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Ecclesiastes 2:2-3


2:2 I said of partying, 1  “It is folly,”

and of self-indulgent pleasure, 2  “It accomplishes nothing!” 3 

2:3 I thought deeply 4  about the effects of 5  indulging 6  myself 7  with wine

(all the while 8  my mind was guiding me 9  with wisdom) 10 

and the effects of 11  behaving foolishly, 12 

so that 13  I might discover what is profitable 14 

for people 15  to do on earth 16  during the few days 17  of their lives.

Ecclesiastes 2:12-14

Wisdom is Better than Folly

2:12 Next, I decided to consider 18  wisdom, as well as foolish behavior and ideas. 19 

For what more can the king’s successor do than what the king 20  has already done?

2:13 I realized that wisdom is preferable to folly, 21 

just as light is preferable to darkness:

2:14 The wise man can see where he is going, 22  but the fool walks in darkness.

Yet I also realized that the same fate 23  happens to them both. 24 

Ecclesiastes 7:25

True Righteousness and Wisdom are Virtually Nonexistent

7:25 I tried 25  to understand, examine, and comprehend 26 

the role of 27  wisdom in the scheme of things, 28 

and to understand the stupidity of wickedness 29  and the insanity of folly. 30 

Ecclesiastes 9:3


9:3 This is the unfortunate fact 31  about everything that happens on earth: 32 

the same fate awaits 33  everyone.

In addition to this, the hearts of all people 34  are full of evil,

and there is folly in their hearts during their lives – then they die. 35 

Ecclesiastes 10:1


10:1 One dead fly 36  makes the perfumer’s ointment give off a rancid stench, 37 

so a little folly can outweigh 38  much wisdom. 39 

Ecclesiastes 10:6


10:6 Fools 40  are placed in many positions of authority, 41 

while wealthy men sit in lowly positions.

Ecclesiastes 10:13


10:13 At the beginning his words 42  are foolish

and at the end 43  his talk 44  is wicked madness, 45 

1 tn Heb “laughter.” The term שְׂחוֹק (sÿkhoq, “laughter”) has a fourfold range of meanings: (1) “joyful laughter” (Ps 126:2; Prov 14:13; Job 8:21); (2) “frivolous laughter, merrymaking” (Eccl 2:2; 7:3, 6); (3) “pleasure, sport” (Prov 10:23; Eccl 10:19); and (4) “derision, mockery, laughingstock” (Jer 20:7; 48:26, 27, 39; Job 12:4; Lam 3:14). See HALOT 1315 s.v שְׂחוֹק; BDB 966 s.v. שְׂחֹק. In Ecclesiastes, שְׂחוֹק is always used in contexts of self-indulgent banqueting, drinking, frivolous partying and merrymaking (Eccl 2:2; 7:3, 6; 10:19). It is distinct from “healthy” joy and laughter (Ps 126:2; Job 8:21). The connotation of “frivolous merrymaking” fits this context best.

2 tn The term שִׂמְחָה (simkhah, “pleasure”) has a two-fold range of meanings in Ecclesiastes: (1) it can refer to the enjoyment of life that Qoheleth affirms is good (5:17; 8:15; 9:7; 11:8, 9) and that God gives to those who are pleasing to him (2:26; 5:19); and (2) it can refer to foolish pleasure, that is, frivolous merrymaking (2:1, 2; 7:4). The parallelism between שִׂמְחָה and שְׂחוֹק (sÿkhoq, “laughter, frivolous merrymaking”) in 2:2 suggests that the pejorative sense is in view here.

3 tn Heb “What does it accomplish?” The rhetorical question “What does it accomplish?” expects a negative answer: “It accomplishes nothing!” (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 949–51). See, e.g., Gen 1:19; 18:14, 17; Deut 7:17; 1 Sam 2:25; Job 40:2; Pss 56:7[8]; 90:11; 94:16; 106:2; Eccl 3:21.

4 tn Heb “In my heart I explored.” The verb תּוּר (tur, “to seek out, to spy out, to explore”) is used in the OT to describe: (1) the physical activity of “spying out” or “exploring” geographical locations (Num 13:2, 16, 17, 21, 25, 32; 14:6, 7, 34, 36, 38; Job 39:8) and (2) the mental activity of “exploring” or “examining” a course of action or the effects of an action (Eccl 1:13; 2:3; 7:25; 9:1). See BDB 1064 s.v. תּוּר 2; HALOT 1708 s.v. תּוּר. It was used as a synonym with דָרָשׁ (darash, “to study”) in 1:13: “I devoted myself to study (לִדְרוֹשׁ, lidrosh) and to explore (לָתוּר, latur).”

sn As the repetition of the term לֵב (lev, “heart” or “mind”) indicates (2:1, 3), this experiment appears to have been only an intellectual exercise or a cognitive reflection: “I said to myself (Heb “in my heart [or “mind”],” 2:1); “I explored with my mind (Heb “heart,” 2:3a); and “my mind (Heb “heart”) guiding me with wisdom” (2:3b). Qoheleth himself did not indulge in drunkenness; but he contemplated the value of self-indulgence in his mind.

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

6 tn Or “I sought to cheer my flesh with wine.” The term לִמְשׁוֹךְ (limshokh, Qal infinitive construct from מָשַׁךְ, mashakh, “to draw, pull”) functions in a complementary sense with the preceding verb תּוּר (tur “to examine”): Heb “I sought to draw out my flesh with wine” or “I [mentally] explored [the effects] of drawing out my flesh with wine.” The verb מָשַׁךְ means “to draw, to drag along, to lead” (BDB 604 s.v. מָשַׁךְ) or “to draw out; to stretch out [to full length]; to drag; to pull; to seize; to carry off; to pull; to go” (HALOT 645–46 s.v. משׁך). BDB suggests that this use be nuanced “to draw, to attract, to gratify” the flesh, that is, “to cheer” (BDB 604 s.v. מָשַׁךְ 7). While this meaning is not attested elsewhere in the OT, it is found in Mishnaic Hebrew: “to attract” (Qal), e.g., “it is different with heresy, because it attracts [i.e., persuades, offers inducements]” (b. Avodah Zarah 27b) and “to be attracted, carried away, seduced,” e.g., “he was drawn after them, he indulged in the luxuries of the palace” (b. Shabbat 147b). See Jastrow 853-54 s.v. מְשַׂךְ. Here it denotes “to stretch; to draw out [to full length],” that is, “to revive; to restore” the body (HALOT 646 s.v. משׁד [sic] 3). The statement is a metonymy of cause (i.e., indulging the flesh with wine) for effect (i.e., the effects of self-indulgence).

7 tn Heb “my flesh.” The term בְּשָׂרִי (bÿsari, “my flesh”) may function as a synecdoche of part (i.e., flesh) for the whole (i.e., whole person). See E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 642. One could translate, “I sought to cheer myself.”

8 tn The phrase “all the while” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

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

10 tn Heb “and my heart was leading along in wisdom.” The vav + noun, וְלִבִּי (vÿlibbi) introduces a disjunctive, parenthetical clause designed to qualify the speaker’s remarks lest he be misunderstood: “Now my heart/mind….” He emphasizes that he never lost control of his senses in this process. It was a purely mental, cognitive endeavor; he never actually gave himself over to wanton self-indulgence in wine or folly.

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

12 tn Heb “embracing folly.” The verb אָחָז (’akhaz, “to embrace”) is normally used to describe the physical action of taking hold of an object. Here is it is used metaphorically to describe a person’s choice of lifestyle, that is, adopting a particular course of moral conduct (e.g., Job 17:9); see HALOT 31–32 s.v. אחז; BDB 28 s.v. אָחַז.

13 tn Or “until.” The construction עַד אֲשֶׁר (’adasher, “until”) introduces a temporal result clause (e.g., Gen 27:44; 28:15; Num 21:35; Isa 6:11); see HALOT 787 s.v. III עַד B.b. With an imperfect verb (such as אֶרְאֶה, ’ereh, Qal imperfect first common singular from רָאָה, raah, “to see”), the compound construction עַד אֲשֶׁר usually refers to future time (Gen 27:44; 29:8; Exod 23:30; 24:14; Lev 22:4; Num 11:20; 20:17; 1 Sam 22:3; Hos 5:15), but it also rarely refers to past time (Jonah 4:5; Eccl 2:3); see BDB 725 s.v. III עַד II.1.a.b. Joüon 2:370 §113.k notes that when the compound construction עַד אֲשֶׁר is occasionally used with an imperfect depicting past action to denote a virtual nuance of purpose: “until” = “so that,” e.g., Jonah 4:5; Eccl 2:3.

14 tn Heb “I might see where is the good?” The interrogative particle אֵי (’e, “where?”) used with the demonstrative pronoun זֶה (zeh, “this”) forms an idiom: “where [then]?” (HALOT 37–38 s.v. אֵי 2.a; see, e.g., 1 Sam 9:18; 1 Kgs 13:12; 2 Kgs 3:8; Isa 50:1; 66:1; Jer 6:16; Job 28:12, 20; 38:19, 24; Esth 7:5). The phrase אֵי־זֶה טוֹב (’e-zeh tov) is an indirect question that literally means, “Where is the good?” that is, “what good?” (HALOT 38 s.v. אֵי 2.d).

15 tn Heb “the sons of man.”

16 tn Heb “under the heavens.”

17 tn Heb “number of the days.” The Hebrew noun מִסְפַּר (mispar, “number, quantity”) sometimes means “few” (e.g., Gen 34:30; Num 9:20; Deut 4:27; 33:6; Isa 10:19; Jer 44:28; Ezek 12:16; Ps 105:12; Job 16:22; 1 Chr 16:19); see HALOT 607 s.v. מִסְפָּר 2.b; BDB 709 s.v. מִסְפָּר 1.a. This phrase is an idiom that means, “during all their lives” (BDB 709 s.v.), “during their total [short] time of life,” that is, “as long as they live” (HALOT 608 s.v. מִסְפָּר 3.d). Ecclesiastes often emphasizes the brevity of life (e.g., 5:17; 6:12; 9:9). The LXX rendered מִסְפַּר in a woodenly literal sense: ἀριθμόν (ariqmon, “the number [of days of their lives]”). Several English translations adopt a similar approach: “all the days of their life” (ASV, Douay) and “the number of days of their lives” (YLT). However, this idiom is handled well by a number of English translations: “during the few days of their lives” (RSV, NRSV, NASB, NIV, Moffatt, NJPS), “during the limited days of their life” (NAB), and “throughout the brief span of their lives” (NEB).

18 tn Heb “and I turned to see.”

19 sn See 1:17 for the same expression. Throughout 2:1-11, Qoheleth evaluated the merits of merrymaking (2:1-3), accomplishing grand things (2:4-6), amassing great wealth (2:7-8), and secular acquisitions and accomplishments (2:9-10). Now, he reflects on the benefit in life in living wisely and not giving oneself over to frivolous self-indulgence.

20 tc The Hebrew text reads עָשׂוּהוּ (’asuhu, “they have done it”; Qal perfect 3rd person masculine plural from עָשַׂה [’asah] + 3rd person masculine singular suffix). However, many medieval Hebrew mss read עָשָׂהוּ (’asahu, “he has done”; Qal perfect 3rd person masculine singular from עָשַׂה), reflected in the LXX and Syriac. The error was caused by dittography (ו, vav, written twice) or by orthographic confusion between ו and ה (hey) in הוו (confused as והוו) at the end of 2:12 and beginning of 2:13. The 3rd person masculine singular referent of עָשׂוּהוּ “what he has done” is the king, that is, Qoheleth himself. The referent (the king) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

21 tn Heb “and I saw that there is profit for wisdom more than folly.”

22 tn Heb “has his eyes in his head.” The term עַיִן (’ayin, “eye”) is used figuratively in reference to mental and spiritual faculties (BDB 744 s.v. עַיִן 3.a). The term “eye” is a metonymy of cause (eye) for effect (sight and perception).

23 sn The common fate to which Qoheleth refers is death.

24 tn The term כֻּלָּם (kullam, “all of them”) denotes “both of them.” This is an example of synecdoche of general (“all of them”) for the specific (“both of them,” that is, both the wise man and the fool).

25 tn Heb “I turned, I, even my heart.”

26 tn Heb “to seek.”

27 tn The phrase “the role of” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness.

28 tn The phrase חָכְמָה וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן (khokhmah vÿkheshbon, “wisdom and the scheme of things”) is a hendiadys (a figure of speech in which two nouns connote one idea): “wisdom in the scheme of things.” This is similar to the hendiadys עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵרֹנֵךְ (’itsÿvonekh vÿheronekh, “pain and childbearing”) which connotes “pain in childbearing” (Gen 3:16).

29 tn Or “the evil of folly” The genitive construct phrase רֶשַׁע כֶּסֶל (reshakesel) may be taken as a genitive of attribution (“the wickedness of folly”) or as a genitive of attribute (“the folly of wickedness”). The English versions treat it in various ways: “wickedness of folly” (KJV); “wrong of folly” (YLT); “evil of folly” (NASB); “stupidity of wickedness” (NIV); “wickedness, stupidity” (NJPS); “wickedness is folly [or foolish]” (ASV, NAB, NRSV, MLB, Moffatt), and “it is folly to be wicked” (NEB).

30 tn Or “the folly of madness” The genitive construct phrase וְהַסִּכְלוּת הוֹלֵלוֹת (vÿhassikhlut holelot) may be taken as a genitive of attribution (“the stupidity of wickedness”) or a genitive of attribute (“the evil of folly”). The phrase is rendered variously: “foolishness and madness” (KJV); “foolishness of madness” (NASB); “madness of folly” (NIV); “madness and folly” (NJPS); “the foolishness which is madness” (NEB); and “foolishness [or folly] is madness” (ASV, NAB, NRSV, MLB, Moffatt).

31 tn Heb “evil.”

32 tn Heb “under the sun.”

33 tn The term “awaits” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness and stylistic reasons.

34 tn Heb “also the heart of the sons of man.” Here “heart” is a collective singular.

35 tn Heb “and after that [they go] to [the place of] the dead.”

36 tn Heb “flies of death.” The plural form of “flies” (זְבוּבֵי, zÿvuve) may be taken as a plural of number (“dead flies”) or a distributive plural referring to one little fly (“one dead fly”). The singular form of the following verb and the parallelism support the latter: “one little fly…so a little folly.”

37 tn The verb בָּאַשׁ (baash) means “to cause to stink; to turn rancid; to emit a stinking odor” (e.g., Exod 16:24; Ps 38:6; Eccl 10:1); see HALOT 107 s.v. באשׁ 1; BDB 93 s.v. בָּאַשׁ. It is related to the noun בְּאשׁ (bÿosh, “stench”; Isa 34:3; Joel 2:20; Amos 4:10); cf. HALOT 107 s.v. באשׁ; BDB 93 s.v. בְּאשׁ. The verbal root נבע means “to ferment” or “to emit; to pour out; to bubble; to belch forth; to cause to gush forth” (HALOT 665 s.v. נבע; BDB 615 s.v. נָבַע). The two terms יַבְאִישׁ יַבִּיעַ (yavish yabbia’, “to stink” and “to ferment”) create a hendiadys: a figurative expression in which two terms are used to connote one idea: “makes a rancid stench.” Several versions treat this as a hendiadys (Old Greek, Symmachus, Targum, Vulgate); however, the Syriac treats them as separate verbs. Most translations treat these as a hendiadys: “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor” (KJV); “Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink” (NASB); “dead flies give perfume a bad smell” (NIV); “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off an evil odor” (RSV); Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a foul odor” (NRSV); “Dead flies cause a perfumer’s perfume to send forth a stink” (YLT); “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a foul odor” (NRSV). Others render both separately: “Dead flies make the perfumer’s sweet ointment rancid and ferment” (NEB); “Dead flies turn the perfumer’s ointment fetid and putrid” (NJPS).

38 tn Heb “carries more weight than”; or “is more precious than.” The adjective יָקָר (yaqar) denotes “precious; valuable; costly” (HALOT 432 s.v. יָקָר 2) or “weighty; influential” (BDB 430 s.v. יָקָר 4). The related verb denotes “to carry weight,” that is, to be influential (HALOT 432 s.v. יָקָר 2). The idea is not that a little folly is more valuable than much wisdom; but that a little folly can have more influence than great wisdom. It only takes one little mistake to ruin a life of great wisdom. The English versions understand it this way: “so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor” (NASB); “so a little folly outweighs massive wisdom” (NJPS); “so a little folly outweighs an abundance of wisdom” (MLB); “so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” (RSV, NRSV, NIV); “so can a little folly make wisdom lose its worth” (NEB); “so a little folly annuls great wisdom” (ASV); “a single slip can ruin much that is good” (NAB); “so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor” (KJV). The LXX rendered the line rather freely: τιμιον ὀλιγον σοφιἀ ὑπερ δοξαν ἀφροσυνης μεγαλην (“a little wisdom is more precious than great glory of folly”). This does not accurately represent the Hebrew syntax.

sn Qoheleth creates a wordplay by using two Hebrew words for social honor or influence: “weighty” = honorable (יָקָר, yaqar) and “heavy” = honor (כָּבוֹד, cavod).

39 tn The MT reads מֵחָכְמָה מִכָּבוֹד (mekhokhmah mikkavod, “more than wisdom, more than honor”), but several medieval Hebrew mss read וּמִכָּבוֹד מֵחָכְמָה (mekhokhmah umikkavod, “more than wisdom and honor”). However the textual problem is resolved, the two nouns form a hendiadys: two terms joined by vav that describe one concept. The first noun retains its full nominal sense, while the second functions adjectivally: “heavy wisdom” or better, “great wisdom.”

40 tn Heb “folly.”

41 tn Heb “high places.”

42 tn Heb “the words of his mouth.”

43 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.”

44 tn Heb “his mouth.”

45 tn Heb “madness of evil.”

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