Ecclesiastes 12 – The Conclusion Of The Matter
A. Life in light of eternity.
1. (11:9-11:10) Even in youth, remember that judgment will one day come.
Rejoice, O young man, in your youth,
And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth;
Walk in the ways of your heart,
And in the sight of your eyes;
But know that for all these
God will bring you into judgment.
Therefore remove sorrow from your heart,
And put away evil from your flesh,
For childhood and youth are vanity.
a. Rejoice, O young man, in your youth: Perhaps this argued that Solomon now looked back from old age to the days of his youth, before an under the sun premise took a toll upon his life and mind. He hoped for better for his young readers.
i. Morgan, on the last portion of the book, beginning at 11:9: “Its first word, like the first word in the Manifesto of the King in later days, indicates the true thought and desire of God for man: ‘Rejoice.'”
ii. This also indicates that in his conclusion, Solomon saw clearly that there was a place in youth (though not only there) in the legitimate pleasures and satisfactions of life. If the meaning of life was not found in the pursuit of pleasure (as in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11), it is also not found in asceticism and self-denial for its own sake.
iii. If we accept the truth of the next few lines; that there is more to life than what we can see – that there is an eternity and an eternal God to reckon with – then the legitimate pleasures of life can be enjoyed in the best sense. One doesn’t try to find meaning in those pleasures, but simply some good seasoning for a life that finds its meaning in eternity and the eternal God.
iv. “In this frame of mind we can now turn to the delights of life … not as if they were opiates to tranquillize us, but as invigorating gifts of God.” (Kidner)
v. “Rab, a Jewish teacher of the third century a.d., commented, ‘Man will have to give account for all that he saw and did not enjoy.'” (Wright)
b. Walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know that for all these God will bring you into judgment: Here the Preacher comes to the answer of his premise and his book. One may live according to their heart and by what they see; but they should not think that their own heart or eyes will be their judge. There is a Godin heaven who will bring all your life and works into judgment.
i. “The statement is brief, for he knew nothing more than the fact, and could add nothing to it.” (Deane)
ii. Here is the antidote and antithesis of the under the sun premise. Life is lived not only for this life but also for eternity, knowing that good will be rewarded and evil will be condemned perfectly by the God who will bring you into judgment. Literally, Solomon spoke of thejudgment, referring to our great accountability before God.
iii. “His judicial activity is not ‘the type of the blindfold maiden holding a balance in her hand’ nor ‘the cold neutrality of an impartial judge’, but is rather the consuming energy in which God must bring about ‘right’.” (Eaton) This makes everything full of meaning.
c. Therefore remove sorrow from your heart: Living in light of eternity and the eternal God gives us hope for this life, not only for the life to come. It will remove sorrow from the heart.
i. The Apostle Paul knew this eternal perspective banished sorrow from the heart and later wrote, Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
ii. Without this premise of eternity and the eternal God, life is vain and meaningless. The Apostle Paul understood this: If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable (1 Corinthians 15:19).
d. And put away evil from your flesh: Living in light of eternity and the eternal God also is an incentive to live a holy, godly life in our days on earth. We know that our good will be rewarded and blessed; not only in this life, but also in the life to come.
e. For childhood and youth are vanity: In an under the sun premise, childhood and youth are all that matter. This isn’t true when we live in light of eternity and the eternal God.
2. (12:1) The value of remembering God and eternity in youth.
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth,
Before the difficult days come,
And the years draw near when you say,
“I have no pleasure in them”:
a. Remember now your Creator: The idea of the Creator is important. This is the first mention of God as Creator. To this point the Preacher worked hard to ignore the eternal God one must stand before in the future; yet he also refused to think about the Creator God who existed before he did. This self-imposed ignorance relieved the sense of accountability before the Creator, which still must be accounted for in the life to come.
i. “Creator is a plural form in Hebrew, suggesting greatness of majesty.” (Eaton)
b. Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth: Solomon knew that youth are often those most likely to discount the reality of eternity and the eternal God. This is natural, but regrettable, in youth – they are often the most difficult to convince that this life is merely a brief prelude to eternity.
i. Adam Clarke suggested several practical and important points to draw from this exhortation, among them:
You are not your own; you have no right to yourself. God made you; He is your Creator.
Remember Him; consider that He is your Creator.
Remember Him in your youth; do not fail to give God the first and the best.
ii. “The Preacher here exhorts them to remember God betimes, to gather manna in the morning of their lives, to present the first-fruits to God.” (Trapp)
iii. “As in youth all the powers are more active and vigorous, so they are capable of superior enjoyments. Faith, hope, and love, will be in their best tenor, their greatest vigour, and in their least encumbered state. And it will be easier for you to believe, hope, pray, love, obey, and bear your cross, than it can be in old age and decrepitude.” (Clarke)
c. Before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”: The Preacher advised young people to remember God and eternity before they suffered greatly by subjecting themselves to an under the sun premise and all the meaninglessness associated with it.
3. (2-5) A poetic description of advancing age.
While the sun and the light,
The moon and the stars,
Are not darkened,
And the clouds do not return after the rain;
In the day when the keepers of the house tremble,
And the strong men bow down;
When the grinders cease because they are few,
And those that look through the windows grow dim;
When the doors are shut in the streets,
And the sound of grinding is low;
When one rises up at the sound of a bird,
And all the daughters of music are brought low.
Also they are afraid of height,
And of terrors in the way;
When the almond tree blossoms,
The grasshopper is a burden,
And desire fails.
For man goes to his eternal home,
And the mourners go about the streets.
a. While the sun and the light, the moon and the stars, are not darkened: Most agree that what follows here is a poetic description of the effects of advancing age.
· The arms and hands that keep the body now begin to tremble (the keepers of the house tremble)
· The legs and knees begin to sag (the strong men bow down)
· Teeth are lost and chewing is more difficult (the grinders cease because they are few)
· The eyes are dimmed (the windows grow dim)
· The ears become weaker and weaker (the sound of grinding is low)
· Sleep becomes more difficult and one is easy wakened (one rises up at the sound of a bird)
· Singing and music are less appreciated (the daughters of music are brought low)
· One becomes more fearful in life (afraid of height, and of terrors in the way)
· The hair becomes white (the almond tree blossoms)
· The once active become weak (the grasshopper is a burden)
· The passions and desires of life weaken and wane (desire fails)
i. Desire fails: “The word rendered ‘desire’ is found nowhere else in the Old Testament and its meaning is disputed.” (Deane) Although, Kidner states: “This is the point of the Hebrew expression, ‘the caper-berry fails’. This berry was highly regarded as a stimulus to appetite and as an aphrodisiac.”
b. For man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets: At the end of man’s advancing age is his eternal home – not the unknown grave and darkness. The Preacher has now set man’s advancing age in connection with eternity, not vanity.
i. We do well to remember that the Old Testament generally does not state the life and condition of man after this life with great certainty. Yet through his diligent searching, the Preacher has come to the right conclusion – that after this life, man goes to his eternal home as the mourners go about the streets.
ii. “So this wonderful book closes with the enunciation of a truth found nowhere else so clearly defined in the Old Testament, and thus opens the way to the clearer light shed upon the awful future by the revelation of the gospel.” (Deane)
4. (6-7) A final plea: Remember God before you go to life beyond the sun.
Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed,
Or the golden bowl is broken,
Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain,
Or the wheel broken at the well.
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,
And the spirit will return to God who gave it.
a. Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed: Solomon again pleads with his reader to remember God before this life is over, and he repeated a variety of metaphors to describe the ending of this life.
i. “The image points to the value of life (silver… gold), and the drama in the end of a life whose pieces cannot be put together again.” (Eaton)
b. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it: This is why it is so important to remember your Creator in this life; because when this life is over, one will answer to the eternal God and to eternity.
B. Conclusion: Eternity and the eternal God make everything matter.
1. (8) A final analysis of life under the sun.
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
“All is vanity.”
a. Vanity of vanities: By way of contrast, the Preacher returned to his starting point (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Having examined the meaninglessness of life with an under the sun premise (excluding eternity and the eternal God), one must say that life is not only meaningless, but the ultimate in meaninglessness (vanity of vanities).
b. All is vanity: With the under the sun premise, not only is life meaningless, but all is vanity. Nothing has meaning.
i. One man who reflected deeply on the meaning of life – and the price of a life lived without meaning – was a holocaust survivor named Viktor Frankl. His book Man’s Search for Meaning relates some of his war experiences and understanding of life. He wrote:
ii. “This striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.” “I think the meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected.” (Frankl)
iii. “I turn to the detrimental influence of that feeling of which so many patients complain today, namely, the feeling of the total and ultimately meaninglessness of their lives. They lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves…. This existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom.” (Frankl)
iv. Frankl warned of the danger of those who live without meaning: “No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).”
v. Frankl was not a Christian and didn’t believe there was any one meaning to life. He thought that each man had his own and it could even change from moment to moment. He thought that the meaning of life could be found in three ways. First, by doing a deed. Second, by experiencing a value. Third, by suffering.
2. (9-12) The Preacher prods us towards true wisdom.
And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yes, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find acceptable words; and what was written was upright—words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd. And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh.
a. Because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people: The Preacher’s search for knowledge didn’t leave him less wise. He was still a teacher of the people and a writer of proverbs.
b. The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well driven nails: The Preacher kept his confidence in the power of words to teach, challenge, and change people. Special confidence was appropriate in those words given by one Shepherd, even if they came through a wise man or a scholar.
i. The Preacher understood how one should proclaim God’s truth.
· He should teach the people knowledge.
· He should seek to find acceptable words.
· He should seek to bring forth that which is upright – words of truth.
· He should make his words as goads and well-driven nails, with point and direction.
· He should bring forth the words given by one Shepherd.
· He should realize that good study is wearisome to the flesh and be willing to pay that price.
ii. Goads … well-driven nails: “Here then are two more qualities that mark the pointed sayings of the wise: they spur the will and stick in the memory.” (Kidner)
iii. “He realized that pleasing words (lit. ‘words of delight’) have a penetrating effect that slapdash and ill-considered words lack. Second, his words are written uprightly. The two characteristics balance each other. His words are not so pleasing that they cease to be upright.” (Eaton)
iv. “This eloquent man took pains that he might be heard with understanding, with obedience.” (Trapp)
c. Be admonished by these: One should take special care to hear and be admonished by the words of God, given by one Shepherd.
d. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh: The Preacher cautions us to not believe everything we read, for all does not come from the one Shepherd.
i. “We grow addicted to research itself, in love with our own hard questions. An answer would spoil everything.” (Kidner)
ii. “Two thousand years have elapsed since this was written; and since that time some millions of treatises have been added, on all kinds of subjects, to those which have gone before. The press is still groaning under and teeming with books, books innumerable; and no one subject is yet exhausted, notwithstanding all that has been written on it.” (Clarke)
3. (13-14) Conclusion: live as one preparing for judgment and eternity
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.
a. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: After writing much of the Book of Ecclesiastes from a common but false premise, one that excluded eternal accountability and the God of eternity, now the Preacher concludes, having led us to the conclusion of the whole matter.
b. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all: Solomon came to understand that it was worth it to obey God, and this obedience both pleased God and fulfilled man’s destiny.
i. “Fear God is a call that puts us in our place, and all other fears, hopes, and admirations in their place.” (Kidner)
ii. “From that to this should be every man’s pilgrimage in this world. We begin at vanity, and never know perfectly that we are vain till we come to fear God and keep his commandments.” (Trapp)
iii. “If it is the ‘beginning of wisdom’ it is also the end, the conclusion; no progress in the believer’s life leaves it behind.” (Eaton)
iv. “This is the only place in Ecclesiastes where the commands of God are mentioned.” (Eaton)
v. The King James Version (and other translations as well) inserted an unhelpful word in Ecclesiastes 12:13, translating For this is the whole duty of man. The word duty does not appear in the Hebrew text, and it has much more the idea of for this is man’s all.
vi. “The last phrase reads literally: ‘For this is the whole of the man.’ Elsewhere in Ecclesiastes, however, the ‘whole of the man’ is a Hebrew idiom for ‘every man’ (cf 3:13; 5:19). The sense, therefore, is ‘This applies to everyone’.” (Eaton)
c. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil: This is impossible to say with an under the sun premise; yet it is the root reason why it is wise and good for man to fear God and keep His commandments.
i. There is, and will be, and eternal accounting for everything we do. This is the complete opposite of believing that all is vanity or meaningless; it means that everything has meaning and importance, both for the present and for eternity. “If God cares as much as this, nothing can be pointless.” (Kidner)
ii. Through this book the Preacher carefully thought through (and lived through) a premise commonly held: of life lived without consideration of eternity and the eternal God. After all that, he comes to this conclusion – and challenges all those who continue holding to the premise he held through most all the book. “What would it be like, asks the Preacher, if things were utterly different from what you thought? What if this world is not the ultimate one? What if God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek him?” (Eaton)
iii. As Paul explained, this puts life into perspective: For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven. (2 Corinthians 4:17-5:2)
iv. “This is how the book will end. On this rock we can be destroyed; but it is rock, not quicksand. There is the chance to build.” (Kidner)
v. In the 1930s an Australian alcoholic named Arthur Stace was converted and heard an inspiring sermon on the subject of eternity. The preacher said, “I wish I could shout ETERNITY through all the streets of Sydney!” Stace was so moved that as he left the church he felt an immediate urge to write the word Eternity; he had a piece of chalk in his pocket and bent down and wrote on the pavement. Stace was hardly literate and could barely write his own name legibly; but when he wrote Eternity, he did so in elegant copperplate style script, usually about 2 feet wide on the pavement. He spent the rest of his life – until 1967 – waking each day at about 5:30, praying for an hour or so, then going around Sydney where he felt God led him to write Eternity all over the city. Solomon would have approved of both Arthur Stace and his message: Eternity.
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission