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Ecclesiastes 2:24-26

Context
Enjoy Work and its Benefits

2:24 There is nothing better for 1  people 2  than 3  to eat and drink,

and to find enjoyment 4  in their 5  work.

I also perceived that this ability to find enjoyment 6  comes from God. 7 

2:25 For no one 8  can eat and drink 9 

or experience joy 10  apart from him. 11 

2:26 For to the one who pleases him, 12  God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy,

but to the sinner, he gives the task of amassing 13  wealth 14 

only to give 15  it 16  to the one who pleases God.

This 17  task of the wicked 18  is futile – like chasing the wind!

1 tn The preposition בְּ (bet) on בָּאָדָם (baadam) has been taken in two ways: (1) locative with טוֹב (tov, “good”) in reference to man’s moral nature: “There is nothing [inherently] good in man.” (2) advantage with טוֹב (“good”) in reference to the enjoyment theme of 2:24-26: “There is nothing better for a man than…” (this assumes a comparative מִן, min, on מִשֶׁיֹּאכַל, misheyyokhal); see text critical note on the word “than” below). The latter is preferred for two reasons: (1) The preposition בְּ is used with a similar idiom in 3:12 in collocation with the particle phrase אִםכִּי (ki…’im, “except”): “There is nothing better…than to rejoice/be happy” (NASB, NIV). (2) The theme of 2:1-26 focuses on the futility of human toil, concluding that the only real reward that man has in his labor is to find enjoyment in it (e.g., 2:10, 24-26). The section says nothing about man’s inherent sinful nature.

2 tn Heb “man.”

3 tc The MT reads שֶׁיֹּאכַל (sheyyokhal, “that he should eat”; Qal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from אָכַל, ’akhal, “to eat,” with relative pronoun שֶׁ, she, “that”). However, the variant textual tradition of מִשֶּׁיֹּאכַל (misheyyokhal, “than he should eat” (comparative preposition מִן, min, “than” + Qal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from אָכַל “to eat”) is reflected in the LXX, Coptic, Syriac, Aramaic Targum, Old Latin, and Jerome. The textual error, an example of haplography, arose from a single writing of מ (mem) from בָּאָדָם מִשֶּׁיֹּאכַל (baadam misheyyokhal). The same idiom appears in the expanded form אִםכִּי followed by טוֹבאֵין (’en tovkiim, “there is nothing better for man than …”) in Eccl 3:12; 8:15.

4 tn Heb “to cause his soul to see good.” The idiom רָאָה טוֹב (raah tov, “to see good”) is a metonymy of association, meaning “to find enjoyment” (e.g., 3:13; 5:17; 6:6). In 3:12-13 and 5:17-18 it is in collocation and/or parallelism with בְּ (bet) + שָׂמַח (samakh, “to rejoice in,” or “to find satisfaction or pleasure in” something). Here, it is used in collocation with חוּשׁ (khush, “to enjoy”). The term נַפְשׁוֹ (nafsho, “his soul”) is a metonymy of part (i.e., soul) for the whole (i.e., whole person), e.g., Num 23:10; Judg 16:30; Pss 16:10; 35:13; 103:1 (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 640-41).

5 tn Heb “his.”

6 tn The phrase “ability to find enjoyment” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

7 tn Heb “is from the hand of God.”

sn The phrase “from the hand of God” is an anthropomorphism (depicting God, who is an invisible spirit, in the form of man with hands) or anthropopatheia (depicting God performing human-like actions). The “hand of God” is a figure often used to portray God’s sovereign providence and benevolence (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 878). The phrase “the hand of God” is often used to connote the favor or grace of God (2 Chr 30:12; Ezra 7:9; 8:18; Neh 2:8, 18; see BDB 390 s.v. יָד 1.e.2).

8 tn Heb “For who can…?” The rhetorical question is an example of negative affirmation, expecting a negative answer: “No one can!” (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 949-51).

9 tn The phrase “and drink” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for stylistic harmonization with v. 24.

10 tn The verb II חוּשׁ (khush, “to enjoy”) is a hapax legomenon which BDB defines as “to feel; to enjoy [with the senses]” on the basis of the context, and the cognates: Arabic “to feel; to perceive [by senses]”; Aramaic חושׁ “to feel pain,” and New Hebrew חושׁ “to feel pain” (BDB 301 s.v. II חֹוּשׁ). HALOT relates the Hebrew root to Akkadian havavu “to be delighted with” (HALOT 300 s.v. II חושׁ 1). The Vulgate renders this term as “to enjoy.” The Greek versions (LXX, Theodotion) and the Syriac Peshitta, however, did not understand this hapax; they rendered it as “to drink,” making some sense of the line by filling out the parallelism “to eat [and drink]” (e.g., Eccl 8:15).

11 tc The MT reads מִמֶּנִּי (mimmenni, “more than I”). However, an alternate textual tradition of מִמֶּנּוּ (mimmennu,“apart from him [= God]”) is preserved in several medieval Hebrew mss, and is reflected in most of the versions (LXX, Syriac, Syro-Hexapla, and Jerome). The textual deviation is a case of simple orthographic confusion between י (yod) and ו (vav) as frequently happened, e.g., MT צו לצו צו לצו (tsv ltsv tsv ltsv) versus 1QIsaa 28:10 צי לצי צי לצי (tsy ltsy ts ltsy); see P. K. McCarter, Jr., Textual Criticism, 47. It is difficult to determine which reading is original here. The MT forms a parenthetical clause, where Qoheleth refers to himself: no one had more of an opportunity to experience more enjoyment in life than he (e.g., 2:1-11). The alternate textual tradition is a causal clause, explaining why the ability to enjoy life is a gift from God: no one can experience enjoyment in life “apart from him,” that is, apart from “the hand of God” in 2:24. It is possible that internal evidence supports the alternate textual tradition. In 2:24-26, Qoheleth is not emphasizing his own resources to enjoy life, as he had done in 2:1-11; but that the ability to enjoy life is the gift of God. On the other hand, the Jerusalem Hebrew Bible project retains the MT reading with a “B” rating; see D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 3:570. The English versions are split on the textual problem: a few retain MT מִמֶּנִּי (“more than I”), e.g., KJV, ASV, YLT, Douay, NJPS, while others adopt the alternate reading מִמֶּנּוּ, “apart from him” (NEB, NAB, MLB, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NIV, Moffatt).

12 tn Heb “for to a man who is good before him.”

13 sn The phrase the task of amassing wealth (Heb “the task of gathering and heaping up”) implicitly compares the work of the farmer reaping his crops and storing them up in a barn, to the work of the laborer amassing wealth as the fruit of his labor. However, rather than his storehouse being safe for the future, the sinner is deprived of it.

14 tn The word “wealth” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

15 sn The three-fold repetition of the Hebrew word translated “give” in the first part of this verse creates irony: God “gives” the righteous the ability to prosper and to find enjoyment in his work; but to the wicked He “gives” the task of “giving” his wealth to the righteous.

16 tn The word “it” (an implied direct object) does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

17 tn The antecedent of the demonstrative pronoun זֶה (zeh, “this”) is debated: (1) Some refer it to the enjoyment which Qoheleth had just commended in 2:24-26. However, this is inconsistent with the enjoyment theme found elsewhere in the book. It also ignores the fact that 2:24-26 states that such enjoyment is a good gift from God. (2) Others refer it to the term “toil” (עָמָל, ’amal) which is repeated throughout 2:18-26. However, Qoheleth affirmed that if one is righteous, he can find enjoyment in his toil, even though so much of it is ultimately futile. (3) Therefore, it seems best to refer it to the grievous “task” (עִנְיָן, ’inyan) God has given to the sinner in 2:26b. Consistent with the meaning of הֶבֶל (hevel, “futile; profitless; fruitless”), 2:26b emphasizes that the “task” of the sinner is profitless: he labors hard to amass wealth, only to see the fruit of his labor given away to someone else. The righteous man’s enjoyment of his work and the fruit of his labor under the blessing of God (2:24-26a) is not included in this.

18 tn The phrase “task of the wicked” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.



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