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Qohelet’s Investigation of Self-Indulgence

I said to myself,[a] “Come! I will test[b] pleasure to see whether it is worthwhile.”[c] But look, “This also is vanity!” I said of laughter, “It is folly!” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?[d] I also explored[e] the effects of indulging my flesh[f] with wine. My mind guiding me with wisdom, I investigated[g] folly so that I might discover what is good under heaven[h] for humans[i] to do during the days of their lives.[j]

Qohelet’s Investigation of Personal Accomplishment

I accomplished great things.[k] I built for myself houses; I planted for myself vineyards. I made for myself gardens and parks, and I planted all sorts of fruit trees in them. I made for myself pools of water from which to irrigate a grove of flourishing trees. I acquired male slaves and female slaves, as well as children born in my house. I also had livestock, cattle, and flocks more than anyone who was before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered to myself silver and gold—the royal and provincial treasuries. I acquired for myself male and female singers, as well as the delight of men,[l] voluptuous concubines.[m]

Thus, I accomplished far more[n] than anyone who was before me in Jerusalem—indeed, my wisdom stood by me. 10 I neither withheld anything from my eyes that they desired, nor did I deprive any pleasure from my heart. My heart rejoiced in all my toil, for this was my reward from all my toil. 11 Yet when I considered[o] all the effort which I expended and the toil with which I toiled to do, then behold, “Everything is vanity and chasing wind! There is nothing profitable under the sun!”

The Living Must Abandon the Work of their Hands to Others at Death

12 Next, I considered wisdom, as well as delusion and folly. What can anyone do who will come after the king that has not already been done? 13 I realized that wisdom has an advantage over folly, just as light has an advantage over darkness. 14 The wise man can see where he is walking,[p] but the fool walks in darkness. Yet I also realized that both of them suffer the same fate. 15 So I said to myself,[q]If I also suffer the same fate as the fool,[r] what advantage is my great wisdom?”[s] So I said to myself,[t] “This also is vanity!”

16 Certainly no one will remember the wise man or the fool in future generations.[u] When future days come, both will have been forgotten already. How is it that the wise man dies the same as the fool? 17 So I hated life because the work done under the sun is grievous to me. For everything is vanity and chasing wind!

18 So I hated all my toil with which I have toiled under the sun, for I must leave it behind to someone who will be after me. 19 And who knows whether he will be wise or foolish? Yet he will exercise control of all the fruit of my toil with which I toiled wisely under the sun. This also is vanity!

20 So I began to despair[v] of all the toil with which I toiled under the sun. 21 For although a person may toil with great wisdom and skill, he must leave his reward to someone who has not toiled for it. This also is vanity and a great calamity. 22 For what does a person receive for all his toil and in the longing of his heart with which he toils under the sun? 23 All his days are painful, his labor brings grief, and his heart cannot rest at night. This also is vanity!

It is Best to Simply Enjoy the Passing Pleasures of Life as Reward for Pleasing God

24 There is nothing better for a person than to eat and drink and find delight[w] in his toil. For I also realized that this is from the hand of God! 25 For who can eat and drink, and who can enjoy life apart from him?[x] 26 For to the person who is good in his eyes, he gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy; but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and heaping up only to give it to him who is pleasing to him. This also is vanity and chasing wind!


  1. Ecclesiastes 2:1 Literally “to my heart”
  2. Ecclesiastes 2:1 The MT reads “I will test you,” but the BHS editors propose “I will test …” Whether or not one adopts MT, Qohelet is speaking to himself
  3. Ecclesiastes 2:1 Literally “and look at goodness”; this idiom refers to the enjoyment of life
  4. Ecclesiastes 2:2 Literally “What does it give?”
  5. Ecclesiastes 2:3 Literally “I searched in my mind”
  6. Ecclesiastes 2:3 Literally “to cheer my flesh”
  7. Ecclesiastes 2:3 Literally “laid hold of”
  8. Ecclesiastes 2:3 Follows MT; two medieval Hebrew manuscripts, LXX, Peshitta read, “under the sun,” cf. 1:3, 9, etc.
  9. Ecclesiastes 2:3 Literally “the sons of the man”
  10. Ecclesiastes 2:3 Literally “the number of the days of their lives”
  11. Ecclesiastes 2:4 Literally “I made great my works”
  12. Ecclesiastes 2:8 Literally “the sons of the man”
  13. Ecclesiastes 2:8 Literally “a breast and breasts,” as a synecdoche for beautiful women in the king’s harem
  14. Ecclesiastes 2:9 Literally “I became great and I surpassed”
  15. Ecclesiastes 2:11 Or “turned to”
  16. Ecclesiastes 2:14 Literally “The eyes of the wise are in his head”
  17. Ecclesiastes 2:15 Literally “in my heart”
  18. Ecclesiastes 2:15 Literally “Just as the fate of the fool—so it will happen to me!”
  19. Ecclesiastes 2:15 Literally “why have I been so exceedingly wise?”
  20. Ecclesiastes 2:15 Literally “in my heart”
  21. Ecclesiastes 2:16 Literally “the futures”
  22. Ecclesiastes 2:20 Literally “I myself turned to cause my heart to despair”
  23. Ecclesiastes 2:24 Literally “to see good”
  24. Ecclesiastes 2:25 The MT reads “more than me,” which is supported by Aramaic Targum and Latin Vulgate, but several medieval Hebrew manuscripts read “from him”