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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 2:11

Context

2:11 Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished 6 

and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, 7 

I concluded: 8  “All these 9  achievements and possessions 10  are ultimately 11  profitless 12 

like chasing the wind!

There is nothing gained 13  from them 14  on earth.” 15 

Ecclesiastes 3:9

Context
Man is Ignorant of God’s Timing

3:9 What benefit can a worker 16  gain from his toil? 17 

Ecclesiastes 5:8

Context
Government Corruption

5:8 If you see the extortion 18  of the poor,

or the perversion 19  of justice and fairness in the government, 20 

do not be astonished by the matter.

For the high official is watched by a higher official, 21 

and there are higher ones over them! 22 

Ecclesiastes 5:15

Context

5:15 Just as he came forth from his mother's womb, naked will he return as he came,

and he will take nothing in his hand that he may carry away from his toil.

Ecclesiastes 7:12

Context

7:12 For wisdom provides 23  protection, 24 

just as 25  money provides protection. 26 

But the advantage of knowledge is this:

Wisdom preserves the life 27  of its owner.

Ecclesiastes 10:10

Context

10:10 If an iron axhead 28  is blunt and a workman 29  does not sharpen 30  its edge, 31 

he must exert a great deal of effort; 32 

so wisdom has the advantage of giving success.

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 “all my works that my hands had done.”

7 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.

8 tn Heb “Behold!”

9 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.

10 tn The phrase “achievements and possessions” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in translation for clarity.

11 tn The term “ultimately” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

12 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.

13 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.

14 tn The phrase “from them” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

15 tn Heb “under the sun.”

16 tn The term הָעוֹשֶׂה (haoseh, article + Qal active participle ms from עָשַׂה, ’asah, “to do”) functions substantively (“the worker”); see BDB 794 s.v. עָשַׂה II.1. This is a figurative description of man (metonymy of association), and plays on the repetition of עָשַׂה (verb: “to do,” noun: “work”) throughout the passage. In the light of God’s orchestration of human affairs, man’s efforts cannot change anything. It refers to man in general with the article functioning in a generic sense (see IBHS 244-45 §13.5.1f; Joüon 2:511 §137.m).

17 sn This rhetorical question is an example of negative affirmation, expecting a negative answer: “Man gains nothing from his toil!” (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 949-51). Any advantage that man might gain from his toil is nullified by his ignorance of divine providence.

18 tn Alternately, “oppression.” The term עֹשֶׁק (’osheq) has a basic two-fold range of meaning: (1) “oppression; brutality” (e.g., Isa 54:14); and (2) “extortion” (e.g., Ps 62:11); see HALOT 897 s.v. עֹשֶׁק; BDB 799 s.v. עֹשֶׁק. The LXX understands the term as “oppression,” as the translation συκοφαντίαν (sukofantian, “oppression”) indicates. Likewise, HALOT 897 s.v. עֹשֶׁק 1 classifies this usage as “oppression” against the poor. However, the context of 5:8-9 [7-8 HT] focuses on corrupt government officials robbing people of the fruit of their labor through extortion and the perversion of justice.

19 tn Heb “robbery.” The noun גֵזֶל (gezel, “robbery”) refers to the wrestling away of righteousness or the perversion of justice (HALOT 186 s.v. גֵּזֶל). The related forms of the root גזל mean “to rob; to loot” (HALOT 186 s.v. גֵּזֶל). The term “robbery” is used as a figure for the perversion of justice (hypocatastasis): just as a thief robs his victims through physical violence, so corrupt government officials “rob” the poor through the perversion of justice.

20 tn Heb “in the province.”

21 tn The word “official” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

22 sn And there are higher ones over them! This may describe a corrupt system of government in which each level of hierarchy exploits its subordinates, all the way down to the peasants: “Set in authority over the people is an official who enriches himself at their expense; he is watched by a more authoritative governor who also has his share of the spoils; and above them are other officers of the State who likewise have to be satisfied”; see A. Cohen, The Five Megilloth (SoBB), 141.

23 tn Heb “wisdom is a shade.” When used with a predicate nominative in a verbless clause, the preposition בְּ (bet) which appears twice in the line בְּצֵל הַחָכְמָה בְּצֵל הַכָּסֶף (bÿtsel hakhokhmah bÿtsel hakkasef) denotes identity, the so-called bet of essence (HALOT 104 s.v. בְּ 3; BDB 88 s.v. בְּ 1.7; see also R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 45, §249).

24 tn The term צֵל (tsel, “shade, shadow”) refers to that which provides protection or a shelter from the sun (Gen 19:8; Judg 9:36; Isa 25:5; 32:2; Jer 48:45; Jonah 4:5). It is used often in a figurative sense (hypocatastasis) to connote “protection” from calamity (Num 14:9; Isa 49:2; Hos 14:8; Pss 17:8; 36:8; 57:2; 63:8; 91:1; 121:5; Lam 4:20).

25 tn The phrase “just as” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness and clarity.

26 tn Heb “Wisdom is a shade, money is a shade.” The repetition of בְּצֵל (bÿtsel, “shade; protection”) suggests that the A-line and B-line function as comparisons. Thus the Hebrew phrases “Wisdom is a shade, money is a shade” may be nuanced, “Wisdom [provides] protection [just as] money [provides] protection.” This approach is adopted by several translations: “wisdom is a defense, as money is a defense” (ASV), “wisdom is protection just as money is protection” (NASB), “wisdom like wealth is a defense” (Moffatt), “the protection of wisdom is as the protection of money” (NAB), “the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money” (RSV, NRSV), “wisdom protects as wealth protects” (MLB), and “wisdom is a shelter, as money is a shelter” (NIV). The comparison is missed by KJV: “wisdom is a defense, and money is a defense.” Less likely is taking בְּ (bet) in a locative sense: “to be in the shelter of wisdom is to be in the shelter of money” (NJPS).

27 tn The verb חָיָה (khayah, “to live”) in the Piel denotes (1) “to let live; to keep alive; to preserve alive; to allow to live happily” (Gen 12:12; Exod 1:17; Num 31:15; Deut 6:24; Josh 9:15; Isa 7:21; Jer 49:11) and (2) “to bring back to life” persons who are ill (Ps 30:4) or deceased (Hos 6:2); HALOT 309 s.v. חָיָה. Its parallelism with צֵל (tsel, “protection”) indicates that it means “to preserve someone’s life” from premature death or calamity. Therefore, “preserves the life” (RSV, NAB, ASV, NASB, NIV, NJPS) is preferable to “gives life to” (KJV, Douay, NRSV, YLT).

28 tn The term “ax head” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity. The preceding noun “iron” functions as a metonymy of material (i.e., iron) for the object with which it is associated (i.e., ax head).

29 tn Heb “he”; the referent (the workman) is implied, and has been specified in the translation for clarity

30 tn The verb קלל in the Pilpel means “to sharpen; to make a blade sharp” (HALOT 1104 s.v. קלל 1).This denominative verb is derived from the rare noun II קָלַל “smooth; shiny” (referring to bronze; Ezek 1:7; Dan 10:6; HALOT 1105 s.v.). Sharpening the blade or head of a bronze ax will make it smooth and shiny. It is not derived from I קָלַל (qalal) “to treat light” or the noun I קְלָלָה (qÿlalah) “curse.” Nor is it related to I קָלַל “to shake” (Ezek 21:26); cf. HALOT 1104. BDB 886 s.v. קָלַל 2 erroneously relates it to I קָלַל, suggesting “to whet” or “to move quickly to and fro.”

31 tn Heb “face.”

32 tn Heb “strength.” The term וַחֲיָלִים (vakhayalim, conjunction + plural noun from חַיִל, khayil, “strength; efficiency”) is an example of a plural of intensification (GKC 397-98 §124.e). The point is that it is a waste of a great deal of strength and energy. If a person is not smart, he will have to use a lot of energy and waste his efficiency.



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