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Ecclesiastes 9:4-10

Better to Be Poor but Alive than Rich but Dead

9:4 But whoever is among 1  the living 2  has hope;

a live dog is better than a dead lion.

9:5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything;

they have no further reward – and even the memory of them disappears. 3 

9:6 What they loved, 4  as well as what they hated 5  and envied, 6  perished long ago,

and they no longer have a part in anything that happens on earth. 7 

Life is Brief, so Cherish its Joys

9:7 Go, eat your food 8  with joy,

and drink your wine with a happy heart,

because God has already approved your works.

9:8 Let your clothes always be white,

and do not spare precious ointment on your head.

9:9 Enjoy 9  life with your beloved wife 10  during all the days of your fleeting 11  life

that God 12  has given you on earth 13  during all your fleeting days; 14 

for that is your reward in life and in your burdensome work 15  on earth. 16 

9:10 Whatever you find to do with your hands, 17 

do it with all your might,

because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, 18 

the place where you will eventually go. 19 

1 tn The consonantal text (Kethib) has “is chosen, selected.” The translation follows the marginal reading (Qere), “is joined.” See BDB 288 s.v. חָבַר Pu.

2 tn Heb “all the living.”

3 tn Heb “for their memory is forgotten.” The pronominal suffix is an objective genitive, “memory of them.”

4 tn Heb “their love.”

5 tn Heb “their hatred.”

6 tn Heb “their envy.”

7 tn Heb “under the sun.”

8 tn Heb “your bread.”

9 tn Heb “see.”

10 tn Heb “the wife whom you love.”

11 tn As discussed in the note on the word “futile” in 1:2, the term הֶבֶל (hevel) has a wide range of meanings, and should not be translated the same in every place (see HALOT 236–37 s.v. I הֶבֶל; BDB 210–11 s.v. I הבֶל). The term is used in two basic ways in OT, literally and figuratively. The literal, concrete sense is used in reference to the wind, man’s transitory breath, evanescent vapor (Isa 57:13; Pss 62:10; 144:4; Prov 21:6; Job 7:16). In this sense, it is often a synonym for “breath; wind” (Eccl 1:14; Isa 57:13; Jer 10:14). The literal sense lent itself to the metaphorical sense. Because breath/vapor/wind is transitory and fleeting, the figurative connotation “fleeting; transitory” arose (e.g., Prov 31:30; Eccl 6:12; 7:15; 9:9; 11:10; Job 7:16). In this sense, it is parallel to “few days” and “[days] which he passes like a shadow” (Eccl 6:12). It is used in reference to youth and vigor (11:10) or life (6:12; 7:15; 9:9) which are “transitory” or “fleeting.” In this context, the most appropriate meaning is “fleeting.”

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

13 tn Heb “under the sun”

14 tc The phrase כָּל יְמֵי הֶבְלֶךָ (kol yÿme hevlekha, “all your fleeting days”) is present in the MT, but absent in the Greek versions, other medieval Hebrew mss, and the Targum. Its appearance in the MT may be due to dittography (repetition: the scribe wrote twice what should have been written once) from כָּל יְמֵי חַיֵּי הֶבְלֶךָ (kol yÿme khayye hevlekha, “all the days of your fleeting life”) which appears in the preceding line. On the other hand, its omission in the alternate textual tradition may be due to haplography (accidental omission of repeated words) with the earlier line.

15 tn Heb “in your toil in which you toil.”

16 tn Heb “under the sun.”

17 tn Heb “Whatever your hand finds to do.”

18 tn Heb “Sheol.”

19 tn Or “where you are about to go.”

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