2 1-2 I said to myself, “Come now, be merry; enjoy yourself to the full.” But I found that this, too, was futile. For it is silly to be laughing all the time; what good does it do?
3 So after a lot of thinking, I decided to try the road of drink, while still holding steadily to my course of seeking wisdom.
Next I changed my course again and followed the path of folly, so that I could experience the only happiness most men have throughout their lives.
4-6 Then I tried to find fulfillment by inaugurating a great public works program: homes, vineyards, gardens, parks, and orchards for myself, and reservoirs to hold the water to irrigate my plantations.
7-8 Next I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born within my household. I also bred great herds and flocks, more than any of the kings before me. I collected silver and gold as taxes from many kings and provinces.
In the cultural arts, I organized men’s and women’s choirs and orchestras.
And then there were my many beautiful concubines.
9 So I became greater than any of the kings in Jerusalem before me, and with it all I remained clear-eyed, so that I could evaluate all these things. 10 Anything I wanted I took and did not restrain myself from any joy. I even found great pleasure in hard work. This pleasure was, indeed, my only reward for all my labors.
11 But as I looked at everything I had tried, it was all so useless, a chasing of the wind, and there was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.
12 Now I began a study of the comparative virtues of wisdom and folly, and anyone else would come to the same conclusion I did[a]— 13-14 that wisdom is of more value than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness; for the wise man sees, while the fool is blind. And yet I noticed that there was one thing that happened to wise and foolish alike— 15 just as the fool will die, so will I. So of what value is all my wisdom? Then I realized that even wisdom is futile. 16 For the wise and fool both die, and in the days to come both will be long forgotten. 17 So now I hate life because it is all so irrational; all is foolishness, chasing the wind.
18 And I am disgusted about this—that I must leave the fruits of all my hard work to others. 19 And who can tell whether my son will be a wise man or a fool? And yet all I have will be given to him—how discouraging!
20-23 So I turned in despair from hard work as the answer to my search for satisfaction. For though I spend my life searching for wisdom, knowledge, and skill, I must leave all of it to someone who hasn’t done a day’s work in his life; he inherits all my efforts, free of charge. This is not only foolish but unfair. So what does a man get for all his hard work? Days full of sorrow and grief, and restless, bitter nights. It is all utterly ridiculous.
24-26 So I decided that there was nothing better for a man to do than to enjoy his food and drink and his job. Then I realized that even this pleasure is from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy apart from him? For God gives those who please him wisdom, knowledge, and joy; but if a sinner becomes wealthy, God takes the wealth away from him and gives it to those who please him. So here, too, we see an example of foolishly chasing the wind.
- Ecclesiastes 2:12 and anyone else would come to the same conclusion I did, literally, “for what can the man do who comes after the king?”
New International Version
Pleasures Are Meaningless
2 I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure(A) to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,”(B) I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine,(C) and embracing folly(D)—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself(E) and planted vineyards.(F) 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves(G) who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold(H) for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.(I) I acquired male and female singers,(J) and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem(K) before me.(L) In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;(M)
nothing was gained under the sun.(N)
Wisdom and Folly Are Meaningless
12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
and also madness and folly.(O)
What more can the king’s successor do
than what has already been done?(P)
13 I saw that wisdom(Q) is better than folly,(R)
just as light is better than darkness.
14 The wise have eyes in their heads,
while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
that the same fate overtakes them both.(S)
15 Then I said to myself,
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise?”(T)
I said to myself,
“This too is meaningless.”
16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;(U)
the days have already come when both have been forgotten.(V)
Like the fool, the wise too must die!(W)
Toil Is Meaningless
17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.(X) 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.(Y) 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish?(Z) Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?(AA) 23 All their days their work is grief and pain;(AB) even at night their minds do not rest.(AC) This too is meaningless.
24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink(AD) and find satisfaction in their own toil.(AE) This too, I see, is from the hand of God,(AF) 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?(AG) 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom,(AH) knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth(AI) to hand it over to the one who pleases God.(AJ) This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
- Ecclesiastes 2:8 The meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain.