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Ecclesiastes 2:18-19

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!

Ecclesiastes 2:21

Context

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

however, he must hand over 14  the fruit of his labor 15  as an inheritance 16 

to someone else who did not work for it.

This also is futile, and an awful injustice! 17 

Ecclesiastes 2:26

Context

2:26 For to the one who pleases him, 18  God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy,

but to the sinner, he gives the task of amassing 19  wealth 20 

only to give 21  it 22  to the one who pleases God.

This 23  task of the wicked 24  is futile – like chasing the wind!

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 “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.

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

16 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.”

17 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!”

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

19 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.

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

21 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.

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

23 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.

24 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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