and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth.
but know that God will judge your motives and actions. 4
and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;
and the clouds disappear 17 after the rain;
and the virile men begin to stoop over, 20
and the grinders 21 begin to cease because they grow few,
and those who look through the windows grow dim, 22
12:4 and the doors along the street are shut;
when the sound of the grinding mill 23 grows low,
and one is awakened 24 by the sound of a bird,
because man goes to his eternal home, 35
and the mourners go about in the streets –
12:6 before the silver cord is removed,
or the golden bowl is broken,
or the pitcher is shattered at the well, 36
or the water wheel 37 is broken at the cistern –
12:7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was,
and the life’s breath 38 returns to God who gave it.
[11:9] 4 tn Heb “and know that concerning all these God will bring you into judgment.” The point is not that following one’s impulses and desires is inherently bad and will bring condemnation from God. Rather the point seems to be: As you follow your impulses and desires, realize that all you think and do will eventually be evaluated by God. So one must seek joy within the boundaries of God’s moral standards.
[11:10] 5 tn The verb סוּר (sur, “to remove”) normally depicts a concrete action of removing a physical object from someone’s presence (HALOT 748 s.v. סור 1). Here, it is used figuratively (hypocatastasis) of the emotional/psychological action of banishing unnecessary emotional stress from one’s mind. The Hiphil usage means “to remove; to abolish; to keep away; to turn away; to push aside” (HALOT 748 s.v. 1). The English versions render this term in a variety of ways, none of which is very poetic: “remove” (KJV, RSV, ASV, NASB); “turn aside” (YLT); “ward off” (NAB); and “banish” (NEB, MLB, NIV, NRSV, NJPS, Moffatt).
[11:10] 6 tn The root “vexation” (כַּעַס, ka’as) has a broad range of meanings: “anger” (Deut 4:25; 9:18), “irritation” (Deut 32:21), “offend” (2 Kgs 23:26; Neh 3:37), “vexation” or “frustration” (Ezek 20:28), “grief” (1 Sam 1:6), and “worry” (Ps 112:10; Eccl 7:9); cf. HALOT 491 s.v. כַּעַס. Here, it refers in general to unnecessary emotional stress and anxiety that can deprive a person of the legitimate enjoyment of life and its temporal benefits.
[11:10] 8 tn In light of the parallelism, רָעָה (ra’ah) does not refer to ethical evil, but to physical injury, pain, deprivation or suffering (e.g., Deut 31:17, 21; 32:23; 1 Sam 10:19; Neh 1:3; 2:17; Pss 34:20; 40:13; 88:4; 107:26; Eccl 12:1; Jer 2:27; Lam 3:38); see HALOT 1263 s.v. רָעָה 4.b; BDB 949 s.v. רָעָה 2. This sense is best captured as “pain” (NASB, RSV, NRSV, MLB, Moffatt) or “the troubles [of your body]” (NEB, NIV), rather than “evil” (KJV, ASV, YLT, Douay) or “sorrow” (NJPS).
[11:10] 11 tn Or “youth”; Heb “black hair” or “the dawn [of life].” The feminine noun הַשַּׁחֲרוּת (hashakharut) is a hapax legomenon, occurring only here. There is debate whether it is from שָׁחֹר (shakhor) which means “black” (i.e. black hair, e.g., Lev 13:31, 37; Song 5:11; HALOT 1465 s.v. שׁחר; BDB 1007 s.v. שָׁחֹר and שָׁחַר) or שַׁחַר (shakhar) which means “dawn” (e.g., Gen 19:15; Job 3:9; Song 6:10; HALOT 1466–67 s.v. שָׁחַר). If this term is from שָׁחֹר it is used in contrast to gray hair that characterizes old age (e.g., Prov 16:31; 20:29). This would be a figure (metonymy of association) for youthfulness. On the other hand, if the term is from שַׁחַר it connotes the “dawn of life” or “prime of life.” This would be a figure (hypocatastasis) for youthfulness. In either case, the term is a figure for “youth” or “prime of life,” as the parallel term הַיַּלְדוּת (hayyaldut, “youth” or “childhood”) indicates. The term is rendered variously in the English versions: “black hair” (NJPS); “the dawn of youth” (NAB); “the dawn of life” (ASV, MLB, RSV, NRSV); “the prime of life” (NEB, NASB); “vigor” (NIV); “youth” (KJV); and “manhood” (Moffatt). The plural forms of הַשַּׁחֲרוּת and הַיַּלְדוּת are examples of the plural of state or condition that a person experiences for a temporary period of time, e.g., זְקֻנִים (zÿqunim, “old age”); נְעוּרִים (nÿ’urim, “youth”); and עֲלוּמִים (’alumim, “youthfulness”); see IBHS 121 §7.4.2b.
[11:10] 12 tn The term הֶבֶל (hevel, “vanity”) often connotes the temporal idea “fleeting” (e.g., Prov 31:30; Eccl 3:19; 6:12; 7:15; 9:9). This nuance is suggested here by the collocation of “youth” (הַיַּלְדוּת, hayyaldut) and “the prime of life” (הַשַּׁחֲרוּת, hashakharut).
[12:1] 13 tn The imperative זְכֹר (zekhor, “Remember!”) is a figurative expression (metonymy of association) for obeying God and acknowledging his lordship over one’s life (e.g., Num 15:40; Deut 8:18; Pss 42:6-7; 63:6-8; 78:42; 103:18; 106:7; 119:52, 55; Jer 51:50; Ezek 20:43; Jonah 2:7; Mal 4:4). The exhortation to fear God and obey his commands in 12:13-14 spells out what it means to “remember” God.
[12:1] 14 tn The temporal adjective עַד (’ad, “before”) appears three times in 12:1-7 (vv. 1b, 2a, 6a). Likewise, the temporal preposition בְּ (bet, “when”) is repeated (vv. 3a, 4b). These seven verses comprise one long sentence in Hebrew: The main clause is 12:1a (“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth”), while 12:1b-7 consists of five subordinate temporal clauses (“before…before…when…when…before…”).
[12:1] 15 tn The adjective רָעָה (ra’ah, “evil”) does not refer here to ethical evil, but to physical difficulty, injury, pain, deprivation and suffering (e.g., Deut 31:17, 21; 32:23; 1 Sam 10:19; Neh 1:3; 2:17; Pss 34:20; 40:13; 88:4; 107:26; Eccl 11:10; Jer 2:27; Lam 3:38); see HALOT 1263 s.v. רָעָה 4.b; BDB 949 s.v. רָעָה 2.
[12:2] 16 tn Heb “the light and the moon and the stars.” The phrase “the light and the moon” is a hendiadys (two separate terms denoting one idea) or perhaps even a hendiatris (three separate terms denoting one idea) for “the light of the moon and stars” (e.g., Gen 1:14).
[12:3] 19 tn The verb זְוּעַ (zÿua’, “to tremble”) probably does not refer to physical tremors but to trembling in fear (e.g., Esth 5:9; Hab 2:7; Sir 48:12); cf. HALOT 267 s.v. זוע). At the onset of old age, those who had been the most courageous during their youth suddenly become fearful.
[12:3] 20 tn The verb עָוַת (’avat, “to bend; to stoop”) means “to be stooped” (HALOT 804 s.v. עות) rather than “to bend themselves” (BDB 736 s.v. עות). The perfect tense may be taken in an ingressive sense (“begin to stoop over”).
[12:3] 21 tn The term הַטֹּחֲנוֹת (hattokhanot, Qal active participle feminine plural from טָחַן, takhan, “to grind”) is a double entendre. In its literal sense, it refers to female mill-grinders; in its figurative sense, it refers to molar teeth (HALOT 374 s.v. *טֹחֲנָה). The related Hebrew noun טַחֲנָה (takhanah) refers to a “mill,” and the related Arabic noun tahinat means “molar tooth” (HALOT 374 s.v. *טַחֲנָה).
[12:3] 22 tn The verb חָשַׁךְ (khashakh, “to grow dim”) is used elsewhere in reference to failing eyesight (e.g., Ps 69:24; Lam 5:17); see HALOT 361 s.v. חשׁך 2. Therefore, the phrase “those who look through the windows” is probably a figurative description of the eyes, picturing failing eyesight at the onset of old age.
[12:4] 23 tn The noun טַחֲנָה (takhanah) refers to a “grinding-mill” where grain is ground into flour (HALOT 374 s.v. טַחֲנָה). The term is here used as a double entendre, figuratively describing the loss of one’s teeth at the onset of old age. The figurative usage also draws upon the polysemantic nature of this noun; the related Arabic root tahinat means “molar tooth” (HALOT 374 s.v. *טֹחֲנָה).
[12:4] 24 tn Heb “rises up.” The verb קוּם (qum, “to arise”) refers to being awakened from sleep in the middle of the night by a sound (e.g., Exod 12:30; 1 Sam 3:6, 8) and waking up early in the morning (e.g., Gen 24:54; Judg 16:3; Ruth 3:14; Neh 2:12; Job 14:12; 24:14); see HALOT 1086 s.v. קוּם 1; BDB 877 s.v. קוּם 1.a. Here it describes one of the frustrations of old age: the elderly person is unable to get a full night’s sleep because every little sound awakens him in the middle of the night or too early in the morning.
[12:4] 26 tn Heb “all the daughters of song.” The expression “the daughters of song” (בְּנוֹת הַשִּׁיר, bÿnot hashir) is an idiom for “songs; musical sounds; melodious notes” (HALOT 166 s.v. I בַּת 2; BDB 123 s.v. בַּת 5; GKC 418 §128.v). The genitive הַשִּׁיר (“song”) represents the nature, quality, character or condition of the construct בְּנוֹת (“daughters”); see IBHS 149-51 §9.5.3b. The idiom refers to the musical songs sung during one’s youth or to the ability to hear songs that are sung. This line is lamenting the loss of hearing which occurs at the onset of old age.
[12:5] 28 tn The Hebrew noun חַתְחַתִּים (khatkhattim) literally means “terrors” (HALOT 363 s.v. חַתְחַת; BDB 369 s.v. חַתְחַת). Here it is used as a metonymy (cause for effect) to refer to dangers that cause the elderly to be fearful of going outside or walking along the streets. The form חַתְחַתִּים is a reduplicated noun stem from the root חתת (“terror”); HALOT 363 s.v. חַתְחַת; BDB 369 s.v. חַתְחַת. The reduplication of the noun stem intensifies its meaning: the noun חִתַּת (khittat) means “terror,” so the intensified reduplicated form חַתְחַת (khatkhat) connotes something like “great terror” (see S. Moscati, Comparative Grammar, 78-79, §12.9-13). The plural form חַתְחַתִּים (“great terrors”) denotes plural of number (more than one) or plural of intensity (which would further intensify the experience of fear); see IBHS 122 §7.4.3a.
[12:5] 29 tn The noun שָׁקֵד (shaqed) is used in the OT in reference to the “almond nut” (e.g., Gen 43:11; Num 17:23) and metonymically (product for thing producing it) for the “almond tree” (e.g., Jer 1:11); cf. HALOT 1638 s.v. שָׁקֵד; BDB 1052 s.v. שָׁקֵד 2.
[12:5] 30 tn The verb נצץ (“to blossom”) is a geminate verb (II = III) that, in this case, is written with a matres lectionis (plene spelling) rather than the normal spelling of וינץ (GKC 204 §73.g). The Hiphil verb יָנֵאץ (yane’ts) is from the root נצץ “to shine; to sparkle; to blossom” (HALOT 717 s.v. נצץ; BDB 665 s.v. נָצַץ). It is used in reference to almond blossoms whose color progresses from pink to white as they ripen (e.g., Song 6:11). This is an appropriate metaphor (comparison of sight) to describe white hair that often accompanies the onset of old age.
[12:5] 32 tn The verb סָבַל (saval, “to bear a heavy load”) means “to drag oneself along” as a burden (BDB 687 s.v. סָבַל) or “to become thick; to move slowly forward; to clear off” (HALOT 741 s.v. סבל).
[12:5] 33 tn The noun אֲבִיּוֹנָה (’aviyyonah, “caper berry, caper fruit”) is a hapax legomenon, occurring only here in the Hebrew Bible. It refers to the Capparis spinosa fruit which was eaten as an aphrodisiac in the ancient Near East (HALOT 5 s.v. אֲבִיּוֹנָה; BDB 2–3 s.v. אֲבִיּוֹנָה). There are two options for the interpretation of this figure: (1) At the onset of old age, the sexual virility that marked one’s youth is nothing more than a distant memory, and even aphrodisiacs fail to stimulate sexual desire to allow for sexual intercourse. (2) The onset of old age is like the shriveling up of the caper berry fruit; the once virile youth has passed his prime just like a shriveled caper berry can no longer provide a sexual stimulant.
[12:5] 34 tc The MT vocalizes consonantal ותפר as וְתָפֵר (vÿtafer, conjunction + Hiphil imperfect 3rd person feminine singular from פָּרַר , parar, “to burst”). However, an alternate vocalization tradition of וְתֻפַּר (vÿtupar, conjunction + Hophal imperfect 3rd person feminine singular “to be broken down”) is reflected in the LXX which reads καὶ διασκεδασθῇ (kai diaskedasqh, “is scattered”) and Symmachus καὶ διαλυθῇ (kai dialuqh, “is broken up”) which is followed by the Syriac. On the other hand, Aquila’s καὶ καρπεύσει (kai karpeusei, “are enjoyed,” of fruits) reflects וְתִפְרֶה (Qal imperfect 3rd person feminine singular from פָרַה, “to bear fruit”); this does not reflect an alternate reading but a translator’s error in word division between וְתָפֵר הָאֲבִיּוֹנָה (vÿtafer ha’aviyyonah, “the caper berry bursts”) and וְתִפְרֶה אֲבִיּוֹנָה (vÿtifreh ’aviyyonah, “the caper berry bears fruit”).
[12:5] tn Or “fails”; or “bursts.” The meaning of the verb פָּרַר (parar, “to break; to make ineffectual”) is debated: (1) “to be ineffectual,” that is, to fail to provide sexual power as an aphrodisiac, or (2) “to break; to burst,” that is, the caper berry fruit shrivels as it lingers on its branch beyond its period of ripeness (HALOT 975 s.v. פרר 2.f; BDB 830 s.v. I. פָּרַר 2.d).
[12:5] 35 tn In the construct phrase בֵּית עוֹלָמוֹ (bet ’olamo, “house of his eternity”), the genitive עוֹלָמוֹ (“eternity”) functions as an attributive adjective: “his eternal home.” This is an idiom for the grave as the resting place of the body (e.g., Ps 49:12 ; Job 7:9; 14:10-12; Eccl 12:5) or Sheol as the residence of the dead (e.g., Job 17:13; 30:23); see HALOT 124 s.v. I בַּיִת 2; 799 (5); BDB 109 s.v. בַּיִת 1.d. For example, the term בֵּית (“house”) is used in Job 30:23 in parallelism with “death” (מָוֶת, mavet). The same idiom appears in postbiblical Hebrew: “the house of eternity” (בֵּית עוֹלָם, bet ’olam) is a euphemism for a burial ground or cemetery (e.g., Lamentations Rabbah 1:5); see Jastrow 1084-85 s.v. עָלַם III. This idiom is also found in a Moabite text in reference to the grave (Deir Alla Inscription 2:6). A similar idiom is found in Phoenician and Palmyrene in reference to the grave (DISO 35). The idiom appears to have originated in Egyptian literature (H. A. Hoffner, TDOT 2:113). See F. Cumont, Afterlife in Roman Paganism, 48-50.
[12:6] 37 tn The term גַּלְגַּל (galgal, “wheel”) refers to the “water wheel” or “paddle wheel” for drawing water from a well (HALOT 190 s.v. I גַּלְגַּל 2; BDB 165 s.v. גַּלְגַּל 1.b). This Hebrew noun is related to the Akkadian term gulgullu (“pot”), as well as Phoenician (?) גלגל (“wheel for drawing water”). The Latin term girgillus (“lever for the bucket”) is a late derivation from this term. See G. Dalman, Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina, 2:225-28.
[12:8] 40 tn Elsewhere in the book, the author is identified with the anarthrous term קֹהֶלֶת (qohelet, Eccl 1:1, 2, 12; 7:27; 12:9, 10); however, in 12:8 it is used with the article, indicating that it is a professional title rather than a personal surname: הַקּוֹהֶלֶת (haqqohelet, “the Teacher”). Numerous English translations render קֹהֶלֶת as a professional title: “the Speaker” (NEB, Moffatt); “the Preacher” (KJV, RSV, YLT, MLB, ASV, NASB); “the Teacher” (NIV, NRSV); “the Leader of the Assembly” (NIV margin); “the Assembler” (NJPS margin). Others render it as a personal surname: “Koheleth” (JPS, NJPS) and “Qoheleth” (NAB, NRSV margin).
[12:8] 41 tn Heb “Everything.” The term is rendered “all of these things” for clarity. Although כֹּל (kol, “everything; all”) is often used in an absolute or comprehensive sense (BDB 481 s.v. כֹּל 1), it is frequently used as a synecdoche of the general for the specific, that is, its sense is limited contextually to the topic at hand (BDB 482 s.v. 2). This is particularly true of הַכֹּל (hakkol, BDB 482 s.v. 2.b) in which the article particularizes or limits the referent to the contextual or previously mentioned topic (e.g., Gen 16:12; 24:1; Exod 29:24; Lev 1:9, 13; 8:27; Deut 2:36; Josh 11:19 [see 2 Sam 19:31; 1 Kgs 14:26 = 2 Chr 12:9]; 21:43; 1 Sam 30:19; 2 Sam 17:3; 23:5; 24:23; 1 Kgs 6:18; 2 Kgs 24:16; Isa 29:11; 65:8; Jer 13:7, 10; Ezek 7:14; Pss 14:3; 49:18; 1 Chr 7:5; 28:19; 29:19; 2 Chr 28:6; 29:28; 31:5; 35:7; 36:17-18; Ezra 1:11; 2:42; 8:34-35; 10:17; Eccl 5:8). Thus, “all” does not always mean “all” absolutely or universally in comprehension. In several cases the context limits its reference to two classes of objects/issues being discussed, so הַכֹּל means “both” (e.g., 2:14; 3:19: 9:1, 2). Thus, הַכֹּל (“all; everything”) refers only to what Qoheleth characterizes as “futile” (הֶבֶל, hevel) in the context. This does not mean that everything is futile. For example, fearing God is not “futile” (2:26; 3:14-15; 11:9-10; 12:1, 9, 13-14). Only those objects/issues that are contextually placed under כֹּל are designated as “futile” (הֶבֶל).
[12:8] sn Absolutely futile!…All of these things are futile! This motto is the theme of the book. Its occurs at the beginning (1:2) and end of the book (12:8), forming an envelope structure (inclusio). Everything described in 1:2—12:8 is the supporting proof of the thesis of 1:2. With few exceptions (e.g., 2:24-26; 3:14-15; 11:9–12:1, 9), everything described in 1:2—12:8 is characterized as “futile” (הֶבֶל, hevel).