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Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 12

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verse 1

Ecc 12:1

Ecclesiastes 12:1


"This is one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible.” Along with Ecclesiastes 11, and a few verses out of Ecclesiastes 10, we have here Solomon’s conclusion. He had found his way out of the doubts and perplexities that for a time had confused him; and here (in these passages) he thunders the great doctrinal teachings of God’s Word.

So great is the importance of this chapter that we shall study it one verse at a time.

Ecclesiastes 12:1

"Remember now also thy Creator in the days of the youth, before the evil days come, and thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them."

"The first word of this in the the Hebrew text of the O.T. is "and," indicating a connection with the previous verse.” This is a continuation of Remedy Three (Ecclesiastes 11:10) for the perplexities and vanities of life. The loving and faithful service of God our Creator is that third remedy. "It is a plea for a strong religious faith to be founded in youth as a safeguard against old age.”

"Creator here is not merely a synonym for God; it is an emphasis upon the fact that he is the Creator.” God created all of us; we are his; we owe him everything; his authority is eternal and unlimited. "You are not your own; you have no right to yourself. God made you, and he made you so that you might be happy; but you can be happy only in Him.

This is a basic doctrine of the Holy Bible. "Some interpreters, of course consider this too pious, and so they change it; but this is not acceptable.” For example, here are a couple of the ridiculous changes men have made in God’s Word: "In the days of your youth, remember your grave.” "Remember also your wife in the days of your youth.” "There is no reason to alter the text here.” It is only the boundless conceit, irreverence, and unbelief of evil men that prompts ravages of this kind against God’s Word.

The focus upon God the Creator in this very first verse is quite appropriate, "It reminds us from earlier passages in Ecclesiastes that only God sees the whole pattern (Ecclesiastes 3:11); his workmanship we have spoiled by our devices (Ecclesiastes 7:29); and his creativity is continuous and unsearchable (Ecclesiastes 11:1). For us to `Remember Him,’ therefore, is no perfunctory mental act. It means to drop our pretence of self-sufficiency and commit ourselves to Him, to love Him and to obey Him.

"It is amazing that the word `Creator’ in the Hebrew text is plural, like [~’Elohiym] in Genesis 1:1. The Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit all played a part in our creation (John 1:4; Genesis 1:2).”

Ecclesiastes 12:1 Young people are to have fun, but they are also to keep in mind who made them and why they were made. Since it is God who is the Creator, He has the right to speak through His servant and admonish toward wise behavior. Thus, not only should one remember God, he should allow God to influence all of life. Since God made man, He knows what will bring man happiness. The term “Creator” is definitely a reference to God as it is the participle form of the same word translated in Genesis 1:1 which speaks of God’s creative work. It is also a plural form which suggests to many a reference to the work of the Godhead.

Since youth and strength are both marked by vanity—that is they are very fleeting—it is foolish to waste them. There is not a better time to follow God than in one’s youth! The open grave invites all men too soon, even as the Psalmist said, “My days are like a lengthened shadow; and I wither away like grass” (Psalms 102:11). Now, however, life is vigorous, the accent is on youth, the joys are sweet, the time to be alive is now. Soon the joys which are now within the reach of youth will slip away. Man always moves into the period of decline. One has wisely expressed the experience of growing old as “his last days sloped gently toward the grave.”

“The evil days” are obviously a reference to the following graphic pictures presented by the Preacher of the final, crippling stages of old age. Previously “The days of darkness” (Ecclesiastes 11:8), referred to the grave, but this is not the meaning here. “I have no delight” means that such closing years of life have lost the pleasure of youth and the prime of life. One does not find pleasure in the loss of strength, eyesight, and hearing; or does he look forward to the time when he no longer can walk or properly chew his food.

Verses 2-8

Ecc 12:2-8

Ecclesiastes 12:2-8

"Before the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain; 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 shall be darkened, and the doors shall be shut in the street; when the sound of the grinding is low, and one shall rise up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; yea, they shall be afraid of that which is high, and terrors shall be in the way; and the almond tree shall blossom, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail; because man goeth to his everlasting home, and the mourners go about the streets: before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity."

"This passage (Ecclesiastes 12:2-8) has one of the most striking and beautiful allegories in the literature of mankind. Every phrase describes with a vivid metaphor, a symptom of the infirmities of old age.”

There have been many efforts to literalize what is meant by the beautiful metaphors here. Barton cited no less than seven systems of interpreting all these; but one of the most beautiful of the renditions we have seen is this:

Ecclesiastes 12:2-5 a "That is when the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars shall grow dim for you, and the rain clouds will never pass away. Then your arms, that have protected you, will tremble, and your legs, now strong, will grow weak. Your teeth will be too few to chew your food, and your eyes too dim to see clearly. Your ears will be deaf to the noise of the street. You will barely be able to hear the mill as it grinds or music when it plays, but even the song of a bird shall wake you from sleep. You will be afraid of high places, and walking will be dangerous. Your hair will turn white; you will hardly be able to drag yourself along, and all desire will be gone."

"Nevertheless, this remarkable passage is best taken in its entirety, not broken down into teeth, legs, arms, etc., which doubtless are intended." This amazing passage, as a whole, without being broken down reveals a picture of us in our old age that is plain enough, much plainer than any itemized inventory of our infirmities could possibly be.

"The grinders cease ..." (Ecclesiastes 12:3). "This no doubt refers to arms, legs, teeth, and eyes.”

In spite of the emphasis upon old age and death in this chapter, Solomon shows his real conviction in the very first verse. "He does not say, `Remember you must die,’ but, `Remember thy Creator.’ In this Solomon clearly distinguishes himself from all skeptics, cynics and Epicureans. with whom he has often been confused.”

"All the daughters of music shall be brought low" (Ecclesiastes 12:4). "He has not only lost his ability to sing, but the loss of hearing means he cannot even appreciate music"!

"And one shall rise up at the voice of a bird" (Ecclesiastes 12:4). Despite the beauty of the @@GNP rendition, we cannot agree that the song of a bird would awaken an old man who could barely hear the sound of a mill or the street noises. Birds sing quite early in the morning, at the break of day; and what is meant is that old people wake up early. However, this writer (who is an old man) would like to go on record with the testimony that the song of a bird never wakes up anybody who is wearing a hearing aid!

"Afraid of that which is high" (Ecclesiastes 12:5). Here is the reason why old men do not like to climb ladders.

"Terrors shall be in the way" (Ecclesiastes 12:5). For example, when the Doctor says of the cancer test, "Yes, it’s positive," one will know about those "terrors ... in the way."

"The almond tree shall blossom" (Ecclesiastes 12:5). Cook rendered this, "The almond tree shall be despised," and interpreted it to mean that pleasant food would be despised by the aged. However, most scholars take it as an emblem of gray hair. "The blooms of the almond tree are a brilliant pink; but in time turn snow white; it is a fit metaphor of the gray headed old man.”

"The grasshopper shall be a burden" (Ecclesiastes 12:5). "The point here is that the lightest load is a burden to the aged.” It means what we would say if we remarked, "Why, that old man couldn’t even carry a grasshopper."

"And desire shall fail" (Ecclesiastes 12:5). The Septuagint renders this, "The caper berry shall fail.” "This berry was widely used in the East as an aphrodisiac (sexual stimulant),” or, "As a provocative of the appetite.” In this light, we may say that the old man’s desire shall fail, all of it, whether for sex or for food.

"Man goeth to his everlasting home" (Ecclesiastes 12:5). Without a doubt the best rendition of this is, "Man goeth to his eternal home.” What a glorious pronouncement is this! An eternal home? That most certainly teaches immortality, otherwise man would have no use whatever for an eternal home. It also teaches the doctrine of the resurrection, because, by no other means than that of a resurrection, would the dying sons of Adam ever enter such a home.

"And the mourners go about the streets" (Ecclesiastes 12:5). This is a reference to the paid mourners employed in ancient times to bewail the departed. The New Testament mentions these in connection with the raising of the daughter of Jairus. Here, their going about the streets was explained by Deane: "These were getting ready to ply their trade, expecting the death of the old man hourly.”

"Before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern" (Ecclesiastes 12:6) We cannot pretend to know with dogmatic certainty what is meant here. There are two ways of explaining it, (1) after the manner of the 19th century commentators, and (2) after the opinion of recent writers. Here are the two views:

(1) "The silver cord is the spinal cord, so called from the spinal nerve’s likeness to a cord. Just as the previous verses have described the external evidences of old age, these explain the internal changes that bring death to the body itself. The golden bowl (so called from its priceless value) is the container for the brain itself. When the one is loosed and the other broken, death ensues.”

(2) "The golden bowl and the silver cord here are a lamp. The silver cord held the bowl. When the cord broke, the bowl fell putting out the light. Light is, of course, a Biblical symbol of life.

Both of these explanations mean the same thing. They both refer to death. The second explanation fails to explain why the cord that held the lamp was "the silver cord."

"Or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern" (Ecclesiastes 12:6). "In the Bible, both light and water symbolize life;” and in the metaphor here, either a broken pitcher at the fountain or a broken wheel at the cistern would cut off the supply of water. Thus all four of the things in this verse are metaphorical references to death.

"And the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7). This verse indicates a phenomenal change in Solomon, exactly as does the statement in. Ecclesiastes 12:5, that, "Man goeth to his eternal home." See comment above.

"And the dust returneth to the earth as it was" (Ecclesiastes 12:7). This clear reference to the Creation of man (Genesis) is not the only allusion to the fall of man that soon followed, `You are dust, etc’ (Genesis 3:21). In Ecclesiastes 7:29, he contrasted man’s uprightness (as God created him) with what followed in the invention of human devices for evil.”

"Solomon at this point had found his spiritual footing. While estranged from God and depending upon human wisdom, he asked, `Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward, or the spirit of a beast, whether it goeth downward’? (Ecclesiastes 3:21). Here he confidently affirmed that man’s spirit returns to God who gave it. Faith had won the victory over doubt.” Murphy, and others, deny what the sacred text clearly says here, asserting that, "Solomon had no knowledge of a blessed immortality.” Such false opinions are effectively refuted by what is said here and in Ecclesiastes 12:5.

"This verse says that man’s spirit is immortal; it does not die nor sleep in the grave. The New Testament tells us clearly that there is consciousness after death (Luke 16:19-31).” In this verse the writer (Solomon) rises above the doubt expressed in Ecclesiastes 3:21. He did not contradict himself in the two passages, as some suppose, and on that false supposition call Ecclesiastes 12:7 an interpolation. No. Solomon here is saying that after examining all the doubts and perplexities, "He has now reached the firm conclusion that there is indeed a future for the individual soul.”

Barton also agreed that it is totally unnecessary to view this and Ecclesiastes 3:21 as contradictions. "It is possible for any man to have pessimistic doubts in which he questions whether a man’s spirit differs from that of a beast, while still holding belief in God.”

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 12:8). Why does this statement appear just here? This is somewhat of a signature, indicating that Solomon himself is the author of these final verses just as he was the author of the rest of Ecclesiastes. No other person could possibly have inserted this here. The words stand, not only as a signature, but also, "As an introduction to the final verses.”

"Saith the Preacher ..." (Ecclesiastes 12:8). Radical critics, ever eager to find fault, suppose that the introduction of the third person at this point indicates a different writer. Ridiculous. Paul often lapsed into the third person, as did many other ancient writers. Cook pointed out that, "This epilogue makes the author to be (Solomon) the same as the author of Proverbs.”

This section pictures the final “evil days” which await men. Death terminates the decaying process and the Preacher appropriately turns to the oft-repeated “vanity of vanities.” Nowhere in the book could the idea of transitoriness be more to the point than in verse eight.

Ecclesiastes 12:2 This verse most logically represents the end of life under the sun. “Light” is used throughout the Bible for life and joy. In this context it undoubtedly refers to life. Just as man’s life slowly slips toward the grave, so the light diminishes: first the sun and then the lesser light, the moon; finally the faintest light represented by the stars. The diminishing order of light is intentionally arranged to represent life from “childhood” to the “prime of life” until the “evil days.” Each light is finally extinguished and the darkness (death) comes. “Clouds” are symbolic of trouble and could refer to the judgment. Usually the clouds and rain pass and the sun shines to renew happiness and joy. This time, however, the storm continues with the threatening clouds returning after the rain. Although this interpretation is imaginative and without definite support, it fits the context of the book and the immediate context of this section.

Ecclesiastes 12:3 This highly figurative language (verses three-five) has challenged the imagination and inventiveness of many. There is general unanimity, however, that regardless of the individual meaning given to each symbol, the passage is describing the frailties of old age, and ultimately of death itself.

The “house” represents the whole person while the “watchmen” would be the arms or hands. They are the protectors or guards of the house. They were mentioned first because they would be noticed first. They are also afflicted with palsy and thus tremble. Scriptural references of the body likened unto a house are found in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4; 2 Peter 1:13-14.

“The mighty men” are the legs which now are bent and stooped. Man can no longer walk erectly. Formerly the legs carried the youth pillars of strength, but now they are feeble.

“The grinding ones” are the teeth. They cease to function and “stand idle,” because they are few and undoubtedly arranged in such a way that they are inefficient in the chewing process. The “millers” (grinders) is the feminine form. This is probably because women did the grinding. (Cf. Exodus 11:5; Job 31:10; Isaiah 47:2; Matthew 24:41)

“Those who look through windows” refer to the eyes. No longer will they see the light under the sun. The sun, moon and stars will only be a memory as they begin to experience total darkness.

Ecclesiastes 12:4 “The doors” refer to the mouth. Such reference is given in Psalms 141:3 : “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” It is possible that since the teeth are nearly gone, the lips now shut more closely. The chewing is then described by “a door opening onto a street so the sound inside could not be heard by those on the street." Also, in Hebrew, the form is dual and may refer to the double door (lips). “On the streets” suggests communication with the world, but now such activity has ceased. In youth the appetite is keen and the mouth is employed in work and pleasure, but now the lips are drawn over the toothless gums and “the sound of the grinding mill is low.”

“The sound of the bird” has numerous interpretations, but the one that appears most likely suggests that older people arise at the same time as the first sounds of birds in the morning. It does not follow that they are awakened by the chirping sparrow or crowing rooster, but they are anxious to start the day after restless and sometimes painful nights. The hearing is impaired and thus they would not be wakened by the faint chirp of the small bird.

“The daughters of song” represent the voice and ears of the aged when they no longer can produce melodious songs or discern those sung by others. When David offered to take Barzillai to Jerusalem and care for him in return for favors previously received, Barzillai answered him with the words: “How long have I yet to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am now eighty years old. Can I distinguish between good and bad? Or can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Or can I hear any more the voice of singing men and women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king?” (2 Samuel 19:34-35). To the elderly, the notes of song run together and the tones are in-distinct. On the basis of this, some interpret the former “sound of the bird” to be a description of the high, shrill voice of the older person when he arises at the early hour. The fact that the “daughters of song will sing softly” implies deafness and supports the interpretation that this section refers to the voice and ears.

Ecclesiastes 12:5 “Men are afraid of a high place” is to be taken literally. The preacher departs from the highly figurative language and states a universal truth in simple language. When one grows old and his speech and hearing are dulled, he often finds difficulty in ascending steps or hills, and is often short of breath. The energy which such activity demands is now missing. The strong muscles are atrophied, and the bones, which carried him securely and confidently in his youth, are bowed and fragile.

“Terrors on the road” could refer to the obstacles over which they would stumble or wicked individuals against whom they would have little or no defense. The obvious interpretation, however, would be to simple travel on the way. Their bones are brittle, their muscles are weak, and they have difficulty ascending even the slightest incline. Narrow and crowded streets would enhance the difficulty.

“The almond tree blossoms” refers to the white hair which indicates he is come to the final stages of life and is “ripening for the tomb.” The almond tree first puts forth light, pink blossoms which turn snowy white before falling from the limbs to the ground.

“The grasshopper drags himself along” is clearly a vivid analogy of the inept physical condition of the dying man. Biblical analogy would point also to the symbol of smallness. (Cf. Numbers 13:33; Isaiah 40:22) In the light of this it would be understood that the message is, that to the elderly, even the most insignificant task becomes a burden. However, the comparison of the condition of the elderly with that of the appearance of the grasshopper best fits the context. Note the following description: “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.

“The caperberry” is also translated “desire” and “appetite.” The difficulty in translation stems from the fact that the word appears only here in the entire Old Testament. “Caperberry” would necessitate a figurative meaning while “desire” or “appetite” would be literal. This does not aid the translation, however, as both figurative and literal terms are used in the Preacher’s picture of old age and death. The caperberry is considered a stimulant and the obvious meaning is that neither the appetite or sexual desire can be aroused. Since the caper-berry was not believed to be an aphrodisiac until the Middle Ages, the safe explanation, would be that the stimulant is to preserve life (through eating, which desire is often lost in old age) not propagate it. However, as Luther says, “all desire fails,” and again, “an old man has pleasure in nothing.”

“The eternal home” or “house of eternity” speaks more to duration than it does to the place. It is a future state of being as compared with the existence “under the sun.” Life here is transitory compared with “eternal” life there. The term “eternal home” is found only in Ecclesiastes. Characteristic of inspired literature, the meaning of certain terms often penetrate beyond the limits of man’s present knowledge. Future revelation, on the same subject, often amplifies the meaning, and it becomes clear that God intended for the reader to look back and see that the term held the full-grown truth in seed form. The terms used by Solomon, who claims inspiration for his writing (Ecclesiastes 12:11) are exact. However, the understanding of the terms, even by the author, is often very limited. Solomon says nothing to negate the richness of the full orb of the doctrine of eternal life taught by Jesus and the Apostles.

On the subject of the “eternal home,” read and study Job 10:21; Job 30:23; Psalms 49:11 and John 14:1-6.

“The mourners” are, as tradition teaches, the paid “wailers” who prepare even before the death event to make loud lamentation in the streets and places of commerce. (Cf. 2 Samuel 3:31; Jeremiah 9:17; Jeremiah 34:5; Amos 5:16-17; Matthew 9:23; Matthew 11:17) The implication of such terms as “silver” and “gold” in the following verse would suggest affluency on the part of the one about to be mourned.

Ecclesiastes 12:6 The translators add “remember” because the “before” of this verse refers one to Ecclesiastes 12:1 where the Preacher is admonishing young men to live their lives in harmony with the designs of their Creator.

Two distinct figures are mentioned in this verse which speak to the final termination of life under the sun. The preceding detailed insights to the frailties of old age were intended to motivate young men to live their lives to the fullest joys (Cf. Ecclesiastes 11:9-10) before the body breaks and the soul slips away.

“The silver cord” and “golden bowl” are to be considered together. They represent the lamp which hangs from the ceilings of oriental or near-eastern homes. The cord is interspersed with silver and the lamp itself is made of gold. Nothing is intended beyond the fact that life, like silver and gold, is valuable and much to be desired. The intention is to show that “light,” which is here symbolic of one’s life, is going to be extinguished regardless of how fine it is. Death does not come because one terminates his own life, but the cord breaks allowing the bowl to fall to the floor and break and the oil to be released upon the floor. The separation of the oil from the container negates the utilitarian purpose of the lamp. The original design of the lamp has been thwarted; the value of the practical aspect of the lamp is now nullified. So when death comes, the body returns to its source and the spirit slips away.

“The pitcher” and “the wheel” illustrate the same truth as the cord and lamp. The symbol is different, however, as the lamp represents life as light and the pitcher represents life as water. Jesus took advantage of both physical symbols to demonstrate spiritual truths. (Cf. John 8:12; John 9:5 and John 4:10-11; John 7:38) The NASB mentions both “well” and “cistern.” The broken pitcher would render the well useless, while the wheel which falls into the cistern when it breaks, prevents the water from being drawn. The intent of both pictures painted by Solomon in this verse is intentionally clear in the following observation.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 Throughout the book the Preacher’s emphasis has been on the transitory nature of man, and the fact that he, together with the world in which he lives, has been marked by vanity. (Cf. COMMENT Ecclesiastes 6:10) The body of man returns to its primary source—the dust of the earth. The admonition to the young man to enjoy life in his youth is based on the fact that man will soon begin to die and move slowly toward the dust.

“The dust will return to the earth as it was.” This doctrine complements similar passages on the same subject. The Preacher has previously stated that “all (men and beasts) came from the dust and all return to the dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). (Cf. Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19; Job 34:14-15; Psalms 104:29) In this section (verses two-six) there has been strong emphasis upon the dust nature of men. When the spirit is released from the body through the death event, it does not join the process of decay and regression, but it returns to God.

“The spirit will return to God who gave it.” Solomon’s reference to God as Creator has established a principle of ownership. He now argues for right behavior on the basis of the certainty of final retribution. The judgment is a doctrine which has already been introduced but now takes on major intensity as the Preacher moves through the final stages of his arguments. There is no full doctrine of immortality taught here, but the fact of eternal life is not denied and the spirit is distinguished from the body with the emphasis upon the fact that it is the spirit that God receives. For the sinner, the ungodly person who has been described so often throughout the book, there is nothing for him to anticipate but the depressing picture of death and then the sudden and sure appearing before God’s judgment. Leupold wisely states that Solomon is teaching such a judgment as a motivating factor to lead all men to live righteously. He adds, “You personally will at your death appear before the judgment seat of God, therefore get ready.

Ecclesiastes 12:8 There is nothing new in this verse that has not already been thoroughly discussed, but the insertion of the subtheme of the book (Cf. Ecclesiastes 1:2) at this particular place serves to prove that the Preacher believes that such “vanity” has been sufficiently demonstrated. It serves to terminate his discussion in the first part of this chapter, and also introduces the final section of the book. Hengstenberg offers a word of warning when he writes, “The knowledge of the vanity of earthly things conducts to the fear of God afterwards recommended. Since all things are vain, man, who is subject to vanity, should do all in his power to enter into a living relation to Him who is the true absolute being, and through fellowship with him to participate, himself, in a true eternal being."

The fact that Solomon once again refers to himself as “the Preacher” reflects upon the hortatory nature of the closing two chapters of the book. Especially is he eloquent in this final section. In the epilogue (verse nine through fourteen) he speaks of himself as the Preacher two more times. Never can a preacher reach a higher pinnacle of confidence than when he claims divine authority for his message. The following “conclusion of the whole matter” is driven to the heart with strong conviction.

Verse 9

Ecc 12:9

Ecclesiastes 12:9

"And further, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he pondered, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs."

As Cook noted, this identifies the author of Ecclesiastes as Solomon who wrote Proverbs.

Solomon has sufficiently defended and supported the thesis that all is vanity. Now he turns to a clear summation of his methodology and a statement of his objective in composing the book. He classifies himself among the “wise,” and offers, as it were, his credentials in the form of a claim to inspiration. In addition to being wise, he professes to be a disseminator of knowledge, an imaginative arranger of proverbs, a speaker of truth, and most importantly divinely inspired. He drives home (nails well-fastened) important lessons which come to him from God. (Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:11; 1 Kings 3:12) He warns against one searching for truth in books which are not inspired, and that devotion to such an endless number of books is “wearying to the body.”

Ecclesiastes 12:9 As a wise man, whose authority was respected and accepted, Solomon arranged many proverbs through which he taught the people. Some believe the reference is to the book of Proverbs which many attribute to Solomon. The word translated “proverbs” can mean maxims, parables, or allegories. (Cf. 1 Kings 4:32)

Verse 10

Ecc 12:10

Ecclesiastes 12:10

"The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words, and that which was written uprightly, even words of truth."

We reject all notions that the third person used in these verses is any indication whatever of "another writer," as suggested by Fleming. "There is no change in the style and vocabulary of Ecclesiastes as we come to this epilogue,” which would most certainly have been the case if any other writer had taken over here. Besides that, as pointed out above, the words "Vanity of vanities" virtually amount to a signature. Delitzsch accepted this viewpoint, declaring that, "We regard this epilogue as a postscript by the author of the book himself.”

Ecclesiastes 12:10 Solomon’s words are “delightful” words in that he never turned to obscene language, but spoke discretely and guardedly. He had written: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances” (Proverbs 25:11). Also, “Listen, for I shall speak noble things; and the opening of my lips will produce right things. For my mouth will utter truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the utterances of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing crooked or perverted in them. They are all straight-forward to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge” (Proverbs 8:6-9). The Preacher’s words are framed for the spiritual minded and in them they will find their “delight.”

In addition to skilfully arranging his words, he gave diligence “to write words of truth correctly.” Most commentators see in this verse a twofold intention: (1) he wants to write sincerely—that is he spoke from the heart as honestly as he could; (2) he also spoke objectively—that is he presented factual knowledge apart from a bias. He intended for his words to be well received, but he was not willing to sacrifice truth in order to retain his readers.

Verse 11

Ecc 12:11

Ecclesiastes 12:11

"The words of the wise are as goads; and as nails well fastened are the words of the masters of assemblies, which are given from one Shepherd."

"In the Old Testament, the word Shepherd usually refers to God"; and a good rendition is this, "The words of the wise ... have been given by God, the one shepherd of us all.” This is a very important verse, because here Solomon recognizes the Word of God as the ultimate authority. How far has this wise man come from the doubts and sins of former days! "He says here that it is the teachings of the masters of assemblies, drawn from the fountainhead (the Word of God the one Shepherd), which give stability and strength to life.”

Ecclesiastes 12:11 Wisdom is directive. The “words of wise men” are designed to guide both the teacher and his audience on the road of right behavior. (Cf. Matthew 7:24) These words of truth are “like goads.” A goad is a stick or pole with a sharp point which is used to prod oxen or sheep in the direction one wishes them to move. (Cf. Judges 3:31; Acts 9:5) The “collections” could refer to the material found in Ecclesiastes. It would mean that he has arranged his material in such a way that one is drawn to a path of proper conduct because he is motivated by the thought and content of the ordered material. On the other hand, it could refer to the “joint-authors of the collected canonical Scriptures.” (Cf. 2 Peter 1:21) The truth taught by inspired teachers is now likened unto “well-driven nails.” The figure of the nails is used because it is the nature of the nail to penetrate easily. It could mean to plant or drive in, to fasten and secure. So the words of the wise “nail down” the truths which change men’s lives and their eternal destinies.

Solomon’s reference here to the fact that such truths have their origin with the “one Shepherd” is a clear claim to inspiration. The collected sayings have but one source and thus one authority. The “one Shepherd” is God who is elsewhere called the “Shepherd of Israel.” (Cf. Genesis 48:15; Genesis 49:24; Psalms 23:1; Psalms 80:1; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:11-12; John 10:14-16; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 5:4) On the subject of inspiration as claimed by Solomon, Leupold states: “Observe what a correct and clear conception of the inspiration of the sacred writings prevailed in Israel at this time, especially of the fact that it was a unified work done by the Lord for the good of His people. Observe also that the Preacher is aware of the fact that God was pleased to use him to share in this work."

Verse 12

Ecc 12:12

Ecclesiastes 12:12

"And furthermore, my son, be admonished: that of the making of many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh."

The perfect understanding of this verse is captured by this translation: "My son, avoid anything beyond the scriptures of wisdom; there is no end to the buying of books, and to study books closely is a weariness of the flesh." This is almost the same warning as that given by Paul that the brethren, "Might learn not to go beyond the things which are written." (1 Corinthians 4:6).

In many of the earlier passages of Ecclesiastes which suggest doubt, skepticism, uncertainty and perplexity, the commentators, in many instances, have pointed out that many of those passages reflect the mythological and pagan writings of antiquity; and here Solomon virtually confesses that many of the things which he had read had been, at least partially, the cause of his terrible apostasy, Peterson agreed that the warning here, "Was to discourage the reading of pagan literature.”

Ecclesiastes 12:12 There is more in this verse than the simple jest over the prolific number of volumes written on the subject of the meaning of life, and the subsequent weariness that comes to one who attempts to read all of what has been written. Solomon’s tender address of “my son” suggests the teacher-student relationship and not the physical father-son relationship. It implies that all may come and hear these wise words which have been given through the Preacher, but which come from God. “The writing of many books” is in contrast to the Sacred Scriptures. They represent the thinking of men outside the circle of divine inspiration. The charge is not against “studying” as such, as it is wise to study human nature, and it is especially wise to study the inspired books. The warning is against those books or writings which contradict the truth and which lead one away from the path of righteousness. It is the nature of the wisdom of this world to never give a final answer to the most basic and penetrating questions of life. Paul spoke of this matter to Timothy when he said that men were “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Although Ecclesiastes does not delineate the specifics of correct behavior, it does press hard toward the correct road: the fear of God. It motivates toward this conclusion by demonstrating the foolishness of searching in areas where God has not hidden the answers. It has been said that Ecclesiastes raises the question that the rest of the Bible answers. While this is partly true, it is not the complete picture. Ecclesiastes proves the emptiness of life apart from God, but it also demands that one fill the void of his life with the activity of doing the will of God.

Verse 13

Ecc 12:13

Ecclesiastes 12:13

"This is the end of the matter; all hath been heard: Fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man."


Solomon here gives us the final and authoritative conclusion of his thorough and extensive search for the answer to the question, "What is good for man"? In the same manner that one may prove a theorem in geometry, he has here come to the Q.E.D. In this glorious conclusion, he lays down the gauntlet, raises the white flag, and surrenders. "The worldly wisdom of Solomon ends with his submission to the power of God.” "These final two verses guard against any possible misconception; and they give the author’s real and mature conclusion.”

"Fear God and keep his commandments" (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Yes, GOD IS, and he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Furthermore, he has given commandments which men are obligated to honor and obey. Indeed, THERE IS A DIVINE REVELATION FROM GOD. Here is Solomon’s witness to the existence and authority of the Law of Moses, because nothing else in the entire history of mankind ever even pretended to be the authentic Word of God.

"This is the whole duty of man" (Ecclesiastes 12:12). The word duty here is not in the the Hebrew text of the O.T. and has been added by the translators; and the passage may be read as, the whole of man. Grieve found the words every man in this verse; and this is honored by a footnote in the RSV which translates: "This is the duty of every man.” Indeed it is true, regardless of the translation here. Even the Anchor Bible got back in line with this rendition: "The sum of the matter when all has been heard is this: Reverence God, and observe his laws. This applies to everything.”

The whole business and the whole purpose, and the whole intent of God’s placing man upon the earth (the whole of man) - all that concerns man is summed up here. Fear God and obey him! "All other things, as stated again and again in Ecclesiastes, are dependent upon a Higher Incomprehensible Being.” This is the Higher Intelligence, the Creator, the First Cause - He is God!

"The fear and obedience of God are still the basic requirements of man’s behavior, and God will hold him accountable for his actions.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13 Whatever difficulty one may encounter in the explanation of certain sections of Ecclesiastes, there can be little doubt about the intention of Solomon as he moves to his conclusion. His final observations are stated with great clarity. The “conclusion” is literally “the sum of all.” It should be noted that his personal claim to inspiration is made prior to his final warning which he says applies to all men.

The “fear of God” is now underscored as the major theme of the book. “Vanity” and the testimony values of this world are contrasted with true wisdom. This true wisdom leads one to shun evil and do good (Psalms 34:11-12) and is thus defined as the “fear of the Lord.” The fear of God and keeping His commands are inseparable. To obey God, in this context, is not an indication that one fears Him it is the fear of God. It is worthy of note that Solomon now applies his message “to every man.” Ecclesiastes 12:14 confirms the universality of the message. The Septuagint captures the meaning better than does the Authorized Version when it renders the statement as “For this is the whole duty of man.” Similar translations read, “This is the duty of all men,” “This concerns all mankind,” “The whole of mankind,” “For this, all men,” and “The whole duty for every man.” Paul draws this same conclusion as he said, “Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also” (Romans 3:29).

The Vanities of Ecclesiastes Contrasted With the Fear of the Lord which follows this immediate section, illustrates the negative pursuits of men which the Preacher declares to be but transitory and unfulfilling. The positive practice of the fear of the Lord fills the emptiness in man’s life and directs him to satisfaction and joy.

Verse 14

Ecc 12:14

Ecclesiastes 12:14

"For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."

A more positive statement of the Biblical doctrine of the Eternal Judgment is to be found nowhere else in the Old Testament. The fact of God’s eventual judgment of the whole world is a cardinal principle of Christianity, one of the fundamentals (Hebrews 6:2). This announcement of it at the end of Solomon’s book makes it a climax. It could very well have been that his conviction of this certainty was the very thing that finally brought him to his senses. Delitzsch agreed with this. "This certainty of the final judgment at last was that which finally brought Solomon out of the labyrinth of his skepticism." It will also do the same thing for every honest and intelligent man who will contemplate it.

As Hendry wrote, "The resolution of the discord" (the making of all things right: the just assignment of rewards for the righteous and punishments for the wicked, which shall take place only in the world to come) - "All this shall await the time when faith will give place to sight and every hidden thing will be revealed; so we may say of these last words of Ecclesiastes, that they foreshadow the resurrection.”

"Solomon’s conclusion is that true religion is the only way to true happiness." Man may chase the rainbows in any direction that he chooses, but apart from the love and service of God, only the rottenness of a grave awaits him. The verdict of God’s truth against any other way but the true one is `vanity of vanities.’ Why should anyone doubt it and throw his life away in the pursuit of life’s beckoning butterflies, all of which can only disappoint and destroy him?

For a more extensive discussion of The Judgment regarding (1) its place in the Bible, (2) the necessity for it, (3) the occasion of it, (4) its importance as a foundational doctrine of Jesus Christ, (5) the reasons for its being a day of terror and sorrow for "all the tribes of the earth,,’ etc.,

Our study of this amazingly powerful chapter of God’s Word would not be complete without a summary of the great doctrines of Christianity that are either expressly declared, necessarily implied, or both, in these verses. Here they are:

The Existence and Power of God

God is the Creator

God is the creator of Man

Immortality of the Soul

The Resurrection of the Dead

God is the Shepherd of Israel

The Existence of Moses’ Law

God’s Commands Available in that Law

That Law a Divine Revelation

Man’s Accountability to God

The Eternal Judgment (Heaven and Hell)

Rewards and Punishments

It would be difficult indeed to find another chapter in the whole Bible with a more impressive constellation of stellar Christian doctrines than that which appears here. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen!

Ecclesiastes 12:14 Appropriately the reader is drawn to God in this final sentence of the book. God is the Creator (Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:1; Ecclesiastes 7:13-14; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 11:5; Ecclesiastes 12:7), the One worshipped (Cf. Ecclesiastes 5:1-2; Ecclesiastes 5:4; Ecclesiastes 5:6-7; Ecclesiastes 8:2), the One who permits man’s enjoyment, (Cf. Ecclesiastes 9:7) the One who knows the end from the beginning (Cf. Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 3:15), the One who has placed the desire to know in the heart of man (Cf. Ecclesiastes 3:10), the One who supplies food, and water, and gives His approval of labors (Cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 5:18-20), the One who works that men will fear Him (Cf. Ecclesiastes 3:14), the One who is the final judge of all men (Cf. Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:14), the One who proves that man is different from beasts (Cf. Ecclesiastes 3:18), the One who blesses the godly (Cf. Ecclesiastes 7:18), the One who delivers the godly from sin (Cf. Ecclesiastes 7:26), the One who is the author of the words of life (Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:11).

The fact that God will bring “every act” into judgment has been established. He had previously stated: “I said to myself, ‘God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man, for a time for every matter and for every deed is there’” (Ecclesiastes 3:17). In Ecclesiastes 11:9 the emphasis of the judgment is on “all these things.” Nothing escapes the knowledge of God. The “eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth” (2 Chronicles 16:9). (Cf. Zechariah 4:10; Matthew 12:36; Acts 17:30-31; Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10) This final judgment will test the works of men to determine what is vanity and what endures (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

There is a sense in which present judgment takes place “under the sun.” (Cf. John 3:18-20; Galatians 6:7-8; Ephesians 5:13) However, the judgment Solomon refers to must be the eternal judgment as no earthly judgment could include every man and every act.

This final word.

Much closer to our generation than Solomon, there stands a man who represents the same world. He caused laughter to flash across the faces of literally thousands. Yet, in a more serious moment he contemplated life apart from the fear of the Lord and his words are strikingly similar to those of the Preacher. On that occasion Mark Twain wrote:

“A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle for bread; they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other. Age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; those they love are taken from them. At length ambition is dead; pride is dead; longing for release is in their place. It comes at last—the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence. Then another myriad takes their place, and copies all they did, and goes along the same profitless road, and vanishes as they vanished—to make room for another and another and a million more myriads to follow the same arid path through the same desert and accomplish what the first myriad and all the myriads that came after it accomplished—nothing,”

One bows in deep gratitude before the throne of Grace. Indeed the vacuum within man is Christ-shaped. When through faith and submission to His Lordship He floods into our lives, there is fulfillment and purpose. The Sun of Righteousness has risen with healing in His wings. Let Jesus have the final word:

“I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I CAME THAT THEY MIGHT HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT MORE ABUNDANTLY. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:7-11).

How to Live While Young - Ecclesiastes 11:1 to Ecclesiastes 12:8

Open It

1. Why do people want to know the future?

2. Of what opportunities have you failed to take advantage? Why?

3. What sort of risks are you afraid of taking?

4. What is the worst thing to you about getting old?

Explore It

5. What central theme did Solomon develop in these verses? (Ecclesiastes 11:1 to Ecclesiastes 12:8)

6. What conclusions did Solomon draw about life? (Ecclesiastes 11:1 to Ecclesiastes 12:8)

7. What did Solomon tell his readers to do? (Ecclesiastes 11:1)

8. What sort of person did Solomon criticize? (Ecclesiastes 11:4)

9.What is beyond our understanding? (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

10. Why did Solomon tell his readers to keep busy? (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

11. What do we need to keep in mind? Why? (Ecclesiastes 11:8)

12. What advice did Solomon have for the young? (Ecclesiastes 11:9)

13. When should we take pains to remember our Creator? (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

14. How did Solomon describe old age? (Ecclesiastes 12:2-5)

15. How did Solomon symbolize death? (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7)

16. What did Solomon conclude is meaningless? (Ecclesiastes 12:8)

Get It

17. How do the uncertainties of the future make you feel?

18. How should we live in light of the uncertainties of the future?

19. What prevents you from taking calculated risks in life?

20. Why is it important to establish a relationship with God when we are young?

21. In what way is it easy to forget our Creator?

22. What can we do to keep our accountability to God in mind?

23. Why is it easier to enjoy life when we are young than when we become old?

24. How does the reality of aging affect you?

25. How should we live our life in light of the reality of death?

26. In what sense is life meaningless?

27. How should we respond to the seemingly meaningless aspects of life?

Apply It

28. What first step can you take to pursue an opportunity that you have put off?

29. What is something you can do this week to remind yourself of God’s place in your life?

30. Whether young or old what is something you will do today to enjoy the life God has given you?

The Conclusion of the Matter - Ecclesiastes 12:9-14

Open It

1. About what do you like to keep learning more and more?

2. Who has helped you become wiser or more mature?

3. What motivates you to keep God’s commands?

Explore It

4. How did Solomon conclude this book? (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14)

5. How did Solomon describe the Teacher? (Ecclesiastes 12:9)

6. What did the Teacher do with his knowledge? (Ecclesiastes 12:9)

7. For what did the Teacher search? (Ecclesiastes 12:10)

8. How did Solomon describe what the Teacher wrote? (Ecclesiastes 12:10)

9. How did Solomon describe the words of the wise? (Ecclesiastes 12:11)

10. About what did Solomon warn his reader? (Ecclesiastes 12:12)

11. What did Solomon say about books and study? (Ecclesiastes 12:12)

12. What is a person’s whole duty? (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

13. Why did Solomon tell his reader to fear God and keep His commandments? (Ecclesiastes 12:14)

Get It

14. With what mood would you say Solomon concluded this book?

15. How are wise sayings like goads?

16. When have you been weary from studying?

17. How important is learning and studying in comparison to other pursuits?

18. What is the relationship between fearing God and keeping his commandments?

19. How does the fact that God is going to judge every deed motivate you?

20. What opportunities do you have to teach others?

21. How can we learn from each other?

22. What opportunities do you have to learn from others?

23. In what ways can you be a teacher or advisor to at least one other Christian?

24. In what ways can you gain from others’ wisdom and insight?

Apply It

25. What can you do always to be conscious of God’s commands?

26. What is one piece of advice you would give to a younger or less mature Christian?

27. What can you do this week to learn from another Christian who is older or wiser?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/ecclesiastes-12.html.
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