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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Ecclesiastes Chapter 4

Ecclesiastes 4:1

ecc 4:1

"And again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold there the tears of the oppressed, and they have no comforter; and from the hand of their oppressors goeth forth violence; and they have no comforter." Incorrectly Hahn: And anew I saw, - the observation is different from that of Ecc 3:16, though cognate. Thus: And again I saw, - the expression follows the syntactic scheme of Gen 26:18; regarding the fut. consec. brought into view here and at Ecc 4:7. The second העשׁ is part. pass.; the first, as at Job 35:9, and also at Amo 3:9, is abstract (i.e., bringing the many separate instances under one general idea) pluraletantum (cf. פּדוּיי, redemti, Isa 35:10; and redemtio, pretium redemtionis, Num 3:46); the plur. נע אשׁר need not appear strange, since even חיּים is connected with the plur. of the pred., e.g., Psa 31:11; Psa 88:4. דּמעת has, as at Isa 25:8 (cf. Rev 21:4, πᾶν δάκρυον), a collective sense. The expression כּח ... וּמיּד is singular. According to the most natural impression, it seems to signify: "and from the hand of their oppressors no power of deliverance" (carrying forward אין); but the parallelism of the palindromically constructed verse (as at Ecc 1:6; Ecc 2:10; Ecc 3:16) excludes this meaning. Thus כּח is here once-nowhere else-used, like the Greek βία, in the sense of violence; Luzzatto prefers the reading וּביד, by which the expression would be in conformity with the linguistic usage; but also מיד is explained: the force which they have in their hands is, in going forth from their hands, thought of as abused, and, as taking the form of שׁד or חזקה. In view of this sorrow which men bring upon their fellow-men, life for Koheleth lost all its worth and attraction.

Ecclesiastes 4:2

ecc 4:2

"And I praised the dead who were long ago dead, more than the living who are yet in life; and as happier than both, him who has not yet come into existence, who hath not seen the evil work which is done under the sun." ושׁבּח is hardly thought of as part., like יוּקשׁים = מיקּשׁים, Ecc 9:12; the m of the part. Pih. is not usually thrown away, only מהר, Zep 1:14, is perhaps = ממהר, but for the same reason as בּית־אל, Kg2 2:3, is = בּבית - אל. Thus ושׁבּח, like ונתון, Ecc 8:9, is inf. absol., which is used to continue, in an adverbially subord. manner, the preceding finite with the same subject,

(Note: Also Ch1 5:20, the subject remains virtually the same: et ita quidem ut exaudirentur.)

Gen 41:43; Lev 25:14; Jdg 7:19, etc.; cf. especially Exo 8:11 : "Pharaoh saw ... and hardened (והכבּד) his heart;" just in the same manner as ושׁבּח here connects itself with ושׁ אני וא. Only the annexed designation of the subject is peculiar; the syntactic possibility of this connection is established by Psa 15:5, Job 40:2, and, in the second rank, by Gen 17:10; Eze 5:14. Yet אני might well enough have been omitted had וש אני וא not stood too remote. Regarding עדנה

(Note: Thus punctuated with Segol under Daleth, and ,נ raphatum, in F. H. J. P. Thus also Kimchi in W.B. under עד.)

and עדן. The circumstantial form of the expression: prae vivis qui vivi sunt adhuc, is intentional: they who are as yet living must be witnesses of the manifold and comfortless human miseries.

It is a question whether Ecc 4:3 begins a new clause (lxx, Syr., and Venet.) or not. That את, like the Arab. aiya, sometimes serves to give prominence to the subject, cannot be denied (vid., Bttcher, 516, and Mhlau's remarks thereto). The Mishnic expressions היּום אותו, that day, הארץ אותהּ, that land, and the like (Geiger, 14. 2), presuppose a certain preparation in the older language; and we might, with Weiss (Stud. ueber d. Spr. der Mishna, p. 112), interpret אשׁר את in the sense of אותי אשר, is qui. But the accus. rendering is more natural. Certainly the expression טוב שׁבּח, "to praise," "to pronounce happy," is not used; but to טוב it is natural to suppose וקראתי added. Jerome accordingly translates: et feliciorem utroque judicavi qui necdum natus est. הרע has the double Kametz, as is generally the case, except at Psa 54:7 and Mic 7:3.

(Note: Vid., Heidenheim, Meor Enajim, under Deu 17:7.)

Better than he who is born is the unborn, who does not become conscious of the wicked actions that are done under the sun. A similar thought, with many variations in its expression, is found in Greek writers; see regarding these shrill discordances, which run through all the joy of the beauty and splendour of Hellenic life, my Apologetick, p. 116. Buddhism accordingly gives to nirvna the place of the highest good. That we find Koheleth on the same path (cf. Ecc 6:3; Ecc 7:1), has its reason in this, that so long as the central point of man's existence lies in the present life, and this is not viewed as the fore-court of eternity, there is no enduring consolation to lift us above the miseries of this present world.

Ecclesiastes 4:4

ecc 4:4

"And I saw all the labour and all the skill of business, that it is an envious surpassing of the one by the other: also this is vain and windy effort." The היא refers to this exertion of vigorous effort and skill. The Graec. Venet., by rendering here and at Ecc 2:24 כּשׁרון, by καθαρότης, betrays himself as a Jew. With כּי, quod, that which forms the pred. follows the object. the min in mere'ehu is as in amatz min, Psa 18:18, and the like - the same as the compar.: aemulatio qua unus prae altero eminere studet. All this expenditure of strength and art has covetousness and envy, with which one seeks to surpass another, as its poisoned sting.

Ecclesiastes 4:5

ecc 4:5

There ought certainly to be activity according to our calling; indolence is self-destruction: "The fool foldeth his hands, and eateth his own flesh." He layeth his hands together (Prov 6:10-24:33), - placeth them in his bosom, instead of using them in working, - and thereby he eateth himself up, i.e., bringeth ruin upon himself (Psa 27:2; Mic 3:3; Isa 49:26); for instead of nourishing himself by the labour of his hands, he feeds on his own flesh, and thus wasteth away. The emphasis does not lie on the subject (the fool, and only the fool), but on the pred.

Ecclesiastes 4:6

ecc 4:6

The fifth verse stands in a relation of contrast to this which follows: "Better is one hand full of quietness, than both fists full of labour and windy effort." Mendelssohn and others interpret Ecc 4:5 as the objection of the industrious, and Ecc 4:6 as the reply of the slothful. Zckler agrees with Hitz., and lapses into the hypothesis of a dialogue otherwise rejected by him. As everywhere, so also here it preserves the unity of the combination of thoughts. נחת signifies here, as little as it does anywhere else, the rest of sloth; but rest, in contrast to such activity in labour as robs a man of himself, to the hunting after gain and honour which never has enough, to the rivalry which places its goal always higher and higher, and seeks to be before others - it is rest connected with well-being (Ecc 6:5), gentle quietness (Ecc 9:17), resting from self-activity (Isa 30:15); cf. the post-bibl. רוּח נחת, satisfaction, contentment, comfort. In a word, nahath has not here the sense of being idle or lazy. The sequence of the thoughts is this: The fool in idleness consumes his own life-strength; but, on the other hand, a little of true rest is better than the labour of windy effort, urged on by rivalry yielding no rest. כּף is the open hollow hand, and חפן (Assyr. ḥupunnu) the hand closed like a ball, the first. "Rest" and "labour and windy effort" are the accusatives of that to which the designation of measure refers (Gesen. 118. 3); the accus. connection lay here so much the nearer, as מלא is connected with the accus. of that with which anything is full. In "and windy effort" lies the reason for the judgment pronounced. The striving of a man who laboriously seeks only himself and loses himself in restlessness, is truly a striving which has wind for its object, and has the property of wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:7

ecc 4:7

"There is one without a second, also son and brother he has not; and there is no end of his labour; his eyes nevertheless are not satisfied with riches: For whom do I labour, then, and deny all good to my soul? Also this is vain, and it is a sore trouble." That ואין, as in Psa 104:25; Psa 105:34, has the meaning of בּאין, absque, Nolde has already observed in his Partik.-Concordanz: a solitarius, without one standing by his side, a second standing near him, i.e., without wife and without friend; also, as the words following show, without son and brother. Regarding ואח, for which, with the connect. accus., ואח might be expected (cf. also Ecc 2:7, וצאן with Mahpach; and, on the other hand, Ecc 2:23, וכעס with Pashta), vid., under Psa 55:10. Gam may be interpreted in the sense of "also" as well as of "nevertheless" (Ewald, 354a); the latter is to be preferred, since the endless labour includes in itself a restless striving after an increase of possession. The Kerî<, in an awkward way, changes עיניו into עינו; the taking together the two eyes as one would here be unnatural, since the avaricious man devours gold, silver, and precious things really with both his eyes, and yet, however great be his wealth, still more does he wish to see in his possession; the sing. of the pred. is as at Sa1 4:15; Mic 4:11.

With ulmi ani, Koheleth puts himself in the place of such a friendless, childless man; yet this change of the description into a self-confession may be occasioned by this, that the author in his old age was really thus isolated, and stood alone. Regarding חסּר with the accus. of the person, to whom, and min of the matter, in respect of which there is want, vid., under Psa 8:6. That the author stands in sympathy with the sorrowful condition here exposed, may also be remarked from the fact that he now proceeds to show the value of companionship and the miseries of isolation:

Ecclesiastes 4:9

ecc 4:9

"Better are two together than one, seeing they have a good reward in their labour." By hashshenaim, the author refers to such a pair; haehhad is one such as is just described. The good reward consists in this, that each one of the two has the pleasant consciousness of doing good to the other by his labour, and especially of being helpful to him. In this latter general sense is grounded the idea of the reward of faithful fellowship:

Ecclesiastes 4:10

ecc 4:10

"For if they fall, the one can raise up his fellow: but woe to the one who falleth, and there is not a second there to lift him up." Only the Targ., which Grtz follows, confounds אילו

(Note: With Munach and Rebia in one word, which, according to the masora, occurs in only four other places. Vid., Mas. magna under this passage, and Mishpete hateamin 26a.)

with אילוּ; it is equivalent to אוי לו, Isa 3:9, or הוי לו, Eze 13:18. Haehhad is appos. connecting itself to the pronominal suff., as, e.g., in a far more inappropriate manner, Psa 86:2; the prep. is not in appos. usually repeated, Gen 2:19; Gen 9:4 (exceptions: Ps. 18:51; Psa 74:14). Whether we translate שׁיּפּל by qui ceciderit (Ecc 11:3), or by quum ceciderit (Jerome), is all one. יקים is potential: it is possible and probable that it will be done, provided he is a טוב חבר, i.e., a true friend (Pirke aboth, ii. 13).

Ecclesiastes 4:11

ecc 4:11

"Moreover, if two lie together, then there is heat to them: but how can it be warm with one who is alone?" The marriage relation is not excluded, but it remains in the background; the author has two friends in his eye, who, lying in a cold night under one covering (Exo 22:26; Isa 28:20), cherish one another, and impart mutual warmth. Also in Aboth de-Rabbi Nathan, c. 8, the sleeping of two together is spoken of as an evidence of friendship. The vav in vehham is that of the consequent; it is wanting 10a, according to rule, in haehhad, because it commonly comes into use with the verb, seldom (e.g., Gen 22:1) with the preceding subj.

Ecclesiastes 4:12

ecc 4:12

"And if one shall violently assail him who is alone, two shall withstand him; and (finally) a threefold cord is not quickly broken asunder." The form yithqepho for yithqephehu, Job 15:24, is like hirdepho, Hos 8:3 = hirdephehu, Jdg 9:40. If we take תקף in the sense of to overpower, then the meaning is: If one can overpower him who is alone, then, on the contrary, two can maintain their ground against him (Herzf.); but the two אם, Ecc 4:10, Ecc 4:11, which are equivalent to ἐάν, exclude such a pure logical εἰ. And why should תקף, if it can mean overpowering, not also mean doing violence to by means of a sudden attack? In the Mishnic and Arab. it signifies to seize, to lay hold of; in the Aram. אתקף = החזיק, and also at Job 14:20; Job 15:24 (vid., Comm.), it may be understood of a violent assault, as well as of a completed subjugation; as נשׂא means to lift up and carry; עמד, to tread and to stand. But whether it be understood inchoat. or not, in any case האחד is not the assailant, who is much rather the unnamed subj. in יתקפי, but the one (the solitarius) who, if he is alone, must succumb; the construction of hithqepho haehhad follows the scheme of Exo 2:6, "she saw it, the child." To the assault expressed by תקף, there stands opposed the expression נגד עמד, which means to withstand any one with success; as עמד לפני, Kg2 10:4; Psa 147:17; Dan 8:7, means to maintain one's ground. Of three who hold together, 12a says nothing; the advance from two to three is thus made in the manner of a numerical proverb (vid., Proverbs, vol. I p. 13). If two hold together, that is seen to be good; but if there be three, this threefold bond is likened to a cord formed of three threads, which cannot easily be broken. Instead of the definite specific art. הח הם, we make use of the indefinite. Funiculus triplex difficile rumpitur is one of the winged expressions used by Koheleth.

Ecclesiastes 4:13

ecc 4:13

"Better is a youth poor and wise, than a king old and foolish, who no longer understands how to be warned," - i.e., who increases his folly by this, that he is "wise in his own eyes," Pro 26:12; earlier, as עוד denotes, he was, in some measure, accessible to the instruction of others in respect of what was wanting to him; but now in his advanced age he is hardened in his folly, bids defiance to all warning counsel, and undermines his throne. The connection of the verb ידע with ל and the inf. (for which elsewhere only the inf. is used) is a favourite form with the author; it means to know anything well, Ecc 5:1; Ecc 6:8; Ecc 10:15; here is meant an understanding resting on the knowledge of oneself and on the knowledge of men. נזהר is here and at Ecc 12:12, Psa 19:12, a Niph. tolerativum, such as the synon. נוסר, Psa 2:10 : to let oneself be cleared up, made wiser, enlightened, warned. After this contrast, the idea connected with חכם also defines itself. A young man (ילד, as at Dan 1:4, but also Gen 4:23) is meant who (vid., above, p. 639, under misken) yet excels the old imbecile and childish king, in that he perceives the necessity of a fundamental change in the present state of public matters, and knows how to master the situation to such a degree that he raises himself to the place of ruler over the neglected community.

Ecclesiastes 4:14

ecc 4:14

"For out of the prison-house he goeth forth to reign as king, although he was born as a poor man in his kingdom." With כּי the properties of poverty and wisdom attributed to the young man are verified, - wisdom in this, that he knew how to find the way from a prison to a throne. As harammim, Ch2 22:5 = haarammim, Kg2 8:28, so hasurim = haasurim (cf. masoreth = maasoreth, Eze 20:37); beth haasirim (Kerı̂; haasurim), Jdg 16:21, Jdg 16:25, and beth haesur, Jer 38:15, designate the prison; cf. Mod katan, Ecc 3:1. The modern form of the language prefers this elision of the א, e.g., אפלּוּ = אף אלּוּ, אלתּר = אל־אתר, בּתר post = בּאתר contra, etc. The perf. יחא is also thought of as having reached the throne, and having pre-eminence assigned to him as such. He has come forth from the prison to become king, רשׁ ... כּי. Zckler translates: "Whereas also he that was born in his kingdom was poor," and adds the remark: "גם כי, after the כי of the preceding clause, does not so much introduce a verification of it, as much rather an intensification; by which is expressed, that the prisoner has not merely transitorily fallen into such misery, but that he was born in poor and lowly circumstances, and that in his own kingdom בּם, i.e., in the same land which he should afterwards rule as king." But גם כי is nowhere used by Koheleth in the sense of "ja auch" (= whereas also); and also where it is thus to be translated, as at Jer 14:18; Jer 23:11, it is used in the sense of "denn auch" (= for also), assigning proof. The fact is, that this group of particles, according as כי is thought of as demonst. or relat., means either "denn auch," Ecc 4:16; Ecc 7:22; Ecc 8:16, or "wenn auch" = ἐὰν καί, as here and at Ecc 8:12. In the latter case, it is related to כּי גּם (sometimes also merely גּם, Psa 95:9; Mal 3:15), as ἐὰν (εἰ) καί, although, notwithstanding, is to καὶ ἐάν (εἰ), even although.

(Note: That the accentuation separates the two words גם־ כי is to be judged from this, that it almost everywhere prefers אם־ כי (vid., under Comm. to Psa 1:2).)

Thus 14b, connecting itself with למלך, is to be translated: "although he was born (נולד,not נולד) in his kingdom as a poor man."

(Note: נולד רש cannot mean "to become poor." Grtz appeals to the Mishnic language; but no intelligent linguist will use נולד רשׁ of a man in any other sense than that he is originally poor.)

We cannot also concur with Zckler in the view that the suff. of :_b refers to the young upstart: in the kingdom which should afterwards become his; for this reason, that the suff. of תח, Ecc 4:16, refers to the old king, and thus also that this designation may be mediated, בם must refer to him. מלכות signifies kingdom, reign, realm; here, the realm, as at Neh 9:35, Dan 5:11; 6:29. Grtz thinks Ecc 4:13-16 ought to drive expositors to despair. But hitherto we have found no room for despair in obtaining a meaning from them. What follows also does not perplex us. The author describes how all the world hails the entrance of the new youthful king on his government, and gathers together under his sceptre.

Ecclesiastes 4:15

ecc 4:15

"I saw all the living which walk under the sun on the side of the youth, the second who shall enter upon the place of the former: no end of all the people, all those at whose head he stands." The author, by the expression "I saw," places himself back in the time of the change of government. If we suppose that he represents this to himself in a lively manner, then the words are to be translated: of the second who shall be his successor; but if we suppose that he seeks to express from the standpoint of the past that which, lying farther back in the past, was now for the first time future, then the future represents the time to come in the past, as at Kg2 3:27; Psa 78:6; Job 15:28 (Hitz.): of the second who should enter on his place (עמד, to step to, to step forth, of the new king, Dan 8:23; Dan 11:2.; cf. קוּם, Kg1 8:20). The designation of the crowd which, as the pregnant עם expresses, gathered by the side of the young successor to the old king, by "all the living, those walking under the sun (המה, perhaps intentionally the pathetic word for הלכים, Isa 42; 5)," would remain a hyperbole, even although the throne of the Asiatic world-ruler had been intended; still the expression, so absolute in its universality, would in that case be more natural (vid., the conjectural reference to Cyrus and Astygates). השּׁני, Ewald refers to the successor to the king, the second after the king, and translates: "to the second man who should reign in his stead;" but the second man in this sense has certainly never been the child of fortune; one must then think of Joseph, who, however, remains the second man. Hitzig rightly: "The youth is the second שׁני, not אחר, in contrast to the king, who, as his predecessor, is the first." "Yet," he continues, "הילד should be the appos. and השׁני the principal word," i.e., instead of: with the second youth, was to be expected: with the second, the youth. It is true, we may either translate: with the second youth, or: with the second, the youth - the_ form of expression has in its something incorrect, for it has the appearance as if it treated of two youths. But similar are the expressions, Mat 8:21, ἓτερος κ.τ.λ., "another, and that, too, one of His disciples;" and Luk 23:32, ἤγοντο κ.τ.λ All the world ranks itself by the side (thus we may also express it) of the second youthful king, so that he comes to stand at the head of an endless multitude. The lxx, Jerome, and the Venet. render incorrectly the all (the multitude) as the subject of the relative clause, which Luther, after the Syr., corrects by reading לפניו for לפניהם: of the people that went for him there was no end. Rightly the Targ.: at whose head (= בּרישׁיהון) he had the direction, לפני, as with יצא ובא, Sa1 18:16; Ch2 1:10; Psa 68:8, etc. All the world congregates about him, follows his leadership; but his history thus splendidly begun, viewed backwards, is a history of hopes falsified.

"And yet they who come after do not rejoice in him: for that also is vain, and a grasping after the wind." For all that, and in spite of that (gam has here this meaning, as at Ecc 6:7; Jer 6:15; Psa 129:2; Ewald, 354a), posterity (הא, as at Ecc 1:11; cf. Isa 41:4) has no joy in this king, - the hopes which his contemporaries placed in the young king, who had seized the throne and conquered their hearts, afterwards proved to be delusions; and also this history, at first so beautiful, and afterwards so hateful, contributed finally to the confirmation of the truth, that all under the sun is vain. As to the historical reminiscence from the time of the Ptolemies, in conformity with which Hitzig (in his Comm.) thinks this figure is constructed; Grtz here, as always, rocks himself in Herodian dreams. In his Comm., Hitz. guesses first of Jeroboam, along with Rehoboam the שׁני ילד, who rebelled against King Solomon, who in his old age had become foolish. In an essay, "Zur Exeg. u. Kritik des B. Koheleth," in Hilgenfeld's Zeitschr. XIV 566ff., Saul, on the contrary, appears to him to be the old and foolish king, and David the poor wise youth who rose to the throne, and took possession of the whole kingdom, but in his latter days experienced desertion and adversities; for those who came after (the younger men) had no delight in him, but rebelled against him. But in relation to Saul, who came from the plough to be king, David, who was called from being a shepherd, is not נולד רשׁ; and to Jewish history this Saul, whose nobler self is darkened by melancholy, but again brightens forth, and who to his death maintained the dignity of a king of Israel, never at any time appears as וכסיל ... מלך. Moreover, by both combinations of that which is related with the הסורים בּית (for which הסּ is written) of the history of the old Israelitish kings, a meaning contrary to the usage of the language must be extracted. It is true that סוּר, as the so-called particip. perfecti, may mean "gone aside (to a distance)," Isa 49:21; Jer 17:13; and we may, at any rate, by סורים, think on that poor rabble which at first gathered around David, Sa1 22:2, regarded as outcasts from honourable society. But בית will not accord therewith. That David came forth from the house (home) of the estranged or separated, is and remains historically an awkward expression, linguistically obscure, and not in accordance with the style of Koheleth. In order to avoid this incongruity, Bttcher regards Antiochus the Great as the original of the ילד. He was the second son of his father, who died 225. When a hopeful youth of fifteen years of age, he was recalled to the throne from a voluntary banishment into Farther Asia, very soon gained against his old cousin and rival Achaeus, who was supported by Egypt, a large party, and remained for several years esteemed as a prince and captain; he disappointed, however, at a later time, the confidence which was reposed in him. But granting that the voluntary exile of Antiochus might be designated as האס בית, he was yet not a poor man, born poor, but was the son of King Seleucus Callincus; and his older relative and rival Achaeus wished indeed to become king, but never attained unto it. Hence השׁני is not the youth as second son of his father, but as second on the throne, in relation to the dethroned king reckoned as the first. Thus, far from making it probable that the Book of Koheleth originated in the time of the Diadochs, this combination of Bttcher's also stands on a feeble foundation, and falls in ruins when assailed.

The section Eccl 1:12-4:16, to which we have prefixed the superscription, "Koheleth's Experiences and their Results," has now reached its termination, and here for the first time we meet with a characteristic peculiarity in the composition of the book: the narrative sections, in which Koheleth, on the ground of his own experiences and observations, registers the vanities of earthly life, terminate in series of proverbs in which the I of the preacher retires behind the objectivity of the exhortations, rules, and principles obtained from experience, here recorded. The first of these series of proverbs which here follows is the briefest, but also the most complete in internal connection.

Next: Ecclesiastes Chapter 5