The Hodder Bible Commentary: Ecclesiastes

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Pub Date Jul 18 2024 | Archive Date Jul 22 2024
John Murray Press | Hodder & Stoughton

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How can we live well in a world that can feel meaningless? Ecclesiastes invites us to face the hard truth that our lives are very brief and mostly out of our control. But that doesn't mean God leaves us to despair.

In this searching and uplifting commentary, Eric Ortlund helps us see that our earthly lives are gifts from God. This life may be brief and frustrating, but it is good - and deeply worth treasuring.

About the Hodder Bible Commentary

The Hodder Bible Commentary is a comprehensive 50-volume Bible commentary series. Doctrinally sensitive and globally aware, its goal is to encourage a deepened knowledge and understanding of Scripture.

Accessible and insightful expository commentary explores the timeless message of the Bible and applies it to the challenges of today's world. Written by a range of authors and supported by consultant editors from around the world, it represents a diversity of church and cultural contexts.

With the full text of the NIV Bible interspersed with the commentary for easy reference, this series is ideal for preaching, teaching and personal study.

How can we live well in a world that can feel meaningless? Ecclesiastes invites us to face the hard truth that our lives are very brief and mostly out of our control. But that doesn't mean God leaves...

Advance Praise

"What is good for human beings? Eric Ortlund helps readers perceive Qohelet’s answer to this perennial question. With skill and unusual clarity, he demystifies the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, inviting readers to embrace both the frustrations and the joys of earthly life within divinely imposed limits... I cannot wait to share Ortlund’s wise reading of Ecclesiastes with my students."

Christopher B. Ansberry, Associate Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies, Grove City College, USA 

"What is good for human beings? Eric Ortlund helps readers perceive Qohelet’s answer to this perennial question. With skill and unusual clarity, he demystifies the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, inviting...

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Featured Reviews

This collection is turning out to be such a great resource. The book straddles the divide between a theological lecture, a sermon and scripture notes. The introduction gives the basic and key Hebrew terms that are useful for nuance and greater understanding. The book takes the introduction and rolls it out through the scripture explanation. The more opaque passages are unlocked line by line and other verses covered together which is helpful. The books isn’t for beginners and assumes a level of Christian understanding, however takes the reader by the hand and walks them through Ecclesiastes well and gives confidence in the text, how to read it and how to question it,

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Yes! I love Old Testament commentaries to see how the OT history consistently points us to God and the hope of the upcoming Messiah. Ecclesiastes is no different. Also, seeing parallels between Ecclesiastes and Proverbs is always interesting. This commentary kept the Bible in context while reaching readers who are not necessarily well-versed in theological terminology. Excellent job! I will be sharing this on my Bookstagram page when the pub date is here @steph.overbooked. It will automatically share to my personal Facebook page Stephanie Powell Barner.

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I was very excited to see this commentary over Ecclesiastes by Eric Ortlund on NetGalley. I've been a big fan of all the books put out by the Ortlund family and this one was great, too! Ecclesiastes can be an intimidating book, but I think Eric did a good job in making it digestible and explaining the passages.

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A clear explanation of an unclear biblical book

Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) is a notoriously difficult biblical book. On the surface its message seems to be one of doom and gloom, so that people should just eat drink and be merry, as there is nothing else for them. This means that the book can seem ‘irreligious’ and even impious. Over the centuries its presence in the bible has puzzled some people, and troubled others.

Making sense of the text, and understanding it in a way that shows its coherence with the wider bible is the fundamental task of a good commentary on Ecclesiastes. This book achieves both those goals. The explanation of the text is clear, linguistically and spiritually. The author shows that there is indeed a bigger picture, which the negativity in the text is pointing to, and that that bigger picture is a surprisingly positive one, which resonates with the wider message of the bible.

Drawing on an expert knowledge of Hebrew and the wider biblical texts, the author is able to provide a thoughtful analysis of the text, as well as reflection points which ask the reader to ponder the implications of the book for themselves and their lives.

One of the particularly commendable aspects of the book is that it is pitched to both the reader approaching the text out of personal interest, as well as the preacher who needs to think about how to structure a set of sermons on the text.

Throughout the text, the author addresses Christian readers. That is understandable for a bible commentary. But Old Testament books are also part of the patrimony of Judaism. It would have been interesting to hear more about how Jewish scholars read the text, and whether their readings differ from Christian readings.

One feature of the book which I didn’t enjoy was the occasional personalised criticism of other scholars. Thus, we hear about named individuals who are accused of ‘mishandling’ texts or ‘mistranslating’ (10%). However, elsewhere in the book the author offers a commendably depersonalised critique of other views, noting the existence of alternative readings and simply giving a reason for his own preferred approach. I would have preferred if that style had been pursued across the whole book.

Overall, this is a helpful introduction to a complicated biblical book, and it is presented skillfully so that it does not presuppose any previous knowledge or studies.

(These are honest comments on an ARC (Advanced Review Copy) of the text, which was read digitally in Feb 2024).

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Having read Eric Ortlund's books of Job, I was looking forward to reading this commentary on Ecclesiastes. I have not been disappointed and consider Ortlund a wise and helpful guide to the book of the Eccesiaties. Ecclesiastes is a challenging book to read and understand and has been interpreted in different ways. Ortlund’s discussion on how Ecclesiastes has been read in the past is beneficial in identifying the main points of difficulty with reading the book and how others had sought to understand these difficulties. I appreciate that Ortlund engages with the writings and opinions of others and offers his thoughts and critiques directly. At times the author challenges the word choices used in some of the major translations of the Bible that he believes obscures the meaning of the Hebrew. If I were to preach or teach from the Book of Ecclesiastes I would be leaning heavily on this commentary.

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Summary and Affirmation

Eric Ortlund presents a pastorally robust commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes. He skillfully inserts pastoral insights and questions which keep the reader pondering their own life in tune with the message of Ecclesiastes. He urges the reader to let the author of Ecclesiastes take you where he wants to take you despite how you might respond or want to insert your own theology into the book. For example, “we must allow Qohelet to push us into a place where we feel like giving up, where life and work really feel completely pointless.” Ortlund’s execution is gold.

Theologically, Ortlund takes a “both and” approach to Ecclesiastes. While some theologians take Ecclesiastes as positive theology and others as negative, Ortlund emphasizes living in the tension the book presents. A key phrase Ortlund emphasizes to show this is under the sun. The negative emphasis of the book falls in the under the sun category. His thesis, then, is that we will always be frustrated with this life under the sun. The frustration removes false motives for finding fulfillment in life. Only when we are properly frustrated can we live under the sun in a fulfilling way by finding meaning in the fact that life is a gift from God and not a system we can manipulate or control.


My only critique is that Ortulnd’s presentation of Ecclesiastes lacks biblical theology and explicitely discourages asking types of allegorical or symbolic questions when the text calls for it. When commenting on Ecclesiastes 12, Ortlund criticizes the literary approach of trying to figure out what the images in 12:2-5 refer to. He makes the point that the passage is too abstract to make allegorical guesses. He notes, “perhaps we are not meant to look through the images of 12:2-5 to some other meaning standing behind them. Perhaps we are meant to dwell within the images and let them go to work on our imaginations.”

I have two points of contrast with Ortlunds reading. First, I don’t think pressing into the images has to mean coming out with an allegorical meaning that differs from what’s in the text. Rather, there is a way to look at the images (symbols) and trace what they represent throughout Scripture. Scripture has already told us a lot about the symbols listed in 12:2-5. While I appreciate grabbing onto the surface of the text and enjoying its clear meaning, I find it confusing that Ortlund skips around even asking the questions.

Second, I agree with Ortlund that the images shape our imagination. The problem is that the images have already shaped our imagination if our imaginations are shaped by the rest of Scripture. For example, the Sun, moon, and stars being darkened already sets an imaginitive setting that I’m familiar with from the rest of the Old Testament teaching. The natural question would be to draw in the other Scriptures and show how Qoholet is using the setting and images for his Ecclesiastical purposes.

My critique above should discourage no one from picking up this book. Ortlund’s ability to interract with scholarly material, the hebrew, remain concise, and all while pumping pastoral insight is warrant enough for anyone to read the book. I find no better antitode to an age where our lives are marked by hurriedness and burnout. With reoriented motivation and perspective our lives may just find more joy and fulfillment than we think possible. This is what Ortlund aims at and convincingly and more importantly, what Ecclesiastes aims at.

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I can honestly credit this commentary with turning my attitude toward Ecclesiastes around. I’ve always thought of it as one of the Bible’s most depressing books, but this commentary digs deep enough to reveal the sense of hope that imbues it. I thought the breakdown of what is actually meant by the word often translated as “meaningless” was especially enlightening. This commentary is clearly well-researched, and it’s full of footnotes. It’s very apparent that it was crafted on a base of rigorous scholarship, but it was written in enough of a straightforward manner that it was very understandable to me as a layman. I would absolutely recommend this to pastors preparing sermons, and also to those Christians who, like me, use commentaries as a basis for individual Bible study.

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In this commentary, Ortlund does a very good job of helping any Christian reader understand Ecclesiastes and read the text in a way that is true to the original language and in context to a lot of references throughout the book from other parts of scripture. The strength of this commentary really lies in the voice of the Teacher in the book and how Ortlund remains consistent to look at a holistic view to explain complex parts. This is not an approachable part of scripture and can be misrepresented very easily and I found a lot of value in the approach of how this author lays it out. At times, I wished he had gone into more depth in areas, especially what he even considered some of the most challenging passages. It would have been helpful to hear some more variations of interpretation without as much dismissal without much background on why the interpretation may be incomplete. Most of the other views he offers are in contrast vs support of what he was saying and that detracted a bit from a complete understanding on why this commentary should be fully valuable to the reader.

Overall, highly recommend.

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I was reading a devotional that was also in this book so I followed along my study’s with the commentary and I really enjoyed it.

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A great resource for bible students and those who want to increase their understanding of scripture. Well written and easy to understand.

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This was a pretty good Bible Commentary. I was hesitant about this because I've never heard of the writers, but I was impressed. I learned a lot from this and would recommend it to anyone looking for a new Bible Commentary.
I really enjoyed getting a deeper look at Ecclesiastes. I learned a lot from this Bible Commentary.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own *

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