Featured Review – Deron J. Biles Reviews Coping with Change: Ecclesiastes

Coping With Change - EcclesiastesThis volume is an updated version of Kaiser’s 1978 publication. Though Kaiser has added his own translation and updated some of the references along with the bibliography, much of the commentary remains unchanged from its earlier edition.But, while some of his illustrations and references remain dated (cf. 56), the work demonstrates a timelessness and appeal that make it a worthwhile read for pastors,teachers, and others looking for a helpful assessment of “the relationship betweenChrist and culture” (13).

The introduction covers the unity, authorship, date, and purpose of the book of Ecclesiastes. Kaiser begins by challenging the prevailing interpretation of hebel,arguing for the translation “transitoriness” instead of “vanity,” following Daniel Fredericks and others (cf. 24, 57-59). Kaiser argues that this translation better renders the Hebrew which he literally translates as “vapor, breath, mist, or smoke.”Understanding hebel to convey temporariness rather than futility removes some of the allegations of cynicism on the part of the author, is consistent with James’ description of life a vapor (James 4:13-15), and also allows for the connotation of things we are simply unable to understand (59).

In this section, the author makes a strong case for Solomonic authorship based on the language, descriptions, text, linguistic features, and ideas presented in the book (36-42). In addition, he presents a fourfold division of the book forming component parts of an overall argument that finally comes to a conclusion in 12:13-14. According to Kaiser’s arrangement, each section ends with its own conclusion,before the final resolution is given. The remaining chapters of the commentary follow Kaiser’s proposed fourfold division of the book.

Throughout the work, Kaiser demonstrates how Solomon addressed issues of his day that still resonant with contemporary readers. These issues include:wealth, work, wisdom, mystery, pleasure, death and mortality, justice, fear of theLord, worship, government, enjoyment of life as a gift from God, retribution, joy,and suffering. The positive things of life are only passing pleasures unless they are understood to be gifts from God (87). The difficulties of life must be nuanced by the fear of the Lord (46, 102); the providence of God (94); and trust in the Him (118-119), His plan for His creation (120, et al), and the confidence that even suffering has purpose, though those purposes may remain a mystery for mankind (151-52).

In the end, the ultimate test of our faith, in good times and in bad, is the decisive action of remembering our creator and reflecting on who he is and what he has done for us (180). Kaiser sees Solomon’s conclusion as explaining how tragic it would be for one to finish his or her life and never have understood the key to living.The key is that this life is temporary, but God has a larger purpose. His purpose gives meaning to our existence and hope for our eternity. This, Solomon concludes, should cause us to “Fear God and keep His commands.”

Deron J. Biles, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Southwestern Journal of Theology 57, no. 2 Spring 2015, pg. 297

Where to Buy:
Coping With Change – Ecclesiastes by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. is available at any good Christian bookstore. If you don’t have a Christian bookstore near you, you may want to consider purchasing a copy from one of the online book retailers listed below:

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