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Ecclesiastes 2:18-23

Context
Futility of Being a Workaholic

2:18 So I loathed all the fruit of 1  my effort, 2 

for which I worked so hard 3  on earth, 4 

because 5  I must leave it 6  behind 7  in the hands of my successor. 8 

2:19 Who knows if he will be a wise man or a fool?

Yet 9  he will be master over all the fruit of 10  my labor 11 

for which I worked so wisely 12  on earth! 13 

This also is futile!

2:20 So I began to despair 14  about all the fruit of 15  my labor 16 

for which I worked so hard 17  on earth. 18 

2:21 For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge, and skill;

however, he must hand over 19  the fruit of his labor 20  as an inheritance 21 

to someone else who did not work for it.

This also is futile, and an awful injustice! 22 

Painful Days and Restless Nights

2:22 What does a man acquire from all his labor

and from the anxiety that accompanies his toil on earth? 23 

2:23 For all day long 24  his work produces pain and frustration, 25 

and even at night his mind cannot relax! 26 

This also is futile!

1 tn The phrase “the fruit of” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity (see the following note on the phrase “hard labor”).

2 tn Heb “I hated all my toil for which I had toiled.” The term עֲמָלִי (’amali, “my toil”) is repeated throughout 2:18-21. In each case, it functions as a metonymy of cause (i.e., toil) for effect (i.e., fruit of labor). See, e.g., Ps 105:44; BDB 765 s.v עָמַל 3. The metonymy is indicated by several factors: (1) The 3rd person masculine singular suffix (“it”) on אַנִּיחֶנּוּ (’annikhennu, “I must leave it”) in 2:18, and on יִתְּנֶנּוּ (yittÿnennu, “I must give it”) in 2:21 refer to his wealth, that is, the fruit of his labor. (2) In 2:21 the 3rd person masculine singular suffix on שֶׁלֹּא עָמַל־בּוֹ (shello’ ’amal-bo, “who did not work for it”) refers to the inheritance that Qoheleth must turn over to his successor, namely, the fruit of his labor. (3) While he himself enjoyed the fruit of his labor, he despaired that he had to turn the fruit of his labor over to his successor: “So I loathed all the [fruit of] my labor” (2:18a) and “I began to despair about the [fruit of] my labor” (2:20a). Although most translations render עֲמָלִי as “my toil” in 2:18, the metonymy is recognized by several English translations: “So I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored” (NASB); “So I detested all the fruits of my labor” (NAB); “I hated all the things I had toiled for” (NIV); and “So I loathed all the wealth that I was gaining” (NJPS).

3 tn Qoheleth uses an internal cognate accusative construction (accusative noun and verb from the same root) for emphasis: עֲמָלִי שֶׁאֲנִי עָמֵל (’amali sheaniamel, “my toil for which I had toiled”). See IBHS 167 §10.2.1g.

4 tn Heb “under the sun.”

5 tn The relative pronoun שֶׁ (she) on שֶׁאַנִּיחֶנּוּ (sheannikhennu, relative pronoun שֶׁ + Hiphil imperfect 1st person common singular from נוּחַ, nuakh, “to leave” + 3rd person masculine singular suffix) is causal: “Because I must leave it behind.”

6 tn The 3rd person masculine singular suffix on אַנִּיחֶנּוּ (’annikhennu, “I must leave it”) refers to Qoheleth’s wealth, that is, the fruit of his labor (see the note on the phrase “hard labor” in 2:18). The suffix is rendered literally by nearly all translations; however, a few make its referent explicit: “I have to leave its fruits” (NEB), “I must leave them [= all the fruits of my labor]” (NAB).

7 tn The verb נוּחַ (nuakh, “to rest”) denotes “to leave [something] behind” in the hands of someone (e.g., Ps 119:121; Eccl 2:18); see HALOT 680 s.v. נוח B.2.c. The imperfect functions in a modal sense of obligation or necessity. At death, Qoheleth will be forced to pass on his entire estate and the fruit of his labors to his successor.

8 tn Heb “to a man who will come after me.”

9 tn The vav on וְיִשְׁלַט (vÿyishlat, conjunction + Qal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from שָׁלַט, shalat, “to be master”) is adversative (“yet”).

10 tn The phrase “the fruit of” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity (see the following note on the word “labor”).

11 tn Heb “my labor.” As in 2:18, the term עֲמָלִי (’amali, “my labor”) is a metonymy of cause (i.e., my labor) for effect (i.e., fruit of my labor). The metonymy is recognized by several translations: “he will control all the wealth that I gained” (NJPS); “he will have control over all the fruits of my labor” (NAB); “he will have mastery over all the fruits of my labor” (NEB); “he will have control over all the fruit of my labor” (NASB); “he will be master over all my possessions” (MLB).

12 tn An internal cognate accusative construction (accusative and verb from same root) is used for emphasis: שֶׁעָמַלְתִּי עֲמָלִי (’amali sheamalti, “my toil for which I had toiled”); see IBHS 167 §10.2.1g. The two verbs שֶׁעָמַלְתִּי וְשֶׁחָכַמְתִּי (sheamalti vÿshekhakhamti, “for which I had labored and for which I had acted wisely”) form a verbal hendiadys (two separate verbs used in association to communicate one idea): “for I had labored so wisely.” The second verb is used adverbially to modify the first verb, which functions in its full verbal sense.

13 tn Heb “under the sun.”

14 tn Heb “I turned aside to allow my heart despair.” The term לִבִּי (libbi, “my heart”) is a synecdoche of part (i.e., heart) for the whole (i.e., whole person); see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 648.

15 tn The phrase “the fruit of” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity (see the following note on the word “labor”).

16 tn Heb “all my toil.” As in 2:18-19, the term עֲמָלִי (’amali, “my labor”) is a metonymy of cause (i.e., my labor) for effect (i.e., the fruit of my labor). The metonymy is recognized by several translations: “all the fruits of my labor” (NAB); “all the fruit of my labor” (NASB); “all the gains I had made” (NJPS).

17 tn Here the author uses an internal cognate accusative construction (accusative noun and verb from the same root) for emphasis: שֶׁעָמַלְתִּי הֶעָמָל (heamal sheamalti, “the toil for which I had toiled”); see IBHS 167 §10.2.1g.

18 tn Heb “under the sun.”

19 tn Heb “he must give.” The 3rd person masculine singular suffix on יִתְּנֶנּוּ (yittÿnennu, Qal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from נָתַן, natan, “to give” + 3rd person masculine singular suffix) refers back to עֲמָלוֹ (’amalo, “his labor”) which is treated in this line as a metonymy of cause for effect, that is, “he must give it” = “he must give his labor” = “he must give the fruit of his labor.”

sn As in 2:18-19, Qoheleth laments the injustice that a person who works diligently in wisdom must one day hand over the fruit of his labor (i.e., his fortune and the care of his achievements) to his successor. There is no guarantee that one’s heir will be wise and be a good steward of this wealth, or be foolish and squander it – in which case, the former man’s entire life’s work would be in vain.

20 tn Heb “it”; the referent (“the fruit of his labor”) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

21 tn Or “he must turn over an inheritance”; or “he must turn it over, namely, an inheritance.” There are two approaches to the syntax of חֶלְקוֹ (khelqo, “his inheritance”): (1) The 3rd person masculine singular suffix is a subjective genitive: “his inheritance” = the inheritance which he must give to his heir. The referent of the 3rd person masculine singular suffix is Qoheleth in 2:21a who worked hard to amass the fortune. The noun חֵלֶק (kheleq, “inheritance”) functions as an adverbial accusative of state (GKC 372 §118.a) or a predicate accusative (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 12-13, §57): “He must give it [i.e., his fortune] as an inheritance.” (2) The 3rd person masculine singular suffix is an objective genitive: “his inheritance” = the inheritance which the heir will receive from Qoheleth. The referent of the 3rd person masculine singular suffix is the heir in 2:21b. The noun חֵלֶק (“inheritance”) functions as the accusative direct object in apposition (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 15-16, §71) to the 3rd person masculine singular suffix on יִתְּנֶנּוּ (yittÿnennu, “he must give it”; Qal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from נָתַן, natan, + 3rd person masculine singular suffix): “He must give it, namely, his inheritance, to one who did not work for it.”

22 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” (e.g., Eccl 2:17; 5:12, 15; 6:1; 10:5). It is expressed well as: “This too is…a great misfortune” (NAB, NIV, MLB) and “utterly wrong!” (NEB).

sn Verses 18-21 are arranged into two sub-units (2:18-19 and 2:20-21). Each contains a parallel structure: (1) Introductory lament: “I hated all my toil” and “I began to despair about all my toil.” (2) Reason for the lament: “I must turn over the fruit of my labor to the hands of my successor” and “he must hand over the fruit of his work as an inheritance.” (3) Description of successor: “who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?” and “he did not work for it.” (4) Concluding statement: “This also is fruitless!” and “This also is profitless and an awful injustice!”

23 tn Heb “under the sun.” The rhetorical question is an example of negative affirmation, expecting a negative answer: “Man acquires nothing” (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 949-51).

24 tn Heb “all his days.”

25 tn The syntax of this verse has been interpreted in two different ways: (1) The phrase “all his days” (כָל־יָמָיו, khol-yamayv) is the subject of a verbless clause, and the noun “pain” (מַכְאֹבִים, makhovim) is a predicate nominative or a predicate of apposition (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 15-16, §71). Likewise, the noun “his work” (עִנְיָנוֹ, ’inyano) is the subject of a second verbless clause, and the vexation” (כַעַס, khaas) is a predicate nominative: “All his days are pain, and his work is vexation.” (2) The noun “his work” (עִנְיָנוֹ) is the subject of both nouns, “pain and vexation” (וָכַעַס מַכְאֹבִים, makhovim vakhaas), which are predicate nominatives, while the phrase “all his days” (כָל־יָמָיו) is an adverbial accusative functioning temporally: “All day long, his work is pain and vexation.” The latter option is supported by the parallelism between “even at night” and “all day long.” This verse draws out an ironic contrast/comparison between his physical toil/labor during the day and his emotional anxiety at night. Even at night, he has no break!

26 tn Heb “his heart (i.e., mind) does not rest.”



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