|The Book of Ecclesiastes|
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Go to Bible: Ecclesiastes 1
“the Sage, son of David, king in Jerusalem.” This title, which is derived from the Hebrew word qahal (“to assemble”), has led to a variety of suggestions as to what the word might mean, with many of the suggestions having reasonable overlap. Coming from the verb “to assemble,” this title certainly means a gatherer or collector (of wisdom, wealth, or people). If this person has gathered people into an assembly, then he might function as a teacher or preacher. But the words “teacher” or “preacher” do not carry in their English translations the sense of a gatherer and collector if what is being collected is words of wisdom, which seems to be more the case in Ecclesiastes. It appears that every modern commentary has resolved to leave the title Qoheleth untranslated in their translation.a In sum, this person is an authoritative gatherer and collector of wisdom, and seeks to teach others about this amassed knowledge.
“pointless.” The Hebrew word is hebel (#01892 הֶבֶל), and it has the basic idea of being a vapor or breath. In that, hebel combines different meanings, including that of being “futile, pointless, meaningless” and also “temporary, transitory, short-lived.” This makes hebel somewhat difficult to translate in Ecclesiastes because sometimes the primary emphasis is “pointless; futile,” but at other times the primary emphasis of hebel is “temporary, transitory,” with the undertone being “pointless; futile.”(top)
|Ecc 1:3||- (top)|
|Ecc 1:4||- (top)|
“and panting.” The Hebrew word shaaph (#07602 שָׁאַף) has several meanings, including “to pant, gasp, breathe heavily” from effort and exertion; “to long for, desire, ‘pant for’ in the sense of longing;” and “to hurry, hasten.” Here the sun is personified and is portrayed as “panting” with effort as it hurries to get back to where it rises so it can start its day all over again. The idea in the verse is that the sun gets no rest, and has to do the same thing over and over again with no end in sight. Versions that include the word “pant” include HCSB; Rotherham; YLT; and CEB. C. L. Seow says, “Qohelet, too, portrays the sun as one struggling to reach its destination, only to have to recommence.”a
|Ecc 1:6||- (top)|
“the place from which the streams flow, they return.” That water in rivers, lakes, and oceans evaporates and falls to earth as rain, then flows back to those rivers, lakes, and oceans again is known as the hydrologic cycle. This cycle was supposedly “discovered” in 1580 by Bernard Palissy, but God knew about it and revealed it to Solomon almost 2500 years before Palissy’s time. It is also in Amos 5:8. Facts like these in the Bible are evidence that it is indeed authored by God and was not the work of the human mind.(top)
“All things are full of weariness.” This is both a hyperbole and a personification, even making inanimate objects have feelings as if they were human.
“express.” The Hebrew is the common word for “word, matter, speak.” In the clipped fashion of Hebrew poetry, the line is more literally and simply, “Man cannot speak.” People cannot express what they experience; the seeming meaninglessness of life leaves us speechless. The godless person can see little meaning in life. But later on in Ecclesiastes we learn that changes when a person finds God.(top)
|Ecc 1:9||- (top)|
|Ecc 1:10||- (top)|
“former things…those things.” The Hebrew text can refer to either people or things. The English versions are split, with some referring to “things” (cp. DBY; ESV; NASB; NET; RSV), and some referring to “people” (cp. BBE; CJB; HCSB; NAB; NIV; NRSV). The REV went with “things” because it is more inclusive, including people.(top)
|Ecc 1:12||- (top)|
“applied my heart.” The Hebrew text is more literally, “gave my heart,” but this could be confusing in English because when a person “gives their heart” to something, like a girl giving her heart to a boy, the boy usually woos the girl. But in this case, wisdom did not woo the Sage, he applied his heart to it. And that is how we acquire wisdom; we apply ourselves to it.(top)
“pointless.” See commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:2.
“herding the wind.” Robert Alter uses the phrase “herding the wind,” and he writes: “The verbal root of the first Hebrew word here generally means to tend a flock (and in the Song of Songs, to graze), so the common modern translation, “pursuit of the wind,” is an interpretive liberty.”a The fact that the Hebrew can mean “to herd, to shepherd, to tend” explains why some versions say “feeding” or the NAB reads “shepherd the wind” in Hosea 12:1. Although the English versions translate the Hebrew phrase in a number of different ways, most of those translations make the point well, that what is done under the sun is pointless, futile. That is certainly true with herding wind, because it cannot be done and it is pointless to try.b
|Ecc 1:15||- (top)|
“I said to myself.” This is an English nuance of the Hebrew text, which is more literally, “I spoke with (or “to”) my heart.”
“my heart has seen.” The phrase “has seen” is an idiom. To “see” something in this context has a broad meaning, including to experience and to obtain. Thus, the literal “has seen” seems to be a better choice than picking a more nuanced word that is narrower in scope.(top)
|Ecc 1:17||- (top)|
“frustration.” The Hebrew word is kaas (#03708 כַּעַס), and its semantic range includes anger, vexation, provocation, irritation, frustration, grief. One could easily conflate Ecclesiastes 1:18 in English and say, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, anger, grief, and frustration,” and that would be true, because knowing what should be done and the right way to do something is very irritating and frustrating if others are not doing something right, especially if their wrong actions cause hurt or harm. The TWOT says, “Although the root does not appear in Ugaritic, it is found in Aramaic, Akkadian, and Arabic. The former two emphasize the pain aspect while the Arabic usage stresses sadness and sorrow. Although the root can be used to express physical suffering, it much more commonly has to do with mental anguish.”a We decided to go with “frustration” in the REV.b
“pain.” The Hebrew word is makob (#04341 מַכְאֹב), and it means mental or physical pain, sorrow, or suffering. We translate it “pain” in the REV (cp. NASB; Rotherham; YLT), but it includes mental pain, sorrow, and suffering.