What Is Life About?
Ecclesiastes/Job Lesson 13
CENTRAL THEME: The wise person lives in obedience God.
INTRODUCTION: Reading biographies and autobiographies gives us a glimpse into the thoughts and events that shaped a person. We discover why they did some of the things they did and how their experiences impacted the decisions they made in life. We also see ourselves in some of the stories. In many cases, we discover wisdom that helps us deal with life and gives us perspective. In Ecclesiastes 12, the Teacher looked back at life and emphasized the importance of finishing well, giving us wisdom that will help us live our lives well.
WHAT BIOGRAPHY OR AUTOBIOGRAPHY HAVE YOU RECENTLY READ? WHAT INSIGHTS DID YOU GAIN ABOUT LIFE IN GENERAL FROM READING THAT BOOK?
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
The Book of Ecclesiastes teaches at least ten essential truths for living life “under the sun”:
- Anything that does not have eternal value has really no significant value. Everything humans achieve appears and disappears like a breath on a cold morning. Only what God does is lasting (Eccl. 1:1-11).
- The wise person will find meaning in life through faith in God. All other pursuits to discover meaning in life—such as education, wealth, recreation, work, and power—are dead ends (1:12–2:26; 5:10–7:6).
- Time is a gift from God. Wise people use time as God made it to be used—doing the right things, at the right times, in the right ways (3:1-15).
- Obedience to God is more important than religious expressions of devotion. What’s more, God expects His people to have integrity and keep their promises to Him as well as to others (4:13–5:7).
- Wise people trust God and His sovereign will for their lives (7:11-14).
- God is not impressed with human efforts to achieve righteousness; He is pleased with humble devotion to Him (7:15-18).
- Wisdom involves recognizing one’s own sin and leads to having compassion on others who also are sinners (7:19-22).
- Wise people live their lives with a proper perspective of their mortality. They realize life is precious and that their window of opportunity is short-lived (11:7–12:8).
- Wise people enjoy the life and blessings God has given them (2:24-26; 3:12-13,22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:1-10; 11:7-9).
- Wise people fear God and obey His Word, realizing they will give an account to Him for how they lived their lives (12:9-14). This was Solomon’s final conclusion.
EXPLORE THE TEXT: ECCLESIASTES 12:1-14
Objective Statement: Every believer should understand the wise person lives in obedience to God by following these three statements from our text.
STATEMENT #1 – UNDERSTAND THE TWILIGHT (Eccl. 12:1-8)
1 “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 them;”
Solomon closed the book with a poem about the universal pattern of death that faces all mankind. The eventual return to the dust is the reason to grab hold of life while you can, while the opportunity exists. Notice that the Teacher did not say to remember God but “remember now thy Creator.” The word “Creator” reminds us of the One who gave us everything we have. Our Creator is the One who made us and gave us life. Our Creator made this marvelous creation for us to live in and manage. Our Creator gives us “wisdom, and knowledge, and joy” (2:26). He gives us “wealth and possessions” and enables us to enjoy them (5:19). To remember your Creator means to bring to mind daily what your Creator has done for you.
In the remainder of this passage, the Teacher hammered home that we have to remember our Creator before it is too late. Solomon implied that the days are coming when it will be difficult to remember your Creator. The “evil days” are the days of pain and suffering. For some of us, it is difficult to imagine what old age will be like. But the teacher helps us here; he helps us face the reality of mortality.
2 “While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:”
In verses 2-5, the Teacher used several metaphors to describe the deterioration of the body as old age approaches. In verse 2, Solomon pictured old age as a gathering storm. Old age can be a season of darkness. There is no break in the clouds to let sunlight through: “the clouds return after the rain.” Elderly people often receive one setback after another: they fall and break a hip, they get pneumonia, an old friend dies. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before those days of gloom and darkness overtake you. It may be difficult to remember your Creator in those days of darkness.
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, 4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low; 5 Also 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 the mourners go about the streets:”
The Teacher described the changes of old age like a crumbling house. The “keepers of the house” are the hands, and their trembling describes tremors that become more common with aging. The strong legs that once carried his body—the foundations—were now weak and feeble.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN IN VS. 3 ABOUT “THE GRINDERS?” The “grinders” are the teeth. Chewing food becomes more difficult as gums deteriorate and teeth are lost. The “those that look out of the windows” are the eyes that fail to see as well as they once did. The “doors” of his ears were now quiet. Rising to the “voice of the bird” is an accurate description of what many aged people experience—waking up earlier in the morning.
A fear of “that which is high, and … in the way” points to a recognition of one’s frailty and being at more risk of an accident. The blossoming of “the almond tree” refers to the whitening of the hair, like the almond tree’s flowers turn white just before falling from the branches. The expression “the grasshopper shall be a burden” most likely refers to one not having the energy and the strength to do what one once was able to do. The phrase “desire shall fail” likely is a euphemism for a loss of sexual drive.
At the end of verse 5, the Teacher transitioned to metaphors describing what happens when we die. “Man goes to his long home.” “Long home” was a poetic way of referring to the grave, which seems eternal compared to one’s short life on earth. It also emphasizes the finality of death. The universal nature of the statement is evidence it is not talking about heaven. Added to this picture are those who walk about in the street mourning, highlighting the loss and bereavement of death.
6 “Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. 7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. 8 Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.”
In these verses, the Teacher used several idioms or figures of speech to describe death. Each of the items in verse 6 has something happen to it suddenly, rendering it no longer functional and emphasizing the abruptness of death. Also, each of the items was valuable, emphasizing the great value of life. Silver and gold were precious metals. Both a “silver cord,” probably a necklace, and a “golden bowl” would have been rare, expensive, and extravagant luxuries.
Given water was the most important resource for living in the ancient Near East, a shattered bowl “at the fountain” and a broken “wheel” that was part of the mechanism used to draw water from a “well” would have been serious matters. No water, no life.
In verse 7, the Teacher described death in terms more common to the Old Testament. The phrase “then shall the dust return to the earth” uses the language of Genesis 2–3, when Adam and Eve sinned and brought the curse of death on all of humanity. According to Genesis 2:7, “The Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.” Here the Teacher pictured death as the reversal of creation. The dust from which God made us returns to the earth: dust to dust. The breath of life which God breathed into us will “return unto God who gave it.”
It is important to note that death is not a welcome visitor but an intruder in life as God originally designed it. Death is an Enemy! From the New Testament, we know that Jesus conquered death and that through Him there is life beyond death.
But the fact that there is life beyond death should not lead us to waste this present life on earth. The other implication of this passage is that we are to live for the glory of God before it is too late. We can finish well by continuing to focus on God even as we age. We should concentrate all the more on rejoicing every day by remembering our Creator. This is why the theme of remembrance is so central in Scripture. In remembering, we anchor our lives in the truths that guide our steps.
One of the saddest medical conditions that comes with age, is Alzheimer’s. It is difficult for the patient, and it is difficult for the families. I once heard a pastor recount the last days of his grandfather. By the time his grandfather was in his early 90s, he found it hard to remember much of anything. Sometimes it was hard for him to even remember who he was. He would tell his family in a confused state, “I can’t remember who I am!” But his family would comfort him and say, “That’s OK. We know who you are, and we can take care of everything you need.” There are many good reasons to remember your Creator. But one of the best reasons to remember the Creator is that the Creator remembers you. He knows who you are and what you need.
How does the limited time we are given help us focus our lives on stewarding our days well?
STATEMENT #2 – UNDERSTAND THE TRUTH (Eccl. 12:9-11)
9 “And 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 proverbs. 10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. 11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.”
While the Teacher struggled and wrestled with life under the sun, in the end he arrived at a conclusion that squared him with that of traditional biblical literature. He was a good teacher and shared his wisdom with others who struggle with the meaning of life. Moreover, like any good teacher, he also listened. That is, he made use of all the resources before him to build his curriculum. He worked hard at understanding, interpreting, and communicating what he had gathered on his journey. He has sought, found, and clearly passed on what he has learned.
For this reason, “the words of the wise are as goads.” Ancient cattle prods or goads were large pointed sticks with which the shepherd would poke an animal to get it moving and turning in the right direction. Goads work because they can cause pain. Goads work by directing the animal. A good shepherd directs cattle for their protection, using goads to lead their cattle to sustenance. The sayings of the wise likewise can be painful, but they are painful directors that protect your life.
Verse 11 continues: “and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.” The word “nails” is used to evoke the imagery of tent pegs. Tent pegs or stakes are firmly planted into the ground to keep the shepherd’s tent stable—to keep it from blowing away in a storm. Therefore, their collected sayings give stability and security to one’s life. Sustenance, stability, and security are gifts of wisdom coming from the hand of a loving shepherd.
Solomon, identifying himself as “the preacher,” explained that he taught others what he had discovered. He also recorded “words” to be shared. He emphasized that true wisdom comes from God. There is a real sense in which all Christians should follow in the pattern of Solomon here. After all, the people of God are called and charged to be people who, having themselves learned, now teach others what they have learned. One of the marks of a faithful Christian church is the evidence of a learning and teaching environment in which the passing on of what we learn becomes a regular part of our service to one another. Our new ministry called “Faith @ Home” is a great example of our Church having an intentional, discipleship, ministry directed at the family! Believers can pass on to others the truth and wisdom they have gained.
Who in your life was the most influential Bible teacher or discipler? What made their impact on you so profound?
STATEMENT #3 – UNDERSTAND THE CONCLUSION (Eccl. 12:12-14)
12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. 13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
We might be tempted to see life as only from the perspective of “under the sun.” The temptation is always great to forget the God who rules from the heavens and directs all activities under the sun. This is why it is important to fear the God who sovereignly rules over all things. The wisdom Book of Proverbs states: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Prov. 9:10; see also 1:7). Again, the source of true wisdom is the fear of the Lord. That is where it begins, and from there it impacts all areas of life.
To fear God is to stand in awe of Him. God is the almighty Creator; we are mere creatures. God is eternal; we are a finite vapor. God is sovereign; we are dependent. God is holy; we are sinners. The attitude of fearing God leads to the action of keeping His commandments. If we acknowledge God as our King, we will naturally seek to do what He says.
Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Solomon agreed and states that this is “the whole duty of man” or for all humanity. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew does not have the word “duty,” so it reads literally that fearing God and keeping His commandments “is the whole of everyone.” Fearing God is not just our duty; it’s our essence. God created us to stand in awe of Him and keep His commandments.
With that in mind, Solomon concluded the Book of Ecclesiastes by reminding us that God “shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing.” Nothing will be excluded. God will judge our every deed, our every word, even our every thought. Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37).
It’s important to remember that for Christians, God’s judgment is no longer a threat. His perfect love expressed in Jesus Christ casts out all fear of judgment. This is true because Jesus took on Himself the judgment that was due for us. We do not seek to keep God’s commandments because we dread the coming judgment. Rather, we seek to keep God’s commandments because we are grateful for His grace, for saving us from that judgment.
This is “the conclusion of the whole matter.” John Newton, the famous writer who penned the hymn Amazing Grace, once said: “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.” The purpose of life is found in fearing and obeying God. The wonderful provision of Jesus allows us to be free of the fear of condemnation. The Spirit of God empowers us to obey His commands. Thus, revering and obeying God starts with trusting Jesus, God’s Son, as Savior and Lord.
WHAT ARE THE AREAS OF OBEDIENCE THAT YOU STRUGGLE WITH THE MOST? HOW CAN THE FEAR OF GOD INFLUENCE YOUR OBEDIENCE IN THESE AREAS?
Remember our Objective Statement: Every believer should understand the wise person lives in obedience to God by following these three statements from our text.