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Again I observed that all troublesome toil and all success-producing and skillful

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work is a jealous competition between a man and his neighbor. This too is like a vapor,

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like trying to catch the wind.


I observed something else; I observed that we work really hard, and we call up and employ our best skills which are most likely to make us successful in order to win the game of one-up-manship we are playing with our neighbor. This too is like a vapor; like trying to catch the wind.



The word used here means “skill” on the one hand and “success and profit” on the other. It is both the cause and the effect, the skill needed to achieve a goal, and the attaining of that goal. In this context both sets of meaning fit well and the original reader would have been aware of them both. In translation work, it is typical to choose one meaning and leave the other unstated, but the people of that day would have known all the uses of the word and known what the root meaning was. Here the root meaning is that of “success, or profit” because it comes from a root word that means “success or advantage.” Inserting into the translation a range of meaning rather than just one option makes the translation more cumbersome but it communicates more accurately what the original audience would have understood.


It is like a vapor in that A: it Accomplishes no real benefit, E: it is not Easily understood but rather is Endlessly frustrating, and any accomplishments reached with this motivation in mind will be S: Short lived, brief, and will not last long. Troublesome toil and success-producing work are nonsensical games; don’t start playing them because no one ever wins, and there is no time when the game is over and people can stop this senseless striving. Keep in mind that this is being written by the one man who could say he had “won,” the one person you would not want to play against, the most successful guy up until that time. Yet he learned that without someone to share his success with, without the love of his life, the Shulammite, all such striving for success meant nothing.