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Ecclesiastes 1:7-8


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

and to the place where the streams flow, there they will flow again. 2 

1:8 All this 3  monotony 4  is tiresome; no one can bear 5  to describe it: 6 

The eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear ever content 7  with hearing.

1 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).

2 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.

3 tn The word “this” is not in Hebrew, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

4 tn Heb “the things.” The Hebrew term דְּבָרִים (dÿvarim, masculine plural noun from דָּבָר, davar) is often used to denote “words,” but it can also refer to actions and events (HALOT 211 s.v. דָּבָר 3.a; BDB 183 s.v. דָּבָר IV.4). Here, it means “things,” as is clear from the context: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done” (1:9). Here דְּבָרִים can be nuanced “occurrences” or even “[natural] phenomena.”

5 tn Heb “is able.”

6 tn The Hebrew text has no stated object. The translation supplies “it” for stylistic reasons and clarification.

sn The statement no one can bear to describe it probably means that Qoheleth could have multiplied examples (beyond the sun, the wind, and the streams) of the endless cycle of futile events in nature. However, no tongue could ever tell, no eye could ever see, no ear could ever hear all the examples of this continual and futile activity.

7 tn The term מָלֵא (male’, “to be filled, to be satisfied”) is repeated in 1:7-8 to draw a comparison between the futility in the cycle of nature and human secular accomplishments: lots of action, but no lasting effects. In 1:7 אֵינֶנּוּ מָלֵא (’enennu male’, “it is never filled”) describes the futility of the water cycle: “All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is never filled.” In 1:8 וְלֹא־תִמָּלֵא (vÿlo-timmale’, “it is never satisfied”) describes the futility of human labor: “the ear is never satisfied with hearing.”

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