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Ecclesiastes 3:18-22

Context

3:18 I also thought to myself, “It is 1  for the sake of people, 2 

so God can clearly 3  show 4  them that they are like animals.

3:19 For the fate of humans 5  and the fate of animals are the same:

As one dies, so dies the other; both have the same breath.

There is no advantage for humans over animals,

for both are fleeting.

3:20 Both go to the same place,

both come from the dust,

and to dust both return.

3:21 Who really knows if the human spirit 6  ascends upward,

and the animal’s spirit descends into the earth?

3:22 So I perceived there is nothing better than for people 7  to enjoy their work, 8 

because that is their 9  reward;

for who can show them what the future holds? 10 

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

2 tn Heb “the sons of man.” The phrase עַל־דִּבְרַת בְּנֵי הָאָדָם (’al-divrat bÿne haadam) is handled variously: (1) introduction to the direct discourse: “I said to myself concerning the sons of men” (NASB), (2) direct discourse: “I thought, ‘As for men, God tests them’” (NIV), (3) indirect discourse: “I said in my heart concerning the estate of the sons of men” (KJV), and (4) causal conjunction: “I said, ‘[It is] for the sake of the sons of men.” Since the phrase “sons of men” is contrasted with “animals” the translation “humans” has been adopted.

3 tn The meaning of לְבָרָם (lÿvaram, preposition + Qal infinitive construct from בָּרַר, barar, + 3rd person masculine plural suffix) is debated because the root has a broad range of meanings: (1) “to test; to prove; to sift; to sort out” (e.g., Dan 11:35; 12:10); (2) “to choose; to select” (e.g., 1 Chr 7:40; 9:22; 16:41; Neh 5:18); (3) “to purge out; to purify” (e.g., Ezek 20:38; Zeph 3:9; Job 33:3); and (4) “to cleanse; to polish” (Isa 49:2; 52:11); see HALOT 163 s.v. בָּרַר; BDB 141 s.v. בָּרַר. The meanings “to prove” (Qal), as well as “to cleanse; to polish” (Qal), “to keep clean” (Niphal), and “to cleanse” (Hiphil) might suggest the meaning “to make clear” (M. A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes [TOTC], 85-86). The meaning “to make clear; to prove” is well attested in postbiblical Mishnaic Hebrew (Jastrow 197-98 s.v. בָּרַר). For example, “they make the fact as clear (bright) as a new garment” (b. Ketubbot 46a) and “the claimant must offer clear evidence” (b. Sanhedrin 23b). The point would be that God allows human injustice to exist in the world in order to make it clear to mankind that they are essentially no better than the beasts. On the other hand, the LXX adopts the nuance “to judge,” while Targum and Vulgate take the nuance “to purge; to purify.” BDB 141 s.v. בָּרַר 4 suggests “to test, prove,” while HALOT 163 s.v. בָּרַר 2 prefers “to select, choose.”

4 tn The two infinitives לְבָרָם (lÿvaram, “to make it clear to them”) and וְלִרְאוֹת (vÿlirot, “and to show”) function as a verbal hendiadys (the two verbs are associated with one another to communicate a single idea). The first verb functions adverbially and the second retains its full verbal force: “to clearly show them.”

5 tn Heb “of the sons of man.”

6 tn Heb “the spirit of the sons of man.”

7 tn Heb “man.”

8 tn Heb “his works.”

9 tn Heb “his.”

10 tn Heb “what will be after him” (cf. KJV, NASB, NIV) or “afterward” (cf. NJPS).



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