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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Ecclesiastes 1

Verse 1

The title, Ecclesiastes 1:1, The words of Koheleth, son of David, king in Jerusalem, has been already explained in the Introduction. The verse, which does not admit of being properly halved, is rightly divided by “son of David” by the accent Zakef; for the apposition, “king in Jerusalem,” does not belong to “David,” but to “Koheleth.” In several similar cases, such as Ezekiel 1:3, the accentuation leaves the designation of the oppositional genitive undefined; in Genesis 10:21 it proceeds on an erroneous supposition; it is rightly defined in Amos 1:1, for example, as in the passage before us. That “king” is without the article, is explained from this, that it is determined by “in Jerusalem,” as elsewhere by “of Israel” (“Judah”). The expression (cf. 2 Kings 14:23) is singular.

Verse 2

The book begins artistically with an opening section of the nature of a preamble. The ground-tone of the whole book at once sounds in Ecclesiastes 1:2, which commences this section, “O vanity of vanities, saith Koheleth, O vanity of vanities! All is vain.” As at Isaiah 40:1 ( vid., l.c.) it is a question whether by “saith” is meant a future or a present utterance of God, so here and at Ecclesiastes 12:8 whether “saith” designates the expression of Koheleth as belonging to history or as presently given forth. The language admits both interpretations, as e.g., “saith,” with God as the subject, 2 Samuel 23:3, is meant historically, and in Isaiah 49:5 of the present time. We understand “saith” here, as e.g., Isaiah 36:4, “Thus saith ... the king of Assyria,” of something said now, not of something said previously, since it is those presently living to whom the Solomon redivivus, and through him the author of this book, preaches the vanity of all earthly things. The old translators take “vanity of vanities” in the nominative, as if it were the predicate; but the repetition of the expression shows that it is an exclamation = O vanitatem vanitatum . The abbreviated connecting form of הבל is here not punctuated הבל , after the form &#חדר חדר ) and the like, but הבל , after the manner of the Aram. ground-form עבד ; cf. Ewald, §32 b. Jerome read differently: In Hebraeo pro vanitate vanitatum ABAL ABALIM scriptum est, quod exceptis lxx interpretibus omnes similiter transtulerunt ἀτμὸς ἀτμἰδων sive ἀτμῶν . Hěvěl primarily signifies a breath, and still bears this meaning in post-bibl. Heb., e.g., Schabbath 119 b: “The world exists merely for the sake of the breath of school-children” (who are the hope of the future). Breath, as the contrast of that which is firm and enduring, is the figure of that which has no support, no continuance. Regarding the superlative expression, “Vanity of vanities,” vid., the Song of Solomon 1:1. “Vanity of vanities” is the non plus ultra of vanity, - vanity in the highest degree. The double exclamation is followed by a statement which shows it to be the result of experience. “All is vain” - the whole (of the things, namely, which present themselves to us here below for our consideration and use) is vanity.

Verse 3

With this verse commences the proof for this exclamation and statement: “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he laboureth in under the sun?!” An interrogative exclamation, which leads to the conclusion that never anything right, i.e., real, enduring, satisfying, comes of it. יתרון , profit, synon. with Mothar, Ecclesiastes 3:19, is peculiar to this book (= Aram. יוּתרן ). A primary form, יתרון , is unknown. The punctator Simson (Cod. 102a of the Leipzig University Lib.f. 5a) rightly blames those who use ויתּרון , in a liturgical hymn, of the Day of Atonement. The word signifies that which remains over, either, as here, clear gain, profit, or that which has the pre-eminence, i.e., superiority, precedence, or is the foremost. “Under the sun” is the designation of the earth peculiar to this book, - the world of men, which we are wont to call the sublunary world. שׁ has not the force of an accusative of manner, but of the obj. The author uses the expression, “Labour wherein I have laboured,” Ecclesiastes 2:19-Proverbs :; Ecclesiastes 5:17, as Euripides, similarly, μοχθεῖν μόχθον . He now proceeds to justify the negative contained in the question, “What profit?”

Verse 4

“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: and the earth remaineth for ev.” The meaning is not that the earth remains standing, and thus (Hitz.) approaches no limit (for what limit for it could be had in view?); it is by this very immoveable condition that it fulfils, according to the ancient notion, its destiny, Psalms 119:90. The author rather intends to say that in this sphere nothing remains permanent as the fixed point around which all circles; generations pass away, others appear, and the earth is only the firm territory, the standing scene, of this ceaseless change. In reality, both things may be said of the earth: that it stands for ever without losing its place in the universe, and that it does not stand for ever, for it will be changed and become something else. But the latter thought, which appertains to the history of redemption, Psalms 102:26., is remote from the Preacher; the stability of the earth appears to him only as the foil of the growth and decay everlastingly repeating themselves. Elster, in this fact, that the generations of men pass away, and that, on the contrary, the insensate earth under their feet remains, rightly sees something tragic, as Jerome had already done: Quid hac vanius vanitate, quam terram manere, quae hominum causa facta est, et hominem ipsum, terrae dominum, tam repente in pulverem dissolvi ? The sun supplies the author with another figure. This, which he thinks of in contrast with the earth, is to him a second example of ceaseless change with perpetual sameness. As the generations of men come and go, so also does the sun.

Verse 5

“And the sun ariseth, the sun goeth down, and it hasteth (back) to its place, there to rise again.” It rises and sets again, but its setting is not a coming to rest; for from its place of resting in the west it must rise again in the morning in the east, hastening to fulfil its course. Thus Hitzig rightly, for he takes “there to rise again” as a relative clause; the words may be thus translated, but strictly taken, both participles stand on the same level; שׁואף (panting, hastening) is like בּא in Ecclesiastes 1:4, the expression of the present, and זו that of the fut. instans: ibi ( rursus) oriturus; the accentuation also treats the two partic. as co-ordinate, for Tiphcha separates more than Tebir; but it is inappropriate that it gives to ואל־ם the greater disjunctive Zakef Quaton (with Kadma going before). Ewald adopts this sequence of the accents, for he explains: the sun goes down, and that to its own place, viz., hastening back to it just by its going down, where, panting, it again ascends. But that the sun goes down to the place of its ascending, is a distorted thought. If “to its place” belongs to “goeth,” then it can refer only to the place of the going down, as e.g., Benjamin el-Nahawendi (Neubauer, Aus der Petersb. Bibl. p. 108) explains: “and that to its place,” viz., the place of the going down appointed for it by the Creator, with reference to Psalms 104:19, “the sun knoweth his going down.” But the שׁם , which refers back to “its place,” opposes this interpretation; and the phrase שׁו cannot mean “panting, rising,” since שאף in itself does not signify to pant, but to snatch at, to long eagerly after anything, thus to strive, panting after it (cf. Job 7:2; Psalms 119:131), which accords with the words “to its place,” but not with the act of rising. And how unnatural to think of the rising sun, which gives the impression of renewed youth, as panting! No, the panting is said of the sun that has set, which, during the night, and thus without rest by day and night, must turn itself back again to the east (Psalms 19:7), there anew to commence its daily course. Thus also Rashi, the lxx, Syr., Targ., Jerome, Venet., and Luther. Instead of שׁו , Grätz would read שׁב אף , redit ( atque ) etiam ; but שׁו is as characteristic of the Preacher's manner of viewing the world as סובב וגו , Ecclesiastes 1:6, and ין , Ecclesiastes 1:8. Thus much regarding the sun. Many old interpreters, recently Grätz, and among translators certainly the lxx, refer also Ecclesiastes 1:6 to the sun. The Targ. paraphrases the whole verse of the state of the sun by day and night, and at the spring and autumn equinox, according to which Rashi translates הרוּח , la volonté ( du soleil). But along with the sun, the wind is also referred to as a third example of restless motion always renewing itself. The division of the verses is correct; Ecclesiastes 1:6 used of the sun would overload the figure, and the whole of Ecclesiastes 1:6 therefore refers to the wind.

Verse 6

“It goeth to the south, and turneth to the north; the wind goeth ever circling, and the wind returneth again on its circuits.” Thus designedly the verse is long-drawn and monotonous. It gives the impression of weariness. שׁב may be 3rd pret. with the force of an abstract present, but the relation is here different from that in 5 a, where the rising, setting, and returning stand together, and the two former lie backwards indeed against the latter; here, on the contrary, the circling motion and the return to a new beginning stand together on the same line; שׁב is thus a part., as the Syr. translates it. The participles represent continuance in motion. In Ecclesiastes 1:4 the subjects stand foremost, because the ever anew beginning motion belongs to the subject; in Ecclesiastes 1:5 and Ecclesiastes 1:6, on the contrary, the pred. stands foremost, and the subject in Ecclesiastes 1:6 is therefore placed thus far back, because the first two pred. were not sufficient, but required a third for their completion. That the wind goes from the south ( דּרום , R. דר , the region of the most intense light) to the north ( צפון , R. צפן , the region of darkness), is not so exclusively true of it as it is of the sun that it goes from the east to the west; this expression requires the generalization “circling, circling goes the wind,” i.e., turning in all directions here and there; for the repetition denotes that the circling movement exhausts all possibilities. The near defining part. which is subordinated to “goeth,” elsewhere is annexed by “and,” e.g., Jonah 1:11; cf. 2 Samuel 15:30; here סבב סובב , in the sense of סביב סביב , Ezekiel 37:2 (both times with Pasek between the words), precedes. סביבה is here the n. actionis of סבב . And “on its circuits” is not to be taken adverbially: it turns back on its circuits, i.e., it turns back on the same paths (Knobel and others), but על and שׁב are connected, as Proverbs 26:11; cf. Psalms 19:7: the wind returns back to its circling movements to begin them anew (Hitzig). “The wind” is repeated (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:10; Ecclesiastes 4:1) according to the figure Epanaphora or Palindrome ( vid., the Introd. to Isaiah, c. 40-66). To all regions of the heavens, to all directions of the compass, its movement is ceaseless, ever repeating itself anew; there is nothing permanent but the fluctuation, and nothing new but that the old always repeats itself. The examples are thoughtfully chosen and arranged. From the currents of air, the author now passes to streams of water.

Verse 7

“All rivers run into the sea, and the sea becomes not full; to the place whence the rivers came, thither they always return again.” Instead of nehhárim , nehhalim was preferred, because it is the more general name for flowing waters, brooks, and rivers; נחל (from נחל , cavare), אפיק (from אפק , continere), and (Arab.) wadin (from the root-idea of stretching, extending), all three denote the channel or bed, and then the water flowing in it. The sentence, “all rivers run into the sea,” is consistent with fact. Manifestly the author does not mean that they all immediately flow thither; and by “the sea” he does not mean this or that sea; nor does he think, as the Targ. explains, of the earth as a ring ( גּוּשׁפּנקא , Pers. angusht - bâne , properly “finger-guard”) surrounding the ocean: but the sea in general is meant, perhaps including also the ocean that is hidden. If we include this internal ocean, then the rivers which lose themselves in hollows, deserts, or inland lakes, which have no visible outlet, form no exception. But the expression refers first of all to the visible sea-basins, which gain no apparent increase by these masses of water being emptied into them: “the sea, it becomes not full;” איננּוּ (Mishn. אינו ) has the reflex. pron., as at Exodus 3:2; Leviticus 13:34, and elsewhere. If the sea became full, then there would be a real change; but this sea, which, as Aristophanes says ( Clouds, 1294f.), οὐδὲν γίγνεται ἐπιῤῥηεόντων τῶν ποταμῶν πλείων , represents also the eternal sameness. In Leviticus 13:7, Symm., Jer., Luther, and also Zöckler, translate שׁ in the sense of “from whence;” others, as Ginsburg, venture to take שׁם in the sense of משּׁם ; both interpretations are linguistically inadmissible.

Generally the author does not mean to say that the rivers return to their sources, since the sea replenishes the fountains, but that where they once flow, they always for ever flow without changing their course, viz., into the all-devouring sea (Elst.); for the water rising out of the sea in vapour, and collecting itself in rain-clouds, fills the course anew, and the rivers flow on anew, for the old repeats itself in the same direction to the same end. מקום is followed by what is a virtual genitive (Psalms 104:8); the accentuation rightly extends this only to הלכים ; for אשׁר , according to its relation, signifies in itself ubi, Genesis 39:20, and quo, Numbers 13:27; 1 Kings 12:2 (never unde). שׁם , however, has after verbs of motion, as e.g., Jeremiah 22:27 after שׁוב , and 1 Samuel 9:6 after הלך , frequently the sense of שׁמּה . And שׁוּב with ל and the infin. signifies to do something again, Hosea 11:9; Job 7:7, thus: to the place whither the rivers flow, thither they flow again, eo rursus eunt. The author here purposely uses only participles, because although there is constant change, yet that which renews itself is ever the same. He now proceeds, after this brief but comprehensive induction of particulars, to that which is general.

Verse 8

“All things are in activity; no man can utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, and the ear is not full with hearing.” All translators and interpreters who understand devarim here of words (lxx, Syr., and Targ.) go astray; for if the author meant to say that no words can describe this everlasting sameness with perpetual change, then he would have expressed himself otherwise than by “all words weary” (Ew., Elst., Hengst., and others); he ought at least to have said לריק יג . But also “all things are wearisome” (Knob., Hitz.), or “full of labour” (Zöck.), i.e., it is wearisome to relate them all, cannot be the meaning of the sentence; for יגע does not denote that which causes weariness, but that which suffers weariness (Deuteronomy 25:18; 2 Samuel 7:2); and to refer the affection, instead of to the narrator, to that which is to be narrated, would be even for a poet too affected a quid pro quo . Rosenmüller essentially correctly: omnes res fatigantur h. e. in perpetua versantur vicissitudine, qua fatigantur quasi . But יגעים is not appropriately rendered by fatigantur ; the word means, becoming wearied, or perfectly feeble, or also: wearying oneself (cf. Ecclesiastes 10:15; Ecclesiastes 12:12), working with a strain on one's strength, fatiguing oneself (cf. יגיע , that which is gained by labour, work). This is just what these four examples are meant to show, viz., that a restless activity reaching no visible conclusion and end, always beginning again anew, pervades the whole world-all things, he says, summarizing, are in labour, i.e., are restless, hastening on, giving the impression of fatigue.

Thus also in strict sequence of thought that which follows: this unrest in the outer world reflects itself in man, when he contemplates that which is done around him; human language cannot exhaust this coming and going, this growth and decay in constant circle, and the quodlibet is so great, that the eye cannot be satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing; to the unrest of things without corresponds the unrest of the mind, which through this course, in these ever repeated variations, always bringing back the old again to view, is kept in ceaseless activity. The object to dǎbbēr is the totality of things. No words can comprehend this, no sensible perception exhaust it. That which is properly aimed at here is not the unsatisfiedness of the eyes (Proverbs 27:20), and generally of the mind, thus not the ever-new attractive power which appertains to the eye and the ear of him who observes, but the force with which the restless activity which surrounds us lays hold of and communicates itself to us, so that we also find no rest and contentment. With שׂבע , to be satisfied, of the eye, there is appropriately interchanged נמלא , used of the funnel-shaped ear, to be filled, i.e., to be satisfied (as at Ecclesiastes 6:7). The min connected with this latter word is explained by Zöck. after Hitz., “away from hearing,” i.e., so that it may hear no more. This is not necessary. As saava' with its min may signify to be satisfied with anything, e.g., Ecclesiastes 6:3, Job 19:22; Psalms 104:13; cf. Kal, Isaiah 2:6, Pih. Jeremiah 51:34; Psalms 127:5. Thus mishshemoa' is understood by all the old translators ( e.g., Targ. מלּמשׁמע ), and thus also, perhaps, the author meant it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, and the ear is not filled (satisfied) with hearing; or yet more in accordance with the Heb. expression: there is not an eye, i.e., no eye is satisfied, etc., restlessly hastening, giving him who looks no rest, the world goes on in its circling course without revealing anything that is in reality new.

Verse 9

“That which hath been is that which shall be, and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” - The older form of the language uses only אשׁר instead of מה־שּׁ , in the sense of id quod , and in the sense of quid-quid , אשׁר כל (Ecclesiastes 6:10; Ecclesiastes 7:24); but mǎh is also used by it with the extinct force of an interrogative, in the sense of quodcunque, Job 13:13, aliquid ( quidquam), Genesis 39:8; Proverbs 9:13; and mi or mi asher, in the sense of quisquis, Exodus 24:14; Exodus 32:33. In שׁ הוא (cf. Genesis 42:14) are combined the meanings id ( est ) quod and idem ( est ) quod ; hu is often the expression of the equality of two things, Job 3:19, or of self-sameness, Psalms 102:28. The double clause, quod f uit ... quod factum est , comprehends that which is done in the world of nature and of men-the natural and the historical. The bold clause, neque est quidquam novi sub sole , challenges contradiction; the author feels this, as the next verse shows.

Verse 10

“Is there anything whereof it may be said: See, this is new? - it was long ago through the ages (aeons) which have been before us.” The Semit. substantive verb ישׁ (Assyr. isu ) has here the force of a hypothetical antecedent: supposing that there is a thing of which one might say, etc. The זה , with Makkeph, belongs as subject, as at Ecclesiastes 7:27, Ecclesiastes 7:29 as object, to that which follows. כּבר ( vid., List, p. 193) properly denotes length or greatness of time (as כּברה , length of way). The ל of לע is that of measure: this “long ago” measured (Hitz.) after infinitely long periods of time. מלּ , ante nos , follows the usage of מלּף , Isaiah 41:26, and l|paa', Judges 1:10, etc.; the past time is spoken of as that which was before, for it is thought of as the beginning of the succession of time ( vid., Orelli, Synon. der Zeit u. Ewigkeit, p. 14f.). The singular היה may also be viewed as pred. of a plur. inhumanus in order; but in connection, Ecclesiastes 2:7, Ecclesiastes 2:9 (Gesen. §147, An. 2), it is more probable that it is taken as a neut. verb. That which newly appears has already been, but had been forgotten; for generations come and generations go, and the one forgets the other.

Verse 11

“There is no remembrance of ancestors; and also of the later ones who shall come into existence, there will be no remembrance for them with those who shall come into existence after them.” With זכּרון (with Kametz) there is also זכרון , the more common form by our author, in accordance with the usage of his age; Gesen., Elst., and others regard it here and at Ecclesiastes 2:16 as constr., and thus לרא as virtually object-gen. (Jerome, non est priorum memoria ); but such refinements of the old syntaxis ornata are not to be expected in our author: he changes (according to the traditional punctuation) here the initial sound, as at Ecclesiastes 1:17 the final sound, to oth and uth. אין ל is the contrast of היה ל : to attribute to one, to become partaker of. The use of the expression, “for them,” gives emphasis to the statement. “With those who shall come after,” points from the generation that is future to a remoter future, cf. Genesis 33:2. The Kametz of the prep. is that of the recompens. art.; cf. Numbers 2:31, where it denotes “the last” among the four hosts; for there הא is meant of the last in order, as here it is meant of the remotely future time.

Verse 12

“I, Koheleth, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.” That of the two possible interpretations of הייתי , “I have become” and “I have been,” not the former (Grätz), but the latter, is to be here adopted, has been already shown. We translate better by “I have been” - for the verb here used is a pure perfect - than by “I was” (Ew., Elst., Hengst., Zöck.), with which Bullock ( Speaker's Comm., vol. IV, 1873) compares the expression Quand j'étois roi ! which was often used by Louis XIV towards the end of his life. But here the expression is not a cry of complaint, like the “ fuimus Troes,” but a simple historical statement, by which the Preacher of the vanity of all earthly things here introduces himself, - it is Solomon, resuscitated by the author of the book, who here looks back on his life as king. “Israel” is the whole of Israel, and points to a period before the division of the kingdom; a king over Judah alone would not so describe himself. Instead of “king על (over) Israel,” the old form of the language uses frequently simply “king of Israel,” although also the former expression is sometimes found; cf. 1 Samuel 15:26; 2 Samuel 19:23; 1 Kings 11:37. He has been king, - king over a great, peaceful, united people; king in Jerusalem, the celebrated, populous, highly-cultivated city, - and thus placed on an elevation having the widest survey, and having at his disposal whatever can make a man happy; endowed, in particular, with all the means of gaining knowledge, which accorded with the disposition of his heart searching after wisdom (cf. 1 Kings 3:9-:; 1 Kings 5:9).

But in his search after worldly knowledge he found no satisfaction.

Verse 13

“And I gave my heart to seek and to hold survey with wisdom over all that is done under the sun: a sore trouble it is which God has given to the children of men to be exercised therewith.” The synonyms דּרשׁ (to seek) and תּוּר (to hold survey over) do not represent a lower and a higher degree of search (Zöck.), but two kinds of searching: one penetrating in depth, the other going out in extent; for the former of these verbs (from the root-idea of grinding, testing) signifies to investigate an object which one already has in hand, to penetrate into it, to search into it thoroughly; and the latter verb (from the root-idea of moving round about)

(Note: Vid., the investigation of these roots (Assyr. utîr , he brought back) in Ethé's Schlafgemach der Phantasie, pp. 86-89.)

signifies to hold a survey, - look round in order to bring that which is unknown, or not comprehensively known, within the sphere of knowledge, and thus has the meaning of bǎkkēsh , one going the rounds. It is the usual word for the exploring of a country, i.e., the acquiring personal knowledge of its as yet unknown condition; the passing over to an intellectual search is peculiar to the Book of Koheleth, as it has the phrase ל לב נתן , animum advertere , or applicare ad aliquid , in common only with Daniel 10:12. The beth of bahhochemah is that of the instrument; wisdom must be the means ( organon) of knowledge in this searching and inquiry. With על is introduced the sphere into which it extends. Grotius paraphrases: Historiam animalium et satorum diligentissime inquisivi . But נעשׂה does not refer to the world of nature, but to the world of men; only within this can anything be said of actions, only this has a proper history. But that which offers itself for research and observation there, brings neither joy nor contentment. Hitzig refers הוּא to human activity; but it relates to the research which has this activity as its object, and is here, on that account, called “a sore trouble,” because the attainment and result gained by the laborious effort are of so unsatisfactory a nature. Regarding ענין , which here goes back to ענה ב , to fatigue oneself, to trouble oneself with anything, and then to be engaged with it. The words ענין רע would mean trouble of an evil nature ( vid., at Psalms 78:49; Proverbs 6:24); but better attested is the reading ענין רע “a sore trouble.” הוּא is the subj., as at Ecclesiastes 2:1 and elsewhere; the author uses it also in expressions where it is pred. And as frequently as he uses asher and שׁ , so also, when form and matter commend it, he uses the scheme of the attributive clause (elliptical relative clause), as here (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:16), where certainly, in conformity with the old style, נתנו was to be used.

Verse 14

He adduces proof of the wearisomeness of this work of research: “I saw all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and striving after the wind.” The point of the sentence lies in &#והנּה וארא וה , so that thus raïthi is the expression of the parallel fact (circumst. perfect). The result of his seeing, and that, as he has said Ecclesiastes 1:13, of a by no means superficial and limited seeing, was a discovery of the fleeting, unsubstantial, fruitless nature of all human actions and endeavours. They had, as hevel expresses, not reality in them; and also, as denoted by reuth ruahh (the lxx render well by προαίρεσις πνεύματος ), they had no actual consequences, no real issue. Hosea 12:1 also says: “Ephraim feedeth on wind,” i.e., follows after, as the result of effort obtains, the wind, roěh ruahh ; but only in the Book of Koheleth is this sentence transformed into an abstract terminus technicus ( vid., under Reth ).

Verse 15

The judgment contained in the words, “vanity and a striving after the wind,” is confirmed: “That which is crooked cannot become straight; and a deficit cannot be numerable,” i.e., cannot be taken into account (thus Theod., after the Syro-Hex.), as if as much were present as is actually wanting; for, according to the proverb, “Where there is nothing, nothing further is to be counted.” Hitzig thinks, by that which is crooked and wanting, according to Ecclesiastes 7:13, of the divine order of the world: that which is unjust in it, man cannot alter; its wants he cannot complete. But the preceding statement refers only to labour under the sun, and to philosophical research and observation directed thereto. This places before the eyes of the observer irregularities and wants, brings such irregularities and wants to his consciousness, - which are certainly partly brought about and destined by God, but for the most part are due to the transgressions of man himself, - and what avails the observer the discovery and investigation? - he has only lamentation over it, for with all his wisdom he can bring no help. Instead of לתקן ( vid., under תקן ), לתקן was to be expected. However, the old language also formed intransitive infinitives with transitive modification of the final vowels, e.g., יבשׁ , etc. (cf. ישׁון , Ecclesiastes 5:11).

Having now gained such a result in his investigation and research by means of wisdom, he reaches the conclusion that wisdom itself is nothing.

Verses 16-18

“I have communed with mine own heart, saying: Lo, I have gained great and always greater wisdom above all who were before me over Jerusalem; and my heart hath seen wisdom and knowledge in fulness. And I gave my heart to know what was in wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly - I have perceived that this also is a grasping after the wind.” The evidence in which he bears witness to himself that striving after wisdom and knowledge brings with it no true satisfaction, reaches down to the close of Ecclesiastes 1:17; ידעתּי is the conclusion which is aimed at. The manner of expression is certainly so far involved, as he speaks of his heart to his heart what it had experienced, and to what he had purposely directed it. The אני leads us to think that a king speaks, for whom it is appropriate to write a capital I, or to multiply it into we; vid., regarding this “I,” more pleonastic than emphatic, subordinated to its verb.

It is a question whether עם־לבּי , after the phrase ( &#את עם דּבּר , is meant of speaking with any one, colloqui, or of the place of speaking, as in “thou shalt consider in thine heart,” Deuteronomy 8:5, it is used of the place of consciousness; cf. Job 15:9, ( &#עמּדי עמּי היה = σύνοιδα ἐμαυτῷ , and what is said in my Psychol. p. 134, regarding συνείδησις , consciousness, and συμμαρτυρεῖν . בּלבּי , interchanging with עם־לבּי , Ecclesiastes 2:1, Ecclesiastes 2:15, commends the latter meaning: in my heart (lxx, Targ., Jerome, Luther); but the cogn. expressions, medabběrěth ǎl - libbah , 1 Samuel 1:13, and ledabbēr ěl - libbi , Genesis 24:45, suggest as more natural the former rendering, viz., as of a dialogue, which is expressed by the Gr. Venet. (more distinctly than by Aquila, Symm., and Syr.): διείλεγμαι ἐγὼ ξὺν τῇ καρδίᾳ μου . Also לאמר , occurring only here in the Book of Koheleth, brings it near that the following oratio directa is directed to the heart, as it also directly assumes the form of an address, Ecclesiastes 2:1, after בלבי . The expression, הג הך , “to make one's wisdom great,” i.e., “to gain great wisdom,” is without a parallel; for the words, הג תו , Isaiah 28:29, quoted by Hitzig, signify to show and attest truly useful (beneficial) knowledge in a noble way. The annexed והו refers to the continued increase made to the great treasure already possessed (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:9 and 1 Kings 10:7). The al connected therewith signifies, “above” (Genesis 49:26) all those who were over Jerusalem before me. This is like the sarrâni âlik maḥrija , “the kings who were my predecessors,” which was frequently used by the Assyrian kings. The Targumist seeks to accommodate the words to the actual Solomon by thus distorting them: “above all the wise men who have been in Jerusalem before me,” as if the word in the text were בירושלם ,

By the consecutive modus ואתּנה (aor. with ah, like Genesis 32:6; Genesis 41:11, and particularly in more modern writings; vid., p. 198, regarding the rare occurrence of the aorist form in the Book of Koheleth) he bears evidence to himself as to the end which, thus equipped with wisdom and knowledge, he gave his heart to attain unto (cf. 13 a), i.e., toward which he directed the concentration of his intellectual strength. He wished to be clear regarding the real worth of wisdom and knowledge in their contrasts; he wished to become conscious of this, and to have joy in knowing what he had in wisdom and knowledge as distinguished from madness and folly. After the statement of the object lādǎǎth , stands vedaath , briefly for ולדעת . Ginsburg wishes to get rid of the words holēloth vesikluth , or at least would read in their stead תּבוּנית ושׂכלוּת (rendering them “intelligence and prudence”); Grätz, after the lxx παραβολὰς καὶ ἐπιστήμην , reads משׁלות ושׂכלות . But the text can remain as it is: the object of Koheleth is, on the one hand, to become acquainted with wisdom and knowledge; and, on the other, with their contraries, and to hold these opposite to each other in their operations and consequences. The lxx, Targ., Venet., and Luther err when they render sikluth here by ἐπιστήμη , etc. As sikluth , insight, intelligence, is in the Aram. written with the letter samek (instead of sin), so here, according to the Masora סכלות , madness is for once written with ס , being everywhere else in the book written with שׂ ; the word is an ἐναντιόφωνον ,

“For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” The German proverb: “Much wisdom causeth headache,” is compared, Ecclesiastes 12:12, but not here, where כּעס and מכאוב express not merely bodily suffering, but also mental grief. Spinoza hits one side of the matter in his Ethics, IV 17, where he remarks: “ Veram boni et mali cognitionem saepe non satis valere ad cupiditates coercendas, quo facto homo imbecillitatem suam animadvertens cogitur exclamare: Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor . ” In every reference, not merely in that which is moral, there is connected with knowledge the shadow of a sorrowful consciousness, in spite of every effort to drive it away. The wise man gains an insight into the thousand-fold woes of the natural world, and of the world of human beings, and this reflects itself in him without his being able to change it; hence the more numerous the observed forms of evil, suffering, and discord, so much greater the sadness ( כּעס , R. כס , cogn. הס , perstringere) and the heart-sorrow ( מכאוב , crève-cour) which the inutility of knowledge occasions. The form of 18a is like Ecclesiastes 5:6, and that of 18 b like e.g., Proverbs 18:22. We change the clause veyosiph daath into an antecedent, but in reality the two clauses stand together as the two members of a comparison: if one increaseth knowledge, he increaseth (at the same time) sorrow. “ יוסיף , Isaiah 29:14; Isaiah 38:5; Ecclesiastes 2:18,” says Ewald, §169 a, “stands alone as a part. act., from the stem reverting from Hiph. to Kal with י instead of .” But this is not unparalleled; in הן יוסיף the verb יוסף is fin., in the same manner as יסּד , Isaiah 28:16; תּומיך , Psalms 16:5, is Hiph., in the sense of amplificas, from &#ימך יפיח , Proverbs 6:19 ( vid., l.c.), is an attribut. clause, qui efflat, used as an adj.; and, at least, we need to suppose in the passage before us the confusion that the ē of kātēl (from kātil , originally kātal ), which is only long, has somehow passed over into î . Böttcher's remark to the contrary, “An impersonal fiens thus repeated is elsewhere altogether without a parallel,” is set aside by the proverb formed exactly thus: “He that breathes the love of truth says what is right,” Proverbs 12:17.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.