2אֲנִי֙ פִּי־מֶ֣לֶךְ שְׁמ֔וֹר וְעַ֕ל דִּבְרַ֖ת שְׁבוּעַ֥ת אֱלֹהִֽים׃
Murphy draws the following connection to the preceding verse:
We may regard the following verses (2–4) as traditional court wisdom, but also as having relevance for Qoheleth’s own day. However, he is not simply transmitting a body of sayings. He is relativizing the role and prestige of the sage (v 1) by following up with (wise!) admonitions that in fact are humiliating for the sage at court, even if they also save him from trouble. The wise advisor, for all his gifts, is confronted by royal power and is totally dependent upon the royal pleasure. It is all very well to praise the wisdom of the wise (v 1), but one must attend to the risks they run at court (vv 2–4). Hence Qoheleth’s admonitions serve to qualify v 1, even though they are themselves derived from traditional wisdom. He pits traditional wisdom against itself.
Roland Murphy, vol. 23A, Ecclesiates, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 82-83.
“I”: it is not followed by any matching verb. Seow notes that this I “makes no sense as it stands” (Seow, 279). Fredericks thinks it a textual error (189). Like Seow, Fredricks does not translate the pronoun. Longman note the problem, but having no textual basis for dropping the pronoun he assumes it to be a shorthand for “I say” (or something similar). Gordis rejects dropping the word and takes as a shorthand “I declare” (288).
Keep the king’s command
Vers. 2, 6. LUTHER:—It is enough for you to do so in the state, that you should obey the king’s commands, and listen to him who is ordained of God. Here you see how civil obedience is comprehended in obedience to God. So Paul would have servants obey their masters, not as submitting to men, but as to God.—MELANCHTHON:—Thus is obedience ordained. Obey the Divine voice first; then the king commanding things not repugnant to the Divine law.—This will be in conformity with the rule given Acts 4:19.—STARKE (ver. 3):—The powerful ones of this world have among men no higher one over them, to whom they must give an account, but in heaven there is One higher than the highest. Wisdom of Solomon 6:2–4.—(Ver. 5): He who keeps the commandments of God will, for the sake of God and his conscience, also obey the salutary commands of authority, Col. 3:23.—
John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, Otto Zöckler et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Ecclesiastes (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 121.
Literally, “the king’s mouth” “mouth of the king”, that is, the words which come from the mouth of the king. Therefore, the king’s command: “metonomy for command, which is probably the correct reading” (Barton, 152).
For the idiom, see, e.g.,
41וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֛ה אַתֶּ֥ם עֹבְרִ֖ים אֶת־פִּ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וְהִ֖וא לֹ֥א תִצְלָֽח׃
Numbers 14:41 (BHS/WHM 4.2)
But Moses said, “Why now are you transgressing the command of the LORD, when that will not succeed? Numbers 14:41 (ESV)
Because of the words (of)
The waw before the preposition ‘al
Before עַל the וְ is inserted by way of explanation, and may be rendered even, or, as Eng. Vers., “and that,” conf. Latin idque, et quidem (Gesen. Lex. (c) p. 234). עַלדִּבְרַת, on account of, conf. 3:18. Note that the prep. עַל (which is in fact a noun in construction) has here a disjunctive accent, and so also דִּבְרַת. This is sometimes the case when several nouns succeed one another, each in construction with the following one: see a parallel instance in the last clause of Numb. 3:32, and Lee’s Heb. Gram. Art. 247, 14.
J. Lloyd, An Analysis of the Book of Ecclesiastes: With Reference to the Hebrew Grammar of Gesenius, and With Notes Critical and Explanatory (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1874), 106.
On the accents
4 a. (֕) זָקֵףגָּדוֹל Zâqēph ḡdôl, and
4 b. (֔) זָקֵףקָטוֹן Zâqēph qāṭôn. The names refer to their musical character. As a disjunctive, Little Zâqēph is by nature stronger than Great Zâqēph; but if they stand together, the one which comes first is always the stronger.
5. (֖) טִפְחָא Ṭiphḥā or טַרְחָא Ṭarḥā, a subordinate disjunctive before Sillûq and ʾAthnâḥ, but very often the principal disjunctive of the whole verse instead of ʾAthnâḥ; always so when the verse consists of only two or three words (e.g. Is 2:13), but also in longer verses (Gn 3:21).
Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch and Sir Arthur Ernest Cowley, 2d English ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), 60.
Oath of (construct state) Elohim.
The nature of the oath has caused much debate. Is it an oath by one standing before the king, or an oath of the king – or some other oath? Seow defines it only as an oath sworn in the name of the Lord – even though the word “God” is substituted for “YHWH” (see, e.g., Exodus 22:10 (English 22:11), שְׁבֻעַ֣ת יְהוָ֗ה “an oath by the Lord” ESV). Fredericks proposes and oath to YHWH and the king, e.g., 1 Kings 2:43. So, also, Barrick, “Solomon exhorts people to be faithful in their sworn allegiance to their king” (142).
Having submitted that this prudent view of life will make us adapt ourselves and cheerfully yield to the pressure of circumstances, Coheleth deduces therefrom the lesson of submission and obedience to the authority reigning over us for the time being, and especially as submission and obedience have been solemnly promised with an oath invoking the name of God. The oath referred to alludes to the covenant at the coronation of the king, when the sovereign solemnly promises to govern the people according to the law of God, and the people in return swear fealty and allegiance to their monarch (comp. 2 Kings 11:17; 1 Chron. 11:3, 29:24). Hence we are told by Josephus, that when Ptolmey Lagi settled the captive Jews in Egypt, he made them take an oath of allegiance (Antiq. xii. 1.)
Christian D. Ginsburg, Coheleth, Commonly Called the Book of Ecclesiastes: Translated from the Original Hebrew, With a Commentary, Historical and Critical (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861), 391-92.
3אַל־תִּבָּהֵ֤ל מִפָּנָיו֙ תֵּלֵ֔ךְ אַֽל־תַּעֲמֹ֖ד בְּדָבָ֣ר רָ֑ע כִּ֛י כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַחְפֹּ֖ץ יַעֲשֶֽׂה׃
אַל־תִּבָּהֵ֤ל מִפָּנָיו֙ תֵּלֵ֔ךְ
Do not quickly from his face(s) go. Or, do not be dismayed in his presence – go ….
Here is an example where some thinking is needed for the translation: HALOT gives the primary gloss of the niphal verb “to be horrified” to “be out of one’s senses”. There is a secondary meaning, “to hurry”. Most translation take this to mean “to hurry”. However, the NRSV translates it:
3 Do not be terrified; go from his presence, do not delay when the matter is unpleasant, for he does whatever he pleases. Ecclesiastes 8:3 (NRSV)
Seow translates it “do not be stupefied” with references to Genesis 45:3:
Genesis 45:3 (BHS/WHM 4.2)
3וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יוֹסֵ֤ף אֶל־אֶחָיו֙ אֲנִ֣י יוֹסֵ֔ף הַע֥וֹד אָבִ֖י חָ֑י וְלֹֽא־יָכְל֤וּ אֶחָיו֙ לַעֲנ֣וֹת אֹת֔וֹ כִּ֥י נִבְהֲל֖וּ מִפָּנָֽיו׃
3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. Genesis 45:3 (ESV)
And Job 23:15. Genesis 45:3 & Job 23:15 are the two uses of the verb when coupled with the word “presence”.
Fredricks compares Proverbs 28:22, “A stingy man hastens after wealth ….” Which does not seem parallel in concept.
In 5:2 the phrase “do not be dismayed” actually means “Do not be rash.” It describes a hasty or ill-considered action, which would be typical of a fool. So rather than advising a person to leave the king’s presence, this verse warns against leaving unless you consider carefully what you are doing. It advises against abandoning the king or refusing to support him. “Do not be dismayed” is a figurative expression meaning “Do not be in a hurry.” This is not advice about literally walking slowly (rather than running) from the throne room. Rather, it has in mind a wise person who carefully weighs actions before carrying them out. From his presence is literally “from his face” or “from before him.”
Graham S. Ogden and Lynell Zogbo, A Handbook on Ecclesiastes, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1998), 281-82.
Weiss translates it as “dread”:
Dread not his countenance as thou walkest:
Nor persist thou in an evil matter;
For He doeth whatsoever pleaseth Him.
Benjamin Weiss, New Translation and Exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes: With Critical Notes on the Hebrew Text (Edinburgh; London: William Oliphant and Co.; Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1858), 259.
I think it best to take the translation as given in the NRSV and/or Seow and Weiss: do not be dismayed: 1) It is the most common and “natural” translation of the passage; 2) the translation makes good sense of the clause; 3) it makes good sense of the section. The section ends with the idea that no one has absolute power over life – implicitly, except for God. A king does have power which must be considered and respected, but not absolute power. 4) An overarching theme of the book is that God has absolute power over all, therefore, we are to fear God. Having feared God, we have no need to give such fear to human beings. 5) Thus, the theme ties into the a biblical theme:
22 Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he? Isaiah 2:22 (ESV)
25 The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe. Proverbs 29:25 (ESV)
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13–14 (ESV)
אַֽל־תַּעֲמֹ֖ד בְּדָבָ֣ר רָ֑ע
Do not stand in an evil thing/matter/word
Stand not in an evil thing, (Ger., “evil word”); i.e., when the king speaks an angry word (דָּבָררַע) do not excite his anger still more by foolishly standing still, as if thou couldst by obstinately remaining in thy place compel his favor. EWALD and ELSTER correctly give the general sense of the admonition as follows: In presence of a king, it is proper to appear modest and yet firm, to show ourselves neither over timid nor obstinate towards him. The Vulgate, LUTHER, STARKE, etc., are less consistent: “Stand not in an evil thing,” i.e., remain not in evil designs against the king, if you have become involved in such;—HENGSTENBERG gives the same. VAIHINGER: “Do not appear in an evil thing.”
John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, Otto Zöckler et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Ecclesiastes (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 117.
A “bad cause” (בְּדָבָררָע, v. 3) is not a morally evil cause but a cause that is politically impossible, i.e., one that the king will never accept. Alternative interpretations (e.g., Scott, Ecclesiastes, 240; Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, 340) are unlikely. אַלתַּעֲמֹדבְּדָבָררָע could be paraphrased, “Do not champion an idea the king opposes.” See Garrett, “Qoheleth,” 169.
Duane A. Garrett, vol. 14, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993).
כִּ֛י כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַחְפֹּ֖ץ יַעֲשֶֽׂה
For all that he pleases he will do. ESV: he does whatever he pleases.
(ii) Provides the reason for a preceding expression or expressions by marking with כִּי the motivation given by speakers to explain something they have said. The causal relation is thus not due to natural laws but is due to the speaker’s own reasoning. כִּי can usually also be translated for.
In cases where it is clear that speakers consider the grounds on which they base their motivation are difficult to contest, thus suggesting the force of their conviction, one can translate כִּי ‘in fact, the fact of the matter’.
If speakers believe that their motivation contains information that is generally known, כִּי may be translated after all,
Christo Van der Merwe, Jackie Naudé, Jan Kroeze et al., A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar, electronic ed. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 302-03.
It may be appropriate, therefore, to translate the phrase, “after all, he does whatever he pleases”.
The nominative form was used earlier, Ecclesiastes 3:1 where the ESV translates it “matter”, “for every matter under heaven”. It makes for an interesting echo: the thing which the king pleases he will do: the thing which God pleases, he will do.
This should be understood as the non-perfective of possibility, “denotes the possibility that the subject may perform the action” (Waltke & O’Connor, 31.4e, p. 508).
4בַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר דְּבַר־מֶ֖לֶךְ שִׁלְט֑וֹן וּמִ֥י יֹֽאמַר־ל֖וֹ מַֽה־תַּעֲשֶֽׂה׃
Baron, “for, because”. (152).
The word of the king [is] power/mighty.
Barton considers this an Aramaic loan word (152).
And who may/can say to him.
(2) To express the definite expectation that something will not happen. The imperfect with לֹא represents a more emphatic form of prohibition than the jussive1 with אַל־ (cf. § 109 c), and corresponds to our thou shalt not do it! with the strongest expectation of obedience, while אַל־ with the jussive is rather a simple warning, do not that! Thus לֹא with the imperfect is especially used in enforcing the divine commands, e.g. לֹאתִגְּנׄב thou shalt not steal Ex 20:15; cf. verses 3, 4, 5, 7, 10 ff. So לֹא with the 3rd pers. perhaps in Pr 16:10.
Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch and Sir Arthur Ernest Cowley, 2d English ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), 317.
What are you doing? What will you do?
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?
Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back? Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’
If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him? And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him?
do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?
For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?”
In three instances, one faces the inability to stop or question God. The use in Proverbs underscores the inability to respond to a judgment. The usage in Ecclesiastes points to one’s inability to stop a king.