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Ecclesiastes 2:4-11

Futility of Materialism

2:4 I increased my possessions: 1 

I built houses for myself; 2 

I planted vineyards for myself.

2:5 I designed 3  royal gardens 4  and parks 5  for myself,

and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.

2:6 I constructed pools of water for myself,

to irrigate my grove 6  of flourishing trees.

2:7 I purchased male and female slaves,

and I owned slaves who were born in my house; 7 

I also possessed more livestock – both herds and flocks –

than any of my predecessors in Jerusalem. 8 

2:8 I also amassed silver and gold for myself,

as well as valuable treasures 9  taken from kingdoms and provinces. 10 

I acquired male singers and female singers for myself,

and what gives a man sensual delight 11  – a harem of beautiful concubines! 12 

2:9 So 13  I was far wealthier 14  than all my predecessors in Jerusalem,

yet I maintained my objectivity: 15 

2:10 I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted; 16 

I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure. 17 

So all my accomplishments gave me joy; 18 

this was my reward for all my effort. 19 

2:11 Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished 20 

and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, 21 

I concluded: 22  “All these 23  achievements and possessions 24  are ultimately 25  profitless 26 

like chasing the wind!

There is nothing gained 27  from them 28  on earth.” 29 

1 tn Or “my works”; or “my accomplishments.” The term מַעֲשָׂי (maasay, “my works”) has been handled in two basic ways: (1) great works or projects, and (2) possessions. The latter assumes a metonymy, one’s effort standing for the possessions it produces. Both interpretations are reflected in the major English translations: “works” (KJV, NEB, NAB, ASV, NASB, MLB, RSV, Douay, Moffatt), “projects” (NIV), and “possessions” (NJPS).

sn This section (2:4-11) is unified and bracketed by the repetition of the verb גָּדַל (gadal, “to increase”) which occurs at the beginning (2:4) and end (2:9), and by the repetition of the root עשה (noun: “works” and verb: “to do, make, acquire”) which occurs throughout the section (2:4, 5, 6, 8, 11).

2 sn The expression for myself is repeated eight times in 2:4-8 to emphasize that Qoheleth did not deny himself any acquisition. He indulged himself in acquiring everything he desired. His vast resources as king allowed him the unlimited opportunity to indulge himself. He could have anything his heart desired, and he did.

3 tn Heb “made.”

4 tn The term does not refer here to vegetable gardens, but to orchards (cf. the next line). In the same way the so-called “garden” of Eden was actually an orchard filled with fruit trees. See Gen 2:8-9.

5 tn The noun פַּרְדֵּס (pardes, “garden, parkland, forest”) is a foreign loanword that occurs only 3 times in biblical Hebrew (Song 4:13; Eccl 2:5; Neh 2:8). The original Old Persian term pairidaeza designated the enclosed parks and pleasure-grounds that were the exclusive domain of the Persian kings and nobility (HALOT 963 s.v. פַּרְדֵּס; LSJ 1308 s.v παράδεισος). The related Babylonian term pardesu “marvelous garden” referred to the enclosed parks of the kings (AHw 2:833 and 3:1582). The term passed into Greek as παράδεισος (paradeisos, “enclosed park, pleasure-ground”), referring to the enclosed parks and gardens of the Persian kings (LSJ 1308). The Greek term has been transliterated into English as “paradise.”

6 tn Heb “to water from them a grove” (or “forest).

7 tn The phrase “sons of a house” (בְנֵי בַיִת, vÿne vayit) appears to be parallel to “a son of my house” (בֶן־בֵּיתִי, ven-beti) which refers to a person born into slavery from male and female servants in the master’s possession, e.g., Eleazar of Damascus (Gen 15:3). The phrase appears to denote children born from male and female slaves already in his possession, that is, “homeborn slaves” (NASB) or “other slaves who were born in my house” (NIV). Apparently confusing the sense of the phrase with the referent of the phrase in Gen 15:3, NJPS erroneously suggests “stewards” in Eccl 2:7.

8 map For location see Map5 B1; Map6 F3; Map7 E2; Map8 F2; Map10 B3; JP1 F4; JP2 F4; JP3 F4; JP4 F4.

9 tn The term סְגֻלָּה (sÿgullah) denotes “personal property” (HALOT 742 s.v. סְגֻלָּה 1) or “valued property, personal treasure” (BDB 688 s.v. סְגֻלָּה 2). Elsewhere, it refers to a king’s silver and gold (1 Chr 27:3). It is related to Akkadian sug/kullu “flock” (AHw 2:1053-54) and sikiltu “private property [belonging to the king]” (AHw 2:1041). The term refers to the personal, private and valued possessions of kings, which do not pass into the hands of the state.

10 tn Heb “of kings and provinces.” This personal treasure was taken as tribute from other kings and governors. See T. Longman III, Ecclesiastes (NICOT), 92.

11 tn Heb “and sensual delights of the sons of man.” The noun תַּעֲנוּג (taanug) has a three-fold range of meanings: (1) “luxury; comfort” (Mic 2:9; Prov 19:10; Sir 6:28; 11:27; 14:16; 37:29; 41:1); (2) “pleasure; delight” of sexual love (Song 7:7); and (3) “daintiness; feminine” (Mic 1:16); see HALOT 1769 s.v. תַּעֲנוּג; BDB 772 s.v. תַּעֲנוּג. The related adjective עָנֹג (’anog, “pampered; dainty”) is used to describe a pampered woman (Deut 28:56), to personify Babylon as a delicate woman (Isa 47:1), and to ridicule delicate men (Deut 28:54); see HALOT 851 s.v. עָֹנֹג; BDB 772 עָנֹג. It is related to the noun עֹנֶג (’oneg, “pleasure; exquisite delight; daintiness”; see HALOT 851 s.v. עֹנֶג; BDB 772 s.v. עֹנֶג) and the verb עָנֹג which means “to be soft; to be delicate” and “pleasurable” (Pual) and “to pamper oneself” and “to take delight or pleasure in” (HALOT 851 s.v. ענג; BDB 772 s.v. עָנֹג). The root ענג is paralleled with רֹךְ (rokh, Deut 28:56), רַךְ (rakh, Deut 28:54), and רַכָּה (rakkah, Deut 28:56) with the meanings “delicate; soft; tender; weak; coddled; pampered.” The context of Eccl 2:4-11 suggests that it denotes either “luxury” as in “the luxuries of commoners” (NJPS) or “pleasure; delight” as in “the delights of men” (KJV, NASB, NIV). Part of the difficulty in determining the meaning of this term is caused by the ambiguity in meaning of its referent, namely, the appositional phrase שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדּוֹת (shiddah vÿshiddot), the meaning of which is uncertain (see the note on the phrase “a harem of beautiful concubines” at the end of this verse).

12 tn The meaning of the superlative construction שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדּוֹת (shiddah vÿshiddot) is uncertain because the term שִׁדָּה (shiddah) occurs only here in the OT. There are four basic approaches to the phrase: (1) Most scholars suggest that it refers to a royal harem and that it is in apposition to “the sensual delights of man” (וְתַעֲנוּגֹת בְּנֵי הָאָדָם, vÿtaanugot bÿne haadam). There are four variations of this approach: (a) There is a possible connection to the Ugaritic sht “mistress, lady” and the Arabic sitt “lady” (HALOT 1420 s.v. שִׁדָּה). (b) German scholars relate it to Assyrian sadadu “love” (Delitzsch, Konig, Wildeboer, Siegfried); however, BDB questions this connection (BDB 994 s.v. שׁדה). (c) Ibn Ezra relates it to II שַׁד (shad) “plunder; spoil” or שׁדה “[women] taken by violence,” and suggests that it refers to the occupants of the royal harem. (d) BDB connects it to the Hebrew noun I שַׁד (shad, “breast”; e.g., Isa 28:9; Ezek 16:7; 23:3, 21, 34; Hos 2:4; 9:14; Song 1:13; 4:5; 7:4, 8, 9; 8:1, 8, 10; Job 3:12) adding that שׁדה is related to the cognate Arabic and Aramaic roots meaning “breast” (BDB 994 s.v.). This would be a synecdoche of part (i.e., breast) for the whole (i.e., woman), similar to the idiom “one womb, two wombs” (רַחַם רַחֲמָתַיִם, rakham rakhamatayim) where “womb” = woman (Judg 5:30). This is the approach taken by most English versions: “many concubines” (NASB, RSV, NRSV), “a wife and wives” (YLT), “mistresses galore” (MLB), “many a mistress” (Moffatt), and “a harem” (NIV). This is the approach suggested by the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project: “une femme et des femmes” = one or two women (e.g., Judg 5:30); see D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 3:566. (2) The NJPS connects it to the Mishnaic Hebrew noun שִׁדָּה which became שִׁידָּה (“a strong box, chest”; Jastrow 1558 s.v. שִׁידָּה) and renders the phrase “coffers and coffers of them” in apposition to the phrase “the luxuries of commoners” (וְתַעֲנוּגֹת בְּנֵי הָאָדָם). (3) KJV and ASV take the phrase in apposition to “male and female singers” and translate it as “musical instruments.” However, there is no known Hebrew term that would justify this approach. (4) The LXX related the term to the Aramaic root שׁדא (“to pour out [wine]”) and rendered the phrase as οἰνοχόον καὶ οἰνοχόας (oinocoon kai oinocoas), “a male-butler and female cupbearers.” Aquila took a similar approach: κυλίκιον καὶ κυλίκια (kulikion kai kulikia), “wine cups and wine vessels.” This is reflected in the Vulgate and Douay: “cups and vessels to serve to pour out wine.” Although the semantic meaning of the term שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדּוֹת (“a breast of breasts”) is uncertain, the grammatical/syntactical form of the phrase is straightforward: (1) It is in apposition to the preceding line, “the delights of the son of men” (וְתַעֲנוּגֹת בְּנֵי הָאָדָם). (2) The phrase is a superlative construction. When the second word is plural and it follows a noun from the same root which is singular, it indicates the best or most outstanding example of the person or thing so described. In addition to the Judg 5:30 parallel cited above, see the expression “a generation, generations” in Pss 72:5; 102:25; Isa 51:8. Unlike, Eccl 2:8, this juxtapositioning of the singular and plural to express the superlative usually involves a construct form. See קֹדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים (qodesh haqqodashim, “the holy of holies,” i.e., the most holy place”; Exod 26:33), שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים (shir hashirim, “the song of songs,” i.e., “the most excellent song”; Song 1:1), אֱלֹהֵי הָאֱלֹהִים וַאֲדֹנֵי הַאֲדֹנִים (’elohe haelohim vaadone haadonim, “the God of gods and Lord of lords,” i.e., “the Highest God and the Supreme Lord”; Deut 10:17), and עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים (’evedavadim, “a slave of slaves,” i.e., “the most abject slave”; Gen 9:25). See GKC 431 §133.i; R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 17-18, §80; IBHS 154 §9.5.3j. If the semantic meaning of the terms שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדּוֹת denotes “a breast (among) breasts” or “a lady (among) ladies” (Eccl 2:8, but see the previous note on the phrase “a man’s sensual delights”), the superlative construction may connote “the most beautiful breasts” (metonymy of part for the whole) or “the most beautiful woman.” This might refer to a harem of concubines or to one woman (the wife of the king?) who was the most beautiful woman in the land.

sn Concubines were slave women in ancient Near Eastern societies who were the legal property of their master, but who could have legitimate sexual relations with their master. A concubine’s status was more elevated than a mere servant, but she was not free and did not have the legal rights of a free wife. The children of a concubine could, in some instances, become equal heirs with the children of the free wife. After the period of the Judges concubines may have become more of a royal prerogative (2 Sam 21:10-14; 1 Kgs 11:3).

13 tn The vav prefixed to וְגָדַלְתִּי (vÿgadalti, vav + Qal perfect first common singular from גָּדַל, gadal, “to be great; to increase”) functions in a final summarizing sense, that is, it introduces the concluding summary of 2:4-9.

14 tn Heb “I became great and I surpassed” (וְהוֹסַפְתִּי וְגָדַלְתִּי, vÿgadalti vÿhosafti). This is a verbal hendiadys in which the second verb functions adverbially, modifying the first: “I became far greater.” Most translations miss the hendiadys and render the line in a woodenly literal sense (KJV, ASV, RSV, NEB, NRSV, NAB, NASB, MLB, Moffatt), while only a few recognize the presence of hendiadys here: “I became greater by far” (NIV) and “I gained more” (NJPS).

15 tn Heb “yet my wisdom stood for me,” meaning he retained his wise perspective despite his great wealth.

16 tn Heb “all which my eyes asked for, I did not withhold from them.”

17 tn Heb “I did not refuse my heart any pleasure.” 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. The term is repeated twice in 2:10 for emphasis.

18 tn Heb “So my heart was joyful from all my toil.”

19 tn Heb “and this was my portion from all my toil.”

20 tn Heb “all my works that my hands had done.”

21 tn Heb “and all the toil with which I had toiled in doing it.” The term עָמַל (’amal, “toil”) is repeated to emphasize the burden and weariness of the labor which Qoheleth exerted in his accomplishments.

22 tn Heb “Behold!”

23 tn The term הַכֹּל (hakkol, “everything” or “all”) must be qualified and limited in reference to the topic that is dealt with in 2:4-11. This is an example of synecdoche of general for the specific; the general term “all” is used only in reference to the topic at hand. This is clear from the repetition of כֹּל (kol, “everything”) and (“all these things”) in 2:11.

24 tn The phrase “achievements and possessions” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in translation for clarity.

25 tn The term “ultimately” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

26 tn The parallelism with יִתְרוֹן (yitron), “profit; advantage; gain”) indicates that הֶבֶל (hevel) should be nuanced as “profitless, fruitless, futile” in this context. While labor offers some relative and temporal benefits, such as material acquisitions and the enjoyment of the work of one’s hands, there is no ultimate benefit to be gained from secular human achievement.

27 tn The noun יִתְרוֹן (yitron, “profit”) has a two-fold range of meanings: (1) “what comes of [something]; result” (Eccl 1:3; 2:11; 3:9; 5:8, 15; 7:12; 10:10) and (2) “profit; advantage” (Eccl 2:13; 10:11); see HALOT 452–53 s.v. יִתְרוֹי. It is derived from the noun יֶתֶר (yeter, “what is left behind; remainder”; HALOT 452 s.v. I יֶתֶר). The related verb יָתַר (yatar) denotes “to be left over; to survive” (Niphal) and “to have left over” (Hiphil); see HALOT 451–52 s.v. יתר. When used literally, יִתְרוֹן refers to what is left over after expenses (gain or profit); when used figuratively, it refers to what is advantageous or of benefit. Though some things have relative advantage over others (e.g., light over darkness, and wisdom over folly in 2:13), there is no ultimate profit in man’s labor due to death.

28 tn The phrase “from them” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

29 tn Heb “under the sun.”

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