New English Translation
Futility of Self-Indulgent Pleasure
2 I thought to myself,[a]
“Come now,[b] I will try[c] self-indulgent pleasure[d] to see[e] if it is worthwhile.”[f]
But I found[g] that it also is futile.[h]
2 I said of partying,[i] “It is folly,”
and of self-indulgent pleasure,[j] “It accomplishes nothing!”[k]
3 I thought deeply[l] about the effects of[m] indulging[n] myself[o] with wine
(all the while[p] my mind was guiding me[q] with wisdom)[r]
and the effects of[s] behaving foolishly,[t]
so that[u] I might discover what is profitable[v]
for people[w] to do on earth[x] during the few days[y] of their lives.
Futility of Materialism
4 I increased my possessions:[z]
I built houses for myself;[aa]
I planted vineyards for myself.
5 I designed[ab] royal gardens[ac] and parks[ad] for myself,
and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.
6 I constructed pools of water for myself,
to irrigate my grove[ae] of flourishing trees.
7 I purchased male and female slaves,
and I owned slaves who were born in my house;[af]
I also possessed more livestock—both herds and flocks—
than any of my predecessors in Jerusalem.
8 I also amassed silver and gold for myself,
as well as valuable treasures[ag] taken from kingdoms and provinces.[ah]
I acquired male singers and female singers for myself,
and what gives a man sensual delight[ai]—a harem of beautiful concubines.[aj]
9 So[ak] I was far wealthier[al] than all my predecessors in Jerusalem,
yet I maintained my objectivity.[am]
10 I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted;[an]
I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure.[ao]
So all my accomplishments gave me joy;[ap]
this was my reward for all my effort.[aq]
11 Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished[ar]
and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it,[as]
I concluded:[at] “All these[au] achievements and possessions[av] are ultimately[aw] profitless[ax]—
like chasing the wind!
There is nothing gained[ay] from them[az] on earth.”[ba]
- Ecclesiastes 2:1 tn Heb “I said, I, in my heart” (אָמַרְתִּי אֲנִי בְּלִבִּי, ʾamarti ʾani belibbi). The term “heart” (לֵב, lev) is a synecdoche of part (“heart”) for the whole (the whole person), and thus means “I said to myself” (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 648).
- Ecclesiastes 2:1 tn The Hebrew verb לְכָה (lekhah, “Come!”) is a weakened imperative, used merely as an introductory word, e.g., Gen 19:32; 31:44; Judg 19:11; 1 Sam 9:9-10; 11:14; 2 Kgs 3:7; Ps 66:5; Song 7:12; Isa 1:18; 2:3; Mic 4:2 (HALOT 246 s.v. הָלַךְ 2; BDB 234 s.v. הָלַךְ I.5.f.2). Whenever לְכָה introduces an exhortation, it functions as an invitation to the audience to adopt a course of action that will be beneficial to the addressee or mutually beneficial to both the speaker and the addressee. Here, Qoheleth personifies his “heart” (לִבִּי, libbi) and addresses himself. The examination of self-indulgent pleasure is designed to be beneficial to Qoheleth.
- Ecclesiastes 2:1 tn Or “test.” The cohortative אֲנַסְּכָה (ʾanassekhah) emphasizes the resolve of the speaker. The term נָסַה (nasah, “to test”) means “to conduct a test,” that is, to conduct an experiment (Judg 6:39; Eccl 2:1; 7:23; Dan 1:12, 14; see HALOT 702 s.v. נסה 3; BDB 650 s.v. נָסָה 1). The verb נָסַה is often used as a synonym with בָּחַן (bakhan, “to examine”; BDB 103 s.v. בָּחַן and 650 s.v. נָסָה 1) and לָדַעַת (ladaʿat, “to ascertain”; Deut 8:2).
- Ecclesiastes 2:1 tn Heb “I will test you with pleasure.” The term שִׂמְחַה (simkhah, “pleasure”) has a two-fold range of meanings: (1) it can refer to the legitimate enjoyment of life that Qoheleth affirms is good (5:17; 8:15; 9:7; 11:8, 9) and that God gives to those who please him (2:26; 5:19); or (2) it can refer to foolish pleasure, self-indulgent, frivolous merrymaking (2:1, 2; 7:4). The parallelism in 2:2 between שִׂמְחַה and שְׂחוֹק (sekhoq, “laughter, frivolous merrymaking”), which always appears in the context of banqueting, drinking, and merrymaking, suggests that the pejorative sense is in view in this context.sn The statement I will try self-indulgent pleasure is a figurative expression known as metonymy of association. As 2:1-3 makes clear, it is not so much Qoheleth who is put to the test with pleasure, but rather that pleasure is put to the test by Qoheleth.
- Ecclesiastes 2:1 tn Heb “See what is good!” The volitive sequence of the cohortative (אֲנַסְּכָה, ʾanassekhah, “I will test you”) followed by vav + imperative (וּרְאֵה, ureʾeh, “and see!”) denotes purpose/result: “I will test you…in order to see….” The verb רָאָה (raʾah, “to see”) has a broad range of meanings (e.g., in the Qal stem 16 categories are listed in HALOT 1157-1160 s.v.). In this context it means “to discover; to perceive; to discern; to understand” (HALOT 1159 s.v. ראה 13; BDB 907 s.v. רָאָה 5).
- Ecclesiastes 2:1 sn The phrase “to see what is good” (רָאָה, raʾah, “to see” plus טוֹב, tov, “good”) is repeated twice in 2:1-3. This is the key phrase in this section of Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth sought to discover (רָאָה) whether merry-making offered any value (טוֹב) to mankind.
- Ecclesiastes 2:1 tn The particle וְהִנֵּה (vehinneh, literally “Behold!”) occurs after verbs of perception to introduce what was seen, understood or discovered (HALOT 252 s.v. הִנֵּה 8). It is used to make the narrative graphic and vivid, enabling the reader to enter into the surprise of the speaker (BDB 244 s.v. הִנֵּה c). This is an example of the heterosis of the deictic particle (“Behold!”) for a verb of perception (“I found”). See E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 510-34.
- Ecclesiastes 2:1 tn This use of הֶבֶל (hevel) denotes “futile, worthless, fruitless, pointless” (HALOT 237 s.v. I הֶבֶל 2; BDB 210-11 s.v. I הֶבֶל 2). It is a synonym to מְהוֹלָל (meholal, “folly”) in 2:2a and an antonym to טוֹב (tov, “worthwhile, beneficial”) in 2:1b and 2:3c.
- Ecclesiastes 2:2 tn Heb “laughter.” The term שְׂחוֹק (sekhoq, “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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:2 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 (sekhoq, “laughter, frivolous merrymaking”) in 2:2 suggests that the pejorative sense is in view here.
- Ecclesiastes 2:2 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 ; 90:11; 94:16; 106:2; Eccl 3:21.
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 tn The phrase “the effects of” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 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).
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 tn Heb “my flesh.” The term בְּשָׂרִי (besari, “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.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 tn The phrase “all the while” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 tn The word “me” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 tn Heb “and my heart was leading along in wisdom.” The vav + noun, וְלִבִּי (velibbi) 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 tn The phrase “the effects of” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 tn Heb “embracing folly.” The verb אָחָז (ʾakhaz, “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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 tn Or “until.” The construction עַד אֲשֶׁר (ʿad ʾasher, “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, ʾerʾeh, Qal imperfect first common singular from רָאָה, raʾah, “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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 tn Heb “I might see where is the good?” The interrogative particle אֵי (ʾe, “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 (ʾe zeh tov) is an indirect question that literally means, “Where is the good?” that is, “what good?” (HALOT 38 s.v. אֵי 2.d).
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 tn Heb “the sons of man.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 tn Heb “under the heavens.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:3 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 (arithmon, “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).
- Ecclesiastes 2:4 tn Or “my works”; or “my accomplishments.” The term מַעֲשָׂי (maʿasay, “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).
- Ecclesiastes 2:4 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:5 tn Heb “made.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:5 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:5 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.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:6 tn Heb “to water from them a grove” (or “forest).
- Ecclesiastes 2:7 tn The phrase “sons of a house” (בְנֵי בַיִת, vene 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:8 tn The term סְגֻלָּה (segullah) 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:8 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:8 tn Heb “and sensual delights of the sons of man.” The noun תַּעֲנוּג (taʿanug) 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 (ʿanog, “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 (ʿoneg, “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 veshiddot), the meaning of which is uncertain (see the note on the phrase “a harem of beautiful concubines” at the end of this verse).
- Ecclesiastes 2:8 tn The meaning of the superlative construction שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדּוֹת (shiddah veshiddot) 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, vetaʿanugot bene haʾadam). 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 (oinochoon kai oinochoas), “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 and 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 (ʾelohe haʾelohim vaʾadone haʾadonim, “the God of gods and Lord of lords,” i.e., “the Highest God and the Supreme Lord”; Deut 10:17), and עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים (ʿeved ʿavadim, “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).
- Ecclesiastes 2:9 tn The vav prefixed to וְגָדַלְתִּי (vegadalti, vav plus 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:9 tn Heb “I became great and I surpassed” (וְהוֹסַפְתִּי וְגָדַלְתִּי, vegadalti vehosafti). 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).
- Ecclesiastes 2:9 tn Heb “yet my wisdom stood for me,” meaning he retained his wise perspective despite his great wealth.
- Ecclesiastes 2:10 tn Heb “all which my eyes asked for, I did not withhold from them.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:10 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:10 tn Heb “So my heart was joyful from all my toil.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:10 tn Heb “and this was my portion from all my toil.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:11 tn Heb “all my works that my hands had done.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:11 tn Heb “and all the toil with which I had toiled in doing it.” The term עָמַל (ʿamal, “toil”) is repeated to emphasize the burden and weariness of the labor which Qoheleth exerted in his accomplishments.
- Ecclesiastes 2:11 tn Heb “Behold!”
- Ecclesiastes 2:11 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:11 tn The phrase “achievements and possessions” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in translation for clarity.
- Ecclesiastes 2:11 tn The term “ultimately” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
- Ecclesiastes 2:11 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:11 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.
- Ecclesiastes 2:11 tn The phrase “from them” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
- Ecclesiastes 2:11 tn Heb “under the sun.”