and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, 17
like chasing the wind!
for all the benefits of wisdom 30 are futile – like chasing the wind.
This also is profitless – like 43 chasing the wind.
4:6 Better is one handful with some rest
than two hands full of toil 44 and chasing the wind.
yet future generations 47 will not rejoice in him.
This also is profitless and like 48 chasing the wind.
than for one’s heart always to crave more. 51
1 tn The phrase “by man” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
2 tn Heb “under the sun.”
3 tn As mentioned in the note on “everything” in 1:2, the term הַכֹּל (hakkol, “everything”) is often limited in reference to the specific topic at hand in the context (e.g., BDB 482 s.v. כֹּל 2). The argument of 1:12-15, like 1:3-11, focuses on secular human achievement. This is clear from the repetition of the root עָשַׂה (’asah, “do, work, accomplish, achieve”) in 1:12-13.
4 tn The phrase “he has accomplished” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
5 tn This usage of הֶבֶל (hevel) denotes “futile, profitless, fruitless” (e.g., 2 Kgs 17:15; Ps 78:33; Prov 13:11; 21:6; Eccl 1:2, 14; 2:1, 14-15; 4:8; Jer 2:5; 10:3; Lam 4:17; see HALOT 236–37 s.v. I הֶבֶל; BDB 210–11 s.v. I הֶבֶל). The term is used with the simile “like striving after the wind” (רְעוּת רוּחַ, rÿ’ut ruakh) – a graphic picture of an expenditure of effort in vain because no one can catch the wind by chasing it (e.g., 1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16; 6:9; 7:14). When used in this sense, the term is often used with the following synonyms: לְתֹהוּ (lÿtohu, “for nothing, in vain, for no reason”; Isa 49:4); רִיק (riq, “profitless; useless”; Isa 30:7; Eccl 6:11); לֹא הוֹעִיל (“worthless, profitless”; Is 30:6; 57:12; Jer 16:19); “what profit?” (מַה־יִּתְרוֹןֹ, mah-yyitron); and “no profit” (אֵין יִּתְרוֹן, en yyitron; e.g., 2:11; 3:19; 6:9). It is also used in antithesis to terms connoting value: טוֹב (tov, “good, benefit, advantage”) and יֹתְרוֹן (yotÿron, “profit, advantage, gain”). Despite everything that man has accomplished in history, it is ultimately futile because nothing on earth really changes.
6 tn Heb “striving of wind.” The word “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text; it has been added in the translation to make the comparative notion clear.
8 tn The phrase “the benefit of” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
9 tn The word “over” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
10 tn The terms שִׂכְלוּת (sikhlut, “folly”) and הוֹלֵלוֹת (holelot, “foolishness”) are synonyms. The term שִׂכְלוּת (alternate spelling of סִכְלוּת, sikhlut) refers to foolish behavior (HALOT 755 s.v. סִכְלוּת), while הוֹלֵלוֹת refers to foolish ideas and mental blindness (HALOT 242 s.v. הוֹלֵלוֹת). Qoheleth uses these terms to refer to foolish ideas and self-indulgent pleasures (e.g., Eccl 2:2-3, 12-14; 7:25; 9:3; 10:1, 6, 13).
11 tn Heb “I know.”
12 tn The term גַּם (gam, “even”) is a particle of association and emphasis (HALOT 195 s.v. גַּם).
13 tn This term does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
14 tn This term does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
15 tn Heb “striving of wind.”
16 tn Heb “all my works that my hands had done.”
17 tn Heb “and all the toil with which I had toiled in doing it.” The term עָמַל (’amal, “toil”) is repeated to emphasize the burden and weariness of the labor which Qoheleth exerted in his accomplishments.
18 tn Heb “Behold!”
19 tn The term הַכֹּל (hakkol, “everything” or “all”) must be qualified and limited in reference to the topic that is dealt with in 2:4-11. This is an example of synecdoche of general for the specific; the general term “all” is used only in reference to the topic at hand. This is clear from the repetition of כֹּל (kol, “everything”) and (“all these things”) in 2:11.
20 tn The phrase “achievements and possessions” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in translation for clarity.
21 tn The term “ultimately” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
22 tn The parallelism with יִתְרוֹן (yitron), “profit; advantage; gain”) indicates that הֶבֶל (hevel) should be nuanced as “profitless, fruitless, futile” in this context. While labor offers some relative and temporal benefits, such as material acquisitions and the enjoyment of the work of one’s hands, there is no ultimate benefit to be gained from secular human achievement.
23 tn The noun יִתְרוֹן (yitron, “profit”) has a two-fold range of meanings: (1) “what comes of [something]; result” (Eccl 1:3; 2:11; 3:9; 5:8, 15; 7:12; 10:10) and (2) “profit; advantage” (Eccl 2:13; 10:11); see HALOT 452–53 s.v. יִתְרוֹי. It is derived from the noun יֶתֶר (yeter, “what is left behind; remainder”; HALOT 452 s.v. I יֶתֶר). The related verb יָתַר (yatar) denotes “to be left over; to survive” (Niphal) and “to have left over” (Hiphil); see HALOT 451–52 s.v. יתר. When used literally, יִתְרוֹן refers to what is left over after expenses (gain or profit); when used figuratively, it refers to what is advantageous or of benefit. Though some things have relative advantage over others (e.g., light over darkness, and wisdom over folly in 2:13), there is no ultimate profit in man’s labor due to death.
24 tn The phrase “from them” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
25 tn Heb “under the sun.”
26 tn Or “I hated.”
27 tn The term הַחַיִּים (hakhayyim, “life”) functions as a metonymy of association, that is, that which is associated with life, that is, the profitlessness and futility of human secular achievement.
28 tn Heb “the deed that is done.” The root עָשָׂה (’asah, “to do”) is repeated in הַמַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנַּעֲשָׂה (hamma’aseh shenna’asah, “the deed that is done”) for emphasis. Here, the term “deed” does not refer to human accomplishment, as in 2:1-11, but to the fact of death that destroys any relative advantage of wisdom over folly (2:14a-16). Qoheleth metaphorically describes death as a “deed” that is “done” to man.
29 tn Heb “under the sun.”
30 tn Heb “all,” referring here to the relative advantage of wisdom.
31 tn Heb “for to a man who is good before him.”
32 sn The phrase the task of amassing wealth (Heb “the task of gathering and heaping up”) implicitly compares the work of the farmer reaping his crops and storing them up in a barn, to the work of the laborer amassing wealth as the fruit of his labor. However, rather than his storehouse being safe for the future, the sinner is deprived of it.
33 tn The word “wealth” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
34 sn The three-fold repetition of the Hebrew word translated “give” in the first part of this verse creates irony: God “gives” the righteous the ability to prosper and to find enjoyment in his work; but to the wicked He “gives” the task of “giving” his wealth to the righteous.
35 tn The word “it” (an implied direct object) does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
36 tn The antecedent of the demonstrative pronoun זֶה (zeh, “this”) is debated: (1) Some refer it to the enjoyment which Qoheleth had just commended in 2:24-26. However, this is inconsistent with the enjoyment theme found elsewhere in the book. It also ignores the fact that 2:24-26 states that such enjoyment is a good gift from God. (2) Others refer it to the term “toil” (עָמָל, ’amal) which is repeated throughout 2:18-26. However, Qoheleth affirmed that if one is righteous, he can find enjoyment in his toil, even though so much of it is ultimately futile. (3) Therefore, it seems best to refer it to the grievous “task” (עִנְיָן, ’inyan) God has given to the sinner in 2:26b. Consistent with the meaning of הֶבֶל (hevel, “futile; profitless; fruitless”), 2:26b emphasizes that the “task” of the sinner is profitless: he labors hard to amass wealth, only to see the fruit of his labor given away to someone else. The righteous man’s enjoyment of his work and the fruit of his labor under the blessing of God (2:24-26a) is not included in this.
37 tn The phrase “task of the wicked” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
38 tn Heb “saw.”
39 tn Heb “all the toil and all the skill.” This Hebrew clause (אֶת־כָּל־עָמָל וְאֵת כָּל־כִּשְׁרוֹן, ’et-kol-’amal vÿ’et kol-kishron) is a nominal hendiadys (a figurative expression in which two independent phrases are used to connote the same thing). The second functions adverbially, modifying the first, which retains its full nominal function: “all the skillful work.”
40 tn The phrase “nothing more than” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
41 tn The noun קִנְאַה (qin’ah, “competition”) has a wide range of meanings: “zeal; jealousy; envy; rivalry; competition; suffering; animosity; anger; wrath” (HALOT 1110 s.v.; BDB 888 s.v.). Here, as in 9:6, it denotes “rivalry” (BDB 888 s.v. 1) or “competitive spirit” (HALOT 1110 s.v. 1.b). The LXX rendered it ζῆλος (zhlos, “envy; jealousy”). The English versions reflect this broad range: “rivalry” (NEB, NAB, NASB), “envy” (KJV, ASV, RSV, NRSV, MLB, NIV, NJPS), and “jealousy” (Moffatt).
42 tn Heb “a man and his neighbor.”
43 tn The word “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
44 sn Qoheleth lists three approaches to labor: (1) the competitive workaholic in 4:4, (2) the impoverished sluggard in 4:5, and (3) the contented laborer in 4:6. The balanced approach rebukes the two extremes.
45 tn Heb “the people.” The term עַם (’am, “people”) can refer to the subjects of the king (BDB 766 s.v. עַם 2).
46 tn Heb “those who were before them.”
47 tn Heb “those coming after.” The Hebrew term הָאַחֲרוֹנִים (ha’akharonim, “those coming after”) is derived from the preposition אַחַר (’akhar, “behind”). When used in reference to time, it refers to future generations (e.g., Deut 29:21; Pss 48:14; 78:4, 6; 102:19; Job 18:20; Eccl 1:11; 4:16); cf. HALOT 36 s.v. אַחַר B.3; BDB 30 s.v. אַחַר 2.b).
48 tn The word “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
49 tn The phrase “to be content with” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
50 tn The expression מַרְאֵה עֵינַיִם (mar’eh ’enayim, “the seeing of the eyes”) is a metonymy of cause (i.e., seeing an object) for effect (i.e., being content with what the eyes can see); see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 552-54.
51 tn Heb “the roaming of the soul.” The expression מֵהֲלָךְ־נָפֶשׁ (mehalakh-nafesh, “the roaming of the soul”) is a metonymy for unfulfilled desires. The term “soul” (נֶפֶשׁ, nefesh) is used as a metonymy of association for man’s desires and appetites (BDB 660 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 5.c; 6.a). This also involves the personification of the roving appetite as “roving” (מֵהֲלָךְ); see BDB 235 s.v. הָלַךְ II.3.f; 232 I.3.
52 tn The phrase “continual longing” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
53 tn The term “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness.