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Ecclesiastes: Chapter 1

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1The words of the Teacher, a Heb Qoheleth, traditionally rendered Preacher the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

2Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, a Heb Qoheleth, traditionally rendered Preacher vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? 4A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. 6The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. 8All things b Or words are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing. 9What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. 10Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has already been, in the ages before us. 11The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.

12I, the Teacher, a Heb Qoheleth, traditionally rendered Preacher when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. c Or a feeding on wind. See Hos 12.1

15What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.

16I said to myself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind. c Or a feeding on wind. See Hos 12.1

18For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.

Notes:

a Heb Qoheleth, traditionally rendered Preacher

b Or words

c Or a feeding on wind. See Hos 12.1

Text Commentary view alone

1.1–11 .

1 :

Superscription. Like many Psalms, the book begins with an editorial comment; it alludes to Solomon. Teacher: Hebrew Qoheleth; a form of “qhl” (“assembly”), its meaning is not clear.

2 :

The book's theme. Vanity: In Hebrew “hevel,” meaning “vapor, wind,” things transient and impermanent. Vanity of vanities is Hebrew superlative: “the most insubstantial thing.”

3 :

The dominant question. Is there any benefit from life? The reader is introduced to vocabulary that will be repeated throughout the book: Under the sun refers to wearisome earthly existence, and toil bears a negative connotation.

4–11 :

Nothing ever changes. The Teacher laments the inability of human activity to alter the flow of the existence. The sun, wind, and streams repeat their predictable, “no sum” circuits, just as humans are never satisfied with what they see or hear.

10–11 :

Throughout the book, the Teacher grieves that even righteous ones are not remembered after death.

1.12–18 .

The Teacher's experiment. Though any king of the southern kingdom would fit this description, Solomon is likely implied.

13 :

Mind: In Hebrew, “heart,” the seat of thinking. Wisdom refers to practical, as well as speculative, knowledge. The Teacher begins an empirical investigation into what is useful in life.

14 :

Chasing after wind: Literally, “shepherding the wind,” a futile exertion of energy. This phrase will be repeated eight more times in Ecclesiastes.

15 :

Given the proverbial ring of the statement, some suggest that the Teacher is quoting a well-known saying.

17 :

Wisdom, madness, folly: The list of items from one extreme to the other suggests the complete range of experience.

18 :

A second proverbial statement, likely original to the Teacher.

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