Encountering Ecclesiastes | James Limburg

Ecclesiastes has long been one of my favourite book in the Old Testament. Limburg taught me why:

Where, then, does the book of Ecclesiastes fit in? Someone once wrote that the writer of Ecclesiastes has “pitched his tent at the far edges of the camp,” meaning that while the writer of this book is within the company of biblical writers, the message of the book is a bit far out, on the extreme edges of ordinary biblical teachings.

I love the rebellious tone of the Qohelet.  I love the almost-beyond-grace explorations of that ancient wise man-turned-hedonist. I love that some of the passages make comfortable modern-day believers squirm.

Limburg is an excellent, readable guide to this ancient sage. Here’s a few of the things I appreciated about Limberg’s treatment:

  1. Limburg doesn’t get bogged down trying to discern the structure of the book. No one agrees on a structure, so why waste time with it?
  2. Limberg wanders freely from the text to illustrate it: you’ll learn about Bonhoeffer, Pedal Points, and old Tombstones in this book.
  3. Limberg really grasps how important the concept of hebel is to the entire book, and has written his reflections with that in mind.

On the negative side, I question whether Limburg domesticates the Qohelet a wee bit. It’s important to remember that it’s the frame-narrator who tempers the message of the book, not the sage.

This is a good reading companion to the book of Ecclesiastes for believers who like to explore the far edges of life under the sun.

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