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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 12

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw 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;

As Ecclesiastes 11:9-10, showed what youths are to shun, so this, verse shows what they are to follow.

Creator. "Remember" that thou art not thine own, but God's property; because He has created thee. Therefore serve Him with thy 'all' (Mark 12:30), and with thy best days, not with the dregs of them. The Hebrew is Creators, plural, implying the plurality of persons, as in Genesis 1:26; so Hebrew, Makers (Isaiah 54:5); or else the fullness of majesty and glory that is in the divine nature. If the young man wishes truly to "rejoice," he must continually "remember" God. "Thy Creator" implies the reason why we should "remember." Not to remember Him to whom we owe our first being and continued preservation would be monstrous and unnatural.

Evil days come not - i:e., before that (Proverbs 8:26) the evil days come-namely, calamity and old age-when one can no longer have bodily enjoyments as in youth, and when he who hath not remembered God in youth will not have God as his never-failing source of enjoyment in the absence of all other joys.

No pleasure - of a sensual kind (2 Samuel 19:35). Pleasure in God continues to the godly old.

Verse 2

While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:

Be not darkened - i:e., before they be so. Illustrating "the evil days." "Light," "sun," etc., express prosperity; 'darkness,' pain and calamity (Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 30:26). A joyless old age is hereby depicted.

Clouds ... after the rain. After rain sunshine (comfort) might be looked for, but only a brief glimpse of it is given, and the gloomy clouds (pains) return. The sense is, before that one trouble shall follow upon another, as is the case in an old age unillumined by piety.

Verse 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,

Keepers of the house - namely, the hands and arms which protected the body, as guards do a palace, are now palsied.

Strong men ... bow - as Samson. Like supporting pillars, the feet and knees (Song of Solomon 5:15), the strongest members Strong men ... bow - as Samson. Like supporting pillars, the feet and knees (Song of Solomon 5:15), the strongest members (Psalms 147:10).

Grinders - the molar teeth.

Cease - are idle.

Because they are few - and therefore not sufficient for masticating the food aright.

The windows - the eyes, the powers of vision, looking out from beneath the eyelids, which open and shut like the casement of a window.

Verse 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;

Doors - the lips, which are closely shut together as doors by old men in eating; because if they did not do so, the food would drop out.

In the streets - i:e., toward the street, 'the outer doors.' Hengstenberg explains it, the ears, which in old men are deaf.

Sound of the grinding is low - the teeth being almost gone, and the lips "shut" in eating, the sound of mastication is scarcely heard. Hengstenberg explains-When the voice of the mill (the mouth) becomes low, they are less able to make themselves intelligible.

The voice of the bird - the cock. In the East all mostly rise with the dawn. But the old are glad to rise from their sleepless couch or painful slumbers still earlier-namely, when the cock crows, before dawn. The least noise awakens them.

Daughters of music - the organs that produce and that enjoy music: the voice and ear of the old man are in a low state (2 Samuel 19:35).

Verse 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:

That which is high - the old are afraid of ascending a hill.

Fears ... in the way - even on the level highway they are full of fears of falling, etc.

Almond ... flourish. In the East the hair is mostly dark. The white head of the old among the dark-haired is like an almond tree, with its white blossoms, among the dark trees around (Holden). But the flower of the almond is pink, not white. Maurer therefore explains it: The almond tree flowers on a leafless stock in winter (answering to old age, in which all the powers are dormant) while the other trees are flowerless. Gesenius takes the Hebrew (yaneetz) for flourishes from a different root: 'The (toothless old man) loathes (through want of appetite) even (the sweet) almond.' But the verb is used of the budding or blossoming pomegranate in Song of Solomon 6:11, The Hebrew for "almond" [ shaaqeed (H8247)] is from a root ( shaaqad (H8245)) to be wakeful, because it is the first that wakes up from the sleep of winter. So it is the symbol of wakefulness in Jeremiah 1:11-12. Pliny ('Hist. Nat.' 16: 25) says, 'The almond is the first of all to blossom, in the mouth of January.' Thus the sense is, 'the wakefulness of old age sets in.'

Grasshopper. The dry, shriveled, old man, his backbone sticking out, his knees projecting forwards, his arms backwards, his head down, and the apophyses enlarged, is like that insect. Hence, arose the fable that Tithonus, in very old age, was changed into a grasshopper (Parkhurst, after Smith and Bochart, in 'Poli Synopsis'). 'The locust laboriously raises itself to fly:' the old man about to leave the body is like a locust when it is assuming its winged form, and is about to fly (Maurer). The locust is a symbol of the forces hostile to life, which consume it in old age (Hengstenberg). I prefer the first view. Mercer's is, 'even the weight of a grasshopper is a burden to the old.' But the general scope is allegorical; and as the "almond tree" was used symbolically, so is the grasshopper here.

A burden - namely, to himself.

Desire shall fail - satisfaction shall be abolished. For desire the Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic, and Septuagint have 'the caper tree,' provocative of appetite and also of lust; Hebrew, 'abiyownaah (H35).

Man goeth to his long home - whence "he shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place (in this present life) know him anymore" (Job 7:10). The symptoms before described are the forerunners of this last solemn event.

Mourners go about (i:e., will soon go about) the streets (Amos 5:16) - hired for the occasion (Matthew 9:23).

Verse 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.

Or ever (i:e., before ever) the silver cord ... - connected with Ecclesiastes 12:1, 'Remember thy Creator before that the silver cord of life is snapped asunder.'

Be loosed. [So the Qeri' reads yeeraateeq (H7368)'. But the Kethibh has y-r-ch-q, be removed, namely, by God; or, as others point it, yeeraacheeq.]

Or the golden bowl ... or the pitcher be broken at the fountain. A double image, to represent death, as in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5 old age was symbolically represented.

(1) A lamp of frail material, but gilded over, often in the East hung from roofs by a cord of silk and silver interwoven: as the lamp is dashed down and broken when the cord breaks; so man's life, as it were let down from above, is snapped at death. "The golden bowl" of the lamp answers to the skull, which, from the vital preciousness of its contents, may be called "golden;" "the silver cord" is the spinal marrow, which is white and precious as silver, and is attached to the brain.

(2) A fountain, from which water is drawn by a pitcher let down by a rope wound round a wheel; as when the pitcher and wheel are broken, water can no more be drawn, so life ceases when the vital energies are gone. The "fountain" may mean the right ventricle of the heart; the "cistern," the left; the pitcher, the veins; the wheel, the aorta, or great artery (Smith.) The circulation of the blood, whether known or not to Solomon, seems to be implied in the language put by the Holy Spirit into his mouth. Hengstenberg explains the pitcher as the image of the individual life, the fountain the image of the general life: God supplying the great general treasure from which all individuals take to themselves what is needful to their subsistence. The wheel expresses life in its rapid motion (James 3:6; literally, the 'wheel of nature.') This gloomy picture of old age applies to those who have not 'remembered their Creator in youth.' They have none of the consolations of God, which they might have obtained in youth: it is now too late to seek them. A good old age is a blessing to the godly (Genesis 15:15; Job 5:26; Proverbs 16:31; Proverbs 20:29).

Verse 7

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

The dust - the dust-formed body; so called because formed from the dust, and also because of its weakness and pettiness.

And the spirit - surviving the body; implying its immortality.

Shall return unto God - not as the Pantheists think, to be absorbed into the Spirit of God, and thereby to lose its individual existence. Being, "created in the image of God," and having the "breath of lives," so as to be a "living soul," man partakes of the imperishableness of God. The fact of the "judgment" to come (Ecclesiastes 12:14) disproves Pantheism. The Chaldaic Targum paraphrases it, 'the spirit of thy soul shall return to stand in judgment before the Lord who gave it to thee.' This consideration is the grand one by which the youth is urged (Ecclesiastes 12:1), "Remember now thy Creator." This verse is quoted by the advocates of Creationalism against Traducianism; because it shows that each soul owes its origin to God directly, and not to the human parents.

Verses 8-12

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

A summary of the first part.

Vanity of vanities. Resumption of the sentiment with which the book began (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 1 John 2:17).

Verse 9. Because the Preacher was wise ... yea, he gave good heed - Hebrew, 'izeen (H238); literally, he weighed, or else 'listened,' namely, to the voice of the Spirit, which spake by him (Psalms 49:4).

Proverbs - `parables' (1 Kings 4:32). The preacher does not praise himself as "wise" in earthly wisdom, which Proverbs 27:2 would forbid. It is by the Spirit's direction he claims, attention to his words as not his own, but those of God, who had inspired him (Ecclesiastes 12:11). The 'teaching the people' seems to have been oral; the "proverbs," in writing. There must, then, have been auditories assembled to hear the inspired wisdom of the Preacher. (See the explanation of 'Koheleth,' in the Introduction and Ecclesiastes 1:1-18.)

Verse 10. Acceptable words - literally, words of delight; namely, to the spiritually-minded (Psalms 19:10).

(That which was) written (was) upright (literally, uprightness) (even) words of truth - words corresponding at once with the thought of the writer, and divinely adapted to express the reality of the things (Proverbs 8:6-10): unerring wisdom and truth. "Acceptable" means a divinely suitable style; "upright ... truth," correct sentiment.

Verse 11. Words of the wise (those inspired with wisdom from above) (are) as goads - piercing deeply into the mind, evidently inspired words, as the end of the verse proves.

Nails fastened - rather, 'and as nails fastened' (literally, planted. the plural feminine is treated as a masculine, and is joined with the masculine), are 'the masters of collections,' or 'participators in the collection,' thus joint-authors of the collected canonical Scriptures.

Given from one shepherd - namely, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the chief (Ezekiel 37:24) Shepherd (1 Peter 5:2-4). This assigns the reason of the goad-like power of the inspired words of the several authors of Scripture-namely, because they come from the Lord of all power. The 'associates in the collection' were 'given' by Him, (Ephesians 4:11, "He gave some ... pastors," etc.) The Word of God is the tender grass that feeds the Lord's sheep. Though the associated sacred writers are many, the Inspirer of them all is "ONE" - the loving Shepherd who tends His Church (Genesis 48:15). Nails are used in a different symbolical sense (Isaiah 22:23).

Verse 12. My son. The Spirit admonishes us as a Father.

By these ... be admonished - by this book, and by the rest of Scripture, of which it is a part. Suffer thyself to be admonished (Ecclesiastes 4:13; Ezekiel 3:21).

Many books (there is) no end - of mere human compositions, especially the literature of the godless and the pagan world, opposed to "by these." These inspired writings are the only sure source of 'admonition.'

Much study - in mere human books, wearies the body, without solidly profiting the soul. Worldly learning does not solve the enigma of human life; as to the highest questions, it keeps even its thoughtful votaries "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." The literature of pagandom was a mere Sisyphus labour; it brought no true gain to the 'God-descended spirit' (Hengstenberg). Diodorus (1: 49) mentions the pretentious inscription over the sacred library at Thebes, 'Pharmacy of the soul.'

Verses 13-14

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

A summary of the second, and the more important part. The whole forms the epilogue, an epitome of the book.

Verse 13. Hear the conclusion - the conclusion of the discourse: the grand inference of the whole book.

Fear God - the antidote to following creature-idols and "vanities," whether self-righteousness (Ecclesiastes 7:16; Ecclesiastes 7:18) or wicked oppression and other evils (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13), or mad mirth (Ecclesiastes 2:2; Ecclesiastes 7:2-5), or self-mortifying avarice (Ecclesiastes 8:13; Ecclesiastes 8:17), and gloomy complaining and discontent, or youth spent without God (Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:1).

This (is) the whole (duty) of man - literally, this is the whole man: the full ideal of man, as originally contemplated, realized wholly by Jesus Christ alone; and, through Him, by saints, now in part, hereafter perfectly (1 John 3:22-24; Revelation 22:14). Hengstenberg less spiritedly translates, 'This is the duty of all men.'

Verse 14. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with (literally, upon; i:e., concerning) every secret thing - (2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. note, Ecclesiastes 12:7 above.) The future judgment is the test of what is "vanity," what solid, as regards the chief good, the grand subject of the book.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/ecclesiastes-12.html. 1871-8.
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