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Ecclesiastes 10:2-3

Wisdom Can Be Nullified By the Caprice of Rulers

10:2 A wise person’s good sense protects him, 1 

but a fool’s lack of sense leaves him vulnerable. 2 

10:3 Even when a fool walks along the road he lacks sense, 3 

and shows 4  everyone what a fool he is. 5 

Ecclesiastes 10:16

The Problem with Foolish Rulers

10:16 Woe to you, O land, when your king is childish, 6 

and your princes feast in the morning!

1 tn Heb “a wise man’s heart is at his right hand.” The phrase “right hand” is a Hebrew idiom for the place of protection (e.g., Pss 16:8; 110:5; 121:5). In ancient warfare, the shield of the warrior on one’s right-hand side protected one’s right hand. Qoheleth’s point is that wisdom provides protection (e.g., Eccl 7:12).

2 tn Heb “and the heart of a fool is at his left hand.” The fool lacks the protection of wisdom which is at the right-hand side of the wise man (see note on “right hand” in the previous line). The wise man’s heart (i.e., good sense) protects him, but the fool is always getting into trouble.

3 tn Heb “he lacks his heart.”

4 tn Heb “he tells everyone.”

5 sn A fool’s lack of wisdom is obvious to everyone, even when he is engaged in the simple, ordinary actions of life.

6 tn Or “a child”; or “a servant.” The term נַעַר (naar) has a wide range of meanings (HALOT 707 s.v. נַעַר; BDB 654–55 s.v. II נַעַר). Used in reference to age, it may refer to an infant (Exod 2:6; Judg 13:5; 1 Sam 1:22; 4:21; 2 Sam 12:16), a child just weaned (1 Sam 1:24), an adolescent in puberty (1 Sam 16:11), or a young man of marriageable age (Gen 34:19; 2 Sam 14:21; 18:5, 12). Its technical or titular use denotes “servant” (Num 22:22; Judg 7:10-11; 19:3; 1 Sam 3:9; 2 Sam 16:1; 2 Kgs 4:12, 25; 19:6), “retainer; attendant; follower” (Gen 14:24; 1 Sam 25:5; 2 Sam 2:14; 2 Kgs 19:6; Isa 37:6; Job 1:15-17; Neh 4:10, 17) and “soldier” (1 Kgs 20:15-16). The parallel Ugaritic term is used in reference to physical age (lad; son; youth) and in a technical sense (guild members; servitors; soldiers); see UT 19.445. The LXX rendered it with νεώτερος (newteros, “youthful”). The English versions vary: “child,” (KJV, ASV, NASB, MLB, RSV, NRSV margin, NIV margin); “childish” (NIV margin); “servant” or “slave” (NEB, NAB, ASV margin, NRSV, NIV); and “lackey” (NJPS). When used in reference to rulers, it emphasizes incompetence, naiveté, inexperience, and immaturity (Isa 3:4, 9; 1 Kgs 3:7). This use must be understood in the light of the parallel antonym: “son of freemen” (בֶּן־חוֹרִים, ben-khorim). This suggests “servant,” that is, one who was not well trained and prepared by noble birth to ascend to the throne.

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