Ecclesiastes 5

 

אַל־תְּבַהֵל עַל־פִּיךָ וְלִבְּךָ אַל־יְמַהֵר לְהֹוצִיא דָבָר לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים כִּי הָאֱלֹהִים בַּשָּׁמַיִם וְאַתָּה   5:1

  עַל־הָאָרֶץ עַל־כֵּנ יִהְיוּ דְבָרֶיךָ מְעַטִּים׃

Eccl. 5:1   You must not be hasty with your mouth, and your heart must not be precipitous to bring out a matter before God.  Because God is in heaven and you are on the earth, therefore, few should be your words.

כִּי בָּא הַחֲלֹום בְּרֹב עִנְיָן וְקֹול כְּסִיל בְּרֹב דְּבָרִים׃   5:2

Eccl. 5:2   When the dream comes, it is with an abundance of meaning, but the voice of a fool, it is with an abundance of words.

So pay attention to your dreams, and don’t listen to a fool.

כַּאֲשֶׁר תִּדֹּר נֶדֶר לֵאלֹהִים אַל־תְּאַחֵר לְשַׁלְּמֹו כִּי אֵין חֵפֶץ בַּכְּסִילִים אֵת אֲשֶׁר־תִּדֹּר שַׁלֵּם׃   5:3

Eccl. 5:3   When you must make a vow to God, you must not delay in making it good, for there is no pleasure in fools.  Pay that which you would vow.

In the context of this verse, the meaning of the phrase there is no pleasure in fools probably refers to God’s not taking pleasure in one who doesn’t pay his vow.

טֹוב אֲשֶׁר לֹא־תִדֹּר מִשֶּׁתִּדֹּור וְלֹא תְשַׁלֵּם׃   5:4

Eccl. 5:4   Better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.

אַל־תִּתֵּן אֶת־פִּיךָ לַחֲטִיא אֶת־בְּשָׂרֶךָ וְאַל־תֹּאמַר לִפְנֵי הַמַּלְאָךְ כִּי שְׁגָגָה הִיא לָמָּה יִקְצֹף הָאֱלֹהִים   5:5

עַל־קֹולֶךָ וְחִבֵּל אֶת־מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ׃

Eccl. 5:5   You must not permit your mouth to cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger that it was an error.  Why should God become “angry” because of your voice, and He would ruin the work of your hands?

The messenger is thought to be the temple official who collected what was vowed.  I suspect he is the angel of death.

כִּי בְרֹב חֲלֹמֹות וַהֲבָלִים וּדְבָרִים הַרְבֵּה כִּי אֶת־הָאֱלֹהִים יְרָא׃   5:6

Eccl. 5:6   For amidst an abundance of dreams and vanities and words, multiply, but fear God.

אִם־עֹשֶׁק רָשׁ וְגֵזֶל מִשְׁפָּט וָצֶדֶק תִּרְאֶה בַמְּדִינָה אַל־תִּתְמַהּ עַל־הַחֵפֶץ כִּי גָבֹהַּ מֵעַל גָּבֹהַּ שֹׁמֵר   5:7

וּגְבֹהִים עֲלֵיהֶם׃

Eccl. 5:7   Should you see oppression of any poor and perversion of justice and righteousness throughout the region, you need not wonder about the plan, for One higher than the highest is watching, and they are exalted above them.

This is a strange verse, especially the last part with its two mysterious pronouns, and it is not well understood.  Here’s how I analyze it.  One higher than the highest is the Lord (that one seems easy).  Those who are exalted are the poor, and what are below the exalted are perversion of justice and righteousness.  To my way of thinking, no other explanation seems more reasonable.

וְיִתְרֹון אֶרֶץ בַּכֹּל (הִיא) [הוּא] מֶלֶךְ לְשָׂדֶה נֶעֱבָד׃   5:8

Eccl. 5:8   And the profit of a land in the whole of it:  A king becomes a servant to a field.

This verse seems to be a mild exaggeration.  The intent, I believe, is to convey the idea that even a king could become a servant to a field.  The term field is understood to be land that is not cultivated as yet.  Incidentally, the error indication in the parentheses is unnecessary in my opinion.  The word is a feminine pronoun that refers back to the land, and land can be either masculine or feminine.  Usually in the sense of a whole nation being referred to as the land, the term is feminine, so the feminine pronoun seems correct.  Thus, the correction in the brackets, which makes the pronoun masculine, is not necessary.

אֹהֵב כֶּסֶף לֹא־יִשְׂבַּע כֶּסֶף וּמִי־אֹהֵב בֶּהָמֹון לֹא תְבוּאָה גַּם־זֶה הָבֶל׃   5:9

Eccl. 5:9   A lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver, and he who is loving in abundance is without gain.  This too is vanity.

The Hebrew in this verse is a bit esoteric, but the meaning seems rather clear.  The desire for acquisition of wealth will not be fulfilled no matter how much is acquired.  And an excessive desire not only can’t be satisfied, but it leads to a negative overall balance in one’s life.

בִּרְבֹות הַטֹּובָה רַבּוּ אֹוכְלֶיהָ וּמַה־כִּשְׁרֹון לִבְעָלֶיהָ כִּי אִם־(רְאִיַּת) [רְאוּת] עֵינָיו׃   5:10

Eccl. 5:10   With increases of prosperity, those feeding on it multiply, but of what profit is it to its owner other than his eyes beholding?

The word in the parentheses is an error.  Translated as beholding and related to eyes, it should be plural, but is spelled as singular.  The correction in the brackets makes it plural.

מְתוּקָה שְׁנַת הָעֹבֵד אִם־מְעַט וְאִם־הַרְבֵּה יֹאכֵל וְהַשָּׂבָע לֶעָשִׁיר אֵינֶנּוּ מַנִּיחַ לֹו לִישֹׁון׃   5:11

Eccl. 5:11   The sleep of the laborer will be sweet, whether he will eat little or too much, but satiety for a rich one will not permit him rest in his sleeping.

Here the author admits his belief that the laborer is compensated for his labor with sleep that is sweet, whereas the rich have trouble sleeping.  He sees divine justice in this life.  An optimistic view, no?

יֵשׁ רָעָה חֹולָה רָאִיתִי תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ עֹשֶׁר שָׁמוּר לִבְעָלָיו לְרָעָתֹו׃   5:12

Eccl. 5:12   I see there is a sick evil under the sun:  Wealth guarded by its owner shall be for his misery,

וְאָבַד הָעֹשֶׁר הַהוּא בְּעִנְיַן רָע וְהֹולִיד בֵּן וְאֵין בְּיָדֹו מְאוּמָה׃   5:13

Eccl. 5:13   and wealth by evil occupation will vanish, and should he beget a son then there will be nothing in his hand.

כַּאֲשֶׁר יָצָא מִבֶּטֶן אִמֹּו עָרֹום יָשׁוּב לָלֶכֶת כְּשֶׁבָּא וּמְאוּמָה לֹא־יִשָּׂא בַעֲמָלֹו שֶׁיֹּלֵךְ בְּיָדֹו׃   5:14

Eccl. 5:14   He will return bare, as when he emerged from the womb of his mother, departing as he arrived.  So when he will depart he will carry nothing arising from his toil in his hand.

וְגַם־זֹה רָעָה חֹולָה כָּל־עֻמַּת שֶׁבָּא כֵּן יֵלֵךְ וּמַה־יִּתְרֹון לֹו שֶׁיַּעֲמֹל לָרוּחַ׃   5:15

Eccl. 5:15   And this is also a sick evil:  Everyone similar to he who comes thus shall depart.  So what is one's profit that he should labor for breath?

גַּם כָּל־יָמָיו בַּחֹשֶׁךְ יֹאכֵל וְכָעַס הַרְבֵּה וְחָלְיֹו וָקָצֶף׃   5:16

Eccl. 5:16   All his days he will also eat in obscurity and having much vexation with its sicknesses and anger.

Here in the last few verses we have the author’s positive view of more worldly justice.

הִנֵּה אֲשֶׁר־רָאִיתִי אָנִי טֹוב אֲשֶׁר־יָפֶה לֶאֶכֹול־וְלִשְׁתֹּות וְלִרְאֹות טֹובָה בְּכָל־עֲמָלֹו שֶׁיַּעֲמֹל   5:17

תַּחַת־הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ מִסְפַּר יְמֵי־(חַיָּו) [חַיָּיו] אֲשֶׁר־נָתַן־לֹו הָאֱלֹהִים כִּי־הוּא חֶלְקֹו׃

Eccl. 5:17   Behold what I see that is beautiful:  Eating good and drinking and enjoying happiness with all one's labor at which one must toil under the sun the number of days of his life that God grants him, for that is his portion.

The error in the word in the parentheses is an interesting one.  It seems to exhibit a moment of distraction by the author.  The word usually means living or an animal or living creature, and is an adjective or noun.  It is inappropriate in this context.  The word in the brackets, which corrects the error by adding a yad, means his life, also (but only) a noun, and is most correct in the context.

גַּם כָּל־הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לֹו הָאֱלֹהִים עֹשֶׁר וּנְכָסִים וְהִשְׁלִיטֹו לֶאֱכֹל מִמֶּנּוּ וְלָשֵׂאת אֶת־חֶלְקֹו וְלִשְׂמֹחַ   5:18

בַּעֲמָלֹו זֹה מַתַּת אֱלֹהִים הִיא׃

Eccl. 5:18   Every human to whom God has also granted wealth and treasures and power to eat from it and to take away his portion and to rejoice in his labor, this, it is a gift of God.

כִּי לֹא הַרְבֵּה יִזְכֹּר אֶת־יְמֵי חַיָּיו כִּי הָאֱלֹהִים מַעֲנֶה בְּשִׂמְחַת לִבֹּו׃   5:19

Eccl. 5:19   He should call to mind the days of his life because they are not many.  Surely God is answering with the joy in his heart.

Contrary to the general consensus about the author’s depression and pessimism (see Eccl. 1:2), I see this chapter demonstrating the author’s positive outlook on life. 

 

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