5:5 It is better for you not to vow
than to vow and not pay it. 1
7:16 So do not be excessively righteous or excessively 2 wise; 3
otherwise 4 you might 5 be disappointed. 6
7:17 Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool;
otherwise 7 you might die before your time.
1 tn The word “it” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
2 tn The adjective יוֹתֵר (yoter) means “too much; excessive,” e.g., 2:15 “excessively wise” (HALOT 404 s.v. יוֹתֵר 2; BDB 452 s.v. יוֹתֵר). It is derived from the root יֶתֶר (yeter, “what is left over”; cf. HALOT 452 s.v. I יֶתֶר) and related to the verb יָתַר (yatar, Niphal “to be left over” and Hiphil “to have left over”; cf. HALOT 451-52). In 2:15 the adjective יוֹתֵר is used with the noun יִתְרוֹן (yitron, “advantage; profit”) in a wordplay or pun: The wise man has a relative “advantage” (יִתְרוֹן) over the fool (2:13-14a); however, there is no ultimate advantage because both share the same fate – death (2:14b-15a). Thus, Qoheleth’s acquisition of tremendous wisdom (1:16; 2:9) was “excessive” because it exceeded its relative advantage over folly: it could not deliver him from the same fate as the fool. He strove to obtain wisdom, yet it held no ultimate advantage. Likewise, in 7:16, Qoheleth warns that wisdom and righteous behavior do not guarantee an advantage over wickedness and folly, because the law of retribution is sometimes violated.
3 tn Heb “So do not be overly righteous and do not be overly wise.” The Hitpael verb תִּתְחַכַּם (titkhakkam, from חָכַם, khakham, “to be wise”) means “to make or show yourself wise” (HALOT 314 s.v. חכם; BDB 314 s.v. חָכַם). The Hitpael may be understood as: (1) benefactive reflexive use which refers to an action done for one’s own behalf (e.g., Gen 20:7; Josh 9:12; 1 Kgs 8:33; Job 13:27): because the law of retribution is sometimes violated, it is not wise for a person to be overly dependent upon wisdom or righteousness for his own benefit; (2) estimative-declarative reflexive which denotes esteeming or presenting oneself in a certain state, without regard to the question of truthfulness (e.g., 2 Sam 13:5; Prov 13:6; Esth 8:17): it is useless to overly esteem oneself as wise or to falsely present oneself as wiser than he really is because the law of retribution sometimes fails to reward the wise. The enigma of this line – “overly righteous and overly wise” – may be resolved by proper classification of the Hitpael stem of this verb.
4 tn Heb “Why?” The question is rhetorical.
5 tn The imperfect of שָׁמֵם (shamem) functions in a modal sense, denoting possibility: “you might be…” (see IBHS 508 §31.4e).
6 tn Or “Why should you ruin yourself?”; or “Why should you destroy yourself?” The verb שָׁמֵם (shamem) is traditionally taken as “to destroy; to ruin oneself.” For its use here HALOT 1566 s.v. שׁמם 2 has “to cause oneself ruin”; BDB 1031 s.v. שָׁמֵם 2 has “cause oneself desolation, ruin.” Most English versions take a similar approach: “Why destroy yourself?” (KJV, ASV, NEB, NRSV, MLB, NIV); “Why ruin yourself?” (NAB, NASB). However, in the Hitpolel stem the root שׁמם never means this elsewhere, but is always nuanced elsewhere as “to be appalled; to be astonished; to be dumbfounded; to be confounded; to be horrified” (e.g., Ps 143:4; Isa 59:16; 63:5; Dan 8:27); cf. BDB 1031 s.v. שָׁמֵם 1; HALOT 1566 s.v. שׁמם 1. It is taken this way in the English version of the Tanakh: “or you may be dumbfounded” (NJPS). Likewise, Cohen renders, “Why should you be overcome with amazement?” (A. Cohen, The Five Megilloth [SoBB], 154). If a person was trusting in his own righteousness or wisdom to guarantee prosperity, he might be scandalized by the exceptions to the doctrine of retribution that Qoheleth had observed in 7:15. D. R. Glenn (“Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 994) notes: “This fits in nicely with Solomon’s argument here. He urged his readers not to be over-righteous or over-wise ‘lest they be confounded or astonished.’ He meant that they should not depend on their righteousness or wisdom to guarantee God’s blessing because they might be confounded, dismayed, or disappointed like the righteous people whom Solomon had seen perishing in spite of their righteousness [in 7:15].” See GKC 149 §54.c.
7 tn Heb “Why?” The question is rhetorical.