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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 12

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 7

A. Joyous and Responsible Living 11:7-12:7

Solomon had already advocated the enjoyment of life and responsible living in several of the preceding sections (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-19; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-10). Now he stressed these points.

Verses 7-14

IV. THE WAY OF Wisdom 11:7-12:14

In Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 6:9, Solomon demonstrated that all work is ultimately futile for two reasons. It does not yield anything really permanent under the sun, and we can never be sure we will enjoy the fruits of our labor before we die. In Ecclesiastes 6:10 to Ecclesiastes 11:6, he pointed out that we can never be sure which of our efforts will succeed, because we do not know God’s plans or what the future holds. In Ecclesiastes 11:7 to Ecclesiastes 12:14, he emphasized how to live acceptably before God in view of these realities.

"The Teacher has discussed how we should act in view of the uncertainties of life. We must recognize the certainties but must plan in such a way as not to be thrown off balance when the unexpected happens. Now the Teacher goes on to speak of the certainty of growing up and growing old." [Note: J. S. Wright, "Ecclesiastes," p. 1190.]

Verses 1-7

2. Responsible living 12:1-7

This pericope expands the ideas Solomon introduced in Ecclesiastes 11:9-10, by focusing on advancing old age and death. [Note: See Barry C. Davis, "Ecclesiastes 12:1-8-Death, an Impetus for Life," Bibliotheca Sacra 148:591 (July-September 1991):298-318.] These ideas are the ultimate frustration and the epitome of impermanence that we can experience.

The basic imperative 12:1

Again, Solomon began with a clear statement of his point, and then proceeded to prove and illustrate its truth in the verses that follow. "Remember" means to live your life with what you know about God clearly in view, not just to remember that there is a God (cf. Ecclesiastes 11:9-10; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Deuteronomy 8:18; Psalms 119:55). "Creator" connotes God as the One to whom we are responsible because we are His creatures (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:7; Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19). The "evil days" are the days of old age and death (cf. Ecclesiastes 11:10; Ecclesiastes 12:2-5). [Note: For a study of Qoheleth’s view of youth and old age, see James L. Crenshaw, "Youth and Old Age in Qoheleth," Hebrew Annual Review 10 (1986):1-12.]

Verses 2-3

Solomon likened the evil days first to an approaching rainstorm (Ecclesiastes 12:2) that is fearful and uncertain (cf. Ecclesiastes 11:7-8). The Hebrews regarded any decline in a person’s vital energy as a sign that death was beginning to set in (cf. 1 Kings 1:1-4; Psalms 18:4-5; Psalms 88:3-5).

The "watchmen of the house" (Ecclesiastes 12:3) probably refer to one’s arms and hands, and the "mighty men" to the legs. The "grinding ones" are probably the teeth, and "those who look through windows" the eyes.

Verses 2-5

The coming of old age 12:2-5

Ecclesiastes 12:2-7 are full of figures of speech that picture old age and death. [Note: See G. A. Barton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes, pp. 186-91; Harry Torcszyner, "The Riddle in the Bible," Hebrew Union College Annual 1 (1924):125-49; Michael Leahy, "The Meaning of Ecclesiastes 12:1-5," Irish Theological Quarterly 19 (1952):297-300, reprinted in Zuck, ed., Reflecting with . . ., pp. 375-79; and Michael V. Fox, "Aging and Death in Qoheleth 12," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 42 (1988):55-77, reprinted in Zuck, ed., Reflecting with . . ., pp. 381-99.] Some interpreters believed the writer was describing the aging process, [Note: E.g., Creshaw, "Youth and . . ."; Eaton; et al.] and others believed death is the emphasis. [Note: E.g., Hubbard, Ogden, et al.] Perhaps old age leading to death is the best option.

Verse 4

"The doors to the street" are probably the lips that are shut because of the absence of teeth in the mouth, "the grinding mill." Another view is that they are the ears. [Note: Longman, p. 271.] The writer alluded to the inability of old people to sleep soundly, as well as to their loss of hearing.

Verse 5

Aged individuals become more fearful of heights, traffic, and travel. The "almond tree" blossoms white like the hair of an old person. An elderly person is less sprightly in his or her movements. The "caperberry," apparently an appetite stimulant, not an aphrodisiac, [Note: Delitzsch, p. 417.] is a poor translation that the Septuagint introduced. The text should read "and desire fails," which gives the same meaning. Man’s "dark house" (rather than "eternal home") is a reference to the grave-Sheol. [Note: For reasons why "dark house" is the preferable translation of the Hebrew bet olam, see Ronald F. Youngblood, "Qoheleth’s ’Dark House’ (Ecclesiastes 12:5)," in A Tribute to Gleason Archer, pp. 211-27, also reprinted in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 29:4 (December 1986), pp. 397-410.]

Verse 6

Solomon described the end of life first as the extinguishing of a light. The "golden bowl" is a bowl that holds a flame. When the "silver cord" that holds it breaks, the bowl crashes to the floor and the light goes out. Gold and silver express the great value of life.

The second description of death is water that one can no longer draw out of a well.

The "wording gives us a picture of the ruined apparatus plus the wheel as they have crashed down into the old cistern. So man breaks down and falls into a pit also." [Note: H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 286.]

Whereas the first figure emphasizes the value of life, this one stresses its fragile nature. The pitcher would have been clay.

Verses 6-7

The coming of death 12:6-7

Verse 7

This verse describes the reversal of the process by which God originally created man (Genesis 2:7; cf. Job 34:14-15; Psalms 104:29-30).

Verse 8

All human work (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 6:9) and wisdom (Ecclesiastes 6:10 to Ecclesiastes 11:6) are ultimately ephemeral (i.e., lacking ability to produce anything of ultimate substance or lasting worth in this life).

Verses 8-14

B. The Concluding Summary 12:8-14

In conclusion, Solomon repeated his original thesis (Ecclesiastes 12:8; cf. Ecclesiastes 1:2) and his counsel in view of life’s realities (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). In between these statements, he set forth his source of authority for writing what we have in Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12).

Verses 9-12

The phrase "these collections" (Ecclesiastes 12:11) refers to other collections of wise sayings (e.g., Job and Proverbs). Ultimately all wisdom comes from God. "Goads" (Ecclesiastes 12:11) are prodding sticks, and people who master this wisdom literature are similar to "well-driven nails" in that they are stable and secure.

"Beyond this" (Ecclesiastes 12:12) evidently refers to beyond the wisdom literature that God has revealed, in view of Ecclesiastes 12:11. Solomon warned his disciple that looking elsewhere in other books for divine wisdom would only wear him out.

"Writing was well established as a hallmark of civilization from about 3500 BC onwards." [Note: Eaton, p. 155.]

This verse does not say that all study is tiring, though that is true. It means that study of books-other than what God has revealed-to learn wisdom, is an endless, wearisome occupation. This is not to say we should avoid reading books other than the Bible. Nonetheless the main place to look when you want to find true wisdom is God’s Word.

Verses 13-14

Solomon’s concluding statement reiterated what he said earlier (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; Ecclesiastes 7:15-18; Ecclesiastes 11:9-10; Ecclesiastes 12:1) and elsewhere (Proverbs 1:7; cf. Job 28:28). Trust and obedience are what everyone owes God-in view of future judgment.

"Though a future judgment after death is indeed the solution to the enigma Solomon had observed in the unequal distribution of justice in human history (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:15; Ecclesiastes 8:14), no evidence suggests that Solomon believed in [i.e., was aware of] such a judgment. Life after death was as enigmatic to him (cf. Ecclesiastes 11:8) as the unequal distribution of justice. His emphasis was on this life (’under the sun’) and its opportunities for service (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ecclesiastes 12:1-7) and enjoyment (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-9; Ecclesiastes 11:7-10); he thought life after death offered no such opportunities (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:5-6; Ecclesiastes 9:10). Therefore he did not comment on any differences after death between the righteous and the wicked, the wise and the fools, man and beast." [Note: Glenn, pp. 1006-7.]

With the greater light of revelation that we enjoy, it is even more important for us to follow Solomon’s counsel. We should be content to leave the enigmas of life in God’s hands. We should also follow Solomon’s wise counsel to enjoy life, as God enables us to do so, and to serve God acceptably while we can. [Note: See Greg W. Parsons, "Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Ecclesiastes," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:638 (April-June 2003):159-73; 160:639 (July-September 2003):283-304..]

"What is the ’profit’ of living? What does a man get for all his work? He gets the living God! And his whole profit consists of fearing Him and obeying His Word." [Note: Kaiser, Ecclesiastes . . ., p. 125.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ecclesiastes-12.html. 2012.
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