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Ecclesiastes 2:16-21

Context

2:16 For the wise man, like 1  the fool, will not be remembered for very long, 2 

because 3  in the days to come, both will already have been forgotten. 4 

Alas, 5  the wise man dies – just like 6  the fool!

2:17 So I loathed 7  life 8  because what

happens 9  on earth 10  seems awful to me;

for all the benefits of wisdom 11  are futile – like chasing the wind.

Futility of Being a Workaholic

2:18 So I loathed all the fruit of 12  my effort, 13 

for which I worked so hard 14  on earth, 15 

because 16  I must leave it 17  behind 18  in the hands of my successor. 19 

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

Yet 20  he will be master over all the fruit of 21  my labor 22 

for which I worked so wisely 23  on earth! 24 

This also is futile!

2:20 So I began to despair 25  about all the fruit of 26  my labor 27 

for which I worked so hard 28  on earth. 29 

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

however, he must hand over 30  the fruit of his labor 31  as an inheritance 32 

to someone else who did not work for it.

This also is futile, and an awful injustice! 33 

1 tn The preposition עִם (’im, “with”) may occasionally function in a comparative sense, meaning “together with; even as; like” (e.g., Eccl 1:11; 2:16; 7:11; Job 9:26; 1 Chr 14:10: 20:6; 25:8; see HALOT 839 s.v. עִם 2). When used to describe a common lot, it connotes “together with” (Gen 18:23, 25; 1 Chr 24:5; Job 3:14, 15; 30:1; Pss 26:9; 28:3; 69:29; Isa 38:11), hence “like” (Pss 73:5; 106:6; Eccl 2:16; see BDB 767–68 s.v. עִם 1.e).

2 tn As HALOT 798–99 s.v. עוֹלָם and BDB 762-64 s.v. עוֹלָם note, עוֹלָם (’olam) has a wide range of meanings: (1) indefinite time: “long time; duration,” (2) unlimited time: “eternal; eternity,” (3) future time: “things to come,” and (4) past time: “a long time back,” that is, the dark age of prehistory. The context here suggests the nuance “a long time.”

3 tn The preposition בְּ (bet) on בְּשֶׁכְּבָר (bÿshekkÿvar, the adverb כְּבָר [kÿvar,“already”] + relative pronoun שֶׁ [she] + preposition בְּ) is probably best classified as causal: “Because…already.”

4 tn The verb נִשְׁכָּח (nishkakh) is a future perfect – it describes an event that is portrayed as a past event from the perspective of the future: “they will have been forgotten.” The emphasis of the past perfect is not simply that the future generations will begin to forget him, but that he will already have been forgotten long ago in the past by the time of those future generations. This past perfect situation is brought out by the emphatic use of the temporal adverb כְּבָר (kÿvar) “already” (HALOT 459 s.v. I כְּבָר; BDB 460 s.v. I כְּבָר); see, e.g., Eccl 1:10; 2:12, 16; 3:15; 4:2; 6:10; 9:6-7.

5 tn The particle אֵיךְ (’ekh, “Alas!”) is an exclamation of lamentation and mourning (e.g., 2 Sam 1:19; Isa 14:4, 12; Jer 2:21; 9:18; Ezek 26:17; Mic 2:4); see HALOT 39 s.v. אֵיךְ 5; BDB 32 s.v. אֵיךְ 2; also E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 955.

6 tn The preposition עִם (’im, “with”) may occasionally function in a comparative sense, meaning “together with; even as; like” (e.g., Eccl 1:11; 2:16; 7:11; Job 9:26; 1 Chr 14:10: 20:6; 25:8); see HALOT 839 s.v. עִם 2. When used to describe a common lot, it connotes “together with” (Gen 18:23, 25; 1 Chr 24:5; Job 3:14, 15; 30:1; Ps 26:9; 28:3; 69:29; Isa 38:11), hence “like” (Pss 73:5; 106:6; Eccl 2:16); see BDB 767–68 s.v. עִם 1.e.

7 tn Or “I hated.”

8 tn The term הַחַיִּים (hakhayyim, “life”) functions as a metonymy of association, that is, that which is associated with life, that is, the profitlessness and futility of human secular achievement.

9 tn Heb “the deed that is done.” The root עָשָׂה (’asah, “to do”) is repeated in הַמַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנַּעֲשָׂה (hammaaseh shennaasah, “the deed that is done”) for emphasis. Here, the term “deed” does not refer to human accomplishment, as in 2:1-11, but to the fact of death that destroys any relative advantage of wisdom over folly (2:14a-16). Qoheleth metaphorically describes death as a “deed” that is “done” to man.

10 tn Heb “under the sun.”

11 tn Heb “all,” referring here to the relative advantage of wisdom.

12 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”).

13 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).

14 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.

15 tn Heb “under the sun.”

16 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.”

17 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).

18 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.

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

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

21 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”).

22 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).

23 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.

24 tn Heb “under the sun.”

25 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.

26 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”).

27 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).

28 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.

29 tn Heb “under the sun.”

30 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.

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

32 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.”

33 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!”



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