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Just as there is futility in many dreams,
so also in many words.[a]
Therefore, fear God.

Government Corruption

If you see the extortion[b] of the poor,
or the perversion[c] of justice and fairness in the government,[d]
do not be astonished by the matter.
For the high official is watched by a higher official,[e]
and there are higher ones over them![f]
The produce of the land is seized[g] by all of them,
even the king is served[h] by the fields.[i]

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  1. Ecclesiastes 5:7 tn The syntax of this verse is difficult. Perhaps the best approach is to classify the vav on וַהֲבָלִים (vahavalim, “futilities”) as introducing the predicate (e.g., Gen 40:9; 2 Sam 23:3; Prov 10:25; Isa 34:12; Job 4:6; 36:26); BDB 255 s.v. ו 5.c.γ: “There is futility….” The phrase בְרֹב הֲלֹמוֹת (verob halomot) is an adverbial modifier (“in many dreams”), as is דְבָרִים הַרְבֵּה (devarim harbeh, “many words”). The vav prefixed to וּדְבָרִים (udevarim) and the juxtaposition of the two lines suggests a comparison: “just as…so also…” (BDB 253 s.v. ו 1.j). The English versions reflect a variety of approaches: “In the multitude of dreams and many words there are also diverse vanities” (KJV); “In the multitude of dreams there are vanities, and in many words” (ASV); “When dreams increase, empty words grow many” (RSV); “In many dreams and follies and many words” (MLB); “In the abundance of dreams both vanities and words abound” (YLT); “Where there are many dreams, there are many vanities, and words without number” (Douay); “Many dreams and words mean many a vain folly” (Moffatt); “Much dreaming leads to futility and to superfluous talk” (NJPS); “In many dreams and in many words there is emptiness” (NASB); “Much dreaming and many words are meaningless” (NIV); “With many dreams comes vanities and a multitude of words” (NRSV).
  2. Ecclesiastes 5:8 tn Alternately, “oppression.” The term עֹשֶׁק (ʿosheq) has a basic two-fold range of meaning: (1) “oppression; brutality” (e.g., Isa 54:14); and (2) “extortion” (e.g., Ps 62:11); see HALOT 897 s.v. עֹשֶׁק; BDB 799 s.v. עֹשֶׁק. The LXX understands the term as “oppression,” as the translation συκοφαντίαν (sukophantian, “oppression”) indicates. Likewise, HALOT 897 s.v. עֹשֶׁק 1 classifies this usage as “oppression” against the poor. However, the context of 5:8-9 [7-8 HT] focuses on corrupt government officials robbing people of the fruit of their labor through extortion and the perversion of justice.
  3. Ecclesiastes 5:8 tn Heb “robbery.” The noun גֵזֶל (gezel, “robbery”) refers to the wrestling away of righteousness or the perversion of justice (HALOT 186 s.v. גֵּזֶל). The related forms of the root גזל mean “to rob; to loot” (HALOT 186 s.v. גֵּזֶל). The term “robbery” is used as a figure for the perversion of justice (hypocatastasis): just as a thief robs his victims through physical violence, so corrupt government officials “rob” the poor through the perversion of justice.
  4. Ecclesiastes 5:8 tn Heb “in the province.”
  5. Ecclesiastes 5:8 tn The word “official” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
  6. Ecclesiastes 5:8 sn And there are higher ones over them! This may describe a corrupt system of government in which each level of hierarchy exploits its subordinates, all the way down to the peasants: “Set in authority over the people is an official who enriches himself at their expense; he is watched by a more authoritative governor who also has his share of the spoils; and above them are other officers of the State who likewise have to be satisfied”; see A. Cohen, The Five Megilloth (SoBB), 141.
  7. Ecclesiastes 5:9 tn The phrase “is seized” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
  8. Ecclesiastes 5:9 tn The function of the term נֶעֱבָד (neʿevar, Niphal participle ms from עָבַד, ʿavar, “to serve”) has been understood in four ways: (1) adjectival use of the participle, modifying the noun שָׂדֶה (sadeh, “field”): “cultivated field” (RSV, NRSV, NJPS, NAB); (2) adjectival use of the participle, modifying מֶלֶךְ (melekh, “king”): “the king who cultivates” (NASB); (3) verbal use of the participle, taking שָׂדֶה (“field”) as the subject: “field is cultivated” (NEB); and (4) verbal use of the participle, taking מֶלֶךְ (“king”) as the subject: “the king is served” (KJV, NASB); also “the king profits” (NIV). BDB 713 s.v. עָבַד 2 lists both the adjectival and verbal options: “a king for [i.e., devoted to] the cultivated field” and “a king that makes himself servant to the field [i.e., devoted to agriculture].” HALOT 774 s.v. עבד suggests the line be rendered as “a king who serves the land.” In the Qal stem the verb עָבַד (ʿavar) is sometimes used in reference to tribute imposed upon a king’s subjects (e.g., Jer 25:14; 27:7; 30:8; Ezek 34:27) and in reference to subjects serving a king (e.g., Judg 9:28, 38; 1 Sam 11:1; 1 Kgs 5:1; 2 Sam 22:44; Jer 27:7; 28:14; 2 Kgs 25:24); cf. BDB 713 s.v. עָבַד 3; HALOT 773 s.v. עבד 3. Likewise, it is also used in reference to tilling the ground (e.g., Gen 2:5; 4:2, 12; 2 Sam 9:10; Isa 30:24; Jer 27:11; Zech 13:5; Prov 12:11; 28:19) and a vineyard or garden (Gen 2:15; Deut 28:39); cf. HALOT 773 s.v. עבד 3; BDB 713 s.v. עָבַד 3.
  9. Ecclesiastes 5:9 tn The syntax and exegesis of the line is difficult. There are three basic interpretive options: (1) the king takes care of the security of the cultivated land: “in any case, the advantage of a country is that there is a king for the cultivated land”; (2) the king is in favor of a prosperous agricultural policy: “in any case, the advantage of a country is that there is a king who is obeyed for the sake of the agriculture”; and (3) the king exploits the poor farmers: “the produce of the land is [seized] by all, even the king is served by the fields.” Perhaps the best option in the light of the context is to take the referent of כֹּל (kol, “all”) to the government officials of 5:8 rather than to the people as a whole. The verse depicts the exploitation of the poor farmers by corrupt government officials. This is reflected in two English versions: “the increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields” (NIV); “the profit of the land is among all of them; a cultivated field has a king” (RSV margin). On the other hand, the LXX treated the syntax so that the king is viewed in a neutral sense: “The abundance of the earth is for everyone; the king is dependent on the tilled field.”. Most English versions deal with the syntax so that the king is viewed in a neutral or positive sense: “the profit of the earth is for all; the king himself is served by the field” (KJV); “a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land” (NASB); “this is an advantage for a land: a king for a plowed field” (NRSV); “the greatest advantage in all the land is his: he controls a field that is cultivated” (NJPS); “a country prospers with a king who has control” (Moffatt); “a king devoted to the field is an advantage to the land” (MLB); “a king is an advantage to a land with cultivated fields” (RSV); “the best thing for a country is a king whose own lands are well tilled” (NEB); and “an advantage for a country in every respect is a king for the arable land” (NAB). See D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 3:576-77.

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