Book Review of Dan Lioy’s “The Divine Sabotage”

Posted: October 10, 2008 by Rick Hogaboam in Biblical Studies, Book Reviews
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Dr. Lioy’s recent monograph, “The Divine Sabotage”, reflects upon the book of Ecclesiastes and offers the reader analysis of its text and broader purpose within the fuller canon of Scripture. Lioy comments:

When we candidly and objectively look at the facts, we should not be surprised that at times our existence seems vague, in­congruous, and antithetical. We are left feeling confused, powerless, and frustrated. As well, somewhere along the path of our earthly sojourn, we begin to ask what life is really all about. Solomon, who was Israel’s wisest and most powerful king, also wrestled with these issues, and he recorded his observations and conclusions in the Book of Ecclesiastes. (x)

With the analogy in Ecclesiastes 4:12 as the conceptual backdrop, imagine the fundamental quality of one’s life being likened to a cord made of three strands. Although any combination of three human conditions or experiences could be used in the analogy, let us consider how the fol­lowing threads of existence can unravel the metaphorical cord of one’s life. The first strand is the cohesion of a person’s inner world; the second strand is the understanding a person has of the external world; and the third strand is the significance of a person’s life. (xi)


In the introduction, Lioy examines the plethora of opinions regarding authorship and dating and concludes that King Solomon was the sole author (p.6). His intent in author was to encourage people “toward a God-centered view of life” (p.7). Lioy also suggests that Solomon’s preference of “Elohim” over “Yahweh”  may point to a broader audience than just Israel as “Elohim” would have broader application to a gentile audience. While such may or may not be the case, it is manifestly clear that Ecclesiastes as a book has value for all peoples in all times. It is indeed a “cultural apologetic” that transcends all cultures and remains broadly relevant.

Lioy adds that the book points to main overarching reality:

Even though every human striving will eventually fail, God’s purposes will never fail. Through the experience of one who seemed to have tried everything, the author concluded—based upon his faith in the Lord—that God had ordered life according to His own purposes. Therefore, the best thing a person can do is to accept and enjoy life as God has given it. (p.8)

While there has been some dispute to the inspiration of Ecclesiastes within the canon by some, Lioy contends that there is much within that has value. One needs to appropriately understand that Solomon is reflecting upon the meaning of life within the paradigm of our falleness and the curse. Apart from God and an eternal perspective, all of life leads ultimately to depression. Solomon’s life, as noted by Lioy, is a perfect example of such:

The Teacher used his own experience as a case study (of sorts) to illustrate the folly of chasing after the world’s pleasures and failing to take seriously one’s accountability to God. After decades of many squan­dered opportunities, the king reaffirmed the importance of obeying God. This conclusion was validated by insights Solomon gleaned from his keen mind and extraordinary wisdom. (p. 11)

In our current economic uncertainty, many folks are worried and concerned about their well-being. Many people equate their investment portfolio as being the whole sum of their life. Their biography is written in the stocks they own, etc. Lioy points out that Solomon’s audience was very much tuned into matters of profit and loss within the economy:

The sage taught that life is utterly futile for those who reject God, for they have no hope beyond their earthly existence. All the practical atheists have is what they work for now, and soon all that will pass away. Paradoxically, such individuals tend to see life in terms of profit and loss. They strive for earthly gain, often inconsiderate of whom they have to exploit or crush to obtain it; but in the end, their decisions bring them total loss, primarily because they failed to trust and obey God… (p.19)

I realize that the great depression caused people to leave wife and children and jump from windows to their death because the loss of wealth equated for them the loss of their own existence and self-worth. God wants us to look beyond such things and find the meaning of life fully residing in Him. It is folly to look elsewhere. Lioy sums well the sum of the person without God by equating such a life to a sandcastle, which is destroyed by the crashing waves of time:

The details of long ago are for the most part forgotten by future cohorts of humanity. Remarkably, upcoming generations will fail to remember the vast majority of notewor­thy people currently alive and their laudatory accomplishments. It is as if whatever sandcastles atheists build today on the beachfront of their lives, will eventually be wiped out by the incoming waves of time. (p.22)

Solomon, as we know, was blessed with wisdom and appreciates its benefits…but at the same time notes the vexation it causes for those who seek to comprehend the meaning of life through sole cognitive exercise:

Moreover, the Teacher made full use of these aptitudes and abilities. For instance, he was de­termined to ascertain the benefit of godly wisdom over inane ideas and foolhardy behavior. The result of his endeavor was no better than any other human pursuit. In short, the attempt to apprehend meaning and truth by reason alone was as ineffectual as “chasing after the wind” (v. 17). Even more sobering is that those who grew in wisdom and learning, experienced a corresponding increase in vexation and anguish (v. 18). (p.27)

Such is the sad case of humanists who chase after the meaning of life in devising theory after theory concerning its meaning. It is a never-ending search into futility and increased nonsense. It is not evolving upward, but downward into further depravity the more and more God is removed from the equation of life. Evil is called good, good is called evil, and ultimately the humanistic philosophy of life commends and encourages evil behavior while still leaving the participant empty and craving for something more.

We all know that Solomon also amassed great wealth, undertook great projects, had many wives and concubines, etc. Solomon attained all that he set his eyes to. Having retained his God-given wisdom through such hedonism, he is able to conclude that it was still chasing after the wind. Solomon could truly say, “been there, done that, still empty”. Lioy observes such:

Regardless of whether it was pleasure, wealth, or work, each of these ultimately failed his test for meaning, especially when pursued as an end in itself. For all the efforts of the sage, there was no last­ing value or eternal significance gained from secular human endeavors. In short, none of these undertakings brought the sort of contentment that earthbound people craved. (p.30)

It has been said that death is the great equalizer for all. Solomon also picked up on this truth as he realized that all die, no matter how well or wickedly they live their lives. Apart from seeing God, it would seem that there is no value in wisdom or living a life of honor. Lioy comments on Solomon’s observations of such:

In Ecclesiastes 2:15, Solomon noted that death is like a cunning, rav­enous beast that relentlessly hunts and eventually catches its prey. In fact, death never failed to overtake its victims; and it did not matter whether they lived wisely or foolishly. The sage lamented the truth that in the end, the grave awaited him just as much as it awaited the miscreant (cf. Ps 49:10). (p.32)

Lioy pointed something out that was personally insightful as he spoke to how the enjoyment of life is actually a gift from God. What Reformed theology would call “common grace” runs parallel to this same concept that God’s creation is good and should be enjoyed for His glory. Lioy states:

While prudence and labor have some value, they are neither ultimate nor final. In light of the brevity of life and the certainty of death, the astute recognized that their best option was to enjoy their food and drink and “find satisfaction” (v. 24) in their work. Qoheleth discerned that it was God who gave people the ability to obtain delight from their labors. (p.33)


In the New Testament, Paul argued that because God created foods, He meant for people to eat them with an attitude of thankfulness. Moreover, everything God created is “good” (1 Tim 4:4; cf. Gen 1:21, 25, 29, 30). Thus, avoiding something God created for humankind and called “good” cannot make one more spiritual. Some might wish to avoid certain foods, but that did not place them any closer to God or further away from Him. From ancient times until now, legalistic teachers have attempted to base spirituality exclusively on outward behavior. They forget that works are merely a reflection of what happens on the inside. A person can be­have religiously apart from the Messiah, but it takes Jesus working in one’s heart to produce God-pleasing spirituality. For believers who do enjoy God’s gifts, they must not forget to thank Him for His provisions. A prayer of thanksgiving shows that they recognize God’s care for them as well as their dependence on Him (1 Tim 4:5).

I have personally found the preceding truths to be so liberating. I must admit that there exits within Christianity many Gnostic notions that matter is evil and the curse of God upon created matter renders it wicked and useless. Such a piety reflects a monastic mindset of seeking to withdraw in some cave and do nothing but pray. Such see futility in work, eating, recreation, etc. I was once captivated by such thinking and it wasn’t until a discovery of Biblical truth on this matter as communicated from my theologically “Reformed” friends that I have found my existence in the affairs of this world, even the mundane tasks of eating and working, as being blessed by God and a source of joy to my heart. Lioy later adds to this concept:

While deriving enjoyment in life could include the satisfaction that comes from being charitable and philanthropic in one’s undertakings, this does not rule out the idea of obtaining pleasure from daily, ordinary experiences. Indeed, the Teacher noted that a great source of contentment can be found in eating, drinking, and performing satisfy­ing work (v. 13). How can one find real delight in the common outlets of life? The righteous do so by believing that such daily activity—indeed, all of life itself—is a gift of God. This is only possible when people humbly revere the Lord and place their confidence in Him. (p. 44)

Lioy also tackles the issue of evil and elaborates a bit on how it functions within God’s providential hand:

Down through the centuries, believers have wondered why God allows evil in the world (cf. Hab 1:13). Whether one is considering evil attitudes, actions, or aims, this wickedness results from the absence of the moral perfection that God originally intended to exist between good things. Ultimately, only God knows why He has allowed evil to exist in the world. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Lord may use ungodli­ness to bring home to people the distressing fact of their mortality, to warn them of greater evils, to bring about a greater good, or to help defeat wickedness. The last two reasons are especially evident in the cross of the Messiah. Despite the tragedy of His suffering at Calvary, His atoning sacrifice resulted in a greater good (i.e. the salvation of the lost) and the defeat of evil (e.g. sin and death). (p. 47)

Evil is and will remain a mystery. It is often used as the first witness in a case against the existence of God. Ultimately, the Christian must surrender to mystery as it relates to the secret will and counsel of God as to why He allows it, but I always wish to turn the prosecution on its own head. I’ll acknowledge that evil exists and concede that point, but I will proceed to asks why there isn’t more evil? Or why there is even good? Usually the answer is because we are good people. I would instead make the case that there exits in us greater evil that is being restrained. If left completely to ourselves, we would annihilate each other. Though there’s evil, there’s also a gracious God who is restraining evil and allows what does get sifted through His Counsels for His good purposes, but not the author of such. Lioy later suggests some possible benefits from Solomon’s reflections of such:

In addition to teaching about God’s nature and humanity’s suffering, the author may have had in mind some of the following purposes: to establish that people simply do not know enough about God and His ways to question His wisdom or justice; to expose the theological position that says “People suffer in proportion to their sins” as a shallow and erroneous doctrine; to prove that God—because He is all-powerful and all-know­ing—can make use of any means and any situations to bring about His purposes; to demonstrate that God does not abandon those who suffer, but communicates with them as He chooses; to explain that, regardless of circumstances, people must accept God on His own terms; to suggest that believers can remain upright even in the midst of physical agony, emotional confusion, and spiritual testing; and to teach the wisdom of people’s complete submission to the will of God. (pp. 52-53)

Later on in the book, Lioy makes some helpful observations about Solomon’s preference of attending a funeral over a party:

Besides, every fu­neral the upright attended served as a forerunner of their own. Ultimately, what might be said at one’s funeral and how others recalled the nature of one’s time on earth, was determined by how one lived in the present. A similar perspective is found in James 4:9 and 10. In light of the severity of the sins the original recipients of the letter were perpetually committing, the writer called for a response of grief, mourning, and wail­ing. There was no room here for a lighthearted attitude. They could not just brush these actions off as social conventions. The author further ad­monished his readers to turn their empty laughter into mourning and their artificial joy into gloom. (p. 70)


I think these observations need to be heeded in the American church more so now that ever before. The American Evangelical experience has turned corporate worship into some light-hearted affair with little to no gravity. James’ call for a time of corporate mourning and weeping is foreign in most churches today and serve no role in the “seeker-friendly”  liturgy that seems to be prevalent. It seems that many pastors are seeking to create an experience where the parishioners do anything but think about the grave issues of life, death and our sin. It doesn’t aid in the prevailing aim to make churchgoers feel “happy” about themselves.

Lioy continues to exposit the book of Ecclesiastes, covering the teacher’s words regarding the young, old, death, and finally a culminating comment which sums well the treatise:     

In verses 13–14, the king summarized the conclusion to his observa­tions and ruminations about the meaning of life. He declared that the whole duty of every person was to revere God and heed His command­ments (v. 13; cf. Job 28:28; Prov 1:7; 9:10; Eccl 5:7). The reason to abide by this all-encompassing injunction is that, despite the seemingly endless cycle of history, despite evil and greed, despite even death, what people do in life does matter.

Lioy adds that Psalm 119 plays a prominent role in heeding the parting words from Solomon:

Psalm 119 emphasizes the centrality of God’s commands to the life of His people. The author (evidently an unnamed pious Israelite) said he hid God’s Word in his heart (v. 11), recited Scripture from memory in private worship (v. 13), and meditated on God’s laws (v. 15). All three activities are ways of internalizing Scripture. Although learning, meditating on, and obey­ing Scripture can be hard work, the psalmist found them a joy. He praised God (v. 12), rejoiced in God’s statutes (v. 14), and delighted in God’s decrees (v. 16). In verse 105, the psalmist noted that God’s Word is like a lamp to guide one’s feet and a torch to illumine one’s path. Put another way, the Bible is God’s gift to humankind, a light that enables people to distinguish truth from falsehood. It demystifies life’s questions, informs people how sin came into the world, and enlightens them about salvation.

Lioy also adds a postscript and appendix on Psalm 90 that manifest the pastoral qualities of this book. “The Divine Sabotage” maintains academic integrity within a clearly conservative Evangelical vantage point and offers pastoral application and integration with the New Testament in seeking to show the redemptive value of Ecclesiastes within God’s fuller revelation. I commend this book as both a commentary and self-help…in the sense that God is the only self-help to a life that otherwise means nothing apart from Him. 

  1. Dan Lioy says:


    Thank you for providing a thoughtful and engaging review of my latest book (published by Wipf and Stock; ISBN 10: 1-55635-961-6;

    I especially appreciated how you picked up on the contemporary relevance of the book, especially given the current financial storm that has engulfed the global community. My hope is that your review will encourage interested readers to take to heart the pastoral message of “Divine Sabotage”. As well, I trust they will use the book as a resource to encourage those feeling overwhelmed by the current crisis to place their trust in the living, all-powerful God revealed in Scripture.

    Dan Lioy

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