I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?” After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world. (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, NLT)
Qoheleth spent the entirety of chapter 1 describing the absurdity of life under the sun. Beginning in the second chapter, he outlined a series of experiments to verify his claim that he had left no stone unturned.
He began with his adventures in pleasure. Out of the gate we find two differing interpretations on what is actually taking place. There are some that read these verses and claim that Qoheleth has plunged headlong into a life of hedonistic behavior, while others take a more straightforward view that there was no real loss of self control. If we take the writer at his word, I see no need to enforce more on the text that is stated. He was conducting a series of experiments, beginning with laughter and then wine.
Test number one was simha, literally, “joy, gladness, or gaity.” There is nothing inherently wrong with joy and laughter. In fact, it is recommended throughout the remaining chapters of the book that people should enjoy the days of their lives spent under the sun. He discovered, however, that the pursuit of laughter and joy with the hope of profit is pointless.
As a part of his quest for pleasure he turned to the consumption of wine, which in the Old Testament is usually a symbol of joy. Qoheleth was not looking to numb his frustration with life’s absurdities. He was genuinely seeking joy and gladness. He claimed to process the use of wine while maintaining self control, and concluded that again, there is nothing to be gained from it.
It appears that Qoheleth looked around and wondered why people with less wisdom and fewer possessions were genuinely happy in life. How could they laugh when life is so ridiculous? Was it entertainment? Was it the wine? For those he observed, maybe so. But not for him. Those pathways were unsatisfactory, providing nothing more than small respites of relief.
Why is it that a child in a third world country who has nothing more than rocks and sticks to play with seem happier than a child in America with every toy at his or her disposal? That’s Qoheleth’s question.