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Ecclesiastes 1:12-13

Context
Futility of Secular Accomplishment

1:12 I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 1 

1:13 I decided 2  to carefully 3  and thoroughly examine 4 

all that has been accomplished on earth. 5 

I concluded: 6  God has given people 7  a burdensome task 8 

that keeps them 9  occupied. 10 

1 map For location see Map5 B1; Map6 F3; Map7 E2; Map8 F2; Map10 B3; JP1 F4; JP2 F4; JP3 F4; JP4 F4.

2 tn Heb “I gave my heart” or “I set my mind.” The term לִבִּי (libbi, “my heart”) is an example of synecdoche of part (heart) for the whole (myself). Qoheleth uses this figurative expression frequently in the book. On the other hand, in Hebrew mentality, the term “heart” is frequently associated with one’s thoughts and reasoning; thus, this might be a metonymy of association (heart = thoughts). The equivalent English idiom would be “I applied my mind.”

3 tn Heb “with wisdom,” that is, with careful reflection in light of principles observed by the sages.

4 tn Heb “to seek and to search out” (לִדְרוֹשׁ וְלָתוּר, lidrosh vÿlatur). This is an example of a verbal hendiadys (the use of two synonymous verbs to state a common idea in an emphatic manner). The terms are used because they are closely related synonyms; therefore, the similarities in meaning should be emphasized rather than the distinctions in meaning. The verb דָּרַשׁ (darash) means “to inquire about; to investigate; to search out; to study” (HALOT 233 s.v. דרשׁ; BDB 205 s.v. דָּרַשׁ). This verb is used literally of the physical activity of investigating a matter by examining the physical evidence and interviewing eye-witnesses (e.g., Judg 6:29; Deut 13:15; 17:4, 9; 19:18), and figuratively (hypocatastasis) of mentally investigating abstract concepts (e.g., Eccl 1:13; Isa 1:17; 16:5; Pss 111:2; 119:45). Similarly, the verb תּוּר (tur) means “to seek out, discover” (HALOT 1708 s.v. תּוּר 1.c; BDB 1064 תּוּר 2). The verb תּוּר is used literally of the physical action of exploring physical territory (Num 13:16-17; 14:6, 34-36; Job 39:8), and figuratively (hypocatastasis) of mentally exploring things (Eccl 1:13; 7:25; 9:1).

5 tn Heb “under heaven.”

sn Qoheleth states that he made a thorough investigation of everything that had been accomplished on earth. His position as king gave him access to records and contacts with people that would have been unavailable to others.

6 tn This phrase does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is added in the translation for clarity.

7 tn Heb “the sons of men/mankind.”

8 tn The phrase עִנְיַן רָע (’inyan ra’, “rotten business, grievous task”) is used only in Ecclesiastes (1:13; 2:23, 26; 3:10; 4:8; 5:2, 13; 8:16). It is parallel with הֶבֶל (hevel) “futile” in 4:8, and describes a “grave misfortune” in 5:13. The noun עִנְיַן (’inyan, “business”) refers to something that keeps a person occupied or busy: “business; affair; task; occupation” (HALOT 857 s.v. עִנְיָן; BDB 775 s.v. עִנְיָן). The related verb עָנַה (’anah) means “to be occupied, to be busy with” (with the preposition בְּ, bet), e.g., Eccl 1:13; 3:10; 5:19 (HALOT 854 s.v. III עָנָה; BDB 775 s.v. II עָנָה). The noun is from the Aramaic loanword עִנְיָנָא (’inyana’, “concern, care”). The verb is related to the Aramaic verb “to try hard,” the Arabic verb “to be busily occupied; to worry to be a matter of concern,” and the Old South Arabic root “to be troubled; to strive with” (HALOT 854 s.v. III עָנָה). The phrase עִנְיַן רָע is treated creatively by English translations: “sore travail” (KJV, ASV), “sad travail” (YLT), “painful occupation” (Douay), “sorry business” (NEB), “sorry task” (Moffatt), “thankless task” (NAB), “grievous task” (NASB), “trying task” (MLB), “unhappy business” (RSV, NRSV, NJPS), and “heavy burden” (NIV).

9 tn The syntax of this line in Hebrew is intentionally redundant, e.g. (literally), “It is a grievous task [or “unpleasant business”] that God has given to the sons of man to be occupied with it.” The referent of the third masculine singular suffix on לַעֲנוֹת בּוֹ (laanot bo, “to be occupied with it”) is עִנְיַן רָע (’inyan ra’, “a grievous task, a rotten business”).

10 tn Or “that keeps them occupied” or “that busies them.” The verb II עָנַה (’anah, “to be occupied with”) is related to the noun עִנְיַן (’inyan, “business, task, occupation”) which also occurs in this verse. The verb עָנַה means “to be occupied, to be busy with” (with the preposition בְּ, bet), e.g., Eccl 1:13; 3:10; 5:19 (HALOT 854 s.v. III עָנָה; BDB 775 s.v. עָנָה). The Hebrew verb is related to the Aramaic verb “to try hard,” the Arabic verb “to be busily occupied; to worry; to be a matter of concern,” and the Old South Arabic root “to be troubled; to strive with” (HALOT 854).



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