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Ecclesiastes 2:1

Futility of Self-Indulgent Pleasure
I thought to myself, 1 

2:1 “Come now, 2  I will try 3  self-indulgent pleasure 4  to see 5  if it is worthwhile.” 6 

But I found 7  that it also is futile. 8 

Ecclesiastes 2:3


2:3 I thought deeply 9  about the effects of 10  indulging 11  myself 12  with wine

(all the while 13  my mind was guiding me 14  with wisdom) 15 

and the effects of 16  behaving foolishly, 17 

so that 18  I might discover what is profitable 19 

for people 20  to do on earth 21  during the few days 22  of their lives.

1 tn Heb “I said, I, in my heart” (אָמַרְתִּי אֲנִי בְּלִבִּי, ’amartiani bÿlibbi). The term “heart” (לֵב, lev) is a synecdoche of part (“heart”) for the whole (the whole person), and thus means “I said to myself” (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 648).

2 tn The Hebrew verb לְכָה (lÿkhah, “Come!”) is a weakened imperative, used merely as an introductory word, e.g., Gen 19:32; 31:44; Judg 19:11; 1 Sam 9:9-10; 11:14; 2 Kgs 3:7; Ps 66:5; Song 7:12; Isa 1:18; 2:3; Mic 4:2 (HALOT 246 s.v. הָלַךְ 2; BDB 234 s.v. הָלַךְ I.5.f.2). Whenever לְכָה introduces an exhortation, it functions as an invitation to the audience to adopt a course of action that will be beneficial to the addressee or mutually beneficial to both the speaker and the addressee. Here, Qoheleth personifies his “heart” (לִבִּי, libbi) and addresses himself. The examination of self-indulgent pleasure is designed to be beneficial to Qoheleth.

3 tn Or “test.” The cohortative אֲנַסְּכָה (’anassÿkhah) emphasizes the resolve of the speaker. The term נָסַה (nasah, “to test”) means “to conduct a test,” that is, to conduct an experiment (Judg 6:39; Eccl 2:1; 7:23; Dan 1:12, 14; see HALOT 702 s.v. נסה 3; BDB 650 s.v. נָסָה 1). The verb נָסַה is often used as a synonym with בָּחַן (bakhan, “to examine”; BDB 103 s.v. בָּחַן and 650 s.v. נָסָה 1) and לָדַעַת (ladaat, “to ascertain”; Deut 8:2).

4 tn Heb “I will test you with pleasure.” The term שִׂמְחַה (simkhah, “pleasure”) has a two-fold range of meanings: (1) it can refer to the legitimate enjoyment of life that Qoheleth affirms is good (5:17; 8:15; 9:7; 11:8, 9) and that God gives to those who please him (2:26; 5:19); or (2) it can refer to foolish pleasure, self-indulgent, frivolous merrymaking (2:1, 2; 7:4). The parallelism in 2:2 between שִׂמְחַה and שְׂחוֹק (sÿkhoq, “laughter, frivolous merrymaking”), which always appears in the context of banqueting, drinking, and merrymaking, suggests that the pejorative sense is in view in this context.

sn The statement I will try self-indulgent pleasure is a figurative expression known as metonymy of association. As 2:1-3 makes clear, it is not so much Qoheleth who is put to the test with pleasure, but rather that pleasure is put to the test by Qoheleth.

5 tn Heb “See what is good!” The volitive sequence of the cohortative (אֲנַסְּכָה, ’anassÿkhah, “I will test you”) followed by vav + imperative (וּרְאֵה, urÿeh, “and see!”) denotes purpose/result: “I will test you…in order to see….” The verb רָאָה (raah, “to see”) has a broad range of meanings (e.g., in the Qal stem 16 categories are listed in HALOT 1157–1160 s.v.). In this context it means “to discover; to perceive; to discern; to understand” (HALOT 1159 s.v. ראה 13; BDB 907 s.v. רָאָה 5).

6 sn The phrase “to see what is good” (רָאָה, raah, “to see” + טוֹב, tov, “good”) is repeated twice in 2:1-3. This is the key phrase in this section of Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth sought to discover (רָאָה) whether merry-making offered any value (טוֹב) to mankind.

7 tn The particle וְהִנֵּה (vÿhinneh, literally “Behold!”) occurs after verbs of perception to introduce what was seen, understood or discovered (HALOT 252 s.v. הִנֵּה 8). It is used to make the narrative graphic and vivid, enabling the reader to enter into the surprise of the speaker (BDB 244 s.v. הִנֵּה c). This is an example of the heterosis of the deictic particle (“Behold!”) for a verb of perception (“I found”). See E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 510-34.

8 tn This use of הֶבֶל (hevel) denotes “futile, worthless, fruitless, pointless” (HALOT 237 s.v. I הֶבֶל 2; BDB 210–11 s.v. I הֶבֶל 2). It is a synonym to מְהוֹלָל (mÿholal, “folly”) in 2:2a and an antonym to טוֹב (tov, “worthwhile, beneficial”) in 2:1b and 2:3c.

9 tn Heb “In my heart I explored.” The verb תּוּר (tur, “to seek out, to spy out, to explore”) is used in the OT to describe: (1) the physical activity of “spying out” or “exploring” geographical locations (Num 13:2, 16, 17, 21, 25, 32; 14:6, 7, 34, 36, 38; Job 39:8) and (2) the mental activity of “exploring” or “examining” a course of action or the effects of an action (Eccl 1:13; 2:3; 7:25; 9:1). See BDB 1064 s.v. תּוּר 2; HALOT 1708 s.v. תּוּר. It was used as a synonym with דָרָשׁ (darash, “to study”) in 1:13: “I devoted myself to study (לִדְרוֹשׁ, lidrosh) and to explore (לָתוּר, latur).”

sn As the repetition of the term לֵב (lev, “heart” or “mind”) indicates (2:1, 3), this experiment appears to have been only an intellectual exercise or a cognitive reflection: “I said to myself (Heb “in my heart [or “mind”],” 2:1); “I explored with my mind (Heb “heart,” 2:3a); and “my mind (Heb “heart”) guiding me with wisdom” (2:3b). Qoheleth himself did not indulge in drunkenness; but he contemplated the value of self-indulgence in his mind.

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

11 tn Or “I sought to cheer my flesh with wine.” The term לִמְשׁוֹךְ (limshokh, Qal infinitive construct from מָשַׁךְ, mashakh, “to draw, pull”) functions in a complementary sense with the preceding verb תּוּר (tur “to examine”): Heb “I sought to draw out my flesh with wine” or “I [mentally] explored [the effects] of drawing out my flesh with wine.” The verb מָשַׁךְ means “to draw, to drag along, to lead” (BDB 604 s.v. מָשַׁךְ) or “to draw out; to stretch out [to full length]; to drag; to pull; to seize; to carry off; to pull; to go” (HALOT 645–46 s.v. משׁך). BDB suggests that this use be nuanced “to draw, to attract, to gratify” the flesh, that is, “to cheer” (BDB 604 s.v. מָשַׁךְ 7). While this meaning is not attested elsewhere in the OT, it is found in Mishnaic Hebrew: “to attract” (Qal), e.g., “it is different with heresy, because it attracts [i.e., persuades, offers inducements]” (b. Avodah Zarah 27b) and “to be attracted, carried away, seduced,” e.g., “he was drawn after them, he indulged in the luxuries of the palace” (b. Shabbat 147b). See Jastrow 853-54 s.v. מְשַׂךְ. Here it denotes “to stretch; to draw out [to full length],” that is, “to revive; to restore” the body (HALOT 646 s.v. משׁד [sic] 3). The statement is a metonymy of cause (i.e., indulging the flesh with wine) for effect (i.e., the effects of self-indulgence).

12 tn Heb “my flesh.” The term בְּשָׂרִי (bÿsari, “my flesh”) may function as a synecdoche of part (i.e., flesh) for the whole (i.e., whole person). See E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 642. One could translate, “I sought to cheer myself.”

13 tn The phrase “all the while” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

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

15 tn Heb “and my heart was leading along in wisdom.” The vav + noun, וְלִבִּי (vÿlibbi) introduces a disjunctive, parenthetical clause designed to qualify the speaker’s remarks lest he be misunderstood: “Now my heart/mind….” He emphasizes that he never lost control of his senses in this process. It was a purely mental, cognitive endeavor; he never actually gave himself over to wanton self-indulgence in wine or folly.

16 tn The phrase “the effects of” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

17 tn Heb “embracing folly.” The verb אָחָז (’akhaz, “to embrace”) is normally used to describe the physical action of taking hold of an object. Here is it is used metaphorically to describe a person’s choice of lifestyle, that is, adopting a particular course of moral conduct (e.g., Job 17:9); see HALOT 31–32 s.v. אחז; BDB 28 s.v. אָחַז.

18 tn Or “until.” The construction עַד אֲשֶׁר (’adasher, “until”) introduces a temporal result clause (e.g., Gen 27:44; 28:15; Num 21:35; Isa 6:11); see HALOT 787 s.v. III עַד B.b. With an imperfect verb (such as אֶרְאֶה, ’ereh, Qal imperfect first common singular from רָאָה, raah, “to see”), the compound construction עַד אֲשֶׁר usually refers to future time (Gen 27:44; 29:8; Exod 23:30; 24:14; Lev 22:4; Num 11:20; 20:17; 1 Sam 22:3; Hos 5:15), but it also rarely refers to past time (Jonah 4:5; Eccl 2:3); see BDB 725 s.v. III עַד II.1.a.b. Joüon 2:370 §113.k notes that when the compound construction עַד אֲשֶׁר is occasionally used with an imperfect depicting past action to denote a virtual nuance of purpose: “until” = “so that,” e.g., Jonah 4:5; Eccl 2:3.

19 tn Heb “I might see where is the good?” The interrogative particle אֵי (’e, “where?”) used with the demonstrative pronoun זֶה (zeh, “this”) forms an idiom: “where [then]?” (HALOT 37–38 s.v. אֵי 2.a; see, e.g., 1 Sam 9:18; 1 Kgs 13:12; 2 Kgs 3:8; Isa 50:1; 66:1; Jer 6:16; Job 28:12, 20; 38:19, 24; Esth 7:5). The phrase אֵי־זֶה טוֹב (’e-zeh tov) is an indirect question that literally means, “Where is the good?” that is, “what good?” (HALOT 38 s.v. אֵי 2.d).

20 tn Heb “the sons of man.”

21 tn Heb “under the heavens.”

22 tn Heb “number of the days.” The Hebrew noun מִסְפַּר (mispar, “number, quantity”) sometimes means “few” (e.g., Gen 34:30; Num 9:20; Deut 4:27; 33:6; Isa 10:19; Jer 44:28; Ezek 12:16; Ps 105:12; Job 16:22; 1 Chr 16:19); see HALOT 607 s.v. מִסְפָּר 2.b; BDB 709 s.v. מִסְפָּר 1.a. This phrase is an idiom that means, “during all their lives” (BDB 709 s.v.), “during their total [short] time of life,” that is, “as long as they live” (HALOT 608 s.v. מִסְפָּר 3.d). Ecclesiastes often emphasizes the brevity of life (e.g., 5:17; 6:12; 9:9). The LXX rendered מִסְפַּר in a woodenly literal sense: ἀριθμόν (ariqmon, “the number [of days of their lives]”). Several English translations adopt a similar approach: “all the days of their life” (ASV, Douay) and “the number of days of their lives” (YLT). However, this idiom is handled well by a number of English translations: “during the few days of their lives” (RSV, NRSV, NASB, NIV, Moffatt, NJPS), “during the limited days of their life” (NAB), and “throughout the brief span of their lives” (NEB).

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