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Painful Days and Restless Nights

22 What does a man acquire from all his labor
and from the anxiety that accompanies his toil on earth?[a]
23 For all day long[b] his work produces pain and frustration,[c]
and even at night his mind cannot relax.[d]
This also is futile!

Enjoy Work and its Benefits

24 There is nothing better for[e] people[f] than[g] to eat and drink,
and to find enjoyment[h] in their[i] work.
I also perceived that this ability to find enjoyment[j] comes from God.[k]

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  1. Ecclesiastes 2:22 tn Heb “under the sun.” The rhetorical question is an example of negative affirmation, expecting a negative answer: “Man acquires nothing” (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 949-51).
  2. Ecclesiastes 2:23 tn Heb “all his days.”
  3. Ecclesiastes 2:23 tn The syntax of this verse has been interpreted in two different ways: (1) The phrase “all his days” (כָל־יָמָיו, khol yamayv) is the subject of a verbless clause, and the noun “pain” (מַכְאֹבִים, makhʾovim) is a predicate nominative or a predicate of apposition (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 15-16, §71). Likewise, the noun “his work” (עִנְיָנוֹ, ʿinyano) is the subject of a second verbless clause, and the vexation” (כַעַס, khaʿas) is a predicate nominative: “All his days are pain, and his work is vexation.” (2) The noun “his work” (עִנְיָנוֹ) is the subject of both nouns, “pain and vexation” (וָכַעַס מַכְאֹבִים, makhʾovim vakhaʿas), which are predicate nominatives, while the phrase “all his days” (כָל־יָמָיו) is an adverbial accusative functioning temporally: “All day long, his work is pain and vexation.” The latter option is supported by the parallelism between “even at night” and “all day long.” This verse draws out an ironic contrast/comparison between his physical toil/labor during the day and his emotional anxiety at night. Even at night, he has no break!
  4. Ecclesiastes 2:23 tn Heb “his heart (i.e., mind) does not rest.”
  5. Ecclesiastes 2:24 tn The preposition ב (bet) on בָּאָדָם (baʾadam) has been taken in two ways: (1) locative with טוֹב (tov, “good”) in reference to man’s moral nature: “There is nothing [inherently] good in man.” (2) advantage with טוֹב (“good”) in reference to the enjoyment theme of 2:24-26: “There is nothing better for a man than…” (this assumes a comparative מִן, min, on מִשֶּׁיֹּאכַל, misheyyoʾkhal); see text critical note on the word “than” below). The latter is preferred for two reasons: (1) The preposition ב is used with a similar idiom in 3:12 in collocation with the particle phrase כִּי אִם (ki ʾim, “except”): “There is nothing better…than to rejoice/be happy” (NASB, NIV). (2) The theme of 2:1-26 focuses on the futility of human toil, concluding that the only real reward that man has in his labor is to find enjoyment in it (e.g., 2:10, 24-26). The section says nothing about man’s inherent sinful nature.
  6. Ecclesiastes 2:24 tn Heb “man.”
  7. Ecclesiastes 2:24 tc The MT reads שֶׁיֹּאכַל (sheyyo’khal, “that he should eat”; Qal imperfect third person masculine singular from אָכַל, ʾakhal, “to eat,” with relative pronoun שֶׁ, she, “that”). However, the variant textual tradition of מִשֶּׁיֹּאכַל (misheyyoʾkhal, “than he should eat” (comparative preposition מִן, min, “than” plus Qal imperfect third person masculine singular from אָכַל “to eat”) is reflected in the LXX, Coptic, Syriac, Aramaic Targum, Old Latin, and Jerome. The textual error, an example of haplography, arose from a single writing of מ (mem) from בָּאָדָם מִשֶּׁיֹּאכַל (baʾadam misheyyoʾkhal). The same idiom appears in the expanded form אֵין טוֹב followed by כִּי אִם (ʾen tovki ʾim, “there is nothing better for man than…”) in Eccl 3:12; 8:15.
  8. Ecclesiastes 2:24 tn Heb “to cause his soul to see good.” The idiom רָאָה טוֹב (raʾah tov, “to see good”) is a metonymy of association, meaning “to find enjoyment” (e.g., 3:13; 5:17; 6:6). In 3:12-13 and 5:17-18 it is in collocation and/or parallelism with ב (bet) plus שָׂמַח (samakh, “to rejoice in,” or “to find satisfaction or pleasure in” something). Here, it is used in collocation with חוּשׁ (khush, “to enjoy”). The term נַפְשׁוֹ (nafsho, “his soul”) is a metonymy of part (i.e., soul) for the whole (i.e., whole person), e.g., Num 23:10; Judg 16:30; Pss 16:10; 35:13; 103:1 (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 640-41).
  9. Ecclesiastes 2:24 tn Heb “his.”
  10. Ecclesiastes 2:24 tn The phrase “ability to find enjoyment” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
  11. Ecclesiastes 2:24 tn Heb “is from the hand of God.”sn The phrase “from the hand of God” is an anthropomorphism (depicting God, who is an invisible spirit, in the form of man with hands) or anthropopatheia (depicting God performing human-like actions). The “hand of God” is a figure often used to portray God’s sovereign providence and benevolence (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 878). The phrase “the hand of God” is often used to connote the favor or grace of God (2 Chr 30:12; Ezra 7:9; 8:18; Neh 2:8, 18; see BDB 390 s.v. יָד 1.e.2).