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Ecclesiastes 2:4

Context
Futility of Materialism

2:4 I increased my possessions: 1 

I built houses for myself; 2 

I planted vineyards for myself.

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

Context

2:10 I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted; 3 

I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure. 4 

So all my accomplishments gave me joy; 5 

this was my reward for all my effort. 6 

2:11 Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished 7 

and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, 8 

I concluded: 9  “All these 10  achievements and possessions 11  are ultimately 12  profitless 13 

like chasing the wind!

There is nothing gained 14  from them 15  on earth.” 16 

1 tn Or “my works”; or “my accomplishments.” The term מַעֲשָׂי (maasay, “my works”) has been handled in two basic ways: (1) great works or projects, and (2) possessions. The latter assumes a metonymy, one’s effort standing for the possessions it produces. Both interpretations are reflected in the major English translations: “works” (KJV, NEB, NAB, ASV, NASB, MLB, RSV, Douay, Moffatt), “projects” (NIV), and “possessions” (NJPS).

sn This section (2:4-11) is unified and bracketed by the repetition of the verb גָּדַל (gadal, “to increase”) which occurs at the beginning (2:4) and end (2:9), and by the repetition of the root עשה (noun: “works” and verb: “to do, make, acquire”) which occurs throughout the section (2:4, 5, 6, 8, 11).

2 sn The expression for myself is repeated eight times in 2:4-8 to emphasize that Qoheleth did not deny himself any acquisition. He indulged himself in acquiring everything he desired. His vast resources as king allowed him the unlimited opportunity to indulge himself. He could have anything his heart desired, and he did.

3 tn Heb “all which my eyes asked for, I did not withhold from them.”

4 tn Heb “I did not refuse my heart any pleasure.” The term לִבִּי (libbi, “my heart”) is a synecdoche of part (i.e., heart) for the whole (i.e., whole person); see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 648. The term is repeated twice in 2:10 for emphasis.

5 tn Heb “So my heart was joyful from all my toil.”

6 tn Heb “and this was my portion from all my toil.”

7 tn Heb “all my works that my hands had done.”

8 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.

9 tn Heb “Behold!”

10 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.

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

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

13 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.

14 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.

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

16 tn Heb “under the sun.”



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