Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Douglas B. Miller on Ecclesiastes

Douglas B. Miller, Ecclesiastes, Believers Church Bible Commentary Series (Scottdale: Herald, 2010), 400pp., ISBN 9780836194913.

This is a recent and hefty addition to the Believers Church Bible Commentary Series. The publisher’s information about the commentary is here, including an interview with the author.

Elsewhere, Miller has published a technical monograph exploring the significance of the Hebrew word hebel (translated ‘meaningless’ in the NIV) in Ecclesiastes. In the interview he notes:

‘The interpretation of this word has a significant effect on how one understands the book. It is often translated as “vanity” or, more recently, “meaningless.” My approach is different. I argue that its literal meaning of “breath” or “vapor” serves as a multi-layered symbol for the author’s analysis of life in the human realm. As a result, the author isn’t saying that life is vain or meaningless – so grab for whatever fun you can find, or shake your fist at the sky. Rather, he uses hebel to describe a world of tragedy and chance, in which good things are short-lived, and where treasured things turn out to be of little worth. Although this is certainly grim, the author has not given up hope. He advises his readers how to make the most of their lives in the midst of such realities.’

And, on the overall message of the book of Ecclesiastes, he says:

‘The author’s message has three elements: he urges his readers to acknowledge and accept the “vapor” nature of all human experience; he then challenges his readers to reject certain inadequate ways of responding to these realities, such as assuming that hard work and wisdom guarantee success, or that pleasure and material gain will bring satisfaction; and finally he offers some carefully-worded strategies for those who would take the risk to hopefully navigate their complex world. These include cultivating contentment, embracing community and generosity, advocacy for the oppressed, prudence toward those in power, the valuable, though limited, role of wisdom, and, especially, enjoying God’s gifts of work and pleasure.’

And this is how he outlines the book:


1:1 – Introduction of Qohelet

Part 1 (1:2–6:9): Human Effort

1:2-11 – All Is Vapor
1:12–2:26 – The King’s Experiment
3:1-22 – God’s Work in Time and Eternity
4:1-16 – Toil for Self and in Community
5:1-7 – Words Before God
5:8–6:9 – Enjoyment Instead of Greed

Part 2 (6:10–12:8): Human Limits

6:10–7:14 – No One Knows What Is Good
7:15-29 – Wisdom and Righteousness
8:1-17 – Even the Wise Do Not Know
9:1-10 – Enjoy Life Now
9:11–10:15 – Time and Chance
10:16–11:6 – Living with Risks
11:7–12:8 – Youth and Old Age


12:9-14 – Epilogue

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