“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come
not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in
Experience teaches that
the older people grow the less heed they give to God’s Word, and the less
likely they are to change their minds about anything. They become more and
more firmely set in their ways; hence the imperative of obeying God while
they are young, and their minds malleable. The preacher reminds his hearers
that youth is fleeting, each passing day bringing nearer the time when the
mind and body will grow old, and become incapable of affording any pleasure
or seeing any purpose to life.
the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the
clouds return after the rain:”
The reference is not to
literal darkening of the astral bodies, but to the deteriorating ability of
one’s physical faculties in old age to perceive things with the same clarity
as formerly, vision being usually the first to be affected.
As for the return of the
clouds after rain, this is unusual, for normally the clouds disappear after
having discharged their moisture. But again the language is symbolic, and
declares the truth that for the unbeliever old age brings multiplied
troubles unrelieved by any periods of happiness.
12:3. “In the
day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall
bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that
look out of the windows be darkened.”
This appears to continue
the declaration of truth relative to the decreasing mental and physical
ability brought on by advancing years. The keepers of the house are taken
by some to be the arms and hands; and the strong men to be the legs, but by
others, to refer to the five senses by which we normally function, the
trembling perhaps alluding to the shaking which affects the hands as years
multiply; the strong men bowing themselves referring possibly to the
stooping of head and shoulders which also accompanies the ageing process.
Along the same lines, the reduction of the number of grinders is usually
taken to refer to the loss of teeth, while the darkening of those looking
out of the windows may refer to diminishing eye sight.
Rejection of the
allegorical application makes difficult any clear understanding of what the
writer is attempting to communicate.
12:4. “And the
doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinders is low,
and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of
music shall be brought low;”
As an open door speaks of
free, easy social intercourse, so does a closed door indicate the opposite,
and it is scarcely necessary to say that such social activity diminishes as
people age. They loose both the desire and the ability to participate
socially as they did when young. Some understand the doors to represent the
The diminished sound of
grinding doesn’t indicate reduction in the amount of grinding being done,
but rather reduced ability to hear: older people tend to become increasingly
hard of hearing.
Some understand the
grinders to be the teeth, but this seems unlikely, since normally the teeth
make no sound during the process of chewing, and we should note that it is
“the sound of the grinders” that is low.
Rising up “at the voice of
the bird,” i.e., at the pre-dawn crowing of the rooster, is simply a
metaphor for sleeplessness. As we grow older our sleep becomes more fitful.
“... and all the daughters
of music shall be brought low” seems to mean that age brings diminished
ability to sing, though some take this to mean increased inability to hear
the sound of singing, so that to the deaf listener it seems that the singing
itself is lower.
when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the
way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a
burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and, and
the mourners go about the streets.”
In youth man desires to
climb trees, hills, mountains, every height being a challenge, but when he
is old he fears heights, and tries to avoid them lest he fall. “... fears
in the way” are taken by most to refer to the aged person’s fear of falling
even while just walking on level ground.
The reference to the
almond tree is related to the fact that it bears white blossoms, a picture
here of man’s hair turning white as he grows old. And like the grasshopper
whose movements become sluggish as it nears death, so does man also lose his
agility as he grows old.
“... desire shall fail” is
also translated “the caper-berry shall fail; the caper-berry is ineffectual;
caper-buds have no more zest.”
The caper-berry is a
Mediterranean shrub whose flower buds are used for garnishing or seasoning,
and as an aphrodisiac, and the message being declared here metaphorically is
that as years increase the zest for living decreases.
The “long home” to which
man goes is not exactly the grave, but rather heaven or hell, where the soul
abides eternally, the grave being but the temporary abode of the body until
its being raised at the resurrection of life, or of death, depending on
whether the man died as a believer or as an unbeliever, the two
resurrections being separated by the thousand years of the Millennium.
“... and the mourners go
about the streets,” is the reminder that every second Death sweeps more than
a thousand souls into eternity, hence the common description of earth as
“this vale of tears.”
12:6. “Or ever
the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be
broken at the fountain, of the wheel broken at the cistern.”
This is clearly a
metaphoric description of death, the literal silver cord being that used to
suspend a lamp from the ceiling. When the cord breaks, the lamp falls to the
floor and is smashed. Since silver is a Biblical symbol of redemption, the
death may be that of a believer.
The golden bowl is taken
by many to represent the head and the brain within it. Since gold is the
biblical symbol of glory, death’s being likened to the breaking of a golden
bowl, declares that God is glorified in a man’s becoming a “golden bowl” by
trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and living his life to
God’s glory, by a faithful testimony shedding abroad the light of the
knowledge of Christ.
A fountain is a spring or
source of water bubbling forth continuously, so the breaking of the pitcher
at the fountain speaks symbolically of the death of one who had lived his
life in close association with Christ Who declared that He Himself was the
Fountain of the water of life, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall
give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in
him a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” John 4:14.
“... the wheel” is the
pulley suspended over the well, the bucket being lowered and raised by means
of the rope running through the pulley. It is a picture of the believer as
an instrument in God’s hand to bring the “water of life,” the Gospel, to a
perishing world. The breaking of the wheel is a metaphoric description of
the believer’s death.
shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return
unto God who gave it.”
This recalls the fact that
man’s body was made from the dust of the ground, see God’s words to
disobedient Adam in Gen 3:19, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat
bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for
dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
But man is tripartite: he
has a soul and spirit as well as a body, and at death the soul and spirit
return to God Who consigns them to heaven or hell depending on whether the
man was a believer or an unbeliever.
Relative to the
distinction between soul and spirit we read that, “The word of God is quick
(alive), and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to
the dividing asunder of soul and spirit ....” Heb 4:12. (Of help in
distinguishing between man’s body, soul, and spirit, is the fact that with
his body he has world consciousness; with his soul he has self
consciousness, and with his spirit he has God consciousness; and it is
instructive to note that animals have body and soul, but not spirit. No
animal has ever evinced any consciousness of God. Only man, from the most
primative to the most sophisticated, displays that consciousness. Innately
he must worship something, even if it be only a tree or a stone).
of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.”
The conclusion of the
unconverted man is that everything pertaining to man’s life is empty,
worthless, and futile. He can conceive of nothing after death.
moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people
knowledge; yea, he gave good heed and sought out, and set in order many
The preacher is still
Solomon, richly endowed by God with wisdom and knowledge, see 2 Chron.,
1:10-12; and so that he might teach the people wisely, he very carefully
searched out truth and wise sayings to pass on to them.
Those who undertake to
teach God’s people would be well advised to follow his example.
preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was
upright, even words of truth.”
Solomon was also careful
to select words that would transmit his knowledge correctly, so that the
absolute truth he sought to convey to his hearers and readers would be
unambiguous and easily understood. And again, those who would teach truth
should exercise the same care.
words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of
assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.”
A goad was a sharp pointed
stick used to prod animals to keep them moving in the direction desired by
the driver, and the words of wise elders and teachers are like goads in that
they too are meant to keep the believers walking in the path marked out for
them in God’s Word.
And as the nails used to
fasten pieces of wood should be driven in all the way, so should the
instruction of elders and teachers be, as it were, “hammered home,” i.e.,
emphasized, presenting obedience not as an option, but as an imperative.
“... which are given from
one shepherd,” refers to the elders given by the Lord, the one or chief
Shepherd, to shepherd His people, but the description also fits the words of
Scripture on which their teaching is based.
further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no
end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
The “these” almost
certainly relates to the elders whose admonishments, i.e., words of advice,
counsel, or reprimand, are to be heeded.
The reference to the
making of many books, and to the weariness induced by much study of books,
is a warning never more needed than today, when believers are bombarded by
advertisements for books on every subject under the sun, so much so that
Christians, tantalized by dramatic titles, or the charisma of popular
authors, spend more time reading books about the Bible than they do reading
the Bible itself.
12:13. “Let us
hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his
commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.”
All that has been
discussed in this book of Ecclesiastes can be summed up in this concise
statement which concludes it: Fear God, not in an apprehensive slavish way,
but with the reverential awe begotten by the contemplation of His
transcendant power and glory.
All else that might claim
our attention pales into insignificance, for man’s eternal bliss or torment
depends on whether he does fear God, or despises Him, and rebels against His
will as revealed in His written Word.
God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether
it be good, or whether it be evil.”
The imperative of living
in reverential awe of God is declared in the fact that ultimately He is the
One Who will Judge each man’s life, the result of that judgment being
admission of every believer to eternal bliss in heaven, or consignment of
every unbeliever to eternal torment in the terrible lake of fire. Nor will
the judgment be based on an imperfect knowledge of each man’s life: it will
be according to God’s omniscience.
The certainty of that
judgment, and its fearful eternal consequences, ought to impel every
unbeliever to cry out in sincerity as did the publican in Lk 18:13 “God be
merciful to me a sinner.”