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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Ecclesiastes 12

Verses 1-7

Man Goes to His Eternal Home

Ecclesiastes 12:1 directly connects to the foregoing. Because the young years are over before he knows it (Ecclesiastes 11:10), the Preacher confronts the young man with the following: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth.” The young man should not only think of his well-being, but above all also of his Creator, his Maker. “Remember” is not just a reminder not to forget, but a commandment that implies a total devotion to God: to love, serve, and fear Him. God wants to see this ‘remember’ translated into the practice of life. It is about living as stewards who will be accountable to our Creator for what we have done with our lives.

The insight that youthfulness in itself is an empty thing, teaches young people to look for something higher and something permanent, namely their Creator. If we owe life to the Creator, it is only right that we thank Him for it and dedicate our lives to Him. Forgetting Him leads to bad choices being made, the consequences of which can remain for the rest of our lives.

The call to the young man to think of his Creator in the days of his youth is made by the Preacher because the days of his youth are pre-eminent to become familiar with Him and His Word. Only fellowship with Him and the knowledge of His will about life give foundation to life. Those days are quickly past. And not only that, “evil days” come and also “the years” are approaching when the young man will say he has “no delight” in them.

“Before” that happens, he must have become accustomed to thinking of his Creator. The word “before” marks a change in living conditions, a change you must be prepared for (Ecclesiastes 12:2; Ecclesiastes 12:6). That change – from being young to growing old and dying – comes irrevocably.

The verses that follow show how quickly the days of youth go by. The Preacher now shows that where God is ignored, the possibility for joy will be lost. In the years to come, the inattentive reader will be led to the desperate confession – that is the meaning of “when you will say” – that for him there is no more prospect.

The fact that the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened by the clouds (Ecclesiastes 12:2) points to the general idea that as the years go by, the capacity to be happy disappears. Likewise, recurring clouds point to a recurring sequence of sadness. It is like a storm that has raged, while another storm is already showing up.

In Ecclesiastes 12:3-Judges : the Preacher describes the decay of man as a result of old age. Here we see the truth of the saying: old age comes with infirmity. The loneliness as a result of old age also plays a role which makes it clear that the role has been played out. Children have their own busy activities, and peers are scarcely there anymore, and when they are, they have to deal with the same problems.

The body is comparable to a prominent residence with guards, vital residents, willing and industrious staff and people who provide entertainment, the entertainers. The young person must be thoroughly aware that as such a house can fall into dilapidation, it also happens to the human body, which now looks so cool and powerful.

1. Ecclesiastes 12:3. “The watchmen of the house” represent the hands and arms. The once powerful hands and arms are trembling now. You can see that when they drink a cup of tea or bring their fork with food to their mouths.

2. The “mighty men” represent the legs (cf. Psalms 147:10). The legs that once were standing like pillars (cf. Songs 5:15), are bent. The firm, straight up, has disappeared from it.

3. “The grinding ones”, the women that grind the grain into fine flour, represent the teeth and molars, the dentition. More and more teeth are falling out of the dentition. Chewing the food easily, especially the harder, tastier pieces, is no longer possible. The food has to be more and more liquid because it has to be take in with a spoon or a straw.

4. “Those who look through windows” represent the eyes. The sharp vision declines. It often starts with the fact that your arms are no longer long enough to read a book. Reading glasses have to be used.

5. Ecclesiastes 12:4. “The doors on the street” represent the ears or the lips. Concerning the ears, the hearing also declines. One becomes hard of hearing more and more, you have to ask more and more often: ‘What did you say?’ Concerning the lips, it is becoming more and more difficult to express yourself with words, perhaps because of dementia. Ears and lips are necessary for good communication and that becomes more and more difficult in old age.

6.”The sound of the grinding mill is low” can be applied to the declining interest in what’s going on in daily life.

7. That “one will arise at the sound of the bird”, may refer to getting up early in the morning, that there is no longer mention of a healthy, long sleep which one can have after a long work day.

8. That “all the daughters of song will sing softly”, refers to the vocal cords .The singing with a full, powerful voice has changed into a trembling, creaking sound, which causes that others can hardly hear us.

9. Ecclesiastes 12:5. We also see that an elder can “be afraid of a high place”. He becomes insecure on the stairs or the step ladder and does no longer dare to climb it.

10. “The terrors of the road” refers to the street with all its traffic. The elder is afraid to cross the road. Jumping away quickly from an imminent danger is out of the question.

11. The “almond tree blossoms” is a reference to the hair that grows grey and white.

12. Also his movement becomes slow, laborious and dragging like that of an old “grasshopper” that can no longer jump, but drags himself along. The low weight of his old body becomes a heavy burden.

13. The “caperberry”, which serves as an appetite stimulant, no longer helps to stimulate the appetite. He has no appetite anymore, there is nothing left that makes him salivate.

14. The description of the deterioration and decline of the body and physical abilities end up in death, “his eternal home”. Here this is not the hope of the believer (2 Corinthians 5:1), but the terminal of man, his eternal destination. “For man goes to” his eternal home, he is on the way. The process that ends up in death can sometimes take many years. It is the way of “the body of our humble state” (Philippians 3:21).

15. With death also mourning and sorrow are connected. The “mourners” go about and make the announcement of the inevitable end that has come. Everybody hears it, it is announced everywhere.

16. Ecclesiastes 12:6. The word “before” connects to the “before” of Ecclesiastes 12:2. There the purpose is to initiate the stage of old age, here it is for the closing of it, which is death. The fact that ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ are mentioned, indicates the high value of the life of man. The last actions that lead to death are described visually in four expressions, divided in two pairs. The four verbs – “broken”, “crushed”, “shattered”, “crushed” – underline the finiteness of earthly life.

In the first pair the body is represented in its high value in the picture of the “the golden bowl” to which “the silver cord” is attached. The silver cord represents the connection with above, which is heaven. Our life is connected to God, even if we do not want do have anything to do with Him. He has given us the breath of life. However, when the silver cord is broken, the golden bowl will crush down and be shattered irreparably. The light of life has been completely extinguished. Breaking has also the meaning of disconnecting.

In the second pair the body is represented in its weakness and fragility in the picture of the “the pitcher”. We imagine someone who is drawing water with a pitcher which he lowers in the well on a rope by a wheel. Death is the crushing of the pitcher. Also that what makes the pitcher go down, “the wheel”, is shattered. The fact that it happens at “the well” and “the cistern” which are both symbols of life, makes the matter more dramatic. There is no longer the possibility to drink from the living well.

There is an old myth about a man that made a remarkable deal with Death. He said to the Grim Reaper that he would love to accompany him when it is time to die, but on one condition: Death had to send him a messenger to warn him about it well in advance. Weeks went by and the weeks became months and months became years.

Then, on a bitter winter evening, while the man was thinking of all his possessions, Death suddenly entered the room and tapped him on the shoulder. Frightened, the man exclaimed: ‘You are here so quickly and without warning! I thought we had agreed on something.’ Death answered, ‘I have done more than keeping my part of the bargain. I have sent you many messengers. Look into the mirror and you will see some of them’.

While the man was doing so, Death whispered: ‘Just look at your hair. It used to be full and black, now it is thin and white. Look at the way you hold your head to listen to me because your hearing is no longer good. See how close you have to stand to the mirror to see yourself clearly. Yes, I have sent many messengers over the years. I’m sorry you are not ready, but the time has come to leave.’

The lesson is clear: We must learn to pay attention to ‘the messengers’ who show us that we are getting older, and we should prepare ourselves for our death.

17. Ecclesiastes 12:7. Here death is definitively determined. The two aspects of being a human come to the fore. As for his body, which is made from the “dust” of the earth, it will return to the earth from which it is also made (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19; Job 10:9; Psalms 90:3; Psalms 103:14). As for his spirit, he will return to God Who also has given him (Job 34:14-Ezra :). The separation between body and spirit shows that the body is dead, for the body without a spirit is dead (James 2:26).

We see here the contrast between the body and the spirit (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:20). This shows a continual existence of man, something that was a mystery for the Preacher. The fact that there is a continual existence, becomes only clear in the light of the New Testament (cf. 2 Timothy 1:10).

We all will face the above-mentioned realities of old age, unless we die young or when Christ returns for us to pick us up. The point of the Preacher in his metaphor is crystal clear: at the old age the time for strenuous service for the Lord has passed. Does this mean that the old age cannot be wonderful? Certainly not. An elder or old believer in Jesus Christ who is on the way to his ‘eternal home’, can still live a great life being busy for Christ.

We can live ‘young at heart’ for the rest of our lives. We are only old when we do not see our purpose and assignment in life anymore. A wonderful example is Caleb (Joshua 14:10-1 Kings :). Let us, just as he did, ask God for a mountain. We are not ready to live before we are ready to die. Arrange the eternal matters and throw yourself in the true life.

Verses 8-12

The Power of the Word of God

Decay, decline and death bring the Preacher back to the beginning of his book, where he already formulated the conclusion of his research (Ecclesiastes 12:8; Ecclesiastes 1:2). All the researches that he is reporting in this book, have shown its truth. Everyone that stands in the reality of life, shall fully agree with his conclusion.

The Preacher was “a wise man” (Ecclesiastes 12:9). A wise man is someone who fears God. He who fears God will always seek to teach God’s people “knowledge” of His will. This is the first activity that characterizes a wise man. It is about teaching knowledge to the next generation. It is knowledge that is gained by experience.

A young preacher talked about Psalm 23. He did his very best to explain the psalm, but his message did not get across. Then an old man talked. He bowed his head, his hands were trembling and his body was marked by many years of hard work. He started to recite: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” When he was finished, there was dead silence, his audience was very impressed. When the young preacher asked the old man why his words made such a difference, the old man replied simply: ‘You know the psalm, I know the Shepherd.’ The truth is that some things are only learned by experience.

The purpose of the teaching of the Preacher is to keep the next generation from making mistakes. Therefore it is necessary to be alert and to examine. In the transferring of knowledge, the situation in which the people find themselves must be taken into consideration. It should be noted and examined what knowledge is needed.

The Preacher has transferred his teaching by arranging “many proverbs” (1 Kings 4:32). He did not transfer things impulsively as soon as something arose in him. He first studied carefully and searched out before he transferred his teaching. He pondered first before he said something. He did just as what was later stated of Ezra: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel (Ezra 7:10). So the order is: first study, then practice it and afterwards teach in Israel.

Also the method of teaching is important (Ecclesiastes 12:10). He transfers his teaching in words, but he chooses those words with care. He wants to ‘communicate effectively’. Words cause that thoughts can be passed on. The Preacher has consciously used “delightful words”. He is aware that he is passing on God’s Word to others. Therefore he does not use offensive or rude language, but language that can be simply understood and is also attractive to keep on listening to. What he says is pleasant of content. It is delightful to listen to him. You do not need to use a vocabulary or be suspicious about anything when listening.

That does not mean that his words went ‘smoothly’ in the ears, words that ‘tickle’ the ear (2 Timothy 4:3). He who speaks like that, is not sincere. The words of the Preacher are “with grace”, but at the same time “seasoned with salt”, which means that corruption is repelled (Colossians 4:6). Those words are “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

What he wrote, “is correctly” and are “words of truth”. Those are reliable words, which you can rely on, as it is also stated of certain things that Paul said that it is “a trustworthy statement” (1 Timothy 4:9). We live in a time when God’s Word is relativized. It should no longer be said that something is ‘the truth’, at most that it is ’my truth’ and that in this way everyone has his own truth. The Preacher does not take part in this relativization and no one that acknowledges that he has announced “words of truth”, meaning God’s truth, will take part in it. The fact that he has written his words, means that they keep their value for the next generations.

Attention to the form is not at the expense of the content. He does not falsify the Word of God (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:2).He never distorts the truth or violates it. He does not add to it or take anything away from it. More and more people see the Word of God as an open buffet, from which you can take whatever you like, while you simply leave what you do not like. Another person is allowed to eat it, someone who loves it.

“The words of wise men” work “like goads and nails” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). The ‘wise men’ here are instruments given by God through whom He transmits His words. Therefore it is very important to listen to their words. These people know about the practical life, they have experienced things, which deepened and clarified their knowledge. They do not teach theory, but truths that they themselves learned in practice.

Words of wise men have a twofold effect, comparable to the effect of the benefit of “goads” and “nails”. Goads are used to keep plowing animals in the right track so that the plough draws straight furrows (cf. Judges 3:31; Acts 26:14). The effect of goads is that they intend to trigger the will and stimulate to cause movement. Goads may hurt sometimes, but they exhort you to activity and also keep you in the right track, the track of righteousness, for the sake of the Name of God (Psalms 23:3).

The words of wise men can also be compared to “well-driven nails”. Well-driven nails remain immovable and hold something immovable in place (cf. Jeremiah 10:4). This is how words of wise men are engraved in the memory, they are stuck there and never disappear out of memory.

“Masters of [these] collections” are people who have collected those proverbs, or have gathered them together in a collection, in order to teach others. Such a collection is the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 1:1; Proverbs 10:1Proverbs 25:1; Proverbs 22:17Proverbs 24:23; Proverbs 30:1). We can – as an application – also become ‘masters of collections’ by learning Bible verses by heart as many as possible.

With “one Shepherd” no one else but God is meant (Genesis 49:24; Psalms 23:1; Psalms 80:1). It also means the Lord Jesus (John 10:11). He has given those words. Although the words of the Preacher are the result of his meditation, he should not think, and this goes for every wise person, that he owes wisdom to himself. That wisdom has been given to him by Christ.

Here we have an example of the teachings of the inspiration in the practice of the Preacher. The Preacher is aware of his own activity (Ecclesiastes 12:10), both with regard to the form of his words (Ecclesiastes 12:9) and its content (Ecclesiastes 12:10). Yet he concludes that the ultimate result comes from God (Ecclesiastes 12:11). Inspiration is the work of the Spirit in the personality and in the personal meditation of the author (2 Peter 1:21).

“But beyond this” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) means ‘that what is beyond the things given by the one Shepherd’ (Ecclesiastes 12:11) and refers to the wisdom literature he then warns us about. He does not address his warning in general, but to someone specific. It is someone he has a special bond with and whom he calls “my son”. The Preacher addresses a congregation, but makes it personal here.

He does not see the congregation as a mass, but as individuals. His concern goes out to every single person. In this way we also hear Solomon often say “my son” in the book of Proverbs. It emphasizes the personal bond and that he gives his special attention to the son. In that way he expresses that the son is important to him. If we want our message to get across, then the individual listener or reader must notice that he is important to us.

The reason of the warning is, as Paul says “not to exceed what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6), meaning that in our thinking we should not go beyond what is written in the Word of God. The many books that were written are compared to the Word of God. “Excessive devotion” to such books “is wearying to the body” and is not profitable. It is foolish to seek and impossible to find answers to questions of life in worldly wisdom literature. Answers to questions of life are only to be found in the Word of God; therefore we should seek them there.

Since the existence of the art of writing, there has been an endless series of publications, first on clay, then on leather or paper. Here it is especially about the wisdom literature. Countless books have been published on the existence and the meaning of life. Authors have given their opinion about it, without taking God into consideration. The reading of those books is exceedingly wearying and exhausting for the body. You will keep studying until you drop, but it is a waste of effort because you will never get an answer to your questions.

The words given by one Shepherd are not always welcome. That is the case for people who have become addicted to the searching in such a way and have fallen in love with the difficult questions, that an answer would only spoil everything. For them there is no such thing as a definite answer. The free world of research should always blow through your mind, in their opinion. Someone who in his arrogance thinks that he is wise, makes his study a prison and his books a guard of his prison. Therefore the question is whether people do want answers. Those are people who are always learning, but are never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7).

Other books have been written to give us ‘information’, the Bible is written for our ‘transformation’. If we become aware of that, the reading of the Bible will exceed the reading of all kinds of other books. What do we read first when we wake up: the messages on social media and the news or the Word of God?

Verses 13-14

The Conclusion

The Ecclesiastes concludes with a summary or “the conclusion” of his teaching, “when all has been heard” and has been written down by him in this book (Ecclesiastes 12:13). He summarizes his teaching in two points: fear God and show that by living out what He says in His Word. Everything is summarized in what cannot be separated: God and His Word. This conclusion not only applies to this book of Ecclesiastes, but to the whole Word of God.

In Hebrew the words God and commandments get emphasis. Fearing God and keeping His commandments are not options, but commands. It comes down to taking God seriously and doing what He says. He is the God to fear: “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). If we take that into account, if that awareness has penetrated deeply into us, it frees us from evil and self-righteousness and leads us to hate sin. Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom and also the end or conclusion of it.

This conclusion applies to “every person” and not only to Israel. Nor is “His commandments” here limited to the law of Moses, but refers to everything about which God’s will must be known, that is the whole life and the whole creation. Obedience goes hand in hand with the fear of God. “Every person” includes both persecutors and persecuted and both rich and poor.

Why it is advisable to listen to the command of Ecclesiastes 12:13 – fear God and obey Him – the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes 12:14: “For God will bring every act to judgment.” The conclusion is underscored by the Preacher by referring to God’s ultimate judgment of all that man has done, whether in public or in secret (1 Corinthians 4:5 ; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

God is to be feared because He judges everything (Acts 17:31). There is no escaping of this. There is no act or thought that will escape Him. Every person will have to account for what he has done, said and thought, in which God determines what has been good and what has been evil.

The yardstick for this is the life of Christ. Whoever has shown Christ in his life will enter eternal life. Whoever has not done so, will enter eternal death. Whoever has shown Christ, has been able to do so because he has turned to God with confession of his sins and in faith has accepted Christ as the propitiation for his sins. Because of this Christ has become his life. Whoever has not judged himself as a sinner in God’s light, has not shown Christ in his life. He has rejected Christ and will be judged by God according to his works (Revelation 20:11-Ezra :).

God will do justice to the righteous who has so often suffered injustice on earth. The wicked who so often had power on earth, He will repay according to his deeds. Justice will prevail completely and evil will be judged forever.

The final message of the book is that the fear of God corrects our lives. This fear leads to life. He who fears God leads a life in this world that is to His glory and culminates in life in the world to come where everything is to God’s glory. Whoever now enjoys life without fearing God, should think carefully once more about the observations of this book.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ecclesiastes 12". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/ecclesiastes-12.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.