12 Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
3 when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
4 when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
5 when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.
6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
8 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Everything is meaningless!”
Verses 1-7 are addressed to the youth but describe old age
The gradual darkening of the heavenly bodies represents declining vitality and joy. The approaching clouds represent the storms of old age. The keepers of the house are the arms; the strong men are the legs; the grinders are the teeth; and those that look out of the windows are the eyes.
Growing old is further compared to the decline of a great estate. The almond tree is a reference to the white hair of old age; the crippled grasshopper pictures the physical slowing down of the elderly; and desire that fails may be the loss of sexual desire.
Finally, life itself is cut off. Death is pictured as the irreversible shattering of a golden bowl when cut from the end of a silver cord and the similar smashing of a pitcher or wheel.
After death the spirit returns to God for judgment and the body returns to dust.
This poem gives many examples that show old age. When we are old, many aspects of life will become more difficult.
It’s a vapour, a mist, “hevel”
The Conclusion of the Matter
9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.
11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. 12 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
and so we bring Ecclesiastes to a close and tomorrow embark on a journey into the book of Job. I was considering a detour into the New Testament first of all and then considered “Song of Songs” since myself and my wife have a project to assist the restoring of our physical intimacy to read that together coming up soon.
I think we will go headlong in to finish the wisdom literature as planned. Song of Songs is for later and after Job I will return to the New Testament.
Anyway, back to Ecclesiastes. These final remarks are in two parts:
1) Verses 9-11 praise the Teacher’s work.
2) Verses 12-14 are the final message from the Teacher.
An editor may have written these verses. They refer to what the writer is trying to teach us in the whole book. Before the Teacher wrote his message, he studied. He made every effort to understand other people’s wisdom.
In verse 11 the word goad is used. A goad is a sharp stick used to make animals move. A prod from a goad would ensure that the animals went in the right direction.
In the same way, the Teacher’s words are designed to goad an action response.
“Goads … as nails”: Two shepherd’s tools are in view: one used to motivate reluctant animals, the other to secure those who might otherwise wander into dangerous territory. Both goads and nails picture aspects of applied wisdom.
“One Shepherd”: True wisdom has its source in God alone.
God has not answered every problem of life, but He has commanded man to live joyfully, responsibly, and wisely. Finally, the controlling factor of all of life should be the fear of God, that is, submission to God. The certainty of judgment demands it.
The final word on the issues raised in this book, as well as life itself, focus on our relationship to God.
All of the concern for a life under the sun, with its pleasures and uncertainties are “hevel“.
But death, in spite of the focused attention he had given to it in Ecclesiastes, was not the greatest equalizer.
Judgment/retribution is the real equalizer and that is God’s business. Our business is to honour that relationship and live under his blessing with gratitude and enjoyment. No matter what that blessing looks like. Life is full of uncertainty, trouble, trauma but also there are special moments when it pays to stop and smell the roses.
Fear God. Keep his commands. That’s our raison d’etre.