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Ecclesiastes 5:11-16


5:11 When someone’s 1  prosperity 2  increases, those who consume it also increase;

so what does its owner 3  gain, except that he gets to see it with his eyes? 4 

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.

Materialism Thwarts Enjoyment of Life

5:13 Here is 5  a misfortune 6  on earth 7  that I have seen:

Wealth hoarded by its owner to his own misery.

5:14 Then that wealth was lost through bad luck; 8 

although he fathered a son, he has nothing left to give him. 9 

5:15 Just as he came forth from his mother's womb, naked will he return as he came,

and he will take nothing in his hand that he may carry away from his toil.

5:16 This is another misfortune: 10 

Just as he came, so will he go.

What did he gain from toiling for the wind?

1 tn The word “someone’s” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

2 tn The term טוֹבָה (tovah, “good”) connotes “prosperity” (Deut 23:7; Job 9:25; 21:25; Ps 106:5; Lam 3:17; Eccl 4:8; 5:10, 17; 6:3, 6; 7:14; 9:18; Neh 2:10; Sir 6:11; 41:13); cf. HALOT 372 s.v. טוֹבָה 2. The related term טוֹב (tov, “good”) connotes “prosperity” as well (Prov 11:10; Job 20:21; 21:16); cf. HALOT 372 s.v. טוֹבָה 1.b. Here, it refers to the possessions and wealth a person acquires as the fruit of his labors. This nuance is well reflected in several English versions: “The more a man gains, the more there are to spend it” (Moffatt); “When riches multiply, so do those who live off them” (NEB); “As his substance increase, so do those who consume it” (NJPS); and “Where there are great riches, there are also many to devour them” (NAB). The line does not describe the economic law of “supply and demand,” as some versions seem to imply, e.g., “As goods increase, so do those who consume them” (NIV); “When goods increase, those who eat them increase” (NRSV); cf. also KJV, ASV, RSV, MLB, NASB.

3 tn The form is plural in the Hebrew text, but the plural is one of intensification; it is used here to emphasize the owner’s authority over his wealth. See GKC 399 §124.i. See v 13 as well.

4 tn The rhetorical question is an example of negative affirmation, expecting a negative answer: “There is no ultimate advantage!” (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 947-48).

5 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” (e.g., 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]).

6 tn The noun רָעָה (raah, “evil”) probably means “misfortune” (HALOT 1263 s.v. רָעָה 4) or “injustice, wrong” (HALOT 1262 s.v. רָעָה 2.b). The phrase רָעָה רַבָּה (raah rabbah) connotes “grave injustice” or “great misfortune” (Eccl 2:17; 5:12, 15; 6:1; 10:5).

7 tn Heb “under the sun.”

8 tn Or “through a bad business deal.” The basic meaning of עִנְיַן (’inyan) is “business; affair” (HALOT 857 s.v. עִנְיָן) or “occupation; task” (BDB 775 s.v. עִנְיָן). The term is used in a specific sense in reference to business activity (Eccl 8:16), as well as in a more general sense in reference to events that occur on earth (Eccl 1:13; 4:8). BDB suggests that the phrase עִנְיַן רָע (’inyan ra’) in 5:13 refers to a bad business deal (BDB 775 s.v. עִנְיָן); however, HALOT suggests that it means “bad luck” (HALOT 857 s.v. עִנְיָן). The English versions reflect the same two approaches: (1) bad luck: “some misfortune” (NAB, NIV) and (2) a bad business deal: “a bad investment” (NASB), “a bad venture” (RSV, NRSV, MLB), “some unlucky venture” (Moffatt, NJPS), “an unlucky venture” (NEB), “an evil adventure” (ASV).

9 tn Heb “there is nothing in his hand.”

10 tn See the note on the phrase “depressing misfortune” in v. 13.

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