Since I’ve been preaching Ecclesiastes for the last six weeks, I thought it might be helpful to share the list of commentaries I’ve been using. Since it is nearly impossible to purchase and utilize every available commentary, I’m just going to comment on the ones I’ve used. (If my count is right, there are around 25 commentaries on Ecclesiastes!) Feel free to chime in if you have suggestions or comments.
Though not a Christian commentary, I’ve appreciated the exegetical/textual Jewish commentary on Ecclesiastes by Michael V. Fox. The introduction is helpful and the book contains the entire Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes as well as Fox’s English translation and Hebrew notes. It is rather brief, however; I often found myself wishing that Fox would have written more comments.
Perhaps my favorite commentary on Ecclesiastes is Recovering Eden by Zack Eswine. I appreciate and agree with Eswine’s perspective on Ecclesiastes: “Proverbs focuses on the norms, Ecclesiastes focuses on the exceptions.” “The preacher gives voice to true human angst.” Eswine also does a nice job of bringing the themes of Ecclesiastes to Jesus and his redemptive work. My main critique of the book is that it is a little tough to find where each passage of Ecclesiastes is discussed – the book mostly follows the chapters of Ecclesiastes, but not always. Still, I highly recommend this book.
Michael Eaton’s commentary in the TOTC series is a decent traditional commentary. The introduction was helpful yet concise, and several times in the commentary Eaton makes some helpful observations. But it is quite brief and quite often he didn’t answer the exegetical questions of the text that I was asking. If you can get a copy for a good price, I’d say go for it; if not, you may want to pass.
Whybray’s NCBC on Ecclesiastes is a pretty good textual/exegetical commentary. He also notes that “If he [Qoheleth] sometimes occilates between what appear to be irreconcilable poles, he is merely expressing the tension within his own mind.” I appreciate that perspective. One critique of this commentary I have is that there is not much application in it. However, I believe it is worth having.
I find Kidner’s BST commentary on Ecclesiastes to be helpful, but far too brief. I do appreciate though it because it is almost devotional at times, and it does capture the main themes of Ecclesiastes (i.e. “God meets us in this book [Ecc.] in three main aspects: as Creator, as Sovereign, and as Unsearchable Wisdom). Though Kidner does go through Ecclesiastes in a textual way, this commentary isn’t as exegetical as some of the other commentaries, but I do still like it.
J. V. Fesko’s book, Where Wisdom is Found, is essentially a collection of sermons on Ecclesiastes – specifically, sermons that find Christ in Ecclesiastes. Because it is a collection of 15 sermons, it isn’t really an exegetical resource. It’s not my favorite resource on Ecclesiastes because it seemed to me Fesko didn’t deal with the text at hand long enough. Also, Fesko didn’t draw out the “tension” in Ecclesiastes as well as some of the other commentaries did. Finally, I wasn’t always convinced that he went from Ecclesiastes to Christ in the best way. Anyway, if you have other commentaries on Ecclesiastes you might not need this one.
Around 20 years ago, Sinclair Ferguson wrote a little book on Ecclesiastes called The Pundit’s Folly. It’s not really a commentary on the book; rather, it is a discussion of the main themes and topics of Ecclesiastes. It is brief (88 pages), so Ferguson doesn’t deal with every part of the book, but it is a helpful summary of some important themes in Qoheleth. It is a bit hard to use as a commentary, though, since it isn’t in the order of the text. But it sells at a good price, so it’s worth it.
Iain Provan wrote the Ecclesiastes commentary in the NAC series. This one is pretty good. The introduction is helpful, the layout makes it easy to use and read, and I appreciate Provan’s reflections and application as well as his cross references. It is tough to use if you’re only preaching on a few verses of a chapter, but if you want a solid Christian commentary, I’d recommend this one.
Again, I realize there are more commentaries out there. (For example, someone recently gifted me a copy of Ryken’s Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters, but I can’t comment on it because I just got it a few days ago.) Hopefully the list I’ve given will help you decide which ones you may want – and which ones you may not want.