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Ecclesiastes 2:12 [study!]

American Standard Version (ASV 1901) [2]
— And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what [can] the man [do] that cometh after the king? [even] that which hath been done long ago.
King James Version (KJV 1769)
— And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what [can] the man [do] that cometh after the king? [even] that which hath been already done.
New American Standard Bible (NASB ©1995)
— So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what [will] the man [do] who will come after the king [except] what has already been done?
Webster's Revision of the KJB (WEB 1833)
— And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what [can] the man [do] that cometh after the king? [even] that which hath been already done.
Darby's Translation (DBY 1890)
— And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly; for what shall the man [do] that cometh after the king?—that which hath already been done.
Rotherham's Emphasized Bible (EBR 1902)
— Thus turned, I, to look at wisdom, and madness and folly,—for what can the man [do more] who cometh after the king? [save] that which, already, men have done.
Young's Literal Translation (YLT 1898)
— And I turned to see wisdom, and madness, and folly, but what [is] the man who cometh after the king? that which [is] already—they have done it!
Douay-Rheims Challoner Revision (DR 1750)
— I passed further to behold wisdom, and errors and folly, (What is man, said I that he can follow the King his maker?)
Original King James Bible (AV 1611) [2]
— And I turned my selfe to behold wisedome, and madnesse and folly: for what can the man [doe], that commeth after the king? [euen] that which hath bene already done.
Brenton Greek Septuagint (LXX, Restored Names)
— Then I looked on to see wisdom, and madness, and folly: for who is the man who will follow after counsel, in all things where in he employs it?
Full Hebrew Names / Holy Name KJV (2008) [2] [3]
— And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what [can] the man [do] that cometh after the king? [even] that which hath been already done.

Strong's Numbers & Hebrew NamesHebrew Old TestamentColor-Code/Key Word Studies
And I x589
(0589) Complement
Contracted from H0595; I.
turned 6437
{6437} Prime
A primitive root; to turn; by implication to face, that is, appear, look, etc.
<8804> Grammar
Stem - Qal (See H8851)
Mood - Perfect (See H8816)
Count - 12562
myself to behold 7200
{7200} Prime
A primitive root; to see, literally or figuratively (in numerous applications, direct and implied, transitively, intransitively and causatively).
<8800> Grammar
Stem - Qal (See H8851)
Mood - Infinitive (See H8812)
Count - 4888
wisdom, 2451
{2451} Prime
From H2449; wisdom (in a good sense).
and madness, 1947
{1947} Prime
Feminine active participle of H1984; folly.
and folly: 5531
{5531} Prime
From H5528; silliness.
for x3588
(3588) Complement
A primitive particle (the full form of the prepositional prefix) indicating causal relations of all kinds, antecedent or consequent; (by implication) very widely used as a relative conjugation or adverb; often largely modified by other particles annexed.
what x4100
(4100) Complement
A primitive particle; properly interrogitive what? (including how?, why? and when?); but also exclamations like what! (including how!), or indefinitely what (including whatever, and even relatively that which); often used with prefixes in various adverbial or conjugational senses.
[can] the man 120
{0120} Prime
From H0119; ruddy, that is, a human being (an individual or the species, mankind, etc.).
[do] that cometh 935
{0935} Prime
A primitive root; to go or come (in a wide variety of applications).
<8799> Grammar
Stem - Qal (See H8851)
Mood - Imperfect (See H8811)
Count - 19885
(7945) Complement
For the relative H0834; used with prepositional prefix, and often followed by some pronoun affixed; on account of, what soever, which soever.
after 310
{0310} Prime
From H0309; properly the hind part; generally used as an adverb or conjugation, after (in various senses).
the king? 4428
{4428} Prime
From H4427; a king.
[even] x853
(0853) Complement
Apparently contracted from H0226 in the demonstrative sense of entity; properly self (but generally used to point out more definitely the object of a verb or preposition, even or namely).
that which x834
(0834) Complement
A primitive relative pronoun (of every gender and number); who, which, what, that; also (as adverb and conjunction) when, where, how, because, in order that, etc.
hath been already 3528
{3528} Prime
From H3527; properly extent of time, that is, a great while; hence long ago, formerly, hitherto.
done. 6213
{6213} Prime
A primitive root; to do or make, in the broadest sense and widest application.
<8804> Grammar
Stem - Qal (See H8851)
Mood - Perfect (See H8816)
Count - 12562
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary

Ecclesiastes 2:12

_ _ He had tried (worldly) wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18) and folly (foolish pleasure) (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11); he now compares them (Ecclesiastes 2:12) and finds that while (worldly) wisdom excelleth folly (Ecclesiastes 2:13, Ecclesiastes 2:14), yet the one event, death, befalls both (Ecclesiastes 2:14-16), and that thus the wealth acquired by the wise man’s “labor” may descend to a “fool” that hath not labored (Ecclesiastes 2:18, Ecclesiastes 2:19, Ecclesiastes 2:21); therefore all his labor is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:22, Ecclesiastes 2:23).

_ _ what can the man do ... already done — (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Parenthetical. A future investigator can strike nothing out “new,” so as to draw a different conclusion from what I draw by comparing “wisdom and madness.” Holden, with less ellipsis, translates, “What, O man, shall come after the king?” etc. Better, Grotius, “What man can come after (compete with) the king in the things which are done?” None ever can have the same means of testing what all earthly things can do towards satisfying the soul; namely, worldly wisdom, science, riches, power, longevity, all combined.

Matthew Henry's Commentary

Ecclesiastes 2:12-16

_ _ Solomon having tried what satisfaction was to be had in learning first, and then in the pleasures of sense, and having also put both together, here compares them one with another and passes a judgment upon them.

_ _ I. He sets himself to consider both wisdom and folly. He had considered these before (Ecclesiastes 1:17); but lest it should be thought he was then too quick in passing a judgment upon them, he here turns himself again to behold them, to see if, upon a second view and second thoughts, he could gain more satisfaction in the search than he had done upon the first. He was sick of his pleasures, and, as nauseating them, he turned from them, that he might again apply himself to speculation; and if, upon this rehearing of the cause, the verdict be still the same, the judgment will surely be decisive; for what can the man do that comes after the king? especially such a king, who had so much of this world to make the experiment upon and so much wisdom to make it with. The baffled trial needs not be repeated. No man can expect to find more satisfaction in the world than Solomon did, nor to gain a greater insight into the principles of morality; when a man has done what he can still it is that which has been already done. Let us learn, 1. Not to indulge ourselves in a fond conceit that we can mend that which has been well done before us. Let us esteem others better than ourselves, and think how unfit we are to attempt the improvement of the performances of better heads and hands than ours, and rather own how much we are beholden to them, John 4:37, John 4:38. 2. To acquiesce in Solomon's judgment of the things of this world, and not to think of repeating the trial; for we can never think of having such advantages as he had to make the experiment nor of being able to make it with equal application of mind and so little danger to ourselves.

_ _ II. He gives the preference to wisdom far before folly. Let none mistake him, as if, when he speaks of the vanity of human literature, he designed only to amuse men with a paradox, or were about to write (as a great wit once did) Encomium moriaeA panegyric in praise of folly. No, he is maintaining sacred truths, and therefore is careful to guard against being misunderstood. I soon saw (says he) that there is an excellency in wisdom more than in folly, as much as there is in light above darkness. The pleasures of wisdom, though they suffice not to make men happy, yet vastly transcend the pleasures of wine. Wisdom enlightens the soul with surprising discoveries and necessary directions for the right government of itself; but sensuality (for that seems to be especially the folly here meant) clouds and eclipses the mind, and is as darkness to it; it puts out men's eyes, makes them to stumble in the way and wander out of it. Or, though wisdom and knowledge will not make a man happy (St Paul shows a more excellent way than gifts, and that is grace), yet it is much better to have them than to be without them, in respect of our present safety, comfort, and usefulness; for the wise man's eyes are in his head (Ecclesiastes 2:14), where they should be, ready to discover both the dangers that are to be avoided and the advantages that are to be improved; a wise man has not his reason to seek when he should use it, but looks about him and is quick-sighted, knows both where to step and where to stop; whereas the fool walks in darkness, and is ever and anon either at a loss, or at a plunge, either bewildered, that he knows not which way to go, or embarrassed, that he cannot go forward. A man that is discreet and considerate has the command of his business, and acts decently and safely, as those that walk in the day; but he that is rash, and ignorant, and sottish, is continually making blunders, running upon one precipice or other; his projects, his bargains, are all foolish, and ruin his affairs. Therefore get wisdom, get understanding.

_ _ III. Yet he maintains that, in respect of lasting happiness and satisfaction, the wisdom of this world gives a man very little advantage; for, 1. Wise men and fools fare alike. “It is true the wise man has very much the advantage of the fool in respect of foresight and insight, and yet the greatest probabilities do so often come short of success that I myself perceived, by my own experience, that one event happens to them all (Ecclesiastes 2:14); those that are most cautious of their health are as soon sick as those that are most careless of it, and the most suspicious are imposed upon.” David had observed that wise men die, and are involved in the same common calamity with the fool and the brutish person, Psalms 49:12. See Ecclesiastes 9:11. Nay, it has of old been observed that Fortune favours fools, and that half-witted men often thrive most, while the greatest projectors forecast worst for themselves. The same sickness, the same sword, devours wise men and fools. Solomon applies this mortifying observation to himself (Ecclesiastes 2:15), that though he was a wise man, he might not glory in his wisdom; I said to my heart, when it began to be proud or secure, As it happens to the fool, so it happens to me, even to me; for thus emphatically it is expressed in the original: “So, as for me, it happens to me. Am I rich? So is many a Nabal that fares as sumptuously as I do. Is a foolish man sick, does he get a fall? So do I, even I; and neither my wealth nor my wisdom will be my security. And why was I then more wise? Why should I take so much pains to get wisdom, when, as to this life, it will stand me in so little stead? Then I said in my heart that this also is vanity.” Some make this a correction of what was said before, like that (Psalms 77:10), “I said, This is my infirmity; it is my folly to think that wise men and fools are upon a level;” but really they seem to be so, in respect of the event, and therefore it is rather a confirmation of what he had before said, That a man may be a profound philosopher and politician and yet not be a happy man. 2. Wise men and fools are forgotten alike (Ecclesiastes 2:16): There is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool. It is promised to the righteous that they shall be had in everlasting remembrance, and their memory shall be blessed, and they shall shortly shine as the stars; but there is no such promise made concerning the wisdom of this world, that that shall perpetuate men's names, for those names only are perpetuated that are written in heaven, and otherwise the names of this world's wise men are written with those of its fools in the dust. That which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. What was much talked of in one generation is, in the next, as if it had never been. New persons and new things jostle out the very remembrance of the old, which in a little time are looked upon with contempt and at length quite buried in oblivion. Where is the wise? Where is the disputer of this world? 1 Corinthians 1:20. And it is upon this account that he asks, How dies the wise man? As the fool. Between the death of a godly and a wicked man there is a great difference, but not between the death of a wise man and a fool; the fool is buried and forgotten (Ecclesiastes 8:10), and no one remembered the poor man that by his wisdom delivered the city (Ecclesiastes 9:15); so that to both the grave is a land of forgetfulness; and wise and learned men, when they have been awhile there out of sight, grow out of mind, a new generation arises that knew them not.

John Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Ecclesiastes 2:12

I turned — Being frustrated of my hopes in pleasure, I returned to a second consideration of my first choice, to see whether there was not more satisfaction to be gotten from wisdom, than I discovered at my first view. Done — As by others, so especially by myself. They can make no new discoveries as to this point. They can make no more of the pleasures of sense than I have done. Let me then try once more, whether wisdom can give happiness.

Geneva Bible Translation Notes

Ecclesiastes 2:12

And I turned myself to behold (h) wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what [can] the man [do] that cometh after the king? [even] that which hath been already done.

(h) I thought to myself whether it was better to follow wisdom, or my own affections and pleasures, which he calls madness.

Cross-Reference Topical ResearchStrong's Concordance
I turned:

Ecclesiastes 1:17 And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
Ecclesiastes 7:25 I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason [of things], and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness [and] madness:
, even that which hath already been done, or, in those things which have been already done,
Ecclesiastes 2:25 For who can eat, or who else can hasten [hereunto], more than I?
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Ec 1:17; 2:25; 7:25.

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