Ecclesiastes 7

Life is Brief and Death is Certain!

A good reputation
Heb “name.” The Hebrew term שֵׁם (shem, “name”) is used metonymically for a person’s reputation (e.g., Prov 22:1; Deut 22:14, 19; Neh 6:13; also Gen 6:4; 12:2; 2 Sam 7:9; 8:13; 23:18, 22; 1 Chr 5:24; 12:31; 2 Chr 26:15; Neh 9:10; Isa 63:12, 14; Jer 32:20; Ezek 16:14; Dan 9:15); cf. HALOT 1549 s.v. שֵׁם D.2; BDB 1028 s.v. שֵׁם 2.b.
is better
The comparative term טוֹב (tov, “better”) is repeated throughout 7:1–12. It introduces a series of “Better-than sayings,” particularly in 7:1–6 in which every poetic unit is introduced by טוֹב.
than precious
Heb “good.” The repetition of טוֹב (tov, “good”) forms an inclusion (a structural device that rounds off the unit), while the two internal terms מִשֶּׁמֶן…שֵׁם (shem mishemen, “name …ointment”) create a paronomastic wordplay (see the note on the word “perfume”). The combination of these two sets of literary devices creates an AB:B'A' chiasm: מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב // שֵׁם טוֹב (tov shem // mishemen tov, e.g., “good name”// “ointment good”).
Or “oil”; or “ointment.” The term שֶׁמֶן (shemen) refers to fragrant “perfume; cologne; ointment” (Amos 6:6; Eccl 10:1; Song 1:2 [1:3 HT]; 4:10); see HALOT 1568 s.v. שֶׁמֶן A.2.c. Bodily oils were expensive (1 Kgs 17:12; 2 Kgs 2:4). Possession of oils and perfumes was a sign of prosperity (Deut 32:8; 33:24; Job 29:6; Prov 21:17; Ezek 16:13, 20). Wearing colognes and oils was associated with joy (Ps 45:8; Eccl 9:8; Isa 61:3) because they were worn on festive occasions (Prov 27:9). The similar sounding terms “name” (שֵׁם, shem) and “perfume” (שֶׁמֶן) create a wordplay (paronomasia). See W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (JSOTSup), 242–43; J. J. Glück, “Paronomasia in Biblical Literature,” Semitics 1 (1970): 50–78; A. Guillaume, “Paronomasia in the Old Testament.” JSS 9 (1964): 282–90; J. M. Sasson, “Wordplay in the OT,” IDBSup 968–70.

The vav prefixed to the form וְיוֹם (veyom) functions in a comparative sense, e.g., Job 5:7; 12:11; 16:21; Prov 25:25 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 71, #437).
the day of one’s
The word “one’s” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
The article prefixed to הַמָּוֶת (hammavet, “death”) probably functions in an indefinite possessive sense or in a generic sense: “one’s death,” e.g., Gen 44:2 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 19, #86, #92).
is better than the day of one’s birth.
There are two ways to understand this proverb: (1) Happy times (characterized by celebration and “fragrant perfume”) teach us less than hard times (“the day of one’s death”) which can bring about moral improvement (“a good reputation”). (2) It is better to come to the end of one’s life (“day of one’s death”) with a good reputation (“a good name”) than to merely be starting life (“day of one’s birth”) in an auspicious manner in joy and wealth (“fine perfume”). Folly and wickedness could foil a good beginning so that a person ends life as a fool. For example, Solomon began as the wisest man who ever lived, only to end life as one of history’s greatest fools.

It is better to go to a funeral
Heb “house of mourning.” The phrase refers to a funeral where the deceased is mourned.

than a feast.
Heb “house of drinking”; or “house of feasting.” The Hebrew noun מִשְׁתֶּה (mishteh) can denote (1) “feast; banquet,” occasion for drinking-bouts (1 Sam 25:36; Isa 5:12; Jer 51:39; Job 1:5; Esth 2:18; 5:14; 8:17; 9:19) or (2) “drink” (exilic/postexilic – Ezra 3:7; Dan 1:5, 8, 16); see HALOT 653 s.v. מִשְׁתֶּה 4; BDB 1059 s.v. שָׁתַה.
Qoheleth recommended that people soberly reflect on the brevity of life and the reality of death (It is better to go to a house of mourning) than to waste one’s life in the foolish pursuit of pleasure (than to go to a house of banqueting). Sober reflection on the brevity of life and reality of death has more moral benefit than frivolous levity.

For death
Heb “it”; the referent (“death”) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
is the destiny
Heb “the end.” The noun סוֹף (sof) literally means “end; conclusion” (HALOT 747 s.v. סוֹף 1; BDB 693 s.v. סוֹף). It is used in this context in reference to death, as the preceding phrase “house of mourning” (i.e., funeral) suggests.
of every person,
Heb “all men” or “every man.”

and the living should
The imperfect tense verb יִתֵּן, yitten (from נָתָן, natan, “to give”) functions in a modal sense, denoting obligation, that is, the subject’s obligatory or necessary conduct: “should” or “ought to” (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 31–32, #172; IBHS 508–9 #31.4g).
take this
The word “this” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness.
to heart.
NEB suggests “grief”; NJPS, “vexation.”
is better than laughter,
because sober reflection
Heb “in sadness of face there is good for the heart.”
is good for the heart.
Or possibly “Though the face is sad, the heart may be glad.”

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of merrymaking.
The expression the house of merrymaking refers to a banquet where those who attend engage in self-indulgent feasting and riotous drinking.

Frivolous Living Versus Wisdom

It is better for a person to receive
Heb “hear.”
a rebuke from those who are wise
Heb “rebuke of the wise,” a subjective genitive (“the wise” administer the rebuke).

than to listen to the song
Or “praise.” The antithetical parallelism between “rebuke” (גַּעֲרַת, gaarat) and “song” (שִׁיר, shir) suggests that the latter is figurative (metonymy of association) for praise/flattery which is “music” to the ears: “praise of fools” (NEB, NJPS) and “flattery of fools” (Douay). However, the collocation of “song” (שִׁיר) in 7:5 with “laughter” (שְׂחֹק, sekhoq) in 7:6 suggests simply frivolous merrymaking: “song of fools” (KJV, NASB, NIV, ASV, RSV, NRSV).
of fools.
For like the crackling of quick-burning thorns
The term “thorns” (הַסִּירִים, hassirim) refers to twigs from wild thorn bushes which were used as fuel for quick heat, but burn out quickly before a cooking pot can be properly heated (e.g., Pss 58:9; 118:12).
under a cooking pot,
so is the laughter of the fool.
This kind of folly
The word “kind of folly” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
also is useless.
It is difficult to determine whether the Hebrew term הֶבֶל (hevel) means “fleeting” or “useless” in this context. The imagery of quick-burning thorns under a cooking pot is ambiguous and can be understood in more than one way: (1) It is useless to try to heat a cooking pot by burning thorns because they burn out before the pot can be properly heated; (2) the heat produced by quick-burning thorns is fleeting – it produces quick heat, but lasts only for a moment. Likewise, the “laughter of a fool” can be taken in both ways: (1) In comparison to the sober reflection of the wise, the laughter of fools is morally useless: the burning of thorns, like the laughter of fools, makes a lot of noise but accomplishes nothing; (2) the laughter of fools is fleeting due to the brevity of life and certainty of death. Perhaps this is an example of intentional ambiguity.

Human Wisdom Overturned by Adversity

Surely oppression
Or “extortion.” Scholars debate whether the noun עֹשֶׁק (’osheq, “oppression; extortion”) in this context denotes “oppression” (HALOT 897 s.v. עֹשֶׁק 1) or “gain of extortion” (BDB 799 s.v. עֹשֶׁק 3). The parallelism between עֹשֶׁק and מַתָּנָה (mattanah, “bribe”) seems to suggest the latter; but the prominence of the theme of oppression in 7:8–10 argues for the former. Elsewhere in Ecclesiastes, the noun עֹשֶׁק denotes “oppression” (Eccl 4:1) and “extortion” (Eccl 5:8 [Heb 5:7]). The LXX rendered it as συκοφαντία (sukofantia, “oppression”). English translations are split between these two options: “extortion” (ASV, MLB, NIV), “oppression” (KJV, NAB, NASB, RSV, NRSV, YLT, Douay, Moffatt), as well as “cheating” (NJPS) and “slander” (NEB).
can turn a wise person into a fool;
Or “Oppression drives a wise person crazy”; or “Extortion drives a wise person crazy.” The verb III הלל (“to be foolish”) denotes “to make foolish; to make a fool out of someone; to make into a madman” (Job 12:17; Isa 44:25); cf. HALOT 249 s.v. III הלל; BDB 239 s.v. II הלל. It has been handled variously: “makes a wise man mad” (KJV, NASB); “drives a wise man crazy” (NEB); “can make a fool of a wise man” (NAB); “makes the wise man foolish” (RSV, NRSV); and “turns a wise man into a fool” (NIV).

The vav prefixed to וִיאַבֵּד (viabbed, “corrupts”) may function in a comparative sense, e.g., Job 5:7; 12:11; 16:21; Prov 25:25 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 71, #437).
a bribe corrupts
The text has וִיאַבֵּד (viabbed, conjunction + Piel imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from אָבַד, ’avad, “to destroy”), but the Dead Sea Scrolls text 4Q109 (Qoha), which reads ,ויעוה assumes ויעוה “twists” or “perverts” (conjunction + Piel imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from עָוָה I, ’avah, “to bend; to twist.” See J. Muilenburg, “A Qoheleth Scroll from Qumran,” BASOR 135 [1954]: 27). The verb I עָוָה (“to bend; to twist”) is used in reference to moral perversion (e.g., 2 Sam 7:14; 19:20; 24:17; 1 Kgs 8:47; Job 33:27; Prov 12:8; Jer 9:4); cf. HALOT 796–97 s.v. עוה; BDB 730 s.v. I עָוָה. The verb ויאבד is used similarly in reference to moral corruption, e.g., Eccl 3:6; 9:18; Jer 23:1 (HALOT 3 s.v. I אבד; BDB 2 s.v. אָבַד 2).
the heart.
Or “and a bribe drives a person mad.” The noun לֵב (lev, “heart”) may be taken as a synecdoche of part (i.e., heart) for the whole (i.e., a person). HALOT 3 s.v. I אבד suggests that וִיאַבֵּד לֵב (viabbed lev, “destroys the heart”) is an idiom meaning, “drives a person mad.” The B-line is taken as a comparison with the preceding A-line. On the other hand, the A-line and B-line might be in synonymous parallelism in which case the two lines could be rendered: “Surely [the gain of] extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.” On the other hand, the lines could be rendered, “Surely oppression drives a wise man crazy, and a bribe drives a person mad.”

The end of a matter
The term דָבָר (davar) denotes “matter; thing” here rather than “speech; word,” as the parallelism with “patience” suggests. The term was misunderstood as “speech; word” by the Vulgate (so also Douay).
is better than its beginning;
likewise, patience
Heb “the patient of spirit.”
is better than pride.
Heb “the proud of spirit.”

Do not let yourself be quickly provoked,
Heb “Do not be hasty in your spirit to become angry.”

for anger resides in the lap
Heb “bosom.”
of fools.
10  Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these days?”
Heb “these.” “Days” does not appear in the Hebrew text as second time, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness.

for it is not wise to ask that.
Heb “It is not from wisdom that you ask about this.”

Wisdom Can Lengthen One’s Life

11  Wisdom, like
Or “Wisdom with an inheritance, is good”; or “Wisdom is as good as an inheritance.” This use of the preposition עִם (’im) may denote: (1) accompaniment: “together with,” or (2) comparison: “as good as; like; in comparison to” (HALOT 839–40 s.v. עִם; BDB 767–69 s.v. עִם). BDB 767 s.v. 1 suggests the accompaniment nuance “together with,” while HALOT 840 s.v. 2.c suggests the comparative sense “in comparison to.” The translations are also divided: “wisdom with an inheritance is good” (KJV, ASV margin, RSV, NASB, YLT); “wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing” (NIV); “wisdom is as good as an inheritance” (ASV, NRSV, MLB, NJPS, Moffatt); “wisdom is better than an inheritance” (NEB). Because v. 12 compares wisdom with money (i.e., an inheritance), v. 11 is probably making a comparison as well: “Wisdom, like an inheritance, is good” (7:11a) = “Wisdom provides protection, just as money provides protection” (7:12a). The “good thing” that wisdom – like an inheritance or money – provides is protection.
an inheritance, is a good thing;
it benefits those who see the light of day.
Heb “see the sun.”

12  For wisdom provides
Heb “wisdom is a shade.” When used with a predicate nominative in a verbless clause, the preposition בְּ (bet) which appears twice in the line בְּצֵל הַחָכְמָה בְּצֵל הַכָּסֶף (betsel hakhokhmah betsel hakkasef) denotes identity, the so-called bet of essence (HALOT 104 s.v. בְּ 3; BDB 88 s.v. בְּ 1.7; see also R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 45, #249).
The term צֵל (tsel, “shade, shadow”) refers to that which provides protection or a shelter from the sun (Gen 19:8; Judg 9:36; Isa 25:5; 32:2; Jer 48:45; Jonah 4:5). It is used often in a figurative sense (hypocatastasis) to connote “protection” from calamity (Num 14:9; Isa 49:2; Hos 14:8; Pss 17:8; 36:8; 57:2; 63:8; 91:1; 121:5; Lam 4:20).

just as
The phrase “just as” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness and clarity.
money provides protection.
Heb “Wisdom is a shade, money is a shade.” The repetition of בְּצֵל (betsel, “shade; protection”) suggests that the A-line and B-line function as comparisons. Thus the Hebrew phrases “Wisdom is a shade, money is a shade” may be nuanced, “Wisdom [provides] protection [just as] money [provides] protection.” This approach is adopted by several translations: “wisdom is a defense, as money is a defense” (ASV), “wisdom is protection just as money is protection” (NASB), “wisdom like wealth is a defense” (Moffatt), “the protection of wisdom is as the protection of money” (NAB), “the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money” (RSV, NRSV), “wisdom protects as wealth protects” (MLB), and “wisdom is a shelter, as money is a shelter” (NIV). The comparison is missed by KJV: “wisdom is a defense, and money is a defense.” Less likely is taking בְּ (bet) in a locative sense: “to be in the shelter of wisdom is to be in the shelter of money” (NJPS).

But the advantage of knowledge is this:
Wisdom preserves the life
The verb חָיָה (khayah, “to live”) in the Piel denotes (1) “to let live; to keep alive; to preserve alive; to allow to live happily” (Gen 12:12; Exod 1:17; Num 31:15; Deut 6:24; Josh 9:15; Isa 7:21; Jer 49:11) and (2) “to bring back to life” persons who are ill (Ps 30:4) or deceased (Hos 6:2); HALOT 309 s.v. חָיָה. Its parallelism with צֵל (tsel, “protection”) indicates that it means “to preserve someone’s life” from premature death or calamity. Therefore, “preserves the life” (RSV, NAB, ASV, NASB, NIV, NJPS) is preferable to “gives life to” (KJV, Douay, NRSV, YLT).
of its owner.

Wisdom Acknowledges God’s Orchestration of Life

13  Consider the work of God:
For who can make straight what he has bent?
14  In times of prosperity
Heb “the day of good.”
be joyful,
but in times of adversity
Heb “the day of evil.”
consider this:
God has made one as well as the other,
Less probable renderings of this line are “God hath made the one side by side with the other” (ASV) and “God has set the one alongside the other” (NEB).

so that no one can discover what the future holds.
Heb “anything after him.” This line is misinterpreted by several versions: “that man may not find against him any just complaint” (Douay); “consequently, man may find no fault with Him” (NJPS); “so that man cannot find fault with him in anything” (NAB).

Exceptions to the Law of Retribution

15  During the days of my fleeting life
The word “life” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness and clarity.
I have seen both
As is the case throughout Ecclesiastes, the term הַכֹּל (hakkol) should be nuanced “both” rather than “all.”
of these things:
Heb “There is.” The term יֵשׁ (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]).
a righteous person dies prematurely
Heb “perishes.”
in spite of
Or “in his righteousness.” The preposition בְּ (bet) on the terms בְּצִרְקוֹ (betsirqo, “his righteousness”) and בְּרָעָתוֹ (beraato, “his evil-doing”) in the following line are traditionally taken in a locative sense: “in his righteousness” and “in his wickedness” (KJV, NASB, NIV). However, it is better to take the בְּ (bet) in the adversative sense “in spite of” (e.g., Lev 26:27; Num 14:11; Deut 1:32; Isa 5:25; 9:11, 16, 20; 10:4; 16:14; 47:9; Pss 27:3; 78:32; Ezra 3:3); cf. HALOT 104 s.v. בְּ 7; BDB 90 s.v. בְּ 3.7. NJPS renders it well: “Sometimes a good man perishes in spite of his goodness, and sometimes a wicked one endures in spite of his wickedness.” In a similar vein, D. R. Glenn (“Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 993–94) writes: “The word ‘in’ in the phrases ‘in his righteousness’ and ‘in his wickedness’ can here mean ‘in spite of.’ These phrases…argue against the common view that in 7:16 Solomon was warning against legalistic or Pharisaic self-righteousness. Such would have been a sin and would have been so acknowledged by Solomon who was concerned about true exceptions to the doctrine of retribution, not supposed ones (cf. 8:10–14 where this doctrine is discussed again).”
his righteousness,
and sometimes
Heb “There is.” The term יֵשׁ (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]).
a wicked person lives long
Heb “a wicked man endures.”
in spite of his evil deeds.
16  So do not be excessively righteous or excessively
The adjective יוֹתֵר (yoter) means “too much; excessive,” e.g., 2:15 “excessively wise” (HALOT 404 s.v. יוֹתֵר 2; BDB 452 s.v. יוֹתֵר). It is derived from the root יֶתֶר (yeter, “what is left over”; cf. HALOT 452 s.v. I יֶתֶר) and related to the verb יָתַר (yatar, Niphal “to be left over” and Hiphil “to have left over”; cf. HALOT 451–52). In 2:15 the adjective יוֹתֵר is used with the noun יִתְרוֹן (yitron, “advantage; profit”) in a wordplay or pun: The wise man has a relative “advantage” (יִתְרוֹן) over the fool (2:13–14a); however, there is no ultimate advantage because both share the same fate – death (2:14b–15a). Thus, Qoheleth’s acquisition of tremendous wisdom (1:16; 2:9) was “excessive” because it exceeded its relative advantage over folly: it could not deliver him from the same fate as the fool. He strove to obtain wisdom, yet it held no ultimate advantage. Likewise, in 7:16, Qoheleth warns that wisdom and righteous behavior do not guarantee an advantage over wickedness and folly, because the law of retribution is sometimes violated.
Heb “So do not be overly righteous and do not be overly wise.” The Hitpael verb תִּתְחַכַּם (titkhakkam, from חָכַם, khakham, “to be wise”) means “to make or show yourself wise” (HALOT 314 s.v. חכם; BDB 314 s.v. חָכַם). The Hitpael may be understood as: (1) benefactive reflexive use which refers to an action done for one’s own behalf (e.g., Gen 20:7; Josh 9:12; 1 Kgs 8:33; Job 13:27): because the law of retribution is sometimes violated, it is not wise for a person to be overly dependent upon wisdom or righteousness for his own benefit; (2) estimative-declarative reflexive which denotes esteeming or presenting oneself in a certain state, without regard to the question of truthfulness (e.g., 2 Sam 13:5; Prov 13:6; Esth 8:17): it is useless to overly esteem oneself as wise or to falsely present oneself as wiser than he really is because the law of retribution sometimes fails to reward the wise. The enigma of this line – “overly righteous and overly wise” – may be resolved by proper classification of the Hitpael stem of this verb.

Heb “Why?” The question is rhetorical.
you might
The imperfect of שָׁמֵם (shamem) functions in a modal sense, denoting possibility: “you might be…” (see IBHS 508 #31.4e).
be disappointed.
Or “Why should you ruin yourself?”; or “Why should you destroy yourself?” The verb שָׁמֵם (shamem) is traditionally taken as “to destroy; to ruin oneself.” For its use here HALOT 1566 s.v. שׁמם 2 has “to cause oneself ruin”; BDB 1031 s.v. שָׁמֵם 2 has “cause oneself desolation, ruin.” Most English versions take a similar approach: “Why destroy yourself?” (KJV, ASV, NEB, NRSV, MLB, NIV); “Why ruin yourself?” (NAB, NASB). However, in the Hitpolel stem the root שׁמם never means this elsewhere, but is always nuanced elsewhere as “to be appalled; to be astonished; to be dumbfounded; to be confounded; to be horrified” (e.g., Ps 143:4; Isa 59:16; 63:5; Dan 8:27); cf. BDB 1031 s.v. שָׁמֵם 1; HALOT 1566 s.v. שׁמם 1. It is taken this way in the English version of the Tanakh: “or you may be dumbfounded” (NJPS). Likewise, Cohen renders, “Why should you be overcome with amazement?” (A. Cohen, The Five Megilloth [SoBB], 154). If a person was trusting in his own righteousness or wisdom to guarantee prosperity, he might be scandalized by the exceptions to the doctrine of retribution that Qoheleth had observed in 7:15. D. R. Glenn (“Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 994) notes: “This fits in nicely with Solomon’s argument here. He urged his readers not to be over-righteous or over-wise ‘lest they be confounded or astonished.’ He meant that they should not depend on their righteousness or wisdom to guarantee God’s blessing because they might be confounded, dismayed, or disappointed like the righteous people whom Solomon had seen perishing in spite of their righteousness [in 7:15].” See GKC 149 #54.c.

17  Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool;
Heb “Why?” The question is rhetorical.
you might die before your time.
18  It is best to take hold of one warning
The word “warning” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation two times in this line for clarity.
without letting go of the other warning;
The other warning. Qoheleth is referring to the two words of advice in 7:16–17. He is not, as some suggest, urging his readers to grasp righteousness without letting go of wickedness. His point is not that people should live their lives with a balance of modest righteousness and modest wickedness. Because he urges the fear of God in 7:18b, he cannot be inconsistent in suggesting that his readers offend the fear of God by indulging in some degree of sin in order to counterbalance an overly righteous life. Rather, the proper fear of God will prevent a person from trusting in righteousness and wisdom alone for his security, and it will also prevent indulgence in wickedness and folly.

for the one who fears God will follow
Or “will escape both”; or “will go forth in both.” The Hebrew phrase יֵצֵא אֶת־כֻּלָּם (yetse et-kullam, “he will follow both of them”) has been interpreted in several ways: (1) To adopt a balanced lifestyle that is moderately righteous while allowing for self-indulgence in moderate wickedness (“to follow both of them,” that is, to follow both righteousness and wickedness). However, this seems to unnecessarily encourage an antinomian rationalization of sin and moral compromise. (2) To avoid the two extremes of being over-righteous and over-wicked. This takes יֵצֵא in the sense of “to escape,” e.g., Gen 39:12, 15; 1 Sam 14:14; Jer 11:11; 48:9; cf. HALOT 426 s.v. יצא 6.c; BDB 423 s.v. יָצָא 1.d. (3) To follow both of the warnings given in 7:16–17. This approach finds parallels in postbiblical rabbinic literature denoting the action of discharging one’s duty of obedience and complying with instruction. In postbiblical rabbinic literature the phrase יַדֵי יֵצֵא (yetse yade, “to go out of the hands”) is an idiom meaning “to comply with the requirements of the law” (Jastrow 587 s.v. יָצָא Hif.5.a). This fits nicely with the context of 7:16–17 in which Qoheleth issued two warnings. In 7:18a Qoheleth exhorted his readers to follow both of his warnings: “It is best to grasp the first warning without letting go of the second warning.” The person who fears God will heed both warnings. He will not depend upon his own righteousness and wisdom, but upon God’s sovereign bestowal of blessings. Likewise, he will not exploit the exceptions to the doctrine of retribution to indulge in sin, rationalizing sin away just because the wicked sometimes do not get what they deserve.
both warnings.
Heb “both.” The term “warnings” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity. Alternately, “both [extremes]” or “both [fates].” The point of this expression is either (1) “ he achieves both things,” (2) “he escapes all these misfortunes,” (3) “he does his duty by both,” or (4) “he avoids both extremes.” See D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 3:580–81.

Wisdom Needed Because No One is Truly Righteous

19  Wisdom gives a wise person more protection
Heb “gives strength.”

than ten rulers in a city.
20  For
The introductory particle כִּי (ki) is rendered variously: “for” (KJV); “indeed” (NASB); not translated (NIV); “for” (NJPS). The particle functions in an explanatory sense, explaining the need for wisdom in v. 19. Righteousness alone cannot always protect a person from calamity (7:15–16); therefore, something additional, such as wisdom, is needed. The need for wisdom as protection from calamity is particularly evident in the light of the fact that no one is truly righteous (7:19–20).
there is not one truly
The term “truly” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity. Qoheleth does not deny the existence of some people who are relatively righteous.
righteous person on the earth
who continually does good and never sins.
21  Also, do not pay attention to everything that people
Heb “they”; the referent (people) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
Heb “so that you do not hear…”; or “lest you hear….”
you might even hear
The imperfect tense verb תִשְׁמַע (tishma’; from שָׁמַע [shama’, “to hear”]) functions in a modal sense, denoting possibility: “you might hear” (see IBHS 508 #31.4e).
your servant cursing you.
22  For you know in your own heart
Heb “your heart knows.”

that you also have cursed others many times.

Human Wisdom is Limited

23  I have examined all this by wisdom;
I said, “I am determined
The cohortative אֶחְכָּמָה (’ekhkamah, from חָכַם, khakham,“to be wise”) emphasizes the resolve (determination) of Qoheleth to become wise enough to understand the perplexities of life.
to comprehend this”
Or “I am determined to become wise”
– but it was beyond my grasp.
Or “but it eluded me”; Heb “but it was far from me.”

24  Whatever has happened is beyond human
The word “human” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
Heb “is far away.”

it is far deeper than anyone can fathom.
Heb “It is deep, deep – who can find it?” The repetition of the word “deep” emphasizes the degree of incomprehensibility. See IBHS 233–34 #12.5a.

True Righteousness and Wisdom are Virtually Nonexistent

25  I tried
Heb “I turned, I, even my heart.”
to understand, examine, and comprehend
Heb “to seek.”

the role of
The phrase “the role of” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness.
wisdom in the scheme of things,
The phrase חָכְמָה וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן (khokhmah vekheshbon, “wisdom and the scheme of things”) is a hendiadys (a figure of speech in which two nouns connote one idea): “wisdom in the scheme of things.” This is similar to the hendiadys עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵרֹנֵךְ (’itsevonekh veheronekh, “pain and childbearing”) which connotes “pain in childbearing” (Gen 3:16).

and to understand the stupidity of wickedness
Or “the evil of folly” The genitive construct phrase רֶשַׁע כֶּסֶל (resha kesel) may be taken as a genitive of attribution (“the wickedness of folly”) or as a genitive of attribute (“the folly of wickedness”). The English versions treat it in various ways: “wickedness of folly” (KJV); “wrong of folly” (YLT); “evil of folly” (NASB); “stupidity of wickedness” (NIV); “wickedness, stupidity” (NJPS); “wickedness is folly [or foolish]” (ASV, NAB, NRSV, MLB, Moffatt), and “it is folly to be wicked” (NEB).
and the insanity of folly.
Or “the folly of madness” The genitive construct phrase וְהַסִּכְלוּת הוֹלֵלוֹת (vehassikhlut holelot) may be taken as a genitive of attribution (“the stupidity of wickedness”) or a genitive of attribute (“the evil of folly”). The phrase is rendered variously: “foolishness and madness” (KJV); “foolishness of madness” (NASB); “madness of folly” (NIV); “madness and folly” (NJPS); “the foolishness which is madness” (NEB); and “foolishness [or folly] is madness” (ASV, NAB, NRSV, MLB, Moffatt).

26  I discovered this:
The word “this” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness.

More bitter than death is the kind of
The phrase “kind of” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity (see the following note on the word “woman”).
The article on הָאִשָּׁה (haishah) functions in a particularizing sense (“the kind of woman”) rather than in a generic sense (i.e., “women”).
who is like a hunter’s snare;
Heb “is snares.” The plural form מְצוֹדִים (metsodim, from the noun I מָצוֹד, matsod, “snare”) is used to connote either intensity, repeated or habitual action, or moral characteristic. For the function of the Hebrew plural, see IBHS 120–21 #7.4.2. The term II מָצוֹד “snare” is used in a concrete sense in reference to the hunter’s snare or net, but in a figurative sense of being ensnared by someone (Job 19:6; Prov 12:12; Eccl 7:26).

her heart is like a hunter’s net and her hands are like prison chains.
The man who pleases God escapes her,
but the sinner is captured by her.
27  The Teacher says:
I discovered this while trying to discover the scheme of things, item by item.
28  What I have continually sought, I have not found;
I have found only
The word “only” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness.
one upright
The word “upright” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation twice, here and in the following line, for clarity.
man among a thousand,
but I have not found one upright woman among all of them.
29  This alone have I discovered: God made humankind upright,
but they have sought many evil schemes.
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