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Ecclesiastes (Believers Church Bible Commentary) Paperback – July 1, 2010
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One of my most satisfying experiences as a professor was teaching wisdom to a mature class in a church that included a good number of non-academics without formal introduction to biblical literature. I began Ecclesiastes with an open question: What did the author mean to say about life? The first two responses were so animated I had to end discussion. The first asserted that this was a pessimistic book written with no understanding about a life of faith or joy in the Lord. The second was adamant that this book tells us exactly the way life is experienced, a nononsense realistic view of life.
Wisdom writings present truth in riddles and enigma; they tell us to “answer a fool according to his folly” and warn that we must “not answer a fool according to his folly” in juxtaposed verses (Prov. 26:4–5). Wisdom in Ecclesiastes excels in this technique; the writer repeatedly takes proverbial truths and turns them upside down, as is often done in our own use of wisdom. “Fools jump in where angels fear to tread” and “he who hesitates is lost.”
In Ecclesiastes this enigma comes to apply to the entire composition. The approach to Ecclesiastes (Miller summarizes these in five categories) has much to do with understanding the word unfortunately often translated as “vanity.” It is hardly possible to sustain this translation for the thirty-eight times the preacher uses this term, about half of the occurrences found in the entire corpus of Hebrew literature.
The Hebrew word hebel is in all probability onomatopoeic; it lacks a common Semitic primary verbal root.Read more ›
The chief highlight of Miller’s commentary for the church-related reader (and a hallmark of the BCBC series) are the topical discussions in “The Text in Biblical Context” and “The Text in the Life of the Church” sections. Particularly for this book, with its often cynical sounding advice, it is good to be reminded that there is a “community hermeneutic” within the Bible as well: the words of Ecclesiastes need to be heard in the larger setting of Scriptural community. Miller does a fine job of connecting the details of this book with many relevant issues, such as wealth and greed, the “cult of youth,” work, and the limitations of human knowing.
This commentary is the direct fruit of Miller’s doctoral studies and many years of teaching. Despite Ecclesiastes’ warning that “much study is a weariness of the flesh” (12:12), I'd recommend Miller’s work as a fine example of how the academy can both bless and stretch the church in its journey through a perplexing world.
(Bethany College, Saskatchewan, Canada)
[Full disclosure: A copy of the book was given free of charge for the purpose of writing this review for the Mennonite Brethren Herald, slightly edited here.]