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Ecclesiastes 4:4-5

Labor Motivated by Envy

4:4 Then I considered 1  all the skillful work 2  that is done:

Surely it is nothing more than 3  competition 4  between one person and another. 5 

This also is profitless – like 6  chasing the wind.

4:5 The fool folds his hands and does no work, 7 

so he has nothing to eat but his own flesh. 8 

1 tn Heb “saw.”

2 tn Heb “all the toil and all the skill.” This Hebrew clause (אֶת־כָּל־עָמָל וְאֵת כָּל־כִּשְׁרוֹן, ’et-kol-amal vÿet kol-kishron) is a nominal hendiadys (a figurative expression in which two independent phrases are used to connote the same thing). The second functions adverbially, modifying the first, which retains its full nominal function: “all the skillful work.”

3 tn The phrase “nothing more than” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

4 tn The noun קִנְאַה (qinah, “competition”) has a wide range of meanings: “zeal; jealousy; envy; rivalry; competition; suffering; animosity; anger; wrath” (HALOT 1110 s.v.; BDB 888 s.v.). Here, as in 9:6, it denotes “rivalry” (BDB 888 s.v. 1) or “competitive spirit” (HALOT 1110 s.v. 1.b). The LXX rendered it ζῆλος (zhlos, “envy; jealousy”). The English versions reflect this broad range: “rivalry” (NEB, NAB, NASB), “envy” (KJV, ASV, RSV, NRSV, MLB, NIV, NJPS), and “jealousy” (Moffatt).

5 tn Heb “a man and his neighbor.”

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

7 tn Heb “the fool folds his hands.” The Hebrew idiom means that he does not work (e.g., Prov 6:10; 24:33). In the translation the words “and does no work” (which do not appear in the Hebrew text) have been supplied following the idiom to clarify what is meant.

8 tn Heb “and eats his own flesh.” Most English versions render the idiom literally: “and eats/consumes his flesh” (KJV, AS, NASB, NAB, RSV, NRSV, NJPS). However, a few versions attempt to explain the idiom: “and lets life go to ruin” (Moffatt), “and wastes away” (NEB), “and ruins himself” (NIV).

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