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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 12

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


In the last chapter Koheleth counsels the young man what he should avoid, he now warns him what he should do.

Verse 1

1. Remember Solemn reminder of what youth is inclined to forget.

Thy Creator Who formed the frame described in Ecclesiastes 12:6, and will bring thee to judgment, Ecclesiastes 12:14. Now… thy youth In emphatic contrast with thy gloomy old age, brought on by forgetting God, pictured in Ecclesiastes 12:2-5.

when woe and care will render such piety difficult, and with that dissolution, (6, 7,) which make repentance impossible. Wretched is the man who gives his best days and strongest powers to the service of Satan, expecting to give God the dregs of his life, or to repent in the hour of death.

No pleasure The freshness of life is gone; the world is dark and drear; and the soured spirit has no heart for devotion.

Verse 2

2. The old age of the God-forgetter is a world with its lights, sun, moon, stars, all darkened. The night of the soul within sheds blackness on the world without.

Verse 3

3. House The aged body is compared to a “house,” or rather to a mill structure, in which the vital functions and operations are a grinding, and which is defended by keepers, and upheld by strong men, with windows through which the inmates look out upon the world. These “keepers,” that defend, are the arms; these supporters are the legs; and the “windows” are the eyes. Of old age the arm and hand are tremulous, the legs bent and tottering, the teeth, or grinders, cease to masticate by becoming too few, and the eyes grow dim.

Verse 4

4. The doors The mouth. See Job 41:14. In or on the streets, as being the front door, with valves like the lips of a man.

Shut By loss of teeth. No dental art was known to Koheleth.

Sound of the grinding is low Not merely the mastication, but the whole digestive and vital processes are feeble and slow, so that the man’s whole bodily system is like an almost silent mill.

Rise up at the voice of the bird Better rendered by critics, it, (not he,) referring to “sound,” amounts to the voice of a sparrow. That is, the vital processes of this human mill are so feeble that its grinding “sound” is not louder than a sparrow’s cheep. This grinding “sound” is heard in the “low” and cracked voice of the old man.

Daughters of music Of man’s divine endowment of “music,” the notes and strains of the musician are the offspring or “daughters.” These are brought low, so that no true “music” can be poured forth.

Verse 5

5. They The man himself; expressed in the plural because his various parts and powers have been personified as so many individuals.

Afraid of the high In youth the man could look down from the high tower and not be dizzy; he could mount the cliff and not be exhausted. His brain and legs are now too weak; and he dreads all heights. Nay, fears of exposures to accidents, foes, or atmospheric miasms, are in the plain and level way.

The almond tree shall flourish This “almond tree” has been supposed to refer to the grey hairs of the aged; but the almond does not blossom white but pink coloured. Modern scholars render the words, The almond shall disgust; that is, as an edible, because the toothless old man can no longer masticate it.

The grasshopper (rather locust) shall be a burden Usually understood as a hyperbole expressive of extreme bodily weakness; the old man can scarce carry a grasshopper. But the locust was an article of food; and the meaning seems to be, that it will be too heavy a burden on the stomach for his digestion.

Desire The appetites, especially the sexual. But scholars render the phrase, The kappar shall fail to stimulate. The kappar, or caper-sauce, used to rouse the system, shall be ineffective. Tonics, appetizers, and even medicines shall cease to affect the body so nearly lifeless.

Because All these decays take place “because” man is a fading, dying being.

Goeth The continuous permanent present to express a permanent continuous fact. Man is ever growing old and going to the grave.

Long home Literally, his eternal “home,” in contrast with earth, his temporal “home.” Where that “home” is, Ecclesiastes 12:7 declares; the dust to the grave and the spirit to God. Yet these are one “home” in eternity; and none the less so because judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14) shall within that “home” change the locality, and unite “dust” and “spirit” in final retribtution. As regularly as the corpse goeth to the grave, the mourners (perhaps in funeral procession) go, or wind, about the streets.

Verse 6

6. So far decay of age is depicted; now dissolution itself. We can hardly agree with the commentators who deny that the bowl, the pitcher, and the wheel, must not each be applied to a definite object or part of dying man. The analogy of Ecclesiastes 12:2-5 requires that these must not be construed as mere successive general images of crash and ruin, but must be individualized. Yet they cannot be individualized according to modern anatomy: but in accordance with old Hebrew ideas we may suppose the “bowl” to symbolize the head; the “pitcher,” the heart; and the “wheel,” with its cordage, the nervous and tendinous systems. The head, in Hebrew thought, did not represent the intellect, or refer to the brain; but, as the summit of man or animal, it represented the highest individuality. Genesis 40:19; Leviticus 19:32. On it was placed the crown, or other ensigns, of honour. On it retribution falls, (Genesis 3:15; Psalms 7:16;) or blessing, Genesis 49:26. To take off or break the head was a formula of death, 1 Samuel 31:9; 2 Samuel 16:9; Psalms 74:13-14. Here the image is a golden, or gilded, yet fragile lamp “bowl,” suspended by a cord, entwined with silver, to the ceiling above. The “cord” is loosed by decay, perhaps, or snapped by violence, and the falling “bowl” is, alas! broken. Such are life and death. Man’s existence is suspended by a thread of destiny, the severance of which is crash and destruction.

The heart, in Hebrew thought, might well be symbolized as a “pitcher” the receptacle of the impressions, desires, and emotions drawn from the fountain of outside individual experience; yet able to so mingle its impressions as to form in itself reasonings and purposes. 2 Chronicles 7:11; Job 9:4; Job 38:36. At the very “fountain” the “pitcher” is “broken” and death is the result. To the cistern that is, the well or reservoir of drinkable water there is a “wheel,” or windlass, with chains by which the bucket is let down or drawn up from the depths. So to the man there is the system of efferent, or out-carrying, nerves, and afferent, or in-bringing, nerves. With this accord the sinews and other machineries the bones and muscles by which man’s will puts forth or withdraws action. Break this “wheel” at the “cistern” and life’s activity for ever ceases.

Verse 7

7. Dust… earth Just as, Genesis 2:7, man was taken as dust from the ground, so now he returns to “dust.” And the spirit, then inbreathed from God, and thence forming a living person, returns unto God who gave it. It is not, in this return “unto God,” resolved back into an impersonal breath, which is a pantheistic idea unknown to the Hebrew mind. It returns, as Ecclesiastes 12:14 indicates, a personal being “unto God,” awaiting his judgment.

Verse 8

8. Vanity of vanities This solemn finale employs the key-note with which this inquiry began. It is as if the proposition then announced had now been demonstrated. The writer, committing it now to the judgment of reasonable men, feels sure of their concurrence for ever.

Verse 9

9. Because the Preacher was wise Koheleth now defines himself in what may be reckoned his true character. He is a “hakam,” (Arabic, hakim,) or “physician,” like the Greek επαιων a professional man, a public teacher, one devoted to the solution of moral and practical problems. He also discoursed to the people on instructive subjects, and with care and research framed proverbs to guide the public thought. In his various functions of teacher, sage, and author he must have led a laborious and benevolent life. If Solomon be Koheleth his conception of such a life is singularly truthful.

Verse 10

10. Acceptable words Hebrew, Words of consolation. Feeling deeply for the sorrows of his kind, he found that the words that gave them relief were the frank utterances of sincerity and truth. Such are the words of this essay, which states with fearless accuracy, like that of Shakspeare, the aspects of life as actually seen from many and various positions.

Verse 11

11. The words of the wise are as goads The writer gives the reason of his undertaking, suggesting, too, his ideal of what such work should be, as if his toil would be repaid should these words prove such.

And as nails Better, And as stakes firmly set, are those (words) of the masters of assemblies. The stakes are those to which the tent ropes are fastened, firmly holding the tent in its place.

Which are given Referring to “the words of the wise.” The savings of true wisdom, whether they are radical and arousing, like goads, or conservative and supporting, like tent stakes, are from the inspiration of one Shepherd, the Allwise, who, in manifold ways, aims at the correction and instruction of his creatures. “All true wisdom is from One Wise.”

Verse 12

12. And further Hebrew, But beyond this, my son, take warning. All the books that can be made, and the most exhausting study, can make no one wiser. About fifteen thousand books are annually made in Christendom, and knowledge is rapidly increased, but duty is still taught only by the one Shepherd and Teacher, and true wisdom is from him alone.

Verse 13

13. The conclusion of the whole matter After this long survey of human affairs, chiefly on their sad and shady side, this counsel has peculiar weight. It is the word of one who has tried it himself and examined it in other men. Peace with God, coming from reverent, steady obedience,

“Makes the rough paths of peevish nature even,”

and he, too, makes this the duty of every man.

The whole duty It is better syntax to read, For this is (the duty) of every man. So the Hebrew indicates. No man is exempt, for there are no mortal conditions that require disobedience to God.

Verse 14

14. Every work into judgment This book began with a view of the arena on which mortal life is enacted. It ends with a conclusion in which nothing is concluded but mortal cares and vanities and opportunities. We are pointed, as by the marble finger of the ancient statue, to the tribunal hereafter. In the cool light of the world where change and confusion never enter, there sits the most worthy Judge Eternal. Beyond that Koheleth is silent; but how full of meaning is his silence!

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/ecclesiastes-12.html. 1874-1909.
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