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by Douglas Miller

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Author: Douglas Miller
ISBN: 0836194918
Language: English
Pages: 300 pages
Category: Bible Study & Reference
Publisher: Herald Press (October 8, 2010)
Rating: 4.3
Formats: docx lrf azw doc
FB2 size: 1414 kb | EPUB size: 1628 kb | DJVU size: 1778 kb
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Ruth, Jonah, Esther by Eugene F. Roop. Psalms by James H. Waltner. Ecclesiastes by Douglas Miller. Proverbs by John W. Miller. Isaiah by Ivan Friesen.

by. Douglas B. Miller


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In this 23rd volume of the Believers Church Bible Commentary Series, Doug Miller respects the pastoral and theological contribution of Ecclesiastes, without muting its critique of simplistic and comfortable approaches to the life of faith. It is particularly useful for Christians who need a fresh look at the insights of this ancient sage in an era of uncertain identity, the flux of worldviews, and the elusiveness of truth.
Comments (2)
The Believers Church Bible Commentary series arises out of a theological tradition which is not ‎widely found in contemporary biblical scholarship: Anabaptist/ Mennonite theology, sometimes also called “peace church” theology. The series is designed for Christian teachers and preachers, and in ‎this volume, Miller shows that the book of Ecclesiastes is a refreshingly contemporary biblical text. Miller charts a course through the ins and outs of ‎Ecclesiastes’ search for meaning, pointing out both its unflinching honesty and faith-filled ‎realism, along with its welcome nods to the precarious joys woven into life’s uncertainties.

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.‎

Randy Klassen
(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.]
Miller’s book should be owned and pondered because of the masterful way in which he deals with the fundamental conundrum of Ecclesiastes. Does the narrator of the book approve or disapprove of this wisdom?

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. Relating to breath, it has a broad emotion-laden stratum with strong evocative possibilities, particularly suitable for reflection on the mysteries and pain of life. Miller draws on the depth of his doctoral research to point out that in addition to the usual connotations of being transitory or without substance, the preacher has added an additional sense of being disgusting (especially p. 263). This is a natural extension for the preacher, since idolatry is a common referent of the term in biblical usage. As carefully catalogued by Miller, the preacher has frequently extended the sense of transitory or meaningless to the frustrating manner in which these former elements compromise life. The closest consistent possible translation which can incorporate all three senses would be something like “smoke.” Miller has defended well and extensively the position that hebel in Ecclesiastes has become a symbol for the experiences of life that carries a nuance beyond the specific meaning it may have in any particular occurrence.

Miller regards Ecclesiastes as a kind of philosophical notebook (25) that has coherence within a rather fluid structure. “Qoheleth is best understood as a realistic counselor with an insightful strategy to guide those who are frustrated and discouraged about life” (31). The author uses vapor to describe a variety of experiences to enable the reader to come to terms with the hard realities of life and to show how certain ways of responding to them are foolish.

Miller has provided a very helpful resource in understanding Ecclesiastes as a guide to life rather than cynicism about it.

August H. Konkel, PhD
President, Providence University College and Seminary
Otterburne, Manitoba
[A copy of the book was given free of charge for the purpose of writing this review for Direction Journal, slightly shortened here.]