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21 For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge, and skill;
however, he must hand over[a] the fruit of his labor[b] as an inheritance[c]
to someone else who did not work for it.
This also is futile, and an awful injustice![d]

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Footnotes

  1. Ecclesiastes 2:21 tn Heb “he must give.” The third person masculine singular suffix on יִתְּנֶנּוּ (yittenennu, Qal imperfect third person masculine singular from נָתַן, natan, “to give” plus third person masculine singular suffix) refers back to עֲמָלוֹ (ʿamalo, “his labor”) which is treated in this line as a metonymy of cause for effect, that is, “he must give it” = “he must give his labor” = “he must give the fruit of his labor.”sn As in 2:18-19, Qoheleth laments the injustice that a person who works diligently in wisdom must one day hand over the fruit of his labor (i.e., his fortune and the care of his achievements) to his successor. There is no guarantee that one’s heir will be wise and be a good steward of this wealth, or be foolish and squander it—in which case, the former man’s entire life’s work would be in vain.
  2. Ecclesiastes 2:21 tn Heb “it”; the referent (“the fruit of his labor”) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  3. Ecclesiastes 2:21 tn Or “he must turn over an inheritance”; or “he must turn it over, namely, an inheritance.” There are two approaches to the syntax of חֶלְקוֹ (khelqo, “his inheritance”): (1) The third person masculine singular suffix is a subjective genitive: “his inheritance” = the inheritance which he must give to his heir. The referent of the third person masculine singular suffix is Qoheleth in 2:21a who worked hard to amass the fortune. The noun חֵלֶק (kheleq, “inheritance”) functions as an adverbial accusative of state (GKC 372 §118.a) or a predicate accusative (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 12-13, §57): “He must give it [i.e., his fortune] as an inheritance.” (2) The third person masculine singular suffix is an objective genitive: “his inheritance” = the inheritance which the heir will receive from Qoheleth. The referent of the third person masculine singular suffix is the heir in 2:21b. The noun חֵלֶק (“inheritance”) functions as the accusative direct object in apposition (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 15-16, §71) to the third person masculine singular suffix on יִתְּנֶנּוּ (yittenennu, “he must give it”; Qal imperfect third person masculine singular from נָתַן, natan, plus third person masculine singular suffix): “He must give it, namely, his inheritance, to one who did not work for it.”
  4. Ecclesiastes 2:21 tn The noun רָעָה (raʿah, “evil”) probably means “misfortune” (HALOT 1263 s.v. רָעָה 4) or “injustice; wrong” (HALOT 1262 s.v. רָעָה 2.b). The phrase רָעָה רַבָּה (raʿah rabbah) connotes “grave injustice” or “great misfortune” (e.g., Eccl 2:17; 5:12, 15; 6:1; 10:5). It is expressed well as: “This too is…a great misfortune” (NAB, NIV, MLB) and “utterly wrong!” (NEB).sn Verses 18-21 are arranged into two sub-units (2:18-19 and 2:20-21). Each contains a parallel structure: (1) Introductory lament: “I hated all my toil” and “I began to despair about all my toil.” (2) Reason for the lament: “I must turn over the fruit of my labor to the hands of my successor” and “he must hand over the fruit of his work as an inheritance.” (3) Description of successor: “who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?” and “he did not work for it.” (4) Concluding statement: “This also is fruitless!” and “This also is profitless and an awful injustice!”

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