Ecclesiastes—the הבל conclusion and a full translation of the book

John Cook (my co-author on this blog), Phillip Samuel Marshall (Houston Baptist University), and I have finished our Ecclesiastes grammatical commentary for the Baylor series. I believe we began planning this volume way back in 2010, though there were significant interruptions for tenure as well as other projects (not to mention teaching!). But we do not take the Baylor series lightly—we do not see it a simple parsing guide (for which one would probably be better off using a computer application), but as a serious grammatical commentary. And it is very satisfying to have it finished—Ecclesiastes is not a simple book in terms of BH grammar.

A couple posts ago (here), I had asked for input on translation הֶבֶל. The responses were excellent, so much so that in the end we decided to leave the Hebrew in our translation. A literal gloss “vapour” doesn’t work too well, but translating the metaphor often requires culturally-conditional glosses that are anachronistic for the book itself. Because ours is a grammatical commentary with the goal of explaining the grammatical nuances to students of Hebrew (whether intermediate or advanced and seasoned), in the end we decided we did not need to make this choice for our readers. We present some of the options in the commentary and then leave the word as הֶבֶל throughout.

For those interested, I’ve pasted our full English translation below the fold.

1:1These are the words of Qoheleth, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2“A total הבל!” said Qoheleth, “A total הבל! Everything is a הבל‎.

1:3What profit belongs to a man in exchange for all his toil that he does under the sun? 4A generation goes and a generation comes; that is, the world always remains the same. 5The sun rises and the sun sets: for its place, it longs – it rises back there. 6Going to the south, turning around to the north – round, round goes the wind, and upon its rounds the wind returns. 7All the rivers are going to the sea, yet the sea—it is not full! To the place that the rivers go—there they go continually. 8All the words are wearying: man is not able to speak, the eye is not satisfied by seeing, and the ear is not filled from hearing. 9Whatever has been—it is what will be. Whatever has happened—it is what will happen. There is nothing new under the sun. 10A thing exists about which one might say, “See this—it is new!” It has already existed for ages that were before us. 11No remembrance belongs to the former (generations); additionally, no remembrance will belong to the latter (generations) that will exist, among (those who) will be at the latter (time). 12I am Qoheleth. I have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13I set my לב to seek and to investigate with wisdom concerning all that has happened under the heavens. It is a severe task (that) God has given to men to be occupied with. 14I have seen all the events that have happened under the sun, and look—the whole thing is a הבל and chasing wind. 15What is bent is not able to become straight, and what is lacking is not able to be counted. 16I spoke, I, with my לב, “I—look!—have made myself great and have added (to myself) wisdom over all who were before me over Jerusalem.” And myלב (also) has seen much wisdom and knowledge. 17I set my לב to know wisdom; and knowing blindness and folly—I came to know that even this was chasing wind. 18Because in an abundance of wisdom exists an abundance of vexation and he who will add knowledge will add pain.

2:1I said, I with my לב: Come, I will make you experienced in joy; look upon (what is) good. See―even this is a הבל‎! 2Regarding ‘laughing’, I said “Senseless!” Regarding happiness—what does it accomplish? 3I set out, along with my לב, to drag my flesh along with wine (though my לב was leading by wisdom), and to grasp foolishness, until I might see which is good for humans, which they might do under the heavens (for) the number of the days of their life. 4I made my deeds great; I built houses for myself; I planted vineyards for myself. 5I made gardens, that is, royal gardens, for myself and I planted a tree of every fruit in them. 6I made water pools for myself to water from them a growing tree forest. 7I acquired male and female servants, and home-born slaves belonged to me, also much livestock—cattle and sheep—belonged to me, more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. 8I gathered for myself both silver and gold and royal and provincial property; I appointed for myself male and female singers and the delights of humans, many concubines. 9I became greater and added more (things) than anyone who was before me in Jerusalem; even my wisdom stood by me. 10All (the things) that my eyes desired I did not withhold from them; I did not withhold my לב from any joy, because my לב was happy from all my toil—and this was my share from all my toil. 11But (when) I faced, I, all my works that my hands had done and the toil that I had worked to do, See!—the whole (thing) was a הבל and chasing wind; there is no profit under the sun. 12I turned, I, to see wisdom and inanity and foolishness, that what the man who comes after the king (does)—(it) is (a thing) that they have already done! 13I saw, I, that the profit of wisdom is more than (the profit of) foolishness, like the profit of light is more than (the profit of) darkness. 14As for the wise man—his eyes are in his head. But the fool in darkness is walking. Yet I have come to know, even I, that one fate befalls them all. 15I said, I with my לב, “Like the fool’s fate am even I; it will befall me! Why have I become wise, I, then, so much?” I spoke with my לב that this too was a הבל‎. 16Because remembrance is never for the wise alongside the fool; because already (in) the coming days, all is forgotten. How the wise dies with the fool! 17I came to hate life, because the event that has happened under the sun was terrible to me, because everything is a הבל and chasing wind. 18I came to hate, I, all my toil, which I did under the sun, which I must leave it to the man who comes after me. 19Who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool, and will rule over my toil that I did and concerning which I became wise under the sun? This too is a הבל‎! 20I turned around, I, to put my לב in a state of despair about all the toil that I did under the sun, 21because there is a man whose gain is by wisdom and by knowledge and by skill, but to a man who has not done it he must give it, his portion (this too is a הבל and a great tragedy!); 22because what endures for man in exchange for all his toil and striving of his heart, which he has done under the sun? 23Indeed, all his days are pains and grief is his business; even at night his mind has not “lain down to sleep.” This too—it is a הבל‎! 24A better thing does not exist for man (than) that he eat and drink and show himself good in his toil. Even this I saw, I, that it is from the hand of God. 25Because who can eat? Who can suffer, apart from him/me? 26Because to a man who is good before him he has given wisdom, knowledge, and joy; but to the offender he has given the business of gathering and collecting in order to give (everything) to the one who is good before God. Even this is a הבל and chasing wind.

3:1For everything exists a season and a time, for every delight/matter under the sun:

2A time exists for birthing and a time exists for dying, a time exists for planting and time exists for uprooting something that is planted.

3A time exists for killing and a time exists for healing, a time exists for breaking down and a time exists for building.

4A time exists for crying and a time exists for laughing, a time of wailing exists and a time of gaiety exists.

5A time exists for casting stones and a time exists for collecting stones, a time exists for embracing and a time exists for being distant from embracing.

6A time exists for seeking and a time exists for losing, a time exists for keeping and time exists for throwing out.

7A time exists for rending and time exists for sewing together, a time exists for being silent and a time exists for speaking.

8A time exists for loving and a time exists for hating, a time exists for war and a time exists for peace.

9What is the profit of the worker in exchange for (the labor) that he does? 10I have seen the occupation that God has given to men to be occupied with. 11He has made everything fitting in its time; yet he has put ‘eternity’ in their mind without man’s ability to find out the work that God has done from beginning to end. 12I have come to know that there is no good (thing) among them [humanity], except to take joy and to do pleasure in one’s life, 13and also the whole (portion) of man is that he eats and drinks and experiences goodness in all his acquisition(s)—it is the gift of God. 14I have come to know that all that God does, it will be forever. There is no adding upon it and there is no diminishing from it—God has done (it), that they should be afraid of him. 15Whatever is—it was already, and what is to be already has been, and God will seek what is pursued. 16And again I saw under the sun the place of justice—there was wickedness!—and the place of righteousness—there was wickedness! 17I said, I with my לב, “The righteous and the wicked God will judge,” because there is a time for every matter and over every deed there. 18I said, I with my לב, concerning humans, “God should test them and should see that they are cattle, they to themselves,” 19because the fate of man and the fate of the cattle—one fate belongs to them!; like the death of the one—thus is the death of the other, and one spirit belongs to all, and the advantage of man over cattle is nothing. Indeed, everything is a הבל‎! 20Everything goes to one place; everything came from the dirt and everything returns to the dirt. 21Who knows (if) the spirit of mankind—it is what goes up above, while the spirit of the cattle—it is what goes down to the earth? 22And I saw that a better thing does not exist than that man takes joy in his works, because it is his portion, because who can lead him to consider whatever will be after him?

4:1Then I turned, I, and I saw all the oppressions that happen under the sun. And look, the tears of the oppressed—they have no comforter; from the hand of their oppressors (comes) power, and they have no comforter, 2(while) I praise the dead, who have already died, more than the living, who are yet living. 3And better than the both of them is (the person) who has not yet existed, who has not seen the evil event that has happened under the sun. 4I saw, I, all the acquisition(s) and all the success of work—that it is (out of) the jealousy of a man because of his neighbor. This too is a הבל and chasing the wind. 5The fool folds his hands and eats his flesh. 6The fullness of a palm (with) quietness is better than the fullness of a two handfuls (with) acquisition(s) and chasing wind. 7And I returned, I, and saw a הבל under the sun. 8There is one but no second (indeed no son or brother belongs to him), yet there is no end to all of his toil, nor will his eyes (Kt) be sated (by) riches. “(So) for whom am I toiling and depriving myself of goodness?” This too is a הבל and it is an unfortunate task. 9Two are better than one, who have a good wage in exchange for their toil. 10Because if they should fall, one can raise his companion, but woe to him, the one that falls and there is no second (person) to raise him up. 11Also, if two lie down, they will keep warm, but for one—how can he get/keep warm? 12And if someone should overpower him—the one, the two can stand against him [i.e., the aggressor]. And a three-ply thread will not quickly be torn. 13A poor but wise youth is better than an old but foolish king who still does not know to be careful, 14because from the prison he [= old king] had come out to be king, even though a poor one [=youth] was born in his [= old king’s] reign. 15I saw all the living who were walking under the sun (being) with the second youth, who will stand in his [=old king] place. 16There is no end to all the people, that is, to all who he [=youth] was before them, yet those after will not be happy with him [=youth]. Indeed, this too is a הבל and chasing wind. 17Watch your feet (Kt) when you go to the house of God: to listen is more acceptable than fools giving a sacrifice, because they do not know how to do bad.

5:1Don’t be hasty with regard to your mouth and don’t let your mind hurry to bring out a word before God, because God is in the heavens and you are upon the earth. Therefore let your words be few. 2Because “the dream comes in abundance of activity and a voice of a fool (comes) in abundance of words.” 3When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it, because there is no delight in fools. (The thing) that you vow fulfill. 4That you do not vow is better than that you do and do not fulfill (it). 5Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, and do not say before the messenger, “Indeed, it is an error!” Why should God become angry at the sound of you and (so) destroy the work of your hands? 6Because in the abundance of vacuous visions and many words—indeed fear God. 7If oppression of the poor and robbery of righteous judgment you see in the province, don’t be amazed at the matter, because one high above (another) high one is watching, and ones higher than them (are also watching). 8And the profit of land—he (Qr) is over everything, a king of an arable country. 9He who loves money will not be sated by money, and whoever loves abundance (will) not (be sated) by the product. This too is a הבל‎. 10When good things increase, those who consume it increase; and what benefit belongs to its owner except what his eyes see (Kt)? 11The sleep of the worker is sweet whether he eats little or much, but the satisfaction of the rich—it does not allow him to sleep. 12There is a sickly misfortune (that) I have seen under the sun: wealth is kept by its owner, to his misfortune. 13When that wealth perished in an unfortunate business and he had begotten a son, there was nothing in his [i.e., the son’s] hand. 14Like he came out from the womb of his mother, naked he will again go, like he came. Nothing will he be able to take in exchange for his toil that he may bring into his [= his son’s] hand. 15And this also is a sickly misfortune: like he came—so he will go. What is profit for him who toils for wind? 16Also, all his days he shall eat in darkness, that is, (with) great anger, his sickness, and wrath! 17Look, (the thing) that I saw, I, is good—that to eat and to drink and to see goodness in all his toil that he does under the sun, (for) the number of the days of his life (Qr) that God has given him, because it is his lot, is good. 18Also, the whole (portion) of man is that God has given him wealth and possessions and has given him the power to eat from it and to bear his portion and to be happy in his toil. This—it is a gift of God, 19because he will not much call to mind the days of his life, because God keeps (him) busy with the joy of his mind.

6:1A misfortune that I have seen under the sun exists, and it is severe upon the human. 2A man to whom God has given riches and possessions and wealth—he does not lack for his appetite anything that he craves, but God does not authorize him to eat from it, because a ‘foreign’ man will eat it. This is a הבל and it is a severe sickness. 3If a man begets a hundred and lives many years and complains* that the days of his years would occur but his appetite would not be sated by goodness and he would not have a (proper) burial, I say, “The stillborn is better than him!”, 4because in a breath he would have come and into the darkness he would go and in the darkness his name would be covered. 5Not even the sun has he seen or known — more rest belongs to this one [the still-born] than the other one [the aged, unsatisfied man]! 6And if he lived a thousand years, twice, he would not have seen goodness. Doesn’t everything go to one place? 7All of man’s labor is for his mouth, and yet his appetite is never filled. 8Indeed, what profit belongs to the wise more than the fool? What belongs to the poor (who) knows how to walk before the living? 9A vision of the eyes is better than a walk of the appetite. This too is a הבל and chasing wind. 10Whatever has been—its name has already been called. That he is man is known, but he is not able to contend with the one who is mightier (Kt) than he. 11Indeed, many words are increasing הבל. What advantage belongs to man? 12Because who knows what is good for man in life, that is, the number of the days of his life of הבל (and he spends them like a shadow)? Because who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?

7:1A name is better than fine oil, and the day of death better than the day of one’s birth. 2To walk into the house of mourning is better than to walk into the house of feasting, because it is the end of every man and the living should pay attention. 3Anger is better than laughing because in gloominess the mind will be good. 4The mind of the wise (ones) is in the house of mourning, while the mind of the fools is in the house of feasting. 5To listen to the rebuke of a wise man is better than a man who listens to the song of fools, 6because, like the sound of thorns under the cooking-pot—so is the laughter of fools (this too is a הבל), 7because oppression makes a wise man a fool, and a gift destroys the mind. 8The end of a matter is better than its beginning; patience is better than arrogance. 9Don’t be hasty with your spirit to become angry, because anger settles in the lap of fools. 10Don’t say, “What has happened?”, that is, that the former days have been better than these, because you do not ask about this out of wisdom. 11Wisdom is good with an inheritance and (it is) an advantage for those who see the sun. 12Although ‘(Living) in the shadow of wisdom is (living) in the shadow of money’, the advantage of knowledge is (that) wisdom keeps its owner alive. 13See the work of God, that who is able to straighten (the thing) that he has twisted? 14On the day of goodness, be in good, and on the day of adversity, consider that, indeed, God made this one (day of goodness) like (he has made) that one (day of adversity), for the purpose that man does not find anything after him. 15I have seen all sorts in my הבל days. A righteous person perishes in his righteousness and a wicked person prolongs (his days) in his evilness. 16Don’t be a very ‘righteous’ man nor consider yourself excessively wise. Why should you be shocked? 17Don’t be very wicked nor be a fool. Why should you die in (what is) not your time? 18That you grab ahold of this is good, but also do not rest your hand from that, because a God-fearer fulfills all of them. (19Wisdom gives strength to the wise more than ten rulers who were in the city.) 20Because, man—a righteous one does not exist in the land, who does good and does not sin. 21Also, don’t pay attention to any of the words that they speak; (in order) that you don’t hear your servant cursing you. 22Because, also, many times your mind has known that even you (Qr) have cursed others. 23All this I have tested with wisdom. I said, “I shall become wise,” but it is too distant for me. 24Distant is whatever has happened, and most deep. Who can find it? 25I turned around, I and my לב, to understand and to investigate and seek wisdom and accounting and to understand irrational wickedness, stupidity, and foolishness. 26I find more bitter than death “the woman,” who is snares, and her mind is nets, her hands are fetters. (The one) pleasing before God will escape from her, but the offensive one will be captured by her. 27See, this I found—said Qoheleth—, one to one to find a conclusion. 28(The one) whom my soul sought continually I did not find. One man out of a thousand I found but “a woman” among all these I did not find. 29Only, see—this I found, that God made man (to be) straightforward but they seek many schemes.

8:1Who is like the wise, and who knows a matter’s interpretation? A man’s wisdom will illumine his face, and the “strength” of his face will be (thus) changed. 2As for me, a king’s command obey, that is, according to the manner of an oath (to) God. 3Don’t panic because of him—leave! Don’t stand (around) during a bad word, because everything that he desires he does. 4Because a king’s word is power, and who dares to say to him, “What are you doing?” 5He who keeps a commandment will not know a bad word, and a wise mind knows a time and a judgment, 6that for every matter there is a time and a judgment; that the man’s evil is severely upon him; 7that he does not know whatever will be; that when it will be who can tell him? 8No man is a ruler over the wind in order to contain the wind, and control over the day of death does not exist, nor does release in war exist, and wickedness cannot save its owner. 9I have seen all of this (while) setting my לב to every deed that happens under the sun, a time when the man rules over (another) man—to his misfortune. 16At (the time) that I set my לב to understand wisdom and to consider the business that has happened on the earth, indeed even during day and night he sees no sleep in his eyes, 17I saw the whole work of God, that man is not able to ‘find out’ the deed that has happened under the sun, because man toils to seek but does not find. Even if the wise man intended to understand, he could not ‘find (it) out’.

9:1Indeed, all of this I set to my לב, that is, in order to examine all of this: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God; whether love or hate, no man knows everything before them. 2Everything is like (that) which belongs to everyone. One fate belongs to the righteous and the wicked, to the good <and the bad>, to the clean and the unclean, to he who sacrifices and he who does not sacrifice; (so too) the good person is like the sinner (and) he who makes an oath is like (the one) who is afraid of an oath. 3This is a tragedy in all that has happened under the sun, that there is one fate for everything and also the mind of humans is full of evil and lack of reason is in their mind during their lives and he who is after each (is joined) to the dead. 4Indeed, whoever is joined (Qr) to all the living has confidence, because, even as a dog, life is better than a lion that is dead, 5because the living know that they will die, but the dead—they do not know anything, and they have no more reward, because memory of them has been forgotten. 6Their love, hate, and jealousy have already perished, and a portion no longer belongs to them forever in all that happens under the sun. 7Go, happily eat your food and gladly drink your wine, because God has already accepted your deeds. 8At every time let your clothes be white and do not let oil be lacking on your head. 9Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your הבל life, whom he has given to you under the sun all your הבל days, because it is your lot in life and in exchange for your labor that you did under the sun. 10All that your hand finds to do with your strength, do, because no deed or accounting or knowledge and wisdom exists in Sheol, where you are going. 11I again considered under the sun that the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the mighty, nor even food to the wise, riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful, because time and change happen to them all, 12because, indeed, man does not know his time. Like fish that are caught in a bad net and like birds that are snagged in a trap—like them humans are ensnared at a time of misfortune, when it falls upon them suddenly. 13Also this I saw (about) wisdom under the sun. And it was impressive to me. 14A small city (people are in it, a few)—a great king came to it and surrounded it and built against it great towers, 15but he found a poor wise man in it and he saved—he!—the city by his wisdom. But no one remembered that poor man! 16So I said, I, wisdom is better than might: the wisdom of the poor is despised, and his words—they are not heeded. 17The words of the wise in calm are heeded more than the shout of a ruler among fools. 18Better is wisdom than instruments of war; one offender destroys much goodness.

10:1Dead flies stink, (it) putrefies a perfumer’s oil. More weighty than wisdom, than honor is a little foolishness. 2The mind of a wise man (goes) to his right, but the mind of a fool (goes) to his left. 3And also, on the road, when a fool (Qr) is walking, his mind is lacking, so that he says to everyone, (that he is a fool! 4If the spirit of the ruler rises against you, don’t leave your place, because healing/calmness sets aside great offenses. 5There is a tragedy that I saw under the sun, like a mistake that proceeds from the ruler. 6The fool/folly is set in many high places and the rich dwell in humility. 7I saw servants on horses and princes walking like servants on the ground. 8(He who) digs a pit will fall into it, and (he who) breaks down/through a wall — him a snake will bite. 9He who uproots (=quarries) rocks may be hurt by them, he who splits wood may be endangered by them. 10If one has blunted the iron and he has not sharpened (its) edges, then he must exert (his) power; that is, an advantage to working skillfully (Qr) is wisdom. 11If the snake bites without a charm, then there is no advantage to the charmer. 12The words of the mouth of the wise (are) gracious, but the lips of the fool will swallow him. 13The beginning of the words of his mouth are foolishness, and the end of his mouth is evil inanity. 14But the fool will multiply words! Man cannot know what will happen, and what will happen after him—who can tell him? 15The toil of the fools will weary him, he who does not (even) know (how) to get to town! 16Woe belongs to you, O Land, whose king is a servant and your princes feast in the morning. 17Fortunate are you, O Land whose king is a noble and whose princes eat at the (proper) time — with manliness and not with drinking! 18Through laziness the (roof) beams will become sagged and through slackness of hands the house will leak. 19For laughter they make food and wine will gladden life; and money answers everything. 20Also, in your thinking do not insult a king, or in the rooms of your bed do not insult a rich man, because the birds of the skies carry the sound and the winged creature (Kt) reports a word.

11:1Cast your bread upon the surface of the water, because in a number of days you will find it. 2Give one portion to seven or even to eight, because you cannot know what will be calamitous on the earth. 3If the clouds are filled with rain, they will empty (it) out on the earth, and if a tree falls in the south or in the north, the place that the tree falls—there it remains. 4He who observes wind will not sow and he who watches clouds will not harvest. 5Just as you do not know what the path of the wind is, (which is) like bones in the belly of the pregnant woman, so you cannot know the work of God, who does everything. 6In the morning, sow your seed and in the evening don’t let your hand rest, because you do not know which will prosper, whether this or that, or if both of them are equally good. 7The light is sweet and for the eyes to see the sun is good. 8Indeed—if a man lives many years, in all of them he should be happy, and he should remember the days of darkness, that they will be many. All that is coming is ephemeral. 9Be happy, young man, in your youth and may your mind do you well in the days of your young manhood. Walk around on the paths of your mind and in the visions of your eyes. But know that God will bring you into judgment regarding all of these. 10Remove vexation from your mind and pass evil from your body, because youth and black hair is ephemeral.

12:1And remember the one who created you in the days of your youth, while days of misfortune have not come and years have not arrived when you say, “I have no delight in them,” 2while the sun and the light and the moon and the stars have not grown dark and the clouds have not returned after the rain, 3on the day that the keepers of the house tremble and the men of character are stooped over and those who grind cease because they have become few and those looking through the windows have become dark, 4and the double-doors in the street-bazaar are shut when the sound of the mill has become low, and one rises at the sound of the bird, and all the daughters of the song are bent over, 5—even of the High One they are afraid and terrors are in the path and the almond tree puts forth blossoms and the grasshopper stuffs itself and the caper is scattered, when man goes to his eternal house and the lamenters mull around in the street-bazaar, 6while the silver rope has not been torn apart (Kt*) and the gold bowl has not been crushed and a jar has not been broken over the spring and the wheel to the well has not been crushed, 7and the dirt shall return to the land like it was and the breath returns to God who gave it. 8“A total הבל,” said the Qoheleth, “Everything is a הבל.”

12:9And that Qoheleth was wise was an advantage; more (than this), he continually taught the people knowledge and would test and seek (and) arrange many proverbs. 10Qohelet would seek to find words of delight and what was written correctly, words of truth. 11The words of the wise are like goads and like nails sunk in are well-grouped sayings, (which) are given by one shepherd. 12And more than they, my son, be warned. For the making of many writings no end exists, and to meditate much is a work of flesh. 13The end of the matter is (that) everything has been heard. Fear God and keep his commands, for this is the whole (portion) of man. 14For every deed God will bring into judgment, concerning every hidden thing, whether (it is) good or whether (it is) bad.

2 Responses to “Ecclesiastes—the הבל conclusion and a full translation of the book”

  1. Alex the Less Says:

    It would be beneficial, at least for me, if this English translation was put into a reader type format. This WordPress format doesn’t allow an enlarged type that fills the page. Thanks however for providing your translation. Ecclesiastes is instructive for Christians and is a book I turn to often.


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