay hold on folly, until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life."

(Ecclesiates 2: 1-3, NRSV).

The pleasure that he seeks is not necessarily of the moment because he wants to see all that might be pleasurable "for mortals to do…during the few days of their life." he makes a point here to open the chapter with the thought of death. A cursory examination of the text shows that Solomon is thinking about what he can do to make himself laugh and be merry. but, he is already making an allusion to the "few days" that people have to live. This preoccupation with death follows Solomon throughout the entire book because he, from the first, realizes that it weighs, like the sword of Damocles, over the head of every human.

In these introductory verses to the chapter is first going to "make a test of pleasure." Welch (13) says that the word "test" is mostly rendered as "tempt." This can mean one of two things. The author is going to tempt himself with all of the goodies that offer themselves in the life of a human, or he is going to tempt God because he realizes that what he is doing is against the will of God for his, Solomon's, life (Welch 13). Why would the author want to tempt God? Solomon had an early contract with God. He had been given the choice as to what he wanted to fulfill himself (wealth or power) but he chose the wisdom needed to properly lead his people, and God rewarded him with both exceeding wealth and power as well as fame. but, Solomon was possibly bored with all that he was able to do, so he made an experiment. He understood from the beginning that what he was doing went against what God purposed, but he was allowed to make the experiment by God to show the futility of his actions to him and to the remainder of humanity which could benefit from Solomon's words. Solomon "sought contentment" (Stedman), but all he found was madness and uselessness.

The third verse in this portion of the second chapter is especially interesting. Solomon tries to "cheer his body with wine" and "how to lay hold on folly." He was a very wise man who knew what he was doing. He knew that his search would be futile, but he decided to conduct the experiment anyway. He wanted to "test" God and see if all that He said was true. The test was, what can people do to distract themselves during the time that they have on Earth? Or rather, is there anything that is profitable in all of the pleasures that man has available to himself? Solomon even tried to alter reality by cheering his body with alcohol. Even this bit of pleasure was seen as temporary.

The application of these first three verses is in the test and in the result of the test. Every day people, who know of the edicts of God, seek pleasure in other things than God. Whether that be comedy, acts that could be considered folly (the recent trend toward extreme sports comes to mind), or by using mind altering substances, all is vanity apart from God in the end.

"I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; 5I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6I made myself pools from which to water the forest of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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