2Vanity of vanities,* says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!b
Vanity of Human Toil
3What profit have we from all the toil
4One generation departs and another generation comes,
but the world forever stays.
5The sun rises and the sun sets;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
6Shifting south, then north,
back and forth shifts the wind, constantly shifting its course.
7All rivers flow to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they flow,
the rivers continue to flow.
8All things are wearisome,*
too wearisome for words.
The eye is not satisfied by seeing
nor has the ear enough of hearing.d
9What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!e 10Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!” has already existed in the ages that preceded us.f 11There is no remembrance of past generations;g nor will future generations be remembered by those who come after them.*
I. QOHELETH’S INVESTIGATION OF LIFE
Twofold Introduction. 12I, Qoheleth, was king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13and I applied my mind to search and investigate in wisdom all things that are done under the sun.h
A bad business God has given
to human beings to be busied with.
15What is crooked cannot be made straight,
and you cannot count what is not there.*
16j Though I said to myself, “See, I have greatly increased my wisdom beyond all who were before me in Jerusalem, and my mind has broad experience of wisdom and knowledge,” 17yet when I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly, I learned that this also is a chase after wind.k
18For in much wisdom there is much sorrow;
whoever increases knowledge increases grief.*
* [1:1] David’s son…king in Jerusalem: the intent of the author is to identify himself with Solomon. This is a literary device, by which the author hopes to commend his work to the public under the name of Israel’s most famous sage (see 1 Kgs 5:9–14).
* [1:2] Vanity of vanities: a Hebrew superlative expressing the supreme degree of futility and emptiness.
* [1:3] Under the sun: used throughout this book to signify “on the earth.”
* [1:8] All things are wearisome: or, “All speech is wearisome.”
* [1:11] Movement in nature and human activity appears to result in change and progress. The author argues that this change and progress are an illusion: “Nothing is new under the sun.”
* [1:14] A chase after wind: an image of futile activity, like an attempt to corral the winds; cf. Hos 12:2. The ancient versions understood “affliction, dissipation of the spirit.” This phrase concludes sections of the text as far as 6:9.
* [1:15] You cannot count what is not there: perhaps originally a commercial metaphor alluding to loss or deficit in the accounts ledger.
* [1:18] Sorrow…grief: these terms refer not just to a store of knowledge or to psychological or emotional pain. Corporal punishment, sometimes quite harsh, was also employed frequently by parents and teachers.