Book Review – The Message of Ecclesiastes (Derek Kidner)

This is one of the earliest volumes of the Bible Speaks Today series, having been written in 1976 and only later incorporated into the series. In a brief introduction Derek Kidner asks what Ecclesiastes is doing in the Bible. He introduces us to the author, Qoheleth. He thinks that this teacher puts himself in the shoes of a “super-Solomon” for the purposes of writing the book.

Kidner interprets the book as being written from “ground level” – the author deliberately views life “under the sun” from a human perspective – if you like, from a secularist vantage point. Qoheleth will explore path after path to the point that it comes to nothing, and in the end, only one way will be left.

Kidner makes regular references to various stories, quotes or poems that make similar points to Ecclesiastes. In Eccl 3:1-8, he does not take the common approach of assuming it is about the idea that there is an “appropriate” time” for every activity. Rather he sees it as a comment on the perpetual pattern of change – everything has a beginning and an end. However, he does see Eccl 3:11 as a key verse – part of the very reason that we find so many seemingly good things unsatisfying is that we have eternity in our hearts.

Every few chapters, Kidner inserts a brief “backwards glance”, summarising the argument so far, which is a helpful touch. He thinks that Qoheleth’s mission, like Jeremiah, is first to tear down and destroy before he eventually gets round to building up (Jer 1:10). Kidner sees a turning point coming after Ecclesiastes 9, by which time Qoheleth has made his case against human self-sufficiency.

Overall I think Kidner has done a good job of interpreting the train of thought in this book that can be quite perplexing at times. I find it interesting that many of the better known verses in Ecclesiastes seem to have a different meaning to their popular interpretations when considered in the light of the whole book’s progression of thought.

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