Joy at the End of the Tether

WilsonMany people think Ecclesiastes is a conundrum wrapped in an enigma served with a side of oddity. Sadly, this prevailing assumption has deterred many a reader from the treasure found within the pages of this book of wisdom.

Something I have found to be very helpful, when attempting to understand difficult areas of the Bible, is the aid of a good commentary. I enjoy the academic stuff, but I don’t often recommend it to others, because at times (if it’s not easy to comprehend) it only adds another layer of confusion in the search for clarity. Because of this, I try to sift through for more readable treatments of the biblical text, stuff that is more accessible to a wider audience. Unfortunately, this usually leads away from the text itself, to vague paraphrasing works that dumb down (or outright neglect) the thrust of the biblical narrative in an attempt to appeal to a wider readership.

Every once in a while you find a book that both embraces and explains the biblical text in a format and language that can satisfy the scholars while engaging the popular reader. This is rare, particularly when it comes to a book like Ecclesiastes. A great, quick, and engaging read I have just finished which fits faithfully into this category is Joy at the End of the Tether by Douglas Wilson.

The genius of Wilson’s work is that he embraces the text of Ecclesiastes without qualification. Solomon’s little book of wisdom is often filtered through a strainer, sifted down to one-liners and short quips that are more palpable for the modern interpreter. Wilson rebuffs any tendency to neuter the text in this way. He cautions:

The error, common among the devout, is to rush headlong to the pious and edifying conclusions before letting the force of Solomon’s observations and argument work into our souls. We must not hasten to heal this particular wound lightly. The meaninglessness of all things, as Solomon presents it, must work down into our bones. We should let the Word do its work before we hasten to make Ecclesiastes a grab bag of inspirational quotes. If we are not careful, we will fall into the trap of writing pious drivel, saying that Solomon meant to say down is up instead of down is down. It can be a painful experience to read the work of devout commentators working manfully away as they try to sandpaper the rough spots in Ecclesiastes–[thinking] it has to be smooth to be edifying.[1]

The theme of Joy at the End of the Tether is Ecclesiastes, and Wilson argues that the theme of Ecclesiastes is “that enjoyment and pleasure are by grace through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast.”[2] As the text is liberated to speak for itself, Wilson offers blunt-force commentary replete with applicable truisms and examples for modern culture. The only thing I would change would be the version he utilizes for the text, which I believe is the King James. Other than utilizing a more updated word for word Bible translation (like the ESV or NASB), every page of this short overview of Ecclesiastes is gold.

[1] Wilson, p. 16.

[2] p. 59.

About Pastor Andrew

Follower of Jesus, Husband to Carissa, Daddy to four daughters, Lead Pastor at LifePoint Church in Vancouver, WA.
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