Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs don’t easily fit our preconceptions as Christians. How do we reconcile Ecclesiastes’ seemingly hedonistic passages and its broodings on life’s futility with Christ’s call to self-denial and his revelation of God’s profound purpose for our lives? Is the Song of Songs a frank-to-the-point-of-disturbing depiction of erotic love, or is it rather a loose-fitting spiritual allegory for Christ’s relationship with the church? Must we choose between the one interpretation and the other?
Most important, what wisdom can these ancient books of the Bible offer us for living out our faith today with integrity, fervor, balance, and devotion?
Revealing the links between the Scriptures and our own times, Iain Provan shows how the wisdom books of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs speak to us today with relevance and conviction.
“With the word hebel he refers to the fragile, fleeting nature of existence, which should cause us to seize the moment and live well in it before God, while at the same time leading us to spurn the desire for any control of life and to disdain that insane grasping after yitron, which so often characterizes human activity.” (Page 57)
“The universe has a flow and a regularity to it that is beyond any human control and renders futile all attempts at ‘profit.’ The wise person lives life in the light of this massive truth.” (Page 87)
“It is certainly true that to translate hebel as ‘meaningless,’ as the niv does, causes serious difficulties for the interpretation of the book as a unified work, for even a cursory reading of Ecclesiastes demonstrates that Qohelet does not consider everything ‘meaningless.’ On the contrary, he is constantly to be found recommending certain ways of being to his listeners precisely because it is possible for human beings to know the goodness and joy of existence (cf., e.g., 2:24–26; 3:12–13, 22). ‘Everything’ is not ‘meaningless.’” (Page 51)
“Above all, then, Ecclesiastes is to be encountered with openness—openness to God and openness to change. For we must always consider the possibility, when we encounter a difficult biblical book, that the problem lies not with the book but with ourselves. The ‘difficulty’ may be that the book speaks truly about reality while we are devoted to illusions. The ‘difficulty’ may be that we are not too keen to embrace the truth, but prefer to embrace half-truths or lies.” (Page 25)
Iain Provan has been the Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies since 1997. He was born and educated in the UK and retains strong family, academic and church connections with his homeland. He received his MA at Glasgow University in Mediaeval History and Archaeology, his BA from London Bible College in Theology and his PhD from Cambridge, where his thesis focused on the books of Kings, and was subsequently published as Hezekiah and the Books of Kings. His subsequent academic teaching career took him to King’s College London, the University of Wales and the University of Edinburgh, where he was a senior lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament Studies. He has written numerous essays and articles, and several books including commentaries on Lamentations, 1 and 2 Kings, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. Most recently he has co-authored with Phil Long and Tremper Longman A Biblical History of Israel. He is an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland; a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge; and the recipient of an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship. He and his wife, Lynette, have four children. Iain is also a qualified Provincial B Licence soccer coach (BC) and ARA rowing coach (UK).