Reading Ecclesiastes – ‘Destiny’, by David Gibson

Thanks to IVP, who kindly sent me a copy of the book to read and review, I was also able to ask David some questions about Destiny and the themes he talks about within the book. His answers make for a great read, so check that out before you go any further with this review.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book about one particular book of the Bible (I think the last one was Tim Keller’s book on Judges a couple of years ago), but Destiny, by David Gibson, has made me want to read that kind of thing more frequently.

Ecclesiastes is a book that I, and many other Christians, struggle to read. Attributed to Solomon, the king of Israel who possessed legendary wisdom, it can seem nigh on impossible to read the book in a way that adds any real value to the Christian life.

The Teacher frequently tells his readers (in our English translations) that everything is meaningless, or vanity. What are Christians supposed to make of something like that. In a faith where meaning comes from the value given to humanity by the Son of God, a declaration that everything is meaningless has no faith.

But David Gibson is unperturbed by traditional difficulties with Ecclesiastes and tackles the book, section by section, in a clear and engaging way. In his interview with me, David briefly stated one of the key points that he makes towards the start of the book:

“The word ‘meaningless’ in Ecclesiastes doesn’t always mean pointless, but usually means something like brief, transient, elusive.”

Immediately, this clarification makes things in this tricky wisdom book clearer, and David spends more time later in the book looking deeper at how Ecclesiastes is consistent with a Christian understanding of the world.

In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul talk about the need for Christ’s followers to lose their lives, take up their crosses, die to themselves, die to the flesh etc. and Destiny showed me how Ecclesiastes is consistent with this kind of thought, and how Ecclesiastes can help us to understand the magnitude of such a thought.

The subtitle on the book’s front cover is ‘learning to live by preparing to die’.This subtitle perfectly encapsulates the lens through which, David argues, that Ecclesiastes encourages us to look. Rather than trying to find meaning by living exclusively for the present, Destiny helps us to see Ecclesiastes as a book that makes us look at life from the perspective of death.

When we are at death’s door and we look back on our lives, what will we find joy in? And what will others remember us for? So much of what we do is pointless, and it will blow away. Destiny encourages this reflection, and I found that the reflection that it sparked did not end with the book, but continued into my own reading of Ecclesiastes and other bits of the Bible that I read around the same time.

One thing that I really like about the book is the way that David approaches Ecclesiastes through a Christian lens, but at the same time, allows the Old Testament book to speak for itself. I think there is a tendency among Christians to read the Old Testament in such a way that everything has to directly fit into the New Testament picture that we receive, regardless of how and why it was written in the first place. Yes, the Old Testament looks forward to Christ, but if it had no value in and of itself, we wouldn’t need any of it beyond the prophecies that foretell Jesus’ birth and life.

Destiny helps modern readers to approach Ecclesiastes with enough knowledge to get a grasp on what it’s saying, but without being so arrogant as to assume we know what it’s saying before we’ve even read it.

In this respect, I see Destiny not as an end in itself, but as a gateway to a richer engagement with Ecclesiastes. It is well-written, thought-provoking, and is written by an author who clearly has a deep love for God and the Bible. My own Bible-reading has been enriched by David’s book, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to other Christians looking to engage with their own Bibles more.

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