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Ecclesiastes 7:1-12

Life is Brief and Death is Certain!

7:1 A good reputation 1  is better 2  than precious 3  perfume; 4 

likewise, 5  the day of one’s 6  death 7  is better than the day of one’s birth. 8 

7:2 It is better to go to a funeral 9 

than a feast. 10 

For death 11  is the destiny 12  of every person, 13 

and the living should 14  take this 15  to heart.

7:3 Sorrow 16  is better than laughter,

because sober reflection 17  is good for the heart. 18 

7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,

but the heart of fools is in the house of merrymaking. 19 

Frivolous Living Versus Wisdom

7:5 It is better for a person to receive 20  a rebuke from those who are wise 21 

than to listen to the song 22  of fools.

7:6 For like the crackling of quick-burning thorns 23  under a cooking pot,

so is the laughter of the fool.

This kind of folly 24  also is useless. 25 

Human Wisdom Overturned by Adversity

7:7 Surely oppression 26  can turn a wise person into a fool; 27 

likewise, 28  a bribe corrupts 29  the heart. 30 

7:8 The end of a matter 31  is better than its beginning;

likewise, patience 32  is better than pride. 33 

7:9 Do not let yourself be quickly provoked, 34 

for anger resides in the lap 35  of fools.

7:10 Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these days?” 36 

for it is not wise to ask that. 37 

Wisdom Can Lengthen One’s Life

7:11 Wisdom, like 38  an inheritance, is a good thing;

it benefits those who see the light of day. 39 

7:12 For wisdom provides 40  protection, 41 

just as 42  money provides protection. 43 

But the advantage of knowledge is this:

Wisdom preserves the life 44  of its owner.

1 tn Heb “name.” The Hebrew term שֵׁם (shem, “name”) is used metonymically for a person’s reputation (e.g., Prov 22:1; Deut 22:14, 19; Neh 6:13; also Gen 6:4; 12:2; 2 Sam 7:9; 8:13; 23:18, 22; 1 Chr 5:24; 12:31; 2 Chr 26:15; Neh 9:10; Isa 63:12, 14; Jer 32:20; Ezek 16:14; Dan 9:15); cf. HALOT 1549 s.v. שֵׁם D.2; BDB 1028 s.v. שֵׁם 2.b.

2 tn The comparative term טוֹב (tov, “better”) is repeated throughout 7:1-12. It introduces a series of “Better-than sayings,” particularly in 7:1-6 in which every poetic unit is introduced by טוֹב.

3 tn Heb “good.” The repetition of טוֹב (tov, “good”) forms an inclusion (a structural device that rounds off the unit), while the two internal terms מִשֶּׁמֶןשֵׁם (shem mishemen, “name …ointment”) create a paronomastic wordplay (see the note on the word “perfume”). The combination of these two sets of literary devices creates an AB:B'A' chiasm: מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב // שֵׁם טוֹב (tov shem // mishemen tov, e.g., “good name”// “ointment good”).

4 tn Or “oil”; or “ointment.” The term שֶׁמֶן (shemen) refers to fragrant “perfume; cologne; ointment” (Amos 6:6; Eccl 10:1; Song 1:2 [1:3 HT]; 4:10); see HALOT 1568 s.v. שֶׁמֶן A.2.c. Bodily oils were expensive (1 Kgs 17:12; 2 Kgs 2:4). Possession of oils and perfumes was a sign of prosperity (Deut 32:8; 33:24; Job 29:6; Prov 21:17; Ezek 16:13, 20). Wearing colognes and oils was associated with joy (Ps 45:8; Eccl 9:8; Isa 61:3) because they were worn on festive occasions (Prov 27:9). The similar sounding terms “name” (שֵׁם, shem) and “perfume” (שֶׁמֶן) create a wordplay (paronomasia). See W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (JSOTSup), 242–43; J. J. Glück, “Paronomasia in Biblical Literature,” Semitics 1 (1970): 50–78; A. Guillaume, “Paronomasia in the Old Testament.” JSS 9 (1964): 282–90; J. M. Sasson, “Wordplay in the OT,” IDBSup 968-70.

5 tn The vav prefixed to the form וְיוֹם (vÿyom) functions in a comparative sense, e.g., Job 5:7; 12:11; 16:21; Prov 25:25 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 71, §437).

6 tn The word “one’s” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

7 tn The article prefixed to הַמָּוֶת (hammavet, “death”) probably functions in an indefinite possessive sense or in a generic sense: “one’s death,” e.g., Gen 44:2 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 19, §86, §92).

8 sn There are two ways to understand this proverb: (1) Happy times (characterized by celebration and “fragrant perfume”) teach us less than hard times (“the day of one’s death”) which can bring about moral improvement (“a good reputation”). (2) It is better to come to the end of one’s life (“day of one’s death”) with a good reputation (“a good name”) than to merely be starting life (“day of one’s birth”) in an auspicious manner in joy and wealth (“fine perfume”). Folly and wickedness could foil a good beginning so that a person ends life as a fool. For example, Solomon began as the wisest man who ever lived, only to end life as one of history’s greatest fools.

9 tn Heb “house of mourning.” The phrase refers to a funeral where the deceased is mourned.

10 tn Heb “house of drinking”; or “house of feasting.” The Hebrew noun מִשְׁתֶּה (mishteh) can denote (1) “feast; banquet,” occasion for drinking-bouts (1 Sam 25:36; Isa 5:12; Jer 51:39; Job 1:5; Esth 2:18; 5:14; 8:17; 9:19) or (2) “drink” (exilic/postexilic – Ezra 3:7; Dan 1:5, 8, 16); see HALOT 653 s.v. מִשְׁתֶּה 4; BDB 1059 s.v. שָׁתַה.

sn Qoheleth recommended that people soberly reflect on the brevity of life and the reality of death (It is better to go to a house of mourning) than to waste one’s life in the foolish pursuit of pleasure (than to go to a house of banqueting). Sober reflection on the brevity of life and reality of death has more moral benefit than frivolous levity.

11 tn Heb “it”; the referent (“death”) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

12 tn Heb “the end.” The noun סוֹף (sof) literally means “end; conclusion” (HALOT 747 s.v. סוֹף 1; BDB 693 s.v. סוֹף). It is used in this context in reference to death, as the preceding phrase “house of mourning” (i.e., funeral) suggests.

13 tn Heb “all men” or “every man.”

14 tn The imperfect tense verb יִתֵּן, yitten (from נָתָן, natan, “to give”) functions in a modal sense, denoting obligation, that is, the subject’s obligatory or necessary conduct: “should” or “ought to” (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 31-32, §172; IBHS 508-9 §31.4g).

15 tn The word “this” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness.

16 tn NEB suggests “grief”; NJPS, “vexation.”

17 tn Heb “in sadness of face there is good for the heart.”

18 tn Or possibly “Though the face is sad, the heart may be glad.”

19 sn The expression the house of merrymaking refers to a banquet where those who attend engage in self-indulgent feasting and riotous drinking.

20 tn Heb “hear.”

21 tn Heb “rebuke of the wise,” a subjective genitive (“the wise” administer the rebuke).

22 tn Or “praise.” The antithetical parallelism between “rebuke” (גַּעֲרַת, gaarat) and “song” (שִׁיר, shir) suggests that the latter is figurative (metonymy of association) for praise/flattery which is “music” to the ears: “praise of fools” (NEB, NJPS) and “flattery of fools” (Douay). However, the collocation of “song” (שִׁיר) in 7:5 with “laughter” (שְׂחֹק, sÿkhoq) in 7:6 suggests simply frivolous merrymaking: “song of fools” (KJV, NASB, NIV, ASV, RSV, NRSV).

23 tn The term “thorns” (הַסִּירִים, hassirim) refers to twigs from wild thorn bushes which were used as fuel for quick heat, but burn out quickly before a cooking pot can be properly heated (e.g., Pss 58:9; 118:12).

24 tn The word “kind of folly” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

25 tn It is difficult to determine whether the Hebrew term הֶבֶל (hevel) means “fleeting” or “useless” in this context. The imagery of quick-burning thorns under a cooking pot is ambiguous and can be understood in more than one way: (1) It is useless to try to heat a cooking pot by burning thorns because they burn out before the pot can be properly heated; (2) the heat produced by quick-burning thorns is fleeting – it produces quick heat, but lasts only for a moment. Likewise, the “laughter of a fool” can be taken in both ways: (1) In comparison to the sober reflection of the wise, the laughter of fools is morally useless: the burning of thorns, like the laughter of fools, makes a lot of noise but accomplishes nothing; (2) the laughter of fools is fleeting due to the brevity of life and certainty of death. Perhaps this is an example of intentional ambiguity.

26 tn Or “extortion.” Scholars debate whether the noun עֹשֶׁק (’osheq, “oppression; extortion”) in this context denotes “oppression” (HALOT 897 s.v. עֹשֶׁק 1) or “gain of extortion” (BDB 799 s.v. עֹשֶׁק 3). The parallelism between עֹשֶׁק and מַתָּנָה (mattanah, “bribe”) seems to suggest the latter; but the prominence of the theme of oppression in 7:8-10 argues for the former. Elsewhere in Ecclesiastes, the noun עֹשֶׁק denotes “oppression” (Eccl 4:1) and “extortion” (Eccl 5:8 [Heb 5:7]). The LXX rendered it as συκοφαντία (sukofantia, “oppression”). English translations are split between these two options: “extortion” (ASV, MLB, NIV), “oppression” (KJV, NAB, NASB, RSV, NRSV, YLT, Douay, Moffatt), as well as “cheating” (NJPS) and “slander” (NEB).

27 tn Or “Oppression drives a wise person crazy”; or “Extortion drives a wise person crazy.” The verb III הלל (“to be foolish”) denotes “to make foolish; to make a fool out of someone; to make into a madman” (Job 12:17; Isa 44:25); cf. HALOT 249 s.v. III הלל; BDB 239 s.v. II הלל. It has been handled variously: “makes a wise man mad” (KJV, NASB); “drives a wise man crazy” (NEB); “can make a fool of a wise man” (NAB); “makes the wise man foolish” (RSV, NRSV); and “turns a wise man into a fool” (NIV).

28 tn The vav prefixed to וִיאַבֵּד (viabbed, “corrupts”) may function in a comparative sense, e.g., Job 5:7; 12:11; 16:21; Prov 25:25 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 71, §437).

29 tc The text has וִיאַבֵּד (viabbed, conjunction + Piel imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from אָבַד, ’avad, “to destroy”), but the Dead Sea Scrolls text 4Q109 (Qoha), which reads ,ויעוה assumes ויעוה “twists” or “perverts” (conjunction + Piel imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from עָוָה I, ’avah, “to bend; to twist.” See J. Muilenburg, “A Qoheleth Scroll from Qumran,” BASOR 135 [1954]: 27). The verb I עָוָה (“to bend; to twist”) is used in reference to moral perversion (e.g., 2 Sam 7:14; 19:20; 24:17; 1 Kgs 8:47; Job 33:27; Prov 12:8; Jer 9:4); cf. HALOT 796–97 s.v. עוה; BDB 730 s.v. I עָוָה. The verb ויאבד is used similarly in reference to moral corruption, e.g., Eccl 3:6; 9:18; Jer 23:1 (HALOT 3 s.v. I אבד; BDB 2 s.v. אָבַד 2).

30 tn Or “and a bribe drives a person mad.” The noun לֵב (lev, “heart”) may be taken as a synecdoche of part (i.e., heart) for the whole (i.e., a person). HALOT 3 s.v. I אבד suggests that וִיאַבֵּד לֵב (viabbed lev, “destroys the heart”) is an idiom meaning, “drives a person mad.” The B-line is taken as a comparison with the preceding A-line. On the other hand, the A-line and B-line might be in synonymous parallelism in which case the two lines could be rendered: “Surely [the gain of] extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.” On the other hand, the lines could be rendered, “Surely oppression drives a wise man crazy, and a bribe drives a person mad.”

31 tn The term דָבָר (davar) denotes “matter; thing” here rather than “speech; word,” as the parallelism with “patience” suggests. The term was misunderstood as “speech; word” by the Vulgate (so also Douay).

32 tn Heb “the patient of spirit.”

33 tn Heb “the proud of spirit.”

34 tn Heb “Do not be hasty in your spirit to become angry.”

35 tn Heb “bosom.”

36 tn Heb “these.” “Days” does not appear in the Hebrew text as second time, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness.

37 tn Heb “It is not from wisdom that you ask about this.”

38 tn Or “Wisdom with an inheritance, is good”; or “Wisdom is as good as an inheritance.” This use of the preposition עִם (’im) may denote: (1) accompaniment: “together with,” or (2) comparison: “as good as; like; in comparison to” (HALOT 839–40 s.v. עִם; BDB 767–69 s.v. עִם). BDB 767 s.v. 1 suggests the accompaniment nuance “together with,” while HALOT 840 s.v. 2.c suggests the comparative sense “in comparison to.” The translations are also divided: “wisdom with an inheritance is good” (KJV, ASV margin, RSV, NASB, YLT); “wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing” (NIV); “wisdom is as good as an inheritance” (ASV, NRSV, MLB, NJPS, Moffatt); “wisdom is better than an inheritance” (NEB). Because v. 12 compares wisdom with money (i.e., an inheritance), v. 11 is probably making a comparison as well: “Wisdom, like an inheritance, is good” (7:11a) = “Wisdom provides protection, just as money provides protection” (7:12a). The “good thing” that wisdom – like an inheritance or money – provides is protection.

39 tn Heb “see the sun.”

40 tn Heb “wisdom is a shade.” When used with a predicate nominative in a verbless clause, the preposition בְּ (bet) which appears twice in the line בְּצֵל הַחָכְמָה בְּצֵל הַכָּסֶף (bÿtsel hakhokhmah bÿtsel hakkasef) denotes identity, the so-called bet of essence (HALOT 104 s.v. בְּ 3; BDB 88 s.v. בְּ 1.7; see also R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 45, §249).

41 tn The term צֵל (tsel, “shade, shadow”) refers to that which provides protection or a shelter from the sun (Gen 19:8; Judg 9:36; Isa 25:5; 32:2; Jer 48:45; Jonah 4:5). It is used often in a figurative sense (hypocatastasis) to connote “protection” from calamity (Num 14:9; Isa 49:2; Hos 14:8; Pss 17:8; 36:8; 57:2; 63:8; 91:1; 121:5; Lam 4:20).

42 tn The phrase “just as” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness and clarity.

43 tn Heb “Wisdom is a shade, money is a shade.” The repetition of בְּצֵל (bÿtsel, “shade; protection”) suggests that the A-line and B-line function as comparisons. Thus the Hebrew phrases “Wisdom is a shade, money is a shade” may be nuanced, “Wisdom [provides] protection [just as] money [provides] protection.” This approach is adopted by several translations: “wisdom is a defense, as money is a defense” (ASV), “wisdom is protection just as money is protection” (NASB), “wisdom like wealth is a defense” (Moffatt), “the protection of wisdom is as the protection of money” (NAB), “the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money” (RSV, NRSV), “wisdom protects as wealth protects” (MLB), and “wisdom is a shelter, as money is a shelter” (NIV). The comparison is missed by KJV: “wisdom is a defense, and money is a defense.” Less likely is taking בְּ (bet) in a locative sense: “to be in the shelter of wisdom is to be in the shelter of money” (NJPS).

44 tn The verb חָיָה (khayah, “to live”) in the Piel denotes (1) “to let live; to keep alive; to preserve alive; to allow to live happily” (Gen 12:12; Exod 1:17; Num 31:15; Deut 6:24; Josh 9:15; Isa 7:21; Jer 49:11) and (2) “to bring back to life” persons who are ill (Ps 30:4) or deceased (Hos 6:2); HALOT 309 s.v. חָיָה. Its parallelism with צֵל (tsel, “protection”) indicates that it means “to preserve someone’s life” from premature death or calamity. Therefore, “preserves the life” (RSV, NAB, ASV, NASB, NIV, NJPS) is preferable to “gives life to” (KJV, Douay, NRSV, YLT).

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