11:2 Divide your merchandise 1 among seven or even eight 2 investments, 3
for you do not know 4 what calamity 5 may happen on earth.
11:5 Just as you do not know the path 6 of the wind,
or how the bones form 7 in the womb of a pregnant woman, 8
so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.
11:6 Sow your seed in the morning,
and do not stop working 9 until the evening; 10
for you do not know which activity 11 will succeed 12 –
whether this one or that one, or whether both will prosper equally. 13
1 tn Heb “give a portion.”
2 tn The phrase “seven or eight” is a graded numerical saying depicting an indefinite plurality: “The collocation of a numeral with the next above it is a rhetorical device employed in numerical sayings to express a number, which need not, or cannot, be more exactly specified. It must be gathered from the context whether such formulae are intended to denote only an insignificant number (e.g., Is 17:6 “two” or at the most “three”) or a considerable number (e.g., Mi 5:4). Sometimes, however, this juxtaposition serves to express merely an indefinite total, without the collateral idea of intensifying the lower by means of the higher number” (GKC 437 §134.s). Examples: “one” or “two” (Deut 32:30; Jer 3:14; Job 33:14; 40:5; Ps 62:12); “two” or “three” (2 Kgs 9:32; Isa 17:6; Hos 6:2; Amos 4:8; Sir 23:16; 26:28; 50:25); “three” or “four” (Jer 36:23; Amos 1:3-11; Prov 21:19; 30:15, 18; Sir 26:5); “four” or “five” (Isa 17:6); “six” or “seven” (Job 5:19; Prov 6:16); “seven” or “eight” (Mic 5:4; Eccl 11:2).
3 tn The word “investments” is not in the Hebrew text; it is added here for clarity. This line is traditionally understood as an exhortation to be generous to a multitude of people (KJV, NAB, ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NIV, NJPS); however, it is better taken as shrewd advice to not commit all one’s possessions to a single venture (A. Cohen, The Five Megilloth [SoBB], 181). D. R. Glenn (“Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 1003) writes: “In view of the possibility of disaster, a person should make prudent investments in numerous ventures rather than put all his ‘eggs in one basket’ (e.g., Gen 32:7-8 for a practical example of this advice).” Several translations reflect this: “Divide your merchandise among seven ventures, eight maybe” (NEB); “Take shares in several ventures” (Moffatt).
4 sn The phrase you do not know is repeated throughout this section (11:2, 5-6). Human beings are ignorant of the future. This should motivate a person to invest their financial resources wisely (11:1-3) and to work diligently (11:4-6).
5 tn The term רעה (lit. “evil”) refers to calamity (e.g., Eccl 5:13; 7:14; 9:12).
6 tn Heb “what is the way of the wind.” Some take these words with what follows: “how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a pregnant woman.” There is debate whether הָרוּחַ מַה־דֶּרֶךְ (mah-derekh haruakh) refers to the wind (“the path of the wind”) or the human spirit of a child in the mother’s womb (“how the spirit comes”). The LXX understood it as the wind: “the way of the wind” (ἡ ὁδὸς τοῦ πνεύματος, Jh Jodos tou pneumatos); however, the Targum and Vulgate take it as the human spirit. The English versions are divided: (1) spirit: “the way of the spirit” (KJV, YLT, Douay); “the breath of life” (NAB); “how a pregnant woman comes to have…a living spirit in her womb” (NEB); “how the lifebreath passes into the limbs within the womb of the pregnant woman” (NJPS); “how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child” (RSV); “how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb” (NRSV); and (2) wind: “the way of the wind” (ASV, RSV margin); “the path of the wind” (NASB, NIV); and “how the wind blows” (MLB, Moffatt).
7 tn The term “form” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness.
8 tn Heb “the one who is full.” The feminine adjective מְלֵאָה (mÿle’ah, from מָלֵא, male’, “full”) is used as a substantive referring to a pregnant woman whose womb is filled with her infant (HALOT 584 s.v. מָלֵא 2; BDB 571 s.v. מָלֵא). This term is used in reference to a pregnant woman in later Hebrew (HALOT 584 s.v. מָלֵא). The LXX understood the term in this sense: κυοφορούσης (kuoforoushs, “pregnant woman”).
9 tn Heb “do not let your hand rest.” The Hebrew phrase “do not let your hand rest” is an idiom that means “do not stop working” or “do not be idle” (e.g., Eccl 7:18); cf. BDB 628 s.v. נוּחַ B.1. Several English versions capture the sense of the idiom well: “do not stop working” (NEB); “do not be idle” (MLB); “let not your hand be idle” (NAB); “let not your hands be idle” (NIV); “stay not your hand” (Moffatt). The term “hand” is a synecdoche of part (i.e., do not let your hand rest) for the whole person (i.e., do not allow yourself to stop working).
10 tn The terms “morning” (בֹּקֶר, boqer) and “evening” (עֶרֶב, ’erev) form a merism (a figure of speech using two polar extremes to include everything in between) that connotes “from morning until evening.” The point is not that the farmer should plant at two times in the day (morning and evening), but that he should plant all day long (from morning until evening). This merism is reflected in several translations: “in the morning…until evening” (NEB, Moffatt).
11 tn The term “activity” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness.
12 tn The verb כָּשֵׁר (kasher, “to prosper”) is used metonymically to denote “will succeed.” In 11:10, it means “skill in work.”
13 tn Or “together.”