This verse, along with several before and after it, is an expression of utter emptiness and negativity. The author is Solomon. If the readers continue further into Ecclesiastes they will discover that Solomon not only expressed how empty the world is; but, also that satisfaction comes only from knowing the Lord. Earlier in Solomon's life, God asked him what he gift he would like. Solomon answered that he would like to have wisdom. God was so pleased at Solomon's answer that He granted him not only wisdom, but also, wealth, fame, power, and prestige.
But looking back on his own life, Solomon realized that the only meaningful experience he'd had was in knowing God; all else was nothing. So Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes to teach his people that while success and prosperity are nice during our short stay on earth, they are meaningless when compared with eternal values.
In chapter 17 of Deuteronomy God gave certain commands for future kings. One such command was that each king must write a copy of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Writing the Torah included, of course, the specific "do's and don'ts" for a king of Israel. Part of this reads: "Only he shall not multiply horses to himself... Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart not turn away; neither silver and gold." (Deuteronomy 17: 16-17) But Solomon, when he wrote his copy of the Torah, changed one letter. One letter! In the original language of the Bible- Hebrew- the word was "yarbeh", meaning "he shall not multiply". But, Solomon changed it to "arbeh", which means "I will multiply". Solomon thought that he was wise enough that he could increase all these things in his life, and not give in to temptation.
|depiction of Solomon worshiping false god|
The reason God said, "Neither shall he multiply wives unto himself," was to prevent the many wives' different pagan practices from creeping into Solomon's beliefs and practices, pulling him away from the One True God. Solomon thought that his insight would prevent this... But, here is what the scriptures say: "For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart to other gods". (I Kings 11:3) To paraphrase Ecclesiastes 2:12, Solomon ended up saying: " Because I thought of myself as wiser than Torah, because I persuaded myself that I fully understood Torah, and because I thought I could change the words of Torah, all my understanding and knowledge turned out to be folly."
Nowadays we have so many evil influences in our lives... TV, movies, the news, magazines... almost all the media is telling us that sin is okay. Our legal system often seems to protect the bad guy and punish the good guy. It seems as if justice has lost out to wickedness. But we, like Solomon, need to look at the larger picture. We need to look back to Torah. God has the perfect plan, and He gave us a copy of it! We do not and can not have the vision He has... Eternity is a long time.
Are you living with eternal values in mind?