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Ecclesiastes 1-4 Common English Bible (CEB)

Opening motto

The words of the Teacher of the Assembly,[a] David’s son, king in Jerusalem:

Perfectly pointless,[b] says the Teacher, perfectly pointless.
    Everything is pointless.

Some things are inevitable

What do people gain from all the hard work
    that they work so hard at under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
    but the earth remains as it always has.
The sun rises, the sun sets;
    it returns panting to the place where it dawns.
The wind blows to the south,
    goes around to the north;
    around and around blows the wind;
    the wind returns to its rounds again.
All streams flow to the sea,
    but the sea is never full;
    to the place where the rivers flow,
    there they continue to flow.
All words[c] are tiring;
    no one is able to speak.
    The eye isn’t satisfied with seeing,
    neither is the ear filled up by hearing.
Whatever has happened—that’s what will happen again;
    whatever has occurred—that’s what will occur again.

There’s nothing new under the sun. 10 People may say about something: “Look at this! It’s new!” But it was already around for ages before us. 11 There’s no remembrance of things in the past, nor of things to come in the future. Neither will there be any remembrance among those who come along in the future.

The Teacher’s quest

12 I am the Teacher. I was king over Israel in Jerusalem.

13 I applied my mind to investigate and to explore by wisdom all that happens under heaven. It’s an unhappy obsession that God has given to human beings.

14 When I observed all that happens under the sun, I realized that everything is pointless, a chasing after wind.

15 What’s crooked can’t be straightened;
    what isn’t there can’t be counted.

16 I said to myself, Look here, I have grown much wiser than any who ruled over Jerusalem before me. My mind has absorbed great wisdom and knowledge. 17 But when I set my mind to understand wisdom, and also to understand madness and folly, I realized that this too was just wind chasing.

18 Remember:
In much wisdom is much aggravation;
    the more knowledge, the more pain.

I said to myself,[d] Come, I will make you[e] experience pleasure; enjoy what is good! But this too was pointless! Merriment, I thought, is madness; pleasure, of no use at all. I tried cheering myself with wine and by embracing folly—with wisdom still guiding me—until I might see what is really worth doing in the few days that human beings have under heaven.

I took on great projects: I built houses for myself, planted vineyards for myself. I made gardens and parks for myself, planting every kind of fruit tree in them. I made reservoirs for myself to water my lush groves. I acquired male servants and female servants; I even had slaves born in my house. I also had great herds of cattle and sheep, more than any who preceded me in Jerusalem. I amassed silver and gold for myself, the treasures of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers for myself, along with every human luxury, treasure chests galore![f] So I became far greater than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Moreover, my wisdom stood by me. 10 I refrained from nothing that my eyes desired. I refused my heart no pleasure. Indeed, my heart found pleasure from the results of my hard work; that was the reward from all my hard work. 11 But when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had worked so hard to achieve, I realized that it was pointless—a chasing after wind. Nothing is to be gained under the sun.

12 My reflections then turned to wisdom, madness, and folly. What can the king’s heir do but what has already been done? 13 I saw that wisdom is more beneficial than folly, as light is more beneficial than darkness.

14 The wise have eyes in their head,
    but fools walk around in darkness.

But I also realized that the same fate happens to both of them. 15 So I thought to myself, What happens to the fool will also happen to me. So why have I been so very wise? I said to myself, This too is pointless. 16 There is no eternal memory of the wise any more than the foolish,[g] because everyone is forgotten before long. How can the wise die just like the fool? 17 So I hated life, because the things that happen under the sun were troublesome to me. Definitely, everything is pointless—just wind chasing.

18 I hated the things I worked so hard for here under the sun, because I will have to leave them to someone who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that one will be wise or foolish? Either way, that person will have control over the results of all my hard work and wisdom here under the sun. That too is pointless. 20 I then gave myself up to despair, as I thought about all my laborious hard work under the sun, 21 because sometimes those who have worked hard with wisdom, knowledge, and skill must leave the results of their hard work as a possession to those who haven’t worked hard for it. This too is pointless—it’s a terrible wrong. 22 I mean, What do people get for all their hard work and struggles under the sun? 23 All their days are pain, and their work is aggravation; even at night, their hearts don’t find rest. This too is pointless.

24 There’s nothing better for human beings than to eat, drink, and experience pleasure in their hard work. I also saw that this is from God’s hand— 25 Who can eat and find enjoyment otherwise?— 26 because God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please God. But to those who are offensive,[h] God gives the task of hoarding and accumulating, but only so as to give it all to those who do please God. This too is pointless and a chasing after wind.

A season for everything

There’s a season for everything
    and a time for every matter under the heavens:
    a time for giving birth and a time for dying,
    a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,
    a time for killing and a time for healing,
    a time for tearing down and a time for building up,
    a time for crying and a time for laughing,
    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,
    a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,
    a time for searching and a time for losing,
    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,
    a time for tearing and a time for repairing,
    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,
    a time for loving and a time for hating,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Hard work

What do workers gain from all their hard work? 10 I have observed the task that God has given human beings. 11 God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.

12 I know that there’s nothing better for them but to enjoy themselves and do what’s good while they live. 13 Moreover, this is the gift of God: that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work. 14 I know that whatever God does will last forever; it’s impossible to add to it or take away from it. God has done this so that people are reverent before him.[i] 15 Whatever happens has already happened, and whatever will happen has already happened before. And God looks after what is driven away.[j]

Enjoy what you do now

16 I saw something else under the sun: in the place of justice, there was wickedness; and in the place of what was right, there was wickedness again! 17 I thought to myself, God will judge both righteous and wicked people, because there’s a time for every matter and every deed. 18 I also thought, Where human beings are concerned, God tests them to show them that they are but animals 19 because human beings and animals share the same fate. One dies just like the other—both have the same life-breath. Humans are no better off than animals because everything is pointless.

20 All go to the same place:
    all are from the dust;
    all return to the dust.

21 Who knows if a human being’s life-breath rises upward while an animal’s life-breath descends into the earth? 22 So I perceived that there was nothing better for human beings but to enjoy what they do because that’s what they’re allotted in life. Who, really, is able to see what will happen in the future?

Death is better than oppression

When I next observed all the oppressions that take place under the sun, I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no one to comfort them. Their oppressors wield power—but they have no one to comfort them. So I declare that the dead, who have already died, are more fortunate than the living, who are still alive. But happier than both are those who have never existed, who haven’t witnessed the terrible things that happen under the sun.

Envy and loneliness

I also observed that people work hard and become good at what they do only out of mutual envy. This too is pointless, just wind chasing.

Fools fold their hands and eat their own flesh.
    But better is resting with one handful
        than working hard for two fistfuls and chasing after wind.

Next, I saw under the sun something else that was pointless: There are people who are utterly alone, with no companions, not even a child or a sibling. Yet they work hard without end, never satisfied with their wealth. So for whom am I working so hard and depriving myself of enjoyment? This too is pointless and a terrible obsession.

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their hard work. 10 If either should fall, one can pick up the other. But how miserable are those who fall and don’t have a companion to help them up! 11 Also, if two lie down together, they can stay warm. But how can anyone stay warm alone? 12 Also, one can be overpowered, but two together can put up resistance. A three-ply cord doesn’t easily snap.

13 A poor but wise youth is better than an old and foolish king, who no longer listens to advice. 14 He emerged from prison to become king, even though during his rule a poor child[k] is born. 15 I saw all who live and walk under the sun following the next youth who would rise to take his place. 16 There was no counting the number of people he ruled, but those who came later aren’t happy with him. This too is pointless and a chasing after wind.

Footnotes:

  1. Ecclesiastes 1:1 Or Gatherer or Convener or Assembler (Heb Qoheleth); see also 1:2, 12; 7:27; 12:8, 9, 10.
  2. Ecclesiastes 1:2 Or meaningless or vapor or puff of air (Heb hebel, which often occurs in the book)
  3. Ecclesiastes 1:8 Or things
  4. Ecclesiastes 2:1 Or in my heart; mind
  5. Ecclesiastes 2:1 Or the self (or heart; mind)
  6. Ecclesiastes 2:8 Or many secondary wives
  7. Ecclesiastes 2:16 Or The wise and the foolish alike are never remembered.
  8. Ecclesiastes 2:26 Or to those who sin
  9. Ecclesiastes 3:14 Or to inspire awe before the divine
  10. Ecclesiastes 3:15 Or God seeks out what is pursued, or God seeks what has gone by, or God seeks the pursued; Heb uncertain
  11. Ecclesiastes 4:14 Possibly the youth of 4:13; or He emerged from prison to become king, even though he was born poor in the kingdom.
Common English Bible (CEB)

Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

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