2:21 For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge, and skill;
to someone else who did not work for it.
This also is futile, and an awful injustice! 4
he has no children nor siblings; 6
yet there is no end to all his toil,
and he 7 is never satisfied with riches.
This also is futile and a burdensome task! 11
5:12 The sleep of the laborer is pleasant – whether he eats little or much –
but the wealth of the rich will not allow him to sleep.
1 tn Heb “he must give.” The 3rd person masculine singular suffix on יִתְּנֶנּוּ (yittÿnennu, Qal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from נָתַן, natan, “to give” + 3rd person masculine singular suffix) refers back to עֲמָלוֹ (’amalo, “his labor”) which is treated in this line as a metonymy of cause for effect, that is, “he must give it” = “he must give his labor” = “he must give the fruit of his labor.”
sn As in 2:18-19, Qoheleth laments the injustice that a person who works diligently in wisdom must one day hand over the fruit of his labor (i.e., his fortune and the care of his achievements) to his successor. There is no guarantee that one’s heir will be wise and be a good steward of this wealth, or be foolish and squander it – in which case, the former man’s entire life’s work would be in vain.
2 tn Heb “it”; the referent (“the fruit of his labor”) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
3 tn Or “he must turn over an inheritance”; or “he must turn it over, namely, an inheritance.” There are two approaches to the syntax of חֶלְקוֹ (khelqo, “his inheritance”): (1) The 3rd person masculine singular suffix is a subjective genitive: “his inheritance” = the inheritance which he must give to his heir. The referent of the 3rd person masculine singular suffix is Qoheleth in 2:21a who worked hard to amass the fortune. The noun חֵלֶק (kheleq, “inheritance”) functions as an adverbial accusative of state (GKC 372 §118.a) or a predicate accusative (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 12-13, §57): “He must give it [i.e., his fortune] as an inheritance.” (2) The 3rd person masculine singular suffix is an objective genitive: “his inheritance” = the inheritance which the heir will receive from Qoheleth. The referent of the 3rd person masculine singular suffix is the heir in 2:21b. The noun חֵלֶק (“inheritance”) functions as the accusative direct object in apposition (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 15-16, §71) to the 3rd person masculine singular suffix on יִתְּנֶנּוּ (yittÿnennu, “he must give it”; Qal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from נָתַן, natan, + 3rd person masculine singular suffix): “He must give it, namely, his inheritance, to one who did not work for it.”
4 tn The noun רָעָה (ra’ah, “evil”) probably means “misfortune” (HALOT 1263 s.v. רָעָה 4) or “injustice; wrong” (HALOT 1262 s.v. רָעָה 2.b). The phrase רָעָה רַבָּה (ra’ah rabbah) connotes “grave injustice” or “great misfortune” (e.g., Eccl 2:17; 5:12, 15; 6:1; 10:5). It is expressed well as: “This too is…a great misfortune” (NAB, NIV, MLB) and “utterly wrong!” (NEB).
sn Verses 18-21 are arranged into two sub-units (2:18-19 and 2:20-21). Each contains a parallel structure: (1) Introductory lament: “I hated all my toil” and “I began to despair about all my toil.” (2) Reason for the lament: “I must turn over the fruit of my labor to the hands of my successor” and “he must hand over the fruit of his work as an inheritance.” (3) Description of successor: “who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?” and “he did not work for it.” (4) Concluding statement: “This also is fruitless!” and “This also is profitless and an awful injustice!”
5 tn Heb “There is one and there is not a second.”
6 tn Heb “son nor brother.” The terms “son” and “brother” are examples of synecdoche of specific (species) for the general (genus). The term “son” is put for offspring, and “brother” for siblings (e.g., Prov 10:1).
7 tn Heb “his eye.” The term “eye” is a synecdoche of part (i.e., the eye) for the whole (i.e., the whole person); see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 647.
8 tn The phrase “he laments” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity. The direct discourse (“For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?”) is not introduced with an introductory structure. As in the LXX, some translations suggest that these words are spoken by a lonely workaholic, e.g., “He says…” (NAB, NEB, ASV, NIV, NRSV). Others suggest that this is a question that he never asks himself, e.g., “Yet he never asks himself…” (KJV, RSV, MLB, YLT, Douay, NASB, Moffatt).
9 tn Heb “my soul.”
10 tn This rhetorical question is an example of negative affirmation, that is, it expects a negative answer: “No one!” (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 949-51).
11 tn The adjective רָע (ra’, “evil”) here means “misfortune” (HALOT 1263 s.v. רָעָה 4) or “injustice, wrong” (HALOT 1262 s.v. רָעָה 2.b). The phrase עִנְיַן רָע (’inyan ra’, “unhappy business; 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 עָנָה (’anah) means “to be occupied; to be busy with (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 ענה). HALOT 857 s.v. עִנְיָן renders the phrase as “unhappy business” here. The phrase עִנְיַן רָע, is treated creatively by English versions: KJV, ASV “sore travail”; YLT “sad travail”; Douay “grievous vexation”; RSV, NRSV, NJPS “unhappy business”; NEB, Moffatt “sorry business”; NIV “miserable business”; NAB “worthless task”; NASB “grievous task”; MLB “sorry situation”; NLT “depressing.”
12 tn The term יֵשׁ (yesh, “there is”) is often used in aphorisms to assert the existence of a particular situation that occurs sometimes. It may indicate that the situation is not the rule but that it does occur on occasion, and may be nuanced “sometimes” (Prov 11:24; 13:7, 23; 14:12; 16:25; 18:24; 20:15; Eccl 2:21; 4:8; 5:12; 6:1; 7:15 [2x]; 8:14 [3x]).
14 tn Heb “under the sun.”
15 tn The word “weighs” does not appear in Hebrew, but is added in the translation for smoothness.
16 tn Heb “it is great upon men.” The phrase וְרַבָּה הִיא עַל־הָאָדָם (vÿrabbah hi’ ’al-ha’adam) is taken in two basic ways: (1) commonality: “it is common among men” (KJV, MLB), “it is prevalent among men” (NASB), “that is frequent among men” (Douay). (2) oppressiveness: “it lies heavy upon men” (RSV, NRSV), “it weighs heavily upon men” (NEB, NAB, NIV), “it presses heavily on men” (Moffatt), “it is heavy upon men” (ASV), and “a grave one it is for man” (NJPS). The preposition עַל (’al, “upon”) argues against the first in favor of the second; the notion of commonality would be denoted by the preposition בְּ (bet, “among”). The singular noun אָדָם (’adam) is used as a collective, denoting “men.” The article on הָאָדָם (ha’adam) is used in a generic sense referring to humankind as a whole; the generic article is often used with a collective singular (IBHS 244 §13.5.1f).
17 tn The word “life” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness and clarity.
18 tn As is the case throughout Ecclesiastes, the term הַכֹּל (hakkol) should be nuanced “both” rather than “all.”
19 tn Heb “There is.” The term יֵשׁ (yesh, “there is”) is often used in aphorisms to assert the existence of a particular situation that occurs sometimes. It may indicate that the situation is not the rule but that it does occur on occasion, and may be nuanced “sometimes” (Prov 11:24; 13:7, 23; 14:12; 16:25; 18:24; 20:15; Eccl 2:21; 4:8; 5:12; 6:1; 7:15 [2x]; 8:14 [3x]).
20 tn Heb “perishes.”
21 tn Or “in his righteousness.” The preposition בְּ (bet) on the terms בְּצִרְקוֹ (bÿtsirqo, “his righteousness”) and בְּרָעָתוֹ (bÿra’ato, “his evil-doing”) in the following line are traditionally taken in a locative sense: “in his righteousness” and “in his wickedness” (KJV, NASB, NIV). However, it is better to take the בְּ (bet) in the adversative sense “in spite of” (e.g., Lev 26:27; Num 14:11; Deut 1:32; Isa 5:25; 9:11, 16, 20; 10:4; 16:14; 47:9; Pss 27:3; 78:32; Ezra 3:3); cf. HALOT 104 s.v. בְּ 7; BDB 90 s.v. בְּ 3.7. NJPS renders it well: “Sometimes a good man perishes in spite of his goodness, and sometimes a wicked one endures in spite of his wickedness.” In a similar vein, D. R. Glenn (“Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 993–94) writes: “The word ‘in’ in the phrases ‘in his righteousness’ and ‘in his wickedness’ can here mean ‘in spite of.’ These phrases…argue against the common view that in 7:16 Solomon was warning against legalistic or Pharisaic self-righteousness. Such would have been a sin and would have been so acknowledged by Solomon who was concerned about true exceptions to the doctrine of retribution, not supposed ones (cf. 8:10–14 where this doctrine is discussed again).”
22 tn Heb “There is.” The term יֵשׁ (yesh,“there is”) is often used in aphorisms to assert the existence of a particular situation that occurs sometimes. It may indicate that the situation is not the rule but that it does occur on occasion, and may be nuanced “sometimes” (Prov 11:24; 13:7, 23; 14:12; 16:25; 18:24; 20:15; Eccl 2:21; 4:8; 5:12; 6:1; 7:15 [2x]; 8:14 [3x]).
23 tn Heb “a wicked man endures.”