At a certain MB church I once attended, a large plaque hung in the foyer, with the rather daunting welcome: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God, to draw near to listen” (Ecclesiastes 5:2, RSV). That, and the occasional reading (always at a funeral) of the famous poem “For everything there is a season…” (3:1–11, RSV) make up almost the sum total of my encounters with Ecclesiastes in public church life. Rather ironic, given that the book’s name derives from the Greek word for church, ekklesia.
The invisibility of Ecclesiastes is something Doug Miller, professor at Tabor College (Hillsboro, Kan.) and author of the newest Believers Church Bible Commentary, would like to change. 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. His commentary offers teachers and preachers a helpful resource into this surprisingly contemporary biblical book.
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” (see MBH May 2011) of 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 Ecclesiastes 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), Miller’s work is a fine example of how the academy can both bless and stretch the church in our journey through a perplexing world.