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Lowell Brueckner

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Ecclesiastes 12


Chapter 12

1. Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;
2. before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain,
3. in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed,
4. and the doors on the street are shut – when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low –
5. they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets –
6. before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern,
7. and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
8. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

Serve God when you are young

Advice continues for the young. Remember that God will go back to someone’s youthful past, when He begins His judgment. Therefore he gives the very best counsel to the young person. Spend your youth in the fear of God; that is what it means to remember, or to take God into account in all your activities and plans. Remember also that He is Creator and has creator’s rights. Human rights are secondary and only come into play, when the rights of the Creator are met. He has made us for His pleasure, so from childhood to old age, our chief duty is to live for His pleasure and to fulfill His will. We belong to Him and it is a wonderful advantage, when a person from early age, seeks to bring glory to God.

While a person is young and strong, he should give his best days to the Creator. When offering a sacrifice, the Israelite was to pick out the best of the flock or herd, a young animal, to present to God. They were rebuked for offering weak or sickly animals (See, for instance, Malachi 1:6-14). From the first verse, Solomon begins to present the disadvantages and limitations of the elderly, particularly the regret of lost opportunity, which weighs upon the conscience. Someone is unfit for service to anyone, if he finds no joy in living. Godly duty must be joyful so, before that time comes close, let there be pleasant living in the service of the King of Kings.

The elderly begin to lose their faculties one by one; this is what Solomon calls “evil days”. Of course, we are dealing with natural life under the sun. The godly will find reason to enjoy his late life, as much or more than his youth or middle age. Listen to the apostle Paul: “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Co.4:16). However, the mere man of this world has little enjoyment, as day after day passes, and he has little future, in which to expect better things.

The preacher is using figurative metaphors to show the decline of physical features. In verse 2, he points to sunlight, moonlight, starlight, and a day darkened by the continuous passing of clouds, to illustrate the dimness of senses and mental capabilities. Too often, depression sets in, as one ailment follows another and difficulties of all kinds increase. Memory becomes less acute (v.2).

“The keepers of the house tremble.” In a public place, we would call these the security agents. They illustrate the hands and arms, which defend the body. Instead of counting on them for defense, the old arms and hands begin to tremble. “The strong men are bent”, that is, the legs that we count on to carry our body in transport, bend with age. They slow from a run to a jog, to a walk. Soon a cane has to be employed and then, possibly, a walker or wheel chair. For this reason, the Psalmist says, “(The Lord’s) delight (is not) in the legs of a man” (Ps.147:10). The grinders, of course, are the teeth, which fall out or become decayed and eating loses its pleasure. Then eyesight decreases and we are subject to error in recognition, such as that made by Isaac (v.3).

“The doors of the house are shut”, there is less engagement in conversation and less zest in speaking, particularly due to a loss of hearing… “the sound of the grinding is low… all the daughters of song are brought low”. Sleeping is light, more restless and the aged tend to awaken more often at night (v.4).

Also fears increase and the elderly are less likely to venture out into the street, take walks or go shopping. They are afraid of falling and avoid anything, but level ground. The white blossoms of the almond tree are wonderfully abundant in their season… that is, the white hair that covers the head. Little things (the grasshopper) and chores are exaggerated and become difficult and tedious. Natural desires become ever weaker and the appetite becomes less keen. Man is getting ready for his eternal destiny and earthly things are losing their luster. The mourners are getting ready for the funeral (v.5).

Solomon starts a new paragraph… Remember your Creator now “before the silver cord is snapped…” The silver cord of life breaks, the vital functions of the body break down, the heart fails and the whole circulatory system halts (v.6). The Holy Spirit provides inspiration, which goes beyond the knowledge of the preacher. Though these symptoms may be general in old age, they are particularly true in a life, which has wasted opportunity and is now unable to function physically. It is then too late. Some young people hold the idea that when they are older, they will look into spiritual matters, but now they want to “enjoy life”. That is satanic delusion and the preacher is trying to help them to awaken to good sense.

Too soon, the dust that is physical man will return to the dust. He will fall victim to the generation cycle and others will take his place among the living. Solomon is coming to the end of his book and his message is picking up intensity. “The spirit returns to God, who gave it” (v.7). The preacher shows us now that he does not believe in the appearances that life under the sun teaches. In the end, man will give account to God. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (He.9:27).  After this powerful statement concerning a wasted youth, old age and death, he delivers his theme: “Vanities of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity!”

9. Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care.
10. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.
11. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.
12. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
13. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
14. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

The preacher is calling for a fresh and new commitment at the end of the book. It took eleven chapters and eight verses to press the truth of this world’s vanity upon the conscience of the reader; now it is time for him to “awake… and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph.5:14). One could think that Paul was adding a postlude to Ecclesiastes, referring to verse 1, “before the evil days come”.  

Solomon has used his God-given gift to edify his people, carefully teaching the truth. We notice that inspired teaching does not fall from the sky without effort on our part, but it takes great care, meditation and organization to arrange all his proverbs into a book. That book is now in the hands of people around the world, some of whom read a chapter every day and complete the book of Proverbs in a month. Solomon has blessed the world and the church of all ages.

We should learn two things from verse 9: 1) To serve in the Kingdom of God, we must receive gifts from God that are beyond our natural human talents, with which we are born or acquire by learning or practice. 2) Through the Holy Spirit, we are to dedicate our lives to becoming teachers of those gifts for the benefit of others. The writer of Hebrews rebukes his readers: “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God” (He.5:12). Peter shows us clearly the truth of both points in his epistle: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever, speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.” The apostle continues with the principle reason that the gifts must come from God and are not to be human abilities: “In order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 P.4:10-11).

The preacher looked to God for the ability to convey his message in a way that would appeal to the spiritual ears of the hearer or reader (v.10). He was concerned about teaching the words of truth, but also that those words should bring delight to the people of God; good content can be ruined by a poor delivery. I am amazed at Paul’s preaching to the Galatians: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Gal.3:1). Paul not only preached about Christ, but brought Christ to them in public display! This only occurs through the unction of the Holy Spirit.

In verse 11, he shows clearly the divine origin of the words of the truly wise; they come from one Shepherd, who in this way guides His sheep. The words cause delight, but they also must make an impact, such as goads, which prod the oxen to move, and like nails that penetrate deeply and remain fixed in place. Only that which pierces will become permanent.

As Paul writing to Timothy or Titus, Solomon regards his readers with personal interest and individual concern, which surely included his biological son, heir to the throne. Beware, he warns, of all that is written that is not Scripture or based on Scripture. Mental weariness tires the entire body and does not profit the reader. Be a student of Scripture and read besides, that which will help you to understand the Scripture. Outside these boundaries, there is a lot of material, but nothing that will profit the soul and certainly nothing of eternal value (v.12).

In conclusion, Solomon steps totally outside the world of vanities to bring us into the realm of the Lord, the only place where true wisdom can be found. It is the only realm that will take us beyond the grave. From time to time, we have referred to the great truth and spiritual principle that introduces us to the things of God: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The preacher sums up the whole duty of man: “Fear God and keep his commandments” (v.13). To fear God includes taking Him into account in all areas of life and living without distraction under His shadow. This is a fear that is wrapped in love and the greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Mt.22:37-38).

Here is the truth that needs to be kept foremost in our minds and hearts: judgment lies ahead! (v.14) To the sinner it will be the Great White Throne judgment. He will discover that his name is not found in the book of life and he will be judged according to his evil deeds. To the Christian it will be the tribunal of Christ, where he will stand alone and see if his works have been done in the Holy Spirit or in the flesh. All that is flammable will burn and he will receive reward for that, which does not burn. In both the case of the sinner and the saint, every secret thing will be uncovered to the great shame of the one, who committed evil deeds. However, the prayer warrior, who has labored quietly, tirelessly and without notice before the throne of God, will receive eternal recognition.

What a book this is that we have just finished! Let us keep it close to our hearts, as we walk this earth. It is a reminder to all of us of the vanity of life and it will keep us from earth’s many involvements and traps. Let us take it to the streets, to our neighbors, relatives and friends. Place Solomon’s indisputable arguments before every unconverted heart, so that he or she might “awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God” (1 Co.15:34).

I would like to add to our thoughts, in closing, words from Matthew Henry concerning Solomon. I think it will add to our appreciation of his work, as well as add to our appreciation of the redemptive power of God, if we properly see the preacher’s repentance. We want to profit to the maximum from his writings.

“Solomon recommends what he had written upon this subject by divine direction and inspiration to our serious consideration. The words of this book are faithful, and well worthy our acceptance, for, 1) They are the words of one that was a convert, a penitent, that could speak by dear-bought experience of the vanity of the world and the folly of expecting great things from it. He was one gathered in from his wanderings and gathered home to that God from whom he had revolted. ‘Vanity of vanities’, saith the penitent. All true penitents are convinced of the vanity of the world, for they find it can do nothing to ease them of the burden of sin, which they complain of.

2) They are the words of one that was wise, wiser than any, endued with extraordinary measures of wisdom, famous for it among his neighbors, who all sought unto him to hear his wisdom, and therefore a competent judge of this matter, not only wise as a prince, but wise as a preacher – and preachers have need of wisdom to win souls.



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