II. A Solomonic Experiment—A Search For Satisfaction (1:12–2:26)
The writer does not claim to be Solomon but assumes his role to give credibility to his experiment and to show the sagacious approach to this effort. The nature of the experiment is revealed by the verbs to study and to explore (1:13). The former means to penetrate to the heart of a matter while the latter means to search thoroughly. It is the same word that was used of the Hebrew spies who were sent to gather information about the people, terrain, and resources of Canaan (Nu 13:2, 16-17).
Qoheleth's preliminary conclusions are that the restless quest for meaning is ordained of God, that all human effort amounts to no more than chasing after the wind, and that, given the fixed nature of things, there is little that people can do to effect change (1:13-15). These conclusions will continue to be pressed in the balance of the book.
Areas tested by Qoheleth are: wisdom (1:16-18), pleasure (2:1-3), great projects (vv. 4-6), and wealth (vv. 7-8). For the test to be valid Qoheleth denied himself nothing (v. 10). At the end of the test, looking back, he concludes that he has found no ultimate meaning under the sun in any of his efforts (v. 11). There is no advantage to being wise since the same fate of extinction befalls the wise as befalls the fool (vv. 13-16). Not only did Qoheleth hate life because of his common fate but also because all that he had toiled for would be left to his successor, whether wise or foolish (vv. 17-23).
Given these realities of human existence, emphasis is to be placed not upon the outcome of the work, but upon its performance. That is where satisfaction is to be found (2:24-25). It is the sinner who is occupied with gathering and storing up wealth (v. 26). The word sinner here is not used so much in a moral sense as in a pragmatic sense, indicating one whose focus in on the outcome of work rather than on its performance. Such an emphasis is tantamount to chasing the wind (v. 26).