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Ecclesiastes 1:3

Context
Futility Illustrated from Nature

1:3 What benefit 1  do people 2  get from all the effort

which 3  they expend 4  on earth? 5 

Ecclesiastes 1:13

Context

1:13 I decided 6  to carefully 7  and thoroughly examine 8 

all that has been accomplished on earth. 9 

I concluded: 10  God has given people 11  a burdensome task 12 

that keeps them 13  occupied. 14 

1 tn The term “profit” (יֹתְרוֹן, yotÿron) is used in Ecclesiastes to evaluate the ultimate benefit/effects of human activities, as is טוֹב (tov, “good, worthwhile”) as well (e.g., 2:1, 3). While some relative advantage/profit is recognized (e.g., light over darkness, and wisdom over folly), Qoheleth denies the ultimate advantage of all human endeavors (e.g., 2:11, 15).

2 tn Heb “the man.” The Hebrew term could be used here in a generic sense, referring to the typical man (hence, “a man”). However, it is more likely that the form is collective and that humankind in general is in view (note NIV “man”). Note the reference to “a generation” coming and going in the next verse, as well as v. 13, where the phrase “the sons of man” (= humankind) appears. In this case the singular pronominal suffix and singular verb later in v. 3 reflect grammatical agreement, not individuality.

3 tn The use of the relative pronoun שֶׁ (she, “which”) – rather than the more common אֲשֶׁר (’asher, “which”) – is a linguistic feature that is often used to try to date the Book of Ecclesiastes. Noting that שֶׁ is the dominant relative pronoun in Mishnaic Hebrew and that אֲשֶׁר does not appear as frequently (Jastrow 130 s.v. אֲשֶׁר), many scholars conclude that אֲשֶׁר is early and שֶׁ is late. They conclude that the use of שֶׁ in Ecclesiastes points to a late date for the book. However, as Samuel-Kings suggest, the שֶׁ versus אֲשֶׁר phenomena may simply be a dialectical issue: אֲשֶׁר is commonly used in the south, and שֶׁ in the north. The use of שֶׁ in Ecclesiastes may indicate that the book was written in a northern rather than a southern province, not that it is a late book. This is supported from related Akkadian terms which occur in texts from the same periods: אֲשֶׁר is related to asru (“place”) and שֶׁ is related to sa (“what”).

4 sn The Hebrew root עָמָל, (’amal, “toil”) is repeated here for emphasis: “What gain does anyone have in his toil with which he toils.” For all his efforts, man’s endeavors and secular achievements will not produce anything of ultimate value that will radically revolutionize anything in the world. The term “toil” is used in a pejorative sense to emphasize that the only thing that man obtains ultimately from all his efforts is weariness and exhaustion. Due to sin, mankind has been cursed with the futility of his labor that renders work a “toilsome” task (Gen 3:17-19). Although it was not yet revealed to Qoheleth, God will one day deliver the redeemed from this plight in the future kingdom when man’s labor will no longer be toilsome, but profitable, fulfilling, and enjoyable (Isa 65:17-23).

5 tn Heb “under the sun.”

sn This rhetorical question expects a negative answer: “Man has no gain in all his toil.” Ecclesiastes often uses rhetorical questions in this manner (e.g., 2:2; 3:9; 6:8, 11, 12; see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 949).

6 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.”

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

8 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).

9 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.

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

11 tn Heb “the sons of men/mankind.”

12 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).

13 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”).

14 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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