Ecclesiastes is regarded by many as one of the most difficult books of the Bible to read. Here Benjamin Shaw (a Hebrew and Old Testament professor) gives us significant assistance, with a very readable commentary on the whole book, in 22 short chapters.
The opening chapter gives a useful framework for understanding the book. The author labours the point that the key word used to describe this life, often translated ‘meaningless’ or ‘vanity’, is literally ‘vapour’, and better understood as fleeting, insubstantial, and at times frustrating. Some of Ecclesiastes statements seem tough to swallow, but ‘Solomon is leading the reader through a careful, and sometimes painful examination of life… It is only when we see this life truly that we can make a proper evaluation of it and reach sound conclusions regarding it’ (pp.8-9).
Shaw brings fresh insight into the Hebrew words and phrases without being over-technical. In particular, he helpfully draws attention to the book’s striking resemblance to the early chapters of Genesis.
Many of the chapters are short enough to be used to aid one’s personal daily devotions: they explain difficult parts clearly and bring some searching applications. However, the main benefit of the book will be to preachers and Bible study group leaders. It is written for non-specialists, and is sparing with Hebrew and technical terms, but nonetheless sometimes goes into detailed analysis of the text that will only really be relevant to the serious student. Some preachers and study leaders may want another commentary which is even more rigorous and comprehensive, but this short volume will prove a useful aid to understanding, unpacking, and applying this enigmatic book.