Human Government Demonstrates Limitations of Wisdom
1 Who istn The preposition כְּ (kaf) prefixed to כְּהֶחָכָם (kÿhekhakham, “wise man”) is traditionally taken in a comparative sense: “Who is like [or as] the wise man?” On the other hand, it may denote identity, e.g., Gen 1:26; Num 11:1; 1 Sam 20:3; 2 Sam 9:8; Neh 7:2; Job 10:9; Nah 3:6 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 47, §261; IBHS 202-4 §11.2.9b). atn The definite article on הֶחָכָם (hekhakham, “wise man”) may be taken in an individualizing (“the wise man”) or generic sense (“a wise man”). wise person? Who knows the solutiontn Or “the explanation.” The noun פֵּשֶׁר (pesher) denotes “solution; explanation; interpretation; meaning” (HALOT 982–83 s.v. פֵּשֶׁר; BDB 833 s.v. פֵּשֶׁר). The Hebrew term is an Aramaic loanword from פִּשְׁרָא (pishra’, “diagnosis; meaning; solution”). The Aramaic noun פְּשַׁר (pÿshar, “interpretation of a dream or prophecy”) and verb פְּשַׁר (pÿshar, “to interpret a dream or prophecy”) reflect a later meaning not present in Ecclesiastes, but current at the time of Daniel (Dan 2:5-7; 4:3, 15, 16; 5:12, 15, 16; 7:16) and Qumran (e.g., 1QpHab). to a problem?tn Heb “a thing.”
A person’s wisdom brightens his appearance,tn Heb “makes his face shine.” and softenstc The MT vocalizes the consonantal form ישנא as יְשֻׁנֶּא (yÿshunne’, Pual imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from I שָׁנָה, shana, “to change”). However, the LXX μισθήσεται (misqhsetai) reflects an alternate vocalization tradition of יִשָּׂנֵא (yissane’, Niphal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from שָׂנֵא, sane’, “to hate”), while the Vulgate’s commutabit reflects יְשַׁנֶּה (yÿshanneh, Piel imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from II שָׁנָה, shanah, “to repeat”).tn Heb “the strength of his face is changed.” his harsh countenance.tn Heb “the strength of his face is changed.” The expression עֹז פָּנָיו (’oz panayv, “strength of his face”) is an idiom for “boldness; impudence” (BDB 739 s.v. עֹז 4) or “hard face” = harsh countenance (HALOT 805 s.v. I עֹז 1.c).
2 Obey the king’s command,tc The Leningrad Codex (the basis of BHS) reads אֲנִי (’ani, 1st person common singular independent personal pronoun): “I obey the king’s command.” Other medieval Hebrew mss and all the versions (LXX, Vulgate, Targum, Syriac Peshitta) preserve an alternate textual tradition of the definite accusative marker אֶת־ (’et) introducing the direct object: אֶת־פִּי־מֶלֶךְ שְׁמוֹר (’et-pi-melekh shÿmor, “Obey the command of the king”). External evidence supports the alternate textual tradition. The MT is guilty of simple orthographic confusion between similar looking letters. The BHS editors and the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project adopt אֶת־ as the original reading. See D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 3:582–83.
because you tooktn The phrase “you took” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness. an oath before Godtn The genitive-construct שְׁבוּעַת אֱלֹהִים (shÿvu’at ’elohim, “an oath of God”) functions as a genitive of location (“an oath before God”) or an adjectival genitive of attribute (“a supreme oath”). to be loyal to him.tn The words “to be loyal to him” do not appear in the Hebrew text, but are supplied in the translation for clarification.
3 Do not rush out of the king’s presence in haste – do not delay when the matter is unpleasant,tn Or “do not stand up for a bad cause.”
for he can do whatever he pleases.
4 Surely the king’s authoritytn Heb “word.” is absolute;tn Heb “supreme.”
no one can saytn Heb “Who can say…?” to him, “What are you doing?”
5 Whoever obeys histn The word “his” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness and clarity. command will not experience harm,
and a wise persontn Heb “the heart of a wise man.” knows the proper timetn The term עֵת (’et, “time”) connotes “a proper, suitable time for an event; the right moment” (HALOT 900 s.v. עֵת 6; BDB 773 s.v. עֵת 2.b); e.g., “it was the time for rain” (Ezra 10:13); “a time of judgment for the nations” (Ezek 30:3); “there is an appropriate time for every occasion” (Eccl 3:1); “the time when mountain goats are born” (Job 39:1); “the rain in its season” (Deut 11:14; Jer 5:24); “the time for the harvest” (Hos 2:11; Ps 1:3); “food in its season” (Ps 104:27). and procedure.
6 For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter,
for the oppressiontn Heb “evil”; or “misery.” of the kingtn Heb “the man.” is severe upon his victim.tn Heb “upon him.”
7 Surely no one knows the future,tn Heb “what will be.”
and no one can tell another person what will happen.tn Heb “Who can tell him what will be?”
8 Just as no one has power over the wind to restrain it,tn Heb “There is not a man who has mastery over the wind to restrain the wind.”
so no one has power over the day of histn The word “his” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity. death.
Just as no one can be discharged during the battle,tn Heb “There is no discharge in war.”
so wickedness cannot rescue the wicked.tn Heb “its owners.”
9 While applyingtn The term נָתוֹן (naton, Qal infinitive absolute from נָתַן , natan, “to give”) is a verbal use of the infinitive absolute, used with vav to indicate an action that took place simultaneous to the main verb (see IBHS 596-97 §35.5.2d). Thus, the clause וְנָתוֹן אֶת־לִבִּי (vÿnaton ’et-libbi, “while applying my mind…”) indicates contemporaneous action to the clause, “All this I have seen” (אֶת־כָּל־זֶה רָאִיתִי, ’et-kol-zeh ra’iti). This is view is taken by several translations: “All this I have seen, having applied my mind to” (NEB); “All this I observed while applying my mind to” (RSV); “All this I saw, as I applied my mind to” (NIV); “All this I saw, as thoughtfully I pondered” (Moffatt). On the other hand, the LXX vav is taken in a coordinating sense (“and”) and the infinitive absolute as an independent verb: Και συμπαν τουτο εἰδον, και ἐδωκα την καρδιαν μου εἰς (“I saw all this, and I applied my heart to”). This reading is adopted by other English versions: “All this I have seen, and applied my heart” (KJV); “All these things I considered and I applied my mind” (NAB); “All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto” (ASV); “All this I have seen and applied my mind to” (NASB); “All these things I observed; I noted” (NJPS). my mindtn Heb “my heart.” to everythingtn Heb “every work”; or “every deed.” that happens in this world,tn Heb “that is done under the sun.” The phrase “that is done under the sun” (אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ, ’asher na’asah takhat hashamesh) is an idiom for “what happens in this world” or “on the earth” (BDB 1039 s.v. שֶׁמֶשׁ 4.c). Moffatt renders this idiom, “what goes on within this world.” I have seen all this:
Sometimes one persontn Heb “the man.” The article on הָאָדָם (ha’adam, “the man”) can be taken in a particularizing sense (“one person”) or in a collective sense as humankind as a whole (“humankind”); see HALOT 14 s.v. I אָדָם 1; BDB 9 s.v. אָדָם 2. So LXX: “All the things in which man has power over [his fellow] man to afflict him.” This is adopted by the RSV (“man lords it over man to his hurt”); NJPS (“men still had authority over men to treat them unjustly”); Moffatt (“men have power over their fellows, power to injure them”); MLB (“man has mastery over another to harm him”); and YLT (“man hath ruled over man to his own evil”). On the other hand, 8:1-9 focuses on the absolute power of the king, so the referent of הָאָדָם is probably the king. The article functions in an individualizing, particularizing sense. The particularization of הָאָדָם is reflected in many English versions: “one man” (KJV, ASV, NEB, NAB, Douay), “a man” (NASB, NIV), and “one person” (NRSV). dominatestn The verb שָׁלַט (shalat) denotes “to domineer; to dominate; to lord it over” (HALOT 1522 s.v. שׁלט; BDB 1020 s.v. שָׁלַט). The English versions have: “rule over” (KJV, YLT, Douay), “have power over” (NEB, ASV), “lord it over” (RSV, NIV), “have authority over” (NJPS), “exercise authority over” (NASB, NRSV); “have mastery over” (MLB); “tyrannize” (NAB). other peopletn Heb “man.” The word “other” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity. The singular noun אָדָם (’adam, “man”) functions as a collective singular, connoting “men, people” (cf. HALOT 14 s.v. אָדָם 1; BDB 9 s.v. אָדָם 2). The absence of the article might suggest an indefinite rather than an individual, particular sense. to their harm.tn Heb “a man exercises power over [another] man to his harm” [or “to his own harm”]. The 3rd person masculine singular singular pronominal suffix לוֹ (lo, “to his”) may refer to the antecedent אָדָם (’adam, “man” or “men”), being understood either in a singular sense (so NEB, RSV, NRSV, NAB, ASV, NASB) or in a collective sense (Moffatt, NJPS, NIV margin). However, the antecedent might be הָאָדם (ha’adam, “[one] man” = the king) with the suffix functioning reflexively: “to his own harm” (KJV, ASV margin, YLT, Douay, NIV).
Contradictions to the Law of Retribution
10 Not only that,tn Heb “Then…” The construction בְכֵן (vÿkhen) means “then; thereupon; on this condition” (cf. Eccl 8:10; Esth 4:16; Sir 13:7; see GKC 384 §119.ii; BDB 486 s.v. כֵּן 3.b; HALOT 483 s.v. כֵּן 8.c). The line could be rendered, “It is was then that I saw.” but I have seen the wicked approachingtc There are three textual options: (1) The MT reads קְבֻרִים וָבָאוּ וּמִמְּקוֹם (qÿvurim vava’u umimmÿqom, “they were buried, and they came, and from the place”). קְבֻרִים is a Qal passive participle mpl from קָבַר, qavar, “to bury.” The MT reading is retained by most translations: “[And so I saw the wicked] buried, who had come and gone from the place [of the holy]” (KJV); “[Then I saw the wicked] buried; they used to go in and out of the [holy] place” (RSV, NRSV); “[I saw how the wicked] were buried, who had gone in and out from the [holy] place” (MLB); “[I have seen the wicked] buried, those who used to go in and out from the [holy] place” (NASB); “[Then too, I saw the wicked] buried – those who used to come and go from the [holy] place” (NIV); and “[And then I saw] scoundrels coming from the [Holy] Site and being brought to burial” (NJPS). (2) The LXX reflects the reading קְבָרִים מוּבָאִים וּמִמְּקוֹם (qÿvarim muva’im umimmÿqom, “to the tombs they are brought, and from the place”). The LXX reflects the consonantal text of קברים but τάφους (tafous, “tombs”) reflects a vocalization tradition of קְבָרִים (“tombs”). (3) Several scholars suggest emending the text to קרבים ובאים וממקום (“approaching and coming to the place”). The emendation involves קרבִים (Qal active participle mpl from קרב “to approach; to draw near”). The emendation is adopted by several English versions: “I saw wicked men approach and enter…the sacred place” (NAB); “I saw wicked men approaching and even entering the holy place” (NEB). The emendation makes good sense because קָרַב (qarav, “to approach; to draw near”) is a synonym to בּוֹא (bo’, “to enter”), and is often used in reference to a person approaching the Lord at the tabernacle or temple. The textual corruption would be due to transposition of ב (bet) and ר (resh) in קָרַב (qarav, “to approach”) and קָבַר (qavar, “to bury”). See D. Barthélemy, Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 3:584. and entering the temple,tn The phrase “the temple” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness. Note the reference to the sanctuary in the next line.
and as they left the holy temple,tn Heb “the holy place.” they
boastedtc The MT reads וְיִשְׁתַּכְּחוּ (vÿyishtakkÿkhu, “and they were forgotten”; Hitpael imperfect 3rd person masculine plural from שָׁכַח, shakhakh, “to forget”). Apart from the MT reading here, the verb שָׁכַח “to forget” never occurs elsewhere in the Hitpael (HALOT 1490 s.v. I שׁכח; BDB 1013 s.v. שָׁכַח). Many medieval Hebrew mss read וישׁתבּחו “and they boasted” (Hitpael imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from שָׁבַח, shavakh, “praise, boast”). This alternate textual tradition is reflected in the Greek versions, e.g., Old Greek: και ἐπῃνέθησαν (kai ephneqhsan, “and they were praised”), Aquila and Theodotion: και ἐκαυχήσαντο (kai ekauchsanto, “and they boasted”), and Symmachus: και ἐπαινούμενοι (kai epainoumenoi, “and they were praised”). This is also reflected in the Vulgate. The English versions are divided; several follow the MT and translate “they were forgotten” (KJV, ASV, NASB, MLB, NJPS), but a good number adopt the alternate textual tradition and translate either “they were praised” or “they boasted” (NEB, RSV, NAB, NIV, NRSV). The context of 8:10-17, which focuses on the enigmatic contradictions in divine retribution (sometimes the wicked are not punished), favors the alternate tradition. The wicked boast that they can come and go as they please in the temple, flaunting their irreligion without fearing divine retribution (8:10). This thought is continued in v. 11: failure to execute a sentence against a criminal emboldens the wicked to commit more crimes, confident they will not suffer retribution. It is likely that the original reading of וישׁתבחו was confused for וישׁתכחו because the root שָׁבַח (“to praise; to boast”) is much rarer than the common root שָׁכַח (“to forget”). The phrase is best rendered “they boasted” (NEB: “priding themselves”) rather than “they were praised” (NAB, RSV, NRSV, NIV) – the verb שָׁבַח means “to praise” in Piel, but “to boast” in Hitpael (Ps 106:47; 1 Chr 16:35; HALOT 1387 s.v. I שׁבח; BDB 986 s.v. שָׁבַח). This approach is adopted by the committee for the Jerusalem Hebrew Bible Project: see D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 3:584–85. in the city that they had done so.
This also is an enigma.tn The term הֶבֶל (hevel) here means “enigmatic,” that is, difficult to grasp mentally. This sense is derived from the literal concept of breath, vapor or wind that cannot be seen; thus, the idea of “obscure, dark, difficult to understand, enigmatic” (HALOT 236–37 s.v. I הֶבֶל; BDB 210–11 s.v. I הֶבֶל). It is used in this sense in reference to enigmas in life (6:2; 8:10, 14) and the future which is obscure (11:8, 10).
11 Whentn The particle אֲשֶׁר (’asher) is used as a conjunction in a conditional/temporal clause to introduce the protasis (“when” or “if”), and עַל־כֵּן (’al-ken) introduces the apodosis (“then”); cf. BDB 83 s.v. אֲשֶׁר 8.d. a sentencetn The noun פִתְגָם (fitgam, “decision; announcement; edict; decree”) is a loanword from Persian patigama (HALOT 984 s.v. פִּתְגָם; BDB 834 s.v. פִּתְגָם). The Hebrew noun occurs twice in the OT (Eccl 8:11; Esth 1:20), twice in the Apocrypha (Sir 5:11; 8:9), and five times in Qumran (11QtgJob 9:2; 29:4; 30:1; 34:3; 1QapGen 22:27). The English versions consistently nuance this as a judicial sentence against a crime: “sentence” (KJV, NEB, NAB, ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, MLB, YLT), “sentence for a crime” (NIV), “sentence imposed” (NJPS), “sentence on a crime” (Moffatt). is not executedtn Heb “is not done.” The verb עָשַׂה (’asah, “to do”) refers to a judicial sentence being carried out (HALOT 892 s.v. 2). The Niphal can denote “be executed; be carried out” of a sentence (Eccl 8:11) or royal decree (Esth 9:1; BDB 795 s.v. 1.a). Similarly, the Qal can denote “to execute” vengeance (Judg 11:36) or judgment (1 Sam 28:18; Isa 48:14; Ezek 25:11; 28:26; Ps 149:7, 9; BDB 794 s.v.). at once against a crime,tn Heb “the evil.”
the human hearttn Heb “the heart of the sons of man.” The singular noun לֵב (lev, “heart”) is used collectively. The term לֵב is often used figuratively (metonymy) in reference to inclinations and determinations of the will (BDB 525 s.v. 4), moral character (BDB 525 s.v. 6), and as a synecdoche for the man himself (BDB 525 s.v. 7). is encouraged to do evil.tn Heb “is full to do evil.” The verb מָלֵא (male’, “to fill”) is used figuratively (metonymy): the lack of swift judicial punishment only emboldens the wicked to commit more crimes without fear of retribution. Most English versions translate the term literally: “are filled” (NIV, MLB, YLT), “is fully set” (KJV, ASV, RSV, NRSV). However, several versions nuance it figuratively: “emboldened” (ASV, NJPS) and “boldly” (NEB). Moffatt renders the line, “Because sentence on a crime is not executed at once, the mind of man is prone to evil practices.”
12 Even though a sinner might commit a hundred crimestn Heb “does evil one hundred [times].” and still live a long time,tn Heb “and prolongs his [life].”
yet I know that it will go well with God-fearing peopletn Heb “those who fear God.” – for they stand in feartn Heb “they fear.” before him.
13 But it will not go well with the wicked,
nor will theytn Heb “he.” prolong theirtn The word “their” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness. days like a shadow,tn The phrase “like a shadow” (כַּצֵּל, katsel) modifies the verb (“prolong”) rather than the noun (“days”). Several English versions misconstrue the line: “he will not prolong his days, [which are] like a shadow” (KJV, ASV); “the man who does not fear God is like a shadow” (NEB); and “he will not prolong his shadowy days” (NAB). It should be rendered “he will not prolong his days like a shadow” (RSV, NRSV, NASB, MLB, NIV). Unlike a shadow that lengthens at sunset, the wicked do not normally live long.
because theytn Heb “he.” do not stand in feartn Heb “they do not fear.” before God.
14 Here istn Heb “there is.” The term יֶשׁ (yesh, “there is”) is often used in aphorisms to assert the existence of a particular situation that occurs sometimes. It may indicate that the situation is not the rule but that it does occur on occasion, and may be nuanced “sometimes” (Prov 11:24; 13:7, 23; 14:12; 16:25; 18:24; 20:15; Eccl 2:21; 4:8; 5:12; 6:1; 7:15 [2x]; 8:14 [3x]). anothertn The word “another” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness. enigmatn Or “vanity” (again at the end of this verse). The Hebrew term הֶבֶל (hevel) here denotes “enigma,” that is, something that is difficult to understand. This sense is derived from the literal referent of breath, vapor or wind that cannot be seen; thus, “obscure; dark; difficult to understand; enigmatic” (see HALOT 236–37 s.v. I הֶבֶל; BDB 210–11 s.v. I הֶבֶל). It is used in this sense in reference to enigmas in life (6:2; 8:10, 14) and the future which is obscure (11:8, 10). that occurs on earth:
Sometimes there are righteous people who get what the wicked deserve,tn Heb “to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked”; or “who are punished for the deeds of the wicked.”
and sometimes there are wicked people who get what the righteous deserve.tn Heb “to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous”; or “who are rewarded for the deeds of the righteous.”
I said, “This also is an enigma.”
Enjoy Life In Spite of Its Injustices
15 So I recommend the enjoyment of life,tn Heb “the enjoyment.” The phrase “of life” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
for there is nothing better on earthtn Heb “under the sun.” for a person to dotn The phrase “to do” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness. excepttn The construction אִם…כִּי (ki…’im) is used as a particle of exception to limit the preceding clause (“except; nothing but”). See, e.g., Gen 28:17; 39:9; Lev 21:2; Num 14:30; Deut 10:12; 1 Sam 30:22; 2 Kgs 4:2; 5:15; 2 Chr 21:17; Esth 2:15; 5:12; Eccl 3:12; Isa 42:19; Dan 10:21; Mic 6:8 (cf. HALOT 471 s.v. אִם כִּי B.2; BDB 474 s.v. אִם כִּי 2.a). to eat, drink, and enjoysn Except to eat, drink, and enjoy life. Qoheleth is not commending a self-indulgent lifestyle of Epicurean hedonism. Nor is he lamenting the absolute futility of life and the lack of eternal retribution. He is submitting to the reality that in a sin-cursed world there is much of human existence marked by relative futility. Since the righteous man cannot assume that he will automatically experience temporal prosperity and blessings on this earth, he should – at the very least – enjoy each day to its fullest as a gift from God. D. R. Glenn (“Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 997) notes, “Each day’s joys should be received as gifts from God’s hands and be savored as God permits (3:13; 5:19).” life.tn The term “life” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness.
Sotn The vav introduces a logical conclusion. joytn Heb “it”; the referent (enjoyment of life) has been specified in the translation for clarity. will accompany him in his toil
during the days of his life which God gives him on earth.tn Heb “under the sun.”
Limitations of Human Wisdom
16 When I triedtn Heb “I applied my heart.” to gaintn Heb “to know.” wisdom
and to observe the activitytn Heb “and to see the business which is done.” on earth –
even though it prevents anyone from sleeping day or nighttn Heb “for no one sees sleep with their eyes either day or night.” The construction גַם …כִּי (ki… gam) expresses a concessive sense: “even though” (e.g., Ps 23:4; Prov 22:6; Eccl 4:14; Isa 1:15; Lam 3:8; Hos 8:10; 9:16); cf. HALOT 196 s.v. גַּם 9; BDB 169 s.v. גַּם 6; 473 s.v. כִּי 2.c. –
17 then I discerned all that God has done:tn Heb “all the work of God.”
No one really comprehends what happenstn Heb “the work that is done.” on earth.tn Heb “under the sun.”
Despite all humantn Heb “his”; the referent (man, in a generic sense) has been specified in the translation as the adjective “human” for clarity. efforts to discover it, no one can ever grasptn Heb “find.” it.tn The term “it” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness.
Even iftn The particle אִם (’im, “even if”) introduces the protasis in a real conditional clause (“If a wise man …”); see IBHS 636-37 §38.2d; R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 74, §453. a wise person claimedtn The imperfect tense verb יֹאמַר (yo’mar, “to say”) functions in a modal sense, denoting possibility (see IBHS 508 §31.4e; R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 31, §169). that he understood,
he would not really comprehendtn Heb “he cannot find”; or “he does not find.” it.tn The term “it” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is an implied direct object and has been supplied in the translation for smoothness and stylistic reasons.
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