Meredith M. Kline
Embrace Life Under the Sun: God’s Wisdom for Today from Ecclesiastes by Randy Jaeggli. Greenville, SC: Journey Forth Academic, 2015, 245 pages, $19.00.
The author is professor of Old Testament at Bob Jones University. Rather than being a commentary that moves sequentially through the text of Ecclesiastes, the book is arranged topically. The prominent topics of the book are appropriately chosen, each discussed in terms of existence in a fallen world: the doctrine of God; vanity, or the negative aspects of life; enjoying life as a gift of God; the fear of God as essential; and the limits of wisdom. The book includes an index of scriptural verses and a bibliography, though there are minimal references to academic scholarship in the body of the book. There are many personal and pastoral illustrations that apply the author’s interpretation of passages.
Conservative positions are espoused throughout the book. Solomonic authorship of all of Ecclesiastes is defended. The “fear of God” is used with an orthodox understanding throughout Ecclesiastes. Since Jaeggli has written “an extended defense of abstinence from alcoholic beverages,” his discussion of 9:7 is longer than on most passages. He also holds to “creation in six literal twenty-four-hour days.”
In Jaeggli's chapter on hebel (הֶבֶל), traditionally translated as “vanity,” he transliterates the term until concluding that in Ecclesiastes it usually should be translated as “frustration,” but a few times as “transitory” or “emptiness.”
Jaeggli describes his interpretational perspective as counsel for believers about how to live in a fallen world. He uses the term “realist” to characterize his view, by which he means a believer experiences the frustrations that unbelievers do but only the believer can enjoy the gifts of God. The common curse is shared with unbelievers but Qohelet’s positive promotion of joy is not common blessing, but instead is treated as special, redemptive blessing. So, on 2:24–26 he takes “apart from him” as “apart from a saving relationship with him” rather than as “apart from the common blessing of him.” This, however, would assume a retributive providence under the sun, which Qohelet denies. For Jaeggli, 6:1–2 indicates that a believer, one with a [saving] relationship with God, can enjoy life even during a calamity, but an unbeliever is always frustrated. The way the phrase “relationship with God” is used, it applies only to believers. But all humans have a relationship with God. Both believer and unbeliever share a common, if unpredictable, providence during earthly life. Ecclesiastes is about admonishing youth to have a wise, rather than foolish, relationship with God.
There are some inadequate discussions of texts in this volume. Jaeggli does not really deal with the tension in 8:12–14 on retribution. He assumes that there is retribution in an afterlife, without indicating how that is derived from Ecclesiastes, which focuses on the lack of divine retribution under the sun. He also confuses modern promises with biblical vows in a discussion of 5:4–6. A biblical vow was not a modern-day promise; biblical vows were based on a response to what God would do, not on how God might respond to what was done. Jaeggli’s chapter on the limits of wisdom is strange because it does not include discussion of the major passage on the topic, 8:16–17. It also exhibits some confusion. Negative aspects of wisdom include “no guarantee that a wise person’s endeavors will always be successful” (9:11). This, however, is less a negative aspect of wisdom itself, than a reality of sovereign providence shared by people, whether they demonstrate wisdom or folly. On 1:17, wisdom is limited, since it eludes the quester. The goal, however, of attaining comprehension, not wisdom itself, is wind-chasing. Total comprehension is an un-wise expectation of wisdom (the point of 8:16–17, the highlighted passage of Qohelet’s words on wisdom).
For busy pastors, who understand Qohelet/Solomon as a “realist” believer who experiences both common curse and common blessing, panning for sermonic gold in Jaeggli’s book might prove frustrating.
Meredith M. Kline is the director emeritus of the Goddard Library at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He wrote his ThD thesis on Ecclesiastes and is a member of First Presbyterian Church, North Shore (PCA) in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Ordained Servant Online, August–September 2019.