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Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Context
Rash Vows

5:1 1 Be careful what you do 2  when you go to the temple 3  of God;

draw near to listen 4  rather than to offer a sacrifice 5  like fools, 6 

for they do not realize that they are doing wrong.

5:2 Do not be rash with your mouth or hasty in your heart to bring up a matter before God,

for God is in heaven and you are on earth!

Therefore, let your words be few.

5:3 Just as dreams come when there are many cares, 7 

so 8  the rash vow 9  of a fool occurs 10  when there are many words.

5:4 When you make a vow 11  to God, do not delay in paying it. 12 

For God 13  takes no pleasure in fools:

Pay what you vow!

5:5 It is better for you not to vow

than to vow and not pay it. 14 

5:6 Do not let your mouth cause you 15  to sin,

and do not tell the priest, 16  “It was a mistake!” 17 

Why make God angry at you 18 

so that he would destroy the work of your hands?”

5:7 Just as there is futility in many dreams,

so also in many words. 19 

Therefore, fear God!

1 sn Beginning with 5:1, the verse numbers through 5:20 in the English Bible differ by one from the verse numbers in the Hebrew text (BHS), with 5:1 ET = 4:17 HT, 5:2 ET = 5:1 HT, etc., through 5:20 ET = 5:19 HT. Beginning with 6:1 the verse numbers in the English Bible and the Hebrew Bible are again the same.

2 tn Heb “Guard your feet.” The Kethib is the plural רַגְלֶיךָ (raglekha, “your feet”), while the Qere is the singular רַגְלְךָ (raglÿkha, “your foot”), which is preserved in several medieval Hebrew mss and is reflected in the versions (LXX, Aramaic Targum, Vulgate, Syriac Peshitta). For example, the LXX reads πόδα σου (poda sou, “your foot”) which reflects רַגְלְךָ.

sn The exhortation, “Guard your feet” is an idiom for “Watch your steps,” i.e., “Be careful what you do.” This is a compound figure: “foot” is a metonymy for “step,” and “step” is a metonymy for “action” (e.g., Job 12:5; 23:11; 31:5; Pss 119:59, 101, 105; Prov 1:16; 3:23; 4:26-27; 6:18; 19:2; Isa 58:13; 59:7; Jer 14:10). For example, “I have refrained my feet from every evil way” (Ps 119:101); see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 648.

3 tn Heb “the house of God.” The term “house” (בַּיִת, bayit) is a synecdoche of general (i.e., house) for specific (i.e., temple), e.g., 1 Kgs 6:3; 7:12; 1 Chr 9:11; 2 Chr 3:8; 28:11. See E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 620.

4 tn Alternately, “to obey.” The term לִשְׁמֹעַ (lishmoa’, preposition + Qal infinitive construct from שָׁמַע, shama’, “to hear”) may be taken in one of two ways: (1) literal: “to listen” in contrast to speak or (2) figurative (metonymy of cause for effect) “to obey” in contrast to sacrifice (HALOT 1572 s.v. שׁמע 4; BDB 1033–34 s.v. שָׁמַע). The LXX took the term in the literal sense: τοῦ ἀκούειν (tou akouein, “to listen”). The English versions reflect both literal and figurative options: “obedience” (NJPS, Douay, NAB, NEB) versus “to hear [or listen]” (KJV, ASV, YLT, MLB, RSV, NASB, NIV, NRSV). The section warns against rash vows therefore, the nuance “to listen” is more appropriate: the wise man will be slow to speak and quick to listen in the presence of God; however, the fool is unrestrained and speaks rashly.

5 tn The term “sacrifice” (זֶבַח, zevakh) is the general term that refers to the thank offering and free will offering (Lev 7:12, 16). This section focuses on making vows in prayer and fulfilling them, such as the vow offering. The term “sacrifice” functions as a synecdoche of general (i.e., sacrifice) for specific (i.e., vow offering).

6 tn Heb “the fools, a sacrifice.” The term “fools” (הַכְּסִילִים, hakkÿsilim) is an adverbial accusative of comparison (e.g., GKC 375 §118.r): “rather than giving a sacrifice like fools” (מִתֵּת הַכְּסִילִים זָבַח, mittet hakkÿsilim zavakh). Contextually, the “sacrifice” is a rash vow made to God that is not fulfilled. The rash vow is referred to in 5:2 as the “voice of a fool.” Qoheleth admonishes the fool against making a rash vow that is not paid: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in paying it; for God takes no pleasure in fools: Pay what you vow! It is better for you not to vow than to vow and not pay it” (vv. 4-5 [3-4 HT]).

7 tn The term עִנְיַן (’inyan) means “business; affair; task; occupation” (HALOT 857 s.v. עִנְיָן; BDB 775 s.v. עִנְיָן). HALOT nuances עִנְיַן בְּרֹב (bÿrov ‘inyan) as “excessive activity” (HALOT 857 s.v. עִנְיָן). Here, it is used as a metonymy of cause (i.e., tasks) for effect (i.e., cares). The term is nuanced variously: (1) literal sense: “business” (KJV, ASV, YLT, NEB, RSV) and “effort” (NASB), and (2) metonymical: “cares” (NAB, NIV, NRSV), “concerns” (MLB, Douay), “worries” (Moffatt) and “brooding” (NJPS). The LXX mistakenly related עִנְיַן to the root II עָנַה (’anah) “to afflict,” and rendered it as πειρασμοῦ (peirasmou, “trial”).

8 tn The juxtaposition of the two lines joined by vav (“just as…so…”) suggests a comparison (BDB 253 s.v. ו 1.j); see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 71, §437.

9 tn Heb “voice.” The Hebrew term קוֹל (qol, “voice”) is used as a metonymy of cause (i.e., voice) for the contents (i.e., the thing said), e.g., Gen 3:17; 4:23; Exod 3:18; 4:1, 9; Deut 1:45; 21:18, 20; 1 Sam 2:25; 8:7, 9; 2 Sam 12:18); see HALOT 1084 s.v. קוֹל 4.b; BDB 877 s.v. קוֹל 3.a; also E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 545–46. Contextually, this refers to a rash vow made by a fool who made a mistake in making it because he is unable to fulfill it.

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

11 tn Heb “vow a vow.” The phrase תִּדֹּר נֶדֶר (tiddor neder, “to vow a vow”) is a Hebrew idiom in which the root נדר is repeated for emphasis. The construction is a cognate accusative (see IBHS 166-67 §10.2.1f). The verb נָדַר (nadar, “to vow”) refers to the action of making a solemn promise to the Lord to perform an action or offer a sacrifice, e.g., Lev 27:8; Num 6:21; 30:11; Deut 23:23-24; Jonah 2:10; Mal 1:14; Pss 76:12; 132:2; see HALOT 674 s.v. נדר. The noun נֶדֶר (“vow”) was a gift or offering promised to be given to the Lord (Num 30:3; Deut 12:11; 23:19; Isa 19:12; Nah 2:1 [ET 1:15]; Ps 61:6, 9); see HALOT 674–75 s.v. נֵדֶר. It usually was a sacrifice or free-will offering (Deut 12:6; Ps 66:13) that was often promised during times of pressure (Judg 11:30; 1 Sam 1:11; 2 Sam 15:7-8; Pss 22:25; 66:13; 116:14, 18; Jonah 2:9).

12 tn The term לְשַׁלְּמוֹ (lÿshallÿmo, preposition + Piel infinitive construct from שָׁלַם, shalam + 3rd person masculine singular suffix) is derived from the root שׁלם which is used in a general sense of paying a debt (2 Kgs 4:7; Ps 37:21; Prov 22:27; Job 41:3), and more specifically of fulfilling a vow to the Lord (Deut 23:22; 2 Sam 15:7; Pss 22:26; 50:14; 61:9; 66:13; 76:12; 116:14, 18; Prov 7:14; Job 22:27; Isa 19:21; Jonah 2:10; Nah 2:1); see HALOT 1535 s.v. שׁלם 3a; BDB 1022 s.v. שָׁלֵם 4. An Israelite was never required to make a vow, but once made, it had to be paid (Lev 22:18-25; 27:1-13; Num 15:2-10; Nah 1:15 [2:1 HT]).

13 tn Heb “he”; the referent (“God”) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

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

15 tn Heb “your flesh.” The term בָּשָׂר (basar, “flesh”) is a synecdoche of part (i.e., flesh) for the whole (i.e., whole person), e.g., Gen 2:21; 6:12; Ps 56:4[5]; 65:2[3]; 145:21; Isa 40:5, 6; see HALOT 164 s.v. בָּשָׂר; E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 642.

16 tc The MT reads הַמַּלְאָךְ (hammalakh, “messenger”), while the LXX reads τοῦ θεοῦ (tou qeou, “God”) which reflects an alternate textual tradition of הָאֱלֹהִים (haelohim, “God”). The textual problem was caused by orthographic confusion between similarly spelled words. The LXX might have been trying to make sense of a difficult expression. The MT is preferred as the original. All the major translations follow the MT except for Moffatt (“God”).

tn Heb “the messenger.” The term מַלְאָךְ (malakh, “messenger”) refers to a temple priest (e.g., Mal 2:7; cf. HALOT 585 s.v. מַלְאָךְ 2.b; BDB 521 s.v. מַלְאָךְ 1.c). The priests recorded what Israelite worshipers vowed (Lev 27:14-15). When an Israelite delayed in fulfilling a vow, a priest would remind him to pay what he had vowed. Although the traditional rabbinic view is that Qoheleth refers to an angelic superintendent over the temple, Rashi suggested that it is a temple-official. Translations reflect both views: “his representative” (NAB), “the temple messenger” (NIV), “the messenger” (RSV, NRSV, NASB, MLB, NJPS), “the angel” (KJV, ASV, Douay) and “the angel of God” (NEB).

17 tn The Hebrew noun שְׁגָגָה (shÿgagah) denotes “error; mistake” and refers to a sin of inadvertence or unintentional sin (e.g., Lev 4:2, 22, 27; 5:18; 22:14; Num 15:24-29; 35:11, 15; Josh 20:3, 9; Eccl 5:5; 10:5); see HALOT 1412 s.v. שְׁגָגָה; BDB 993 s.v. שְׁגָגָה. In this case, it refers to a rash vow thoughtlessly made, which the foolish worshiper claims was a mistake (e.g., Prov 20:25).

18 tn Heb “at your voice.” This is an example of metonymy (i.e., your voice) of association (i.e., you).

19 tn The syntax of this verse is difficult. Perhaps the best approach is to classify the vav on וַהֲבָלִים (vahavalim, “futilities”) as introducing the predicate (e.g., Gen 40:9; 2 Sam 23:3; Prov 10:25; Isa 34:12; Job 4:6; 36:26); BDB 255 s.v. ו 5.c.γ: “There is futility….” The phrase בְרֹב הֲלֹמוֹת (vÿrob halomot) is an adverbial modifier (“in many dreams”), as is דְבָרִים הַרְבֵּה (dÿvarim harbeh, “many words”). The vav prefixed to וּדְבָרִים (udÿvarim) and the juxtaposition of the two lines suggests a comparison: “just as…so also…” (BDB 253 s.v. ו 1.j). The English versions reflect a variety of approaches: “In the multitude of dreams and many words there are also diverse vanities” (KJV); “In the multitude of dreams there are vanities, and in many words” (ASV); “When dreams increase, empty words grow many” (RSV); “In many dreams and follies and many words” (MLB); “In the abundance of dreams both vanities and words abound” (YLT); “Where there are many dreams, there are many vanities, and words without number” (Douay); “Many dreams and words mean many a vain folly” (Moffatt); “Much dreaming leads to futility and to superfluous talk” (NJPS); “In many dreams and in many words there is emptiness” (NASB); “Much dreaming and many words are meaningless” (NIV); “With many dreams comes vanities and a multitude of words” (NRSV).



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