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Ecclesiastes 10:12-14

Words and Works of Wise Men and Fools

10:12 The words of a wise person 1  win him 2  favor, 3 

but the words 4  of a fool are self-destructive. 5 

10:13 At the beginning his words 6  are foolish

and at the end 7  his talk 8  is wicked madness, 9 

10:14 yet a fool keeps on babbling. 10 

No one knows what will happen;

who can tell him what will happen in the future? 11 

1 tn Heb “of a wise man’s mouth.”

2 tn The phrase “win him” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

3 tn Or “are gracious.” The antithetical parallelism suggests that חֵן (khen) does not denote “gracious character” but “[gain] favor” (e.g., Gen 39:21; Exod 3:21; 11:3; 12:36; Prov 3:4, 34; 13:15; 22:1; 28:23; Eccl 9:11); cf. HALOT 332 s.v. חֵן 2; BDB 336 s.v. חֵן 2. The LXX, on the other hand, rendered חֶן with χάρις (caris, “gracious”). The English versions are divided: “are gracious” (KJV, YLT, ASV, NASB, NIV) and “win him favor” (NEB, RSV, NRSV, NAB, MLB, NJPS, Moffatt).

4 tn Heb “lips.”

5 tn Heb “consume him”; or “engulf him.” The verb I בלע (“to swallow”) creates a striking wordplay on the homonymic root II בלע (“to speak eloquently”; HALOT 134-35 s.v בלע). Rather than speaking eloquently (II בלע, “to speak eloquently”), the fool utters words that are self-destructive (I בלע, “to swallow, engulf”).

6 tn Heb “the words of his mouth.”

7 sn The terms “beginning” and “end” form a merism, a figure of speech in which two opposites are contrasted to indicate totality (e.g., Deut 6:7; Ps 139:8; Eccl 3:2-8). The words of a fool are madness from “start to finish.”

8 tn Heb “his mouth.”

9 tn Heb “madness of evil.”

10 tn Heb “and the fool multiplies words.” This line is best taken as the third line of a tricola encompassing 10:13-14a (NASB, NRSV, NJPS, Moffatt) rather than the first line of a tricola encompassing 10:14 (KJV, NEB, RSV, NAB, ASV, NIV). Several versions capture the sense of this line well: “a fool prates on and on” (Moffatt) and “Yet the fool talks and talks!” (NJPS).

11 tn Heb “after him”; or “after he [dies].”

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