The bottom line: A thought-provoking but repetitive guide for anyone looking to gain a Biblical perspective on wisdom and discerning the meaning of life.
Ecclesiastes Interpretation analyzes one of the Bible’s least straightforward books, and in doing so manages to extract several key themes and life-navigating pearls of wisdom. Ecclesiastes was written as a quest to find meaning and this book intelligently illuminates the sage’s reflections.
The commentary follows Ecclesiastes linearly, and the introduction locates it with other works of wisdom literature of the Ancient Near East—in fact, Brown often refers to the epic of Gilgamesh in making his reflective points. The epilogue is a succinct summary of the entire commentary and if you wanted to “cheat” in order to get the basic themes of the entire book, one would only need to read this section. However, the epilogue is much more than a summary in that it seeks to understand Ecclesiastes theologically in the context of the entire Biblical canon as opposed to just reading verses as verses.
Ecclesiastes Interpretation excels in some areas: extrapolating the meaning of hebel and “all is vanity” in the contemplation of life; the vestiges of joy and the task of receiving; the subordination of human effort in God-driven affairs; the inherent value in work; explaining the root causes of addiction and anxiety in spiritual terms; the point of wisdom; and, of course, the key(s) to living a happy, joyful life. Brown also does a tremendous job of juxtaposing the wisdom of the writer of Ecclesiastes to the writer of Proverbs (presumably the same person). The two books superficially appear to give divergent advice but the author carefully harmonizes the two streams of thought in context.
It goes without saying that to write a commentary of nearly 150 pages on a book of the Bible that has less than 15 pages runs the risk of being overly wordy and goes over (and over) certain ideas. I thought the author did repeat the same themes in different ways and a lot of the “fluff” could have been streamlined into a more succinct analysis. I often thought to myself, “Yes, this is a good point, but I’ve heard that already!” Nevertheless, the content of what was repeated remained very insightful.
I have read over a dozen volumes in the Interpretation series, and while I personally think this book is not among the elite, it will certainly prove to be of value to any preacher or teacher wishing to extract deeper meaning from Qoheleth’s words. Ecclesiastes Interpretation is an explanation of main ideas, so if you are looking for a word-for-word commentary then this book is not for you. A notable resource for Bible teachers and students.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal