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Ecclesiastes 9:13-16

Most People Are Not Receptive to Wise Counsel

9:13 This is what I also observed about wisdom on earth, 1 

and it is a great burden 2  to me:

9:14 There was once 3  a small city with a few men in it,

and a mighty king attacked it, besieging 4  it and building strong 5  siege works against it.

9:15 However, a poor but wise man lived in the city, 6 

and he could have delivered 7  the city by his wisdom,

but no one listened 8  to that poor man.

9:16 So I concluded that wisdom is better than might, 9 

but a poor man’s wisdom is despised; no one ever listens 10  to his advice. 11 

1 tn Heb “under the sun.”

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

3 tn The verbs in this section function either as past definite actions (describing a past situation) or as hypothetical past actions (describing an imaginary hypothetical situation for the sake of illustration). The LXX uses subjunctives throughout vv. 14-15 to depict the scenario as a hypothetical situation: “Suppose there was a little city, and a few men [lived] in it; and there should come against it a great king, and surround it, and build great siege-works against it; and should find in it a poor wise man, and he should save the city through his wisdom; yet no man would remember that poor man.”

4 tn The two perfect tense verbs וְסָבַב (vÿsavav, “he besieged”) and וּבָנָה (uvanah, “he built”) may be taken in a complementary sense, qualifying the action of the main perfect tense verb וּבָא (uva’, “he attacked it”).

5 tn The root גדל (“mighty; strong; large”) is repeated in 9:13b for emphasis: “a mighty (גָדוֹל, gadol) king…building strong (גְדֹלִים, gÿdolim) siege works.” This repetition highlights the contrast between the vast power and resources of the attacking king, and the meager resources of the “little” (קְטַנָּה, qÿtannah) city with “few” (מְעָט, mÿat) men in it to defend it.

6 tn Heb “was found in it”; the referent (the city) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

7 tn Or “he delivered.” The verb וּמִלַּט (umillat, from מָלַט, malat, “to deliver”) is functioning either in an indicative sense (past definite action: “he delivered”) or in a modal sense (past potential: “he could have delivered”). The literal meaning of זָכַר (zakhar, “to remember”) in the following line harmonizes with the indicative: “but no one remembered that poor man [afterward].” However, the modal is supported by v. 16: “A poor man’s wisdom is despised; no one ever listens to his advice.” This approach must nuance זָכַר (“to remember”) as “[no one] listened to [that poor man].” Most translations favor the indicative approach: “he delivered” or “he saved” (KJV, RSV, NRSV, NAB, ASV, NASB, MLB, NIV); however, some adopt the modal nuance: “he might have saved” (NEB, NJPS, NASB margin).

8 tn Heb “remembered.”

9 tn Or “power.”

10 tn The participle form נִשְׁמָעִים (nishmaim, Niphal participle mpl from שָׁמַע, “to listen”) is used verbally to emphasize a continual, durative, gnomic action.

11 tn Heb “his words are never listened to.”

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