Years after completing our study on Ecclesiastes, I ran across a blog post by Richard Beck at Experimental Theology concerning how Ecclesiastes fits within the Hebrew canon. This post is reproduced below:
As the most existential book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes is an odd duck. Ecclesiastes is so odd it makes you wonder how it made it into the canon.
And within in the canon, what is Ecclesiastes doing? How is Ecclesiastes supposed to be read? Because Ecclesiastes could be read very subversively, as undermining the whole of Scripture. In fact, some scholars have suggested that the final coda to Ecclesiastes was added to pull its overall message back into safer, more orthodox waters.
Ecclesiastes is existential dynamite. How should we read it?
Here’s my take on how Ecclesiastes fits into the larger concerns of the Old Testament.
I think you can make a good argument that the primary concern of the Old Testament is idolatry. And for most of the Old Testament, idolatry is described as covenantal infidelity, lusting after false gods.
Ecclesiastes, by contrast, looks at idolatry from a very different perspective. Ecclesiastes uses hebel to attack idolatry. Idolatry in Ecclesiastes is less about fidelity to God than human vanity. Ecclesiastes uses existentialism to destroy the idols of human presumption and delusion. Consequently, in its attack on idolatry, I think Ecclesiastes is very much within the mainstream of the Old Testament witness, just approaching those concerns from a radically different angle. Instead of raging like the prophets about Israel’s infidelity, Ecclesiastes uses death as a universal acid, pouring it over every human idol.
And while I love the prophets, few of us have a shrine to Baal in the house or an Asherah pole in the backyard. So if you want to expose and indict the vanity and vacuousness of idolatry in modern life there is no better book than Ecclesiastes: The dollars in your bank account. Hebel. The degrees hanging on your wall. Hebel. Your big house. Hebel. That new iPhone. Hebel. Your buff body. Hebel. The American flag. Hebel.
We are people chasing the wind. And with that ground now cleared, we can turn to talk about right worship and build upon more secure foundations.