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Ecclesiastes 6:3-9 New English Translation (NET Bible)

Even if a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years,
even if he lives a long, long time,[a] but cannot enjoy his prosperity—
even if he were to live forever[b]
I would say, “A stillborn child[c] is better off than he is.”[d]
Though the stillborn child[e] came into the world[f] for no reason[g] and departed into darkness,
though its name is shrouded in darkness,[h]
though it never saw the light of day[i] nor knew anything,[j]
yet it has more rest[k] than that man—
if he should live a thousand years twice, yet does not enjoy his prosperity.
For both of them die![l]
All man’s labor is for nothing more than[m] to fill his stomach[n]
yet his appetite[o] is never satisfied!
So what advantage does a wise man have over a fool?[p]
And what advantage[q] does a pauper gain by knowing how to survive?[r]
It is better to be content with[s] what the eyes can see[t]
than for one’s heart always to crave more.[u]
This continual longing[v] is futile—like[w] chasing the wind.


  1. Ecclesiastes 6:3 tn Heb “the days of his years are many.”
  2. Ecclesiastes 6:3 tn Heb “he has no burial.” The phrase וְגַם־קְבוּרָה לֹא־הָיְתָה (vegam qevurah loʾ hayetah, “he even has no burial”) is traditionally treated as part of a description of the man’s sorry final state, that is, he is deprived of even a proper burial (KJV, NEB, RSV, NRSV, ASV, NASB, NIV, NJPS, MLB, Moffatt). However, the preceding parallel lines suggest that this a hyperbolic protasis: “If he were to live one hundred years…even if he were never buried [i.e., were to live forever]….” A similar idea occurs elsewhere (e.g., Pss 49:9; 89:48). See D. R. Glenn, “Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 990.
  3. Ecclesiastes 6:3 tn The noun נֶפֶל (nefel) denotes “miscarriage” and by metonymy of effect, “stillborn child” (e.g., Ps 58:9; Job 3:16; Eccl 6:3); cf. HALOT 711. The noun is related to the verb נָפַל (nafal, “to fall,” but occasionally “to be born”; see Isa 26:18); cf. HALOT 710 s.v. נפל 5.
  4. Ecclesiastes 6:3 sn The point of 6:3-6 is that the futility of unenjoyed wealth is worse than the tragedy of being stillborn.
  5. Ecclesiastes 6:4 tn Heb “he”; the referent (“the stillborn child”) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  6. Ecclesiastes 6:4 tn The phrase “into the world” does not appear in Hebrew, but is added in the translation for clarity.
  7. Ecclesiastes 6:4 sn The birth of the stillborn was in vain—it did it no good to be born.
  8. Ecclesiastes 6:4 sn The name of the stillborn is forgotten.
  9. Ecclesiastes 6:5 tn Heb “saw the sun.”
  10. Ecclesiastes 6:5 tn The word “anything” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
  11. Ecclesiastes 6:5 sn The Hebrew term translated rest here refers to freedom from toil, anxiety, and misery—part of the miserable misfortune that the miserly man of wealth must endure.
  12. Ecclesiastes 6:6 tn Heb “Do not all go to the same place?” The rhetorical question is an example of erotesis of positive affirmation, expecting a positive answer, e.g., Ps 56:13 [14] (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 947). It affirms the fact that both the miserly rich man who lives two thousand years, as well as the stillborn who never lived one day, both go to the same place—the grave. And if the miserly rich man never enjoyed the fruit of his labor during his life, his fate was no better than that of the stillborn who never had opportunity to enjoy any of the blessings of life. In a sense, it would have been better for the miserly rich man to have never lived than to have experienced the toil, anxiety, and misery of accumulating his wealth, but never enjoying any of the fruits of his labor.
  13. Ecclesiastes 6:7 tn The phrase “for nothing more than” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
  14. Ecclesiastes 6:7 tn Heb “All man’s work is for his mouth.” The term “mouth” functions as a synecdoche of part (i.e., mouth) for the whole (i.e., person), substituting the organ of consumption for the person’s action of consumption (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 641-43), as suggested by the parallelism with נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “his appetite”).
  15. Ecclesiastes 6:7 tn The term נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “desire; appetite”) is used as a metonymy of association, that is, the soul is associated with man’s desires and appetites (BDB 660 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 5.c; 6.a).
  16. Ecclesiastes 6:8 sn So what advantage does the wise man have over a fool? The rhetorical question in Hebrew implies a negative answer: the wise man has no absolute advantage over a fool in the sense that both will share the same fate: death. Qoheleth should not be misunderstood here as denying that wisdom has no relative advantage over folly; elsewhere he affirms that wisdom does yield some relative benefits in life (7:1-22). However, wisdom cannot deliver one from death.
  17. Ecclesiastes 6:8 sn As in the preceding parallel line, this rhetorical question implies a negative answer (see the note after the word “fool” in the preceding line).
  18. Ecclesiastes 6:8 tn Heb “ What to the pauper who knows to walk before the living”; or “how to get along in life.”
  19. Ecclesiastes 6:9 tn The phrase “to be content with” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
  20. Ecclesiastes 6:9 tn The expression מַרְאֵה עֵינַיִם (marʾeh ʿenayim, “the seeing of the eyes”) is a metonymy of cause (i.e., seeing an object) for effect (i.e., being content with what the eyes can see); see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 552-54.
  21. Ecclesiastes 6:9 tn Heb “the roaming of the soul.” The expression מֵהֲלָךְ־נָפֶשׁ (mehalakh nafesh, “the roaming of the soul”) is a metonymy for unfulfilled desires. The term “soul” (נֶפֶשׁ, nefesh) is used as a metonymy of association for man’s desires and appetites (BDB 660 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 5.c; 6.a). This also involves the personification of the roving appetite as “roving” (מֵהֲלָךְ); see BDB 235 s.v. הָלַךְ II.3.f; 232 I.3.
  22. Ecclesiastes 6:9 tn The phrase “continual longing” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
  23. Ecclesiastes 6:9 tn The term “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness.
New English Translation (NET)

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