Thursday, July 30, 2015

Encountering Ecclesiastes

James Limburg, Encountering Ecclesiastes: A Book for Our Time. Eerdmans, 2006. 141 pages ISBN 978-0-8028-3047-0

The book of Ecclesiastes does not appeal to all readers of the Bible. Some think it has a secularist mindset or is quite gloomy. For example, there is the theme that "all is vanity, a striving after wind." Limburg in his popular commentary, Encountering Ecclesiastes: A Book for Our Time, shows how the book can benefit the reader. Ecclesiastes addresses themes that are important to the modern reader: "the quest for the meaning of life, the incompleteness of our knowledge, the place of work in human lives, and the need to discover God amid life's uncertainties."

Limburg is professor emeritus of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. His Lutheran background shows in his secondary sources: Martin Luther's notes on Ecclesiastes and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The author introduces the book by reflecting on his grandfather's gravestone which contains the inscription Ecclesiastes 7:2 which was the funeral text. This verse reads; "It is better to go to the house of mourning than go to the house of feasting; for this is the end of everyone." This book is the result of visiting this grave site and a conversation with Gerhard von Rad, professor of Old Testament in Heidelberg, Germany.

In chapter one he introduces the book. His first sentence is "Ecclesiastes is not for everyone." This because of the book's skeptical tone. Some think of it as showing very little faith. Walter Baumgarter says that it shows a lukewarm faith. H. Wheeler Robinson writes, "the book has indeed the smell of the tomb about it." Ellen Davis said it is appealing to young people because they are dealing with the disappointment of the real world. Luther says this about the book: "The summary and aim of this book, then, is as follows: Solomon wants to put us at peace and give us a quiet mind in the everyday affairs and business of this life, so that we live contentedly in the present without care and anxiety (Phil. 4:6). It is useless to plague oneself with anxiety about the future." Limburg streese that throughout life in the background is the theme that all is vanity or mere smoke. On the other hand, the author encourages enjoyment: "There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God." I like what Roland Murphy says about the book of Ecclesiastes: "The great doubter? No! Qoholeth was the great believer. He believed, when there was no evidence for believing!

Limburg's Encountering Ecclesiastes show how this neglected book of the Bible is as needed as it ever has been. He shows how we are to live in the presence, rejoicing in God's gifts. The book is flowered with quotes that will enhance our reflection. This is my third reading of this book since I enjoy it and the book of Ecclesiastes so much.

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