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Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 12

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3027. B.C. 977.

An exhortation to remember God in youth, enforced from the calamities of old age, and the change which death will make, Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 . The conclusion, all is vanity, Ecclesiastes 12:8 . The preacher’s end in this book, Ecclesiastes 12:9-12 . The sum of all, to fear God and keep his commandments, in consideration of the judgment to come 13, Ecclesiastes 12:14 .

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 12:1. Remember Namely, practically, so as to fear, love, and faithfully serve him, which, when men do not, they are said to forget him: thy Creator The first author and continual preserver of thy life and being, and of all the endowments and enjoyments which accompany it; to whom thou art under the highest and strongest obligations; and upon whom thou art constantly and necessarily dependant, and therefore to forget him is most unnatural and disingenuous. Now in the days of thy youth For now thou art most able to do it; and it will be most acceptable to God, and most comfortable to thyself, as being the best evidence of thy sincerity, and the best provision for old age and death. While the evil days come not The time of old age, which is evil; that is, burdensome and calamitous in itself, and far more grievous when it is loaded with the sad remembrance of youthful follies, and with the dreadful prospect of approaching death and judgment. When thou shalt say, I have no pleasure My life is now bitter and burdensome to me: which is frequently the condition of old age.

Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 12:2. While the sun, or the light, &c. Hebrews While the sun, and the light, and the moon, &c. That clause, and the light, seems to be added to signify, that he speaks of the darkening of the sun, and moon, and stars, not in themselves, but only in respect of that light which they afford to men. And therefore the same clause which is expressed after the sun, is to be understood after the moon and stars. And those expressions may be understood of the outward parts of the body, and especially of the face, the beauty of the countenance, the pleasant complexion of the cheeks, the liveliness of the eyes, which are compared to the sun, and moon, and stars, and which are obscured in old age, as the Chaldee paraphrast understands it. Or of the inward faculties of the mind, the understanding, fancy, memory, which may not improperly be resembled to the sun, moon, and stars, and all which are sensibly decayed in most old men. Or of external things, of the change of their joy, which they had in their youth, into sorrow, and manifold calamities, which are usually the companions of old age. This interpretation agrees both with the foregoing verse, in which he describes the miseries of old age, and with the following clause, which is added to explain those otherwise ambiguous expressions; and with the Scripture use of this phrase; for a state of comfort and happiness is often described by the light of the sun, and a state of trouble is set forth, by the darkening of the light of the sun. Nor the clouds return after the rain This phrase denotes a perpetual succession of rain, and clouds bringing rain, and then rain and clouds again. Whereby he expresses either the rheums or defluctions which incessantly flow in old men; or the continual vicissitude of infirmities, diseases, and griefs; one deep calling upon another.

Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 12:3. When the keepers of the house The body, which is often and fitly compared to a house; whose keepers are the hands and arms, which are man’s best instruments to defend his body from the assaults of men or beasts, and which, in a special manner, are subject to this trembling. And the strong men shall bow themselves Either the back, or the thighs and legs, in which the main strength of the body consists, and which, in old men, are very feeble. And the grinders The teeth, those especially which are commonly so called, because they grind the meat which we eat; cease To perform their office; because they are few Hebrew, כי מעשׂו , because they are diminished, either in strength, or in number, being only here one, and there another, and neither united together, nor one directly opposite to another, and consequently unfit for their work. And those that look out of the windows be darkened The eyes. By windows he understands, either the eye-lids, which, like windows, are either opened or shut: or, those humours and coats of the eyes, which are the chief instruments by which we see.

Verse 4

Ecclesiastes 12:4. And the doors be shut in the streets Or toward the streets: which lead into the street. This may be understood, either of the outward senses, which, as doors, let in outward objects to the soul; or, rather, of the mouth, or the two lips, here expressed by a word of the dual number, which, like a door, open or shut the way that leads into the streets or common passages of the body, as the gullet, stomach, and all the bowels; as also the wind-pipe and lungs, which also are principal instruments both of speaking and eating. And these are said to be shut, not absolutely, as if men did never eat, or drink, or speak, but comparatively, because men, in old age, grow dull and listless, having little appetite to eat, and are very frequently indisposed for discourse. When the sound of the grinding is low When the teeth are loose and few, whereby both his speech is low, and the noise which he makes in eating is but small. And he shall rise From his bed, being weary with lying, and unable to get sleep. At the voice of the bird As soon as the birds begin to chirp, which is early in the morning, whereas young men can lie and sleep long. And all the daughters of music All those senses or parts of the body, which are employed in music, shall be brought low Shall be cast down from their former excellence, and become incapable either of making music, or of delighting in it.

Verse 5

Ecclesiastes 12:5. When they shall be afraid, &c. The passion of fear is observed to be most incident to old men, of which divers reasons may be given. Of that which is high Of high things, lest they should fall upon them; or of high places, as of going up hills or stairs, which is very irksome to them, because of their weakness, weariness, giddiness, and danger, or dread of falling. And fears shall be in the way Lest, as they are walking, they should stumble, or fall, or be thrust down, or some infirmity or evil should befall them. And the almond-tree shall flourish Their heads shall be as full of gray hairs as the almond-tree is of white flowers. And the grasshopper shall be a burden If it accidentally light upon them. They cannot endure the least burden, being indeed a burden to themselves. And desire shall fail Of meats, and drinks, and music, and other delights, which are vehemently desired by men in their youth. Because man goeth Is travelling toward it, and every day nearer to it. To his long home

From this place of his pilgrimage into the grave, from whence he must never return into this world, and into the state of the future life, which is unchangeable and everlasting. And mourners go about the streets Accompany the corpse through the streets to the grave.

Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 12:6. Or ever the silver cord be loosed By the silver cord he seems to understand the spinal marrow, which comes from the brain, and goes down to the lowest end of the back-bone. And this is aptly compared to a cord, both for its figure, which is long and round, and for its use, which is to draw and move the parts of the body; and to silver, both for its excellence and colour, which is white and bright, in a dead, much more in a living body. This may properly be said to be loosed, or dissolved, because it is relaxed, or otherwise disabled for its proper service. And answerably hereto, by the golden bowl we may understand the membranes of the brain, and especially that inmost membrane which insinuates itself into all the parts of it, following it in its various windings, keeping each parcel of it in its proper place, and dividing one from another, to prevent disorder. This is not unfitly called a bowl, because it is round, and contains in it all the substance of the brain; and a golden bowl, partly for its great preciousness and usefulness; partly for its ductility, being drawn out into a great thinness or fineness; and partly for its colour, which is somewhat yellow, and comes nearer to that of gold than any other part of the body does. And this, upon the approach of death, is commonly shrivelled up, and many times broken. And as these clauses concern the brain, and the animal powers, so the two following respect the spring of the vital powers, and of the blood, the great instrument whereof is the heart. And so Solomon here describes the chief organs appointed for the production, distribution, and circulation of the blood. For though the circulation of the blood has been hid for many generations, yet it was well known to Solomon. According to this notion, the fountain is the right ventricle of the heart, which is now acknowledged to be the spring of life; and the pitcher is the arteries which convey the blood from it to other parts, and especially that arterious vein, by which it is transmitted to the lungs, and thence to the left ventricle, where it is better elaborated, and then thrust out into the great artery, called aorta, and by its branches dispersed into all the parts of the body. And the cistern is the left ventricle of the heart, and the wheel seems to be the great artery, which is fifty so called, because it is the great instrument of this circulation. The pitcher may be said to be broken at the fountain, when the veins do not return the blood to the heart, but suffer it to stand still and cool, whence comes that coldness of the outward parts, which is a near forerunner of death. And the wheel may be said to be broken at the cistern, when the great arteries do not perform their office of conveying the blood into the left ventricle of the heart, and of thrusting it out thence into the lesser arteries, whence comes that ceasing of the pulse, which is a certain sign of approaching death.

Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 12:7. Then shall the dust The body, called dust, both on account of its original, which was from the dust, and to signify its vile and corruptible nature. As it was Whence it was first taken. He alludes to Genesis 3:19. And the spirit The soul of man, so called, because of its spiritual or immaterial nature; shall return unto God Into his presence, and before his tribunal, that it may there be sentenced to its everlasting habitation, either to abide with God forever, if approved by him, or otherwise, to be eternally shut out from his presence and favour. Who gave it Namely, in a peculiar manner; by his creating power: whence he is called, the Father of spirits, Hebrews 12:9.

Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 12:8. Vanity of vanities This sentence, wherewith he began this book, he here repeats in the end of it, as that which he had proved in all the foregoing discourse, and that which naturally followed from both the branches of the assertion laid down, Ecclesiastes 12:7.

Verses 9-12

Ecclesiastes 12:9-12. He still taught the people knowledge As God gave him this wisdom, that he might be a teacher of others, so he used it to that end. Gave heed He did not utter whatever came into his mind, but seriously pondered both his matter and his words. Therefore despise not his counsel. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words Hebrew, רבי חפצ , words of desire, or, of delight: worthy of all acceptation, such as would minister comfort or profit to the hearers or readers. And that which was written By the preacher, in this and his other books; was upright Hebrew, רשׁי , right, or, straight, agreeable to the mind or will of God, which is the rule of right, not crooked or perverse; even words of truth Not fables, cunningly devised to deceive the simple; but true and certain doctrines, which commend themselves to men’s reason and consciences; wholesome and edifying counsels. The words of the wise Of spiritually wise and holy men of God; are as goads and as nails Piercing into men’s dull minds, and quickening and exciting them to the practice of all duties; fastened by the masters of assemblies Fixed in men’s memories and hearts, in which they make powerful and abiding impressions, by the ministry of the teachers of God’s church and people, whether prophets or others, appointed by God for that work; which are given from one shepherd From God, or from Christ, the great Shepherd and Teacher of the church in all ages, by whose Spirit the ancient prophets, as well as other succeeding teachers, were inspired and taught, Jer 3:15 ; 1 Peter 1:11; and 2 Peter 1:21. And further, by these By these wise men, and their words or writings; be admonished Take your instructions from them; for their words are right and true, as he said, Ecclesiastes 12:10; whereas the words of other men are often false, or at best, doubtful. Of making many books there is no end As if he had said, I could easily write many and large books upon these matters; but that would be an endless and needless work; seeing things necessary to be known and done lie in a little compass, as he informs us, Ecclesiastes 12:13. And much study The reading and considering of many books, as well as the writing of them; is a weariness to the flesh Wasteth a man’s strength and spirits, and yet does not give satisfaction to his mind, nor sufficiently recompense the trouble and inconvenience to which man is exposed by it.

Verses 13-14

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14. Let us hear the conclusion, &c. The sum of all that hath been said or written by wise men. Fear God Which is put here for all the inward worship of God, reverence, and love, and trust, and a devotedness of heart to serve and please him; and keep his commandments This is properly added, as a necessary effect, and certain evidence of the true and genuine fear of God. Make conscience of practising whatever God enjoins, how costly, or troublesome, or dangerous soever it may be. For this is the whole duty of man Hebrew, The whole of man, or all the man: it is his whole work and business: his whole wisdom, honour, perfection, and happiness: it is the sum of what he need either know, or do, or enjoy. This makes him a man indeed, worthy of the name, and by this, and by this alone, he answers the end of his creation, and of all the divine dispensations toward him. For God shall bring every work into judgment All men must give an account to God of all their works, and this alone will enable them to do that with joy. With every secret thing Not only outward and visible actions, but even inward and secret thoughts. Reader, think of this, and prepare to meet thy God!

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/ecclesiastes-12.html. 1857.
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