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Ecclesiastes 1:4-7

Context

1:4 A generation comes 1  and a generation goes, 2 

but the earth remains 3  the same 4  through the ages. 5 

1:5 The sun rises 6  and the sun sets; 7 

it hurries away 8  to a place from which it rises 9  again. 10 

1:6 The wind goes to the south and circles around to the north;

round and round 11  the wind goes and on its rounds it returns. 12 

1:7 All the streams flow 13  into the sea, but the sea is not full,

and to the place where the streams flow, there they will flow again. 14 

1 tn The participle הֹלֵךְ (holekh, “to walk, to go”) emphasizes continual, durative, uninterrupted action (present universal use of participle). The root הָלַךְ (halakh) is repeated in this section (1:4a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 7c) to emphasize the continual action and constant motion of everything in nature. Despite the continual action of everything in nature, there is no completion, attainment or rest for anything. The first use of הָלַךְ is in reference to man; all subsequent usages are in reference to nature – illustrations of the futility of human endeavor. Note: All the key terms used in 1:4 to describe the futility of human endeavor are repeated in 1:5-11 as illustrations from nature. The literary monotony in 1:4-11 mirrors the actual monotony of human action that repeats itself with no real change.

2 tn The participle בָּא (ba’, “to go”) emphasizes continual, durative, uninterrupted action (present universal use of participle). The term is repeated in 1:4-5 to compare the futility of secular human accomplishments with the futile actions in nature: everything is in motion, but there is nothing new accomplished.

3 tn The participle עֹמָדֶת (’omadet, “to stand”) emphasizes a continual, durative, uninterrupted state (present universal condition). Man, despite all his secular accomplishments in all generations, makes no ultimate impact on the earth.

4 tn The term “the same” does not appear in Hebrew, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness.

5 tn The term עוֹלָם (’olam) has a wide range of meanings: (1) indefinite time: “long time, duration,” often “eternal” or “eternity”; (2) future time: “things to come”; and (3) past time: “a long time back,” that is, the dark age of prehistory (HALOT 798–99 s.v. עוֹלָם; BDB 761–63 s.v. III עלם). It may also denote an indefinite period of “continuous existence” (BDB 762 s.v. III עלם 2.b). It is used in this sense in reference to things that remain the same for long periods: the earth (Eccl 1:4), the heavens (Ps 148:6), ruined cities (Isa 25:2; 32:14), ruined lands (Jer 18:16), nations (Isa 47:7), families (Ps 49:12; Isa 14:20), the dynasty of Saul (1 Sam 13:13), the house of Eli (2 Sam 2:30), continual enmity between nations (Ezek 25:15; 35:5), the exclusion of certain nations from the assembly (Deut 23:4; Neh 13:1), a perpetual reproach (Ps 78:66).

6 tn The Hebrew text has a perfect verbal form, but it should probably be emended to the participial form, which occurs in the last line of the verse. Note as well the use of participles in vv. 4-7 to describe what typically takes place in the natural world. The participle זוֹרֵחַ (zoreakh, “to rise”) emphasizes continual, durative, uninterrupted action (present universal use of participle): the sun is continually rising (and continually setting) day after day.

7 tn Heb “the sun goes.” The participle בָּא (ba’, “to go”) emphasizes continual, durative, uninterrupted action (present universal use of participle): the sun is continually rising and continually setting day after day. The repetition of בָּא in 1:4-5 creates a comparison between the relative futility of all human endeavor (“a generation comes and a generation goes [בָּא]”) with the relative futility of the action of the sun (“the sun rises and the sun goes” [i.e., “sets,” בָּא]).

8 tn Heb “hastens” or “pants.” The verb שָׁאַף (shaaf) has a three-fold range of meanings: (1) “to gasp; to pant,” (2) “to pant after; to long for,” and (3) “to hasten; to hurry” (HALOT 1375 s.v. שׁאף; BDB 983 s.v. I שָׁאַף). The related Aramaic root שׁוף means “to be thirsty; to be parched.” The Hebrew verb is used of “gasping” for breath, like a woman in the travail of childbirth (Isa 42:14); “panting” with eagerness or desire (Job 5:5; 7:2; 36:20; Ps 119:131; Jer 2:24) or “panting” with fatigue (Jer 14:6; Eccl 1:5). Here שָׁאַף personifies the sun, panting with fatigue, as it hastens to its destination (BDB 983 s.v. I שָׁאַף 1). The participle form depicts continual, uninterrupted, durative action (present universal use). Like the sun, man – for all his efforts – never really changes anything; all he accomplishes in his toil is to wear himself out.

9 tn The verb זוֹרֵחַ (zoreakh, “to rise”) is repeated in this verse to emphasize that the sun is locked into a never changing, ever repeating monotonous cycle: rising, setting, rising, setting.

10 tn The word “again” does not appear in Hebrew, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness.

11 tn The Hebrew root סָבַב (savav, “to circle around”) is repeated four times in this verse to depict the wind’s continual motion: “The wind circles around (סוֹבֵב, sovev)…round and round (סוֹבֵב סֹבֵב)…its circuits (סְבִיבֹתָיו, sÿvivotayv).” This repetition is designed for a rhetorical purpose – to emphasize that the wind is locked into a never ending cycle. This vicious circle of monotonous action does not change anything. The participle form is used three times to emphasize continual, uninterrupted action (present universal use of participle). Despite the fact that the wind is always changing direction, nothing really new ever happens. The constant shifting of the wind cannot hide the fact that this is nothing but a repeated cycle; nothing new happens here (e.g., 1:9-10).

12 tn The use of שָׁב (shav, Qal active participle masculine singular from שׁוּב, shuv, “to return”) creates a wordplay (paronomasia) with the repetition of סָבַב (savav, “to circle around”). The participle emphasizes continual, durative, uninterrupted action (present universal use).

13 tn Heb “are going” or “are walking.” The term הֹלְכִים (holÿkhim, Qal active participle masculine plural from הָלַךְ, halakh,“to walk”) emphasizes continual, durative, uninterrupted action (present universal use of participle). This may be an example of personification; this verb is normally used in reference to the human activity of walking. Qoheleth compares the flowing of river waters to the action of walking to draw out the comparison between the actions of man (1:4) and the actions of nature (1:5-11).

14 tn Heb “there they are returning to go.” The term שָׁבִים (shavim, Qal active participle masculine plural from שׁוּב, shuv, “to return”) emphasizes the continual, durative action of the waters. The root שׁוּב is repeated in 1:6-7 to emphasize that everything in nature (e.g., wind and water) continually repeats its actions. For all of the repetition of the cycles of nature, nothing changes; all the constant motion produces nothing new.

sn This verse does not refer to the cycle of evaporation or the return of water by underground streams, as sometimes suggested. Rather, it describes the constant flow of river waters to the sea. For all the action of the water – endless repetition and water constantly in motion – there is nothing new accomplished.



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