SPECIAL MESSAGE - ECCL. 12:1-14 - WHAT'S LIFE ABOUT?
TONIGHT: Our text tonight, Eccl. 12:1-14, is known as the epilogue and forms the conclusion to the entire book. In this Chapter, Solomon asks the big questions: Why are we here? What is our purpose in life? He previously informed us about his search in many different areas of interest-wisdom, work, pleasure, accomplishments-but every time he came up empty, meaningless. In answer to the question-why are we here and what is our purpose in life?-Solomon gives us two ways to live this life: First, as a divine school of learning and second, as a stewardship accomplished by living life in a way that prospers the building of God's kingdom here on earth. In a nutshell, you could entitle this lesson as "Learning How to Live Your Life in Ways That Please God in this life."
Read Eccl. 14:1 - LIFE IS A GIFT FROM YOUR CREATOR
1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, "I have no pleasure in them";
v. 1: Translation is important in order to understand this verse. The Hebrew word for "remember" (zakar [zaw-kar']) literally means to act decisively and speak about what's really important. Although God is reported as having "created" or "made" things in other OT books, this is the first reference to Him with the name "Creator." The first phrase of this verse could be paraphrased to read: Act decisively for God while you're young.
• The second phrase, "before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, " can be rephrased to say, before you become decrepit or senile or both (= 'tough love' for old people).
• The third phrase, "I have no pleasure in them," could read, because all other endeavors in life are ultimately meaningless. So putting all of this together, this verse tells us to act decisively for God while you still have the physical and mental ability to do it, because all other activities in life are ultimately pointless.
Read Eccl. 14:2-8 - A WARNING OF WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU WITH AGE
2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, 3 in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, 4 and the doors on the street are shut-when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low- 5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets- 6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 8 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.
v. 2: " before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain" - This verse is a poetic description that likens the aging process to the advance of a storm. The next four verses use metaphors for 12 different examples of human aging that are analogized to a house that begins to fall apart.
v. 3a: "in the day when the keepers of the house tremble" - This describes when your arms and hands weaken and begin to shake.
v. 3b: "and the strong men are bent" - Your legs, knees, and shoulders weaken; you walk bent over.
v. 3c: "and the grinders cease because they are few" - You start to lose your teeth.
v. 3d: "and those who look through the windows are dimmed" - Your vision begins to deteriorate.
v. 4a: "the doors on the street are shut-when the sound of the grinding is low" - Your hearing is starting to fail-you can't hear things outside the house.
v. 4b: "and one rises up at the sound of a bird- You used to wake up at the crack of dawn but now you need more rest-and besides that, you can't hear the birds outside any more.
v. 4c: "and all the daughters of song are brought low" - Your singing voice is fading fast.
v. 5a: "they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way" - You've afraid of heights and afraid of falling; things like stairs and ladders have become like "terrors."
v. 5b: "the almond tree blossoms" - Your hair, if you have any left, is as white as an almond blossom.
v. 5c: "the grasshopper drags itself along" - You tire easily, like a grasshopper at the end of summer.
v. 5d: "desire fails" - You're losing your appetite and/or your sexual desire.
v. 5e: "because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets" - You're on the last legs of your life and people are getting ready for your funeral. And the term "eternal home" is suggestive of somewhere other than the grave, but isn't specific.
v. 6: " before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern," - The silver cord represents the thread of life, and the bowl, pitcher, fountain, and cistern all contain water, and water, the symbol for life in general. Thus, when the cord snaps, the containers break, the water flows out, and the end-death results.
v. 7: "and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. The "dust" refers to our fallen humanity (Gen. 3:19). While the "spirit" separates from the body and returns to God, nothing more is said of its future destination. This is consistent with other OT Scriptures that imply life after death (Ps. 17:15; Ps. 36:9; Ex. 3:6.)
v. 8: "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity." - As a contrast, the Preacher goes back to the beginning (Eccl. 1:2). He's not referring to the departed spirit of v. 7 but the dead body left behind: without life, it has no meaning and no purpose-it's empty. The status of man's spirit is entirely different matter. With the revelation of the NT, We know that all humans will ultimately be judged one way or another (Heb. 9:27).
Comment: The clear message of vv. 2-8 urges readers to turn to God while you still have the mental faculties and physical energy to discover the meaning of life so that you can shape the course of your life to serve God in a purposeful way.
Read Eccl. 12:9-12 - LEARNING GOD'S CURRICULUM IN HIS SCHOOL OF LIFE
9 Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. 11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
v. 9a: "Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge" - One commentator is quoted as saying that "life can be like a school, except you don't learn your lessons until you have failed the examination." In this verse, Solomon, in his role as the Preacher, shows us that life is like a school. God teaches us His "curriculum" primarily through His word, but He also teaches us through creation, history, and a variety of experiences in life. Notice that Solomon, as the Teacher (and writer), "also taught the people knowledge." In the case of wisdom literature like the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, "knowledge" is much more than information. It involves the "know how" of understanding and applying God's will in our everyday lives, but even more so, it entails the "know-Who" in terms of our relationship of fear, obedience, and loyalty toward God.
v. 9b: "weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care" - God's Word can be difficult reading at times, but it does have an order, a pattern, and a grand story or narrative to it. And once you understand this, learning God's curriculum becomes easier. Solomon is thought to have collected thousands of wise sayings, but notice here that He selected "many proverbs with great care," meaning that God's inspiration guided him, which is also true of the Book of Ecclesiastes.
v. 10: "The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth" - The "truth" is that everything in God's Word is 100% accurate. There may be parts of the Bible we don't understand or we may find parts of it that appear to be in conflict with other parts-in other words, they just don't seem to make any sense to us. A good case in point is the Book of Job-which asks why does God allow good people to suffer?-and Ecclesiastes-which asks why is all life under the sun meaningless? Theses are hard questions, yes? As we study the Bible, we all go through this struggle-advancing from baby's milk to raw meat. Take this analogy: A twelfth grade student has a much better understanding of the English language than a first grader (i.e., learning ABCs versus diagramming sentences and writing essays). True? The difference is that the twelfth-grader has spent 12 long years studying the subject matter. The same idea applies to the Word of God. The more you read it, meditate on it, and seriously ponder what it means, your comprehension will become clearer, and you will begin to unravel the answers to these seeming contradictions.
v. 11a: "The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings;" - A "gaod" was a long pointed rod that prodded oxen to plow straight furrows. In the same way, a teacher (in this case, Solomon, as an inspired writer of Scripture) will use sharp words to guide the student down the straight and narrow path of God's curriculum. God can use all kinds of "goads" to teach us His curriculum: the printed words in the Bible, the images projected on a SmartPhone or computer screen, or the spoken words of a preacher or teacher. It's still God's truth, regardless of the medium used. One of the main purposes of preaching and Sunday school classes is to give you a step-by-step "goad" for learning God's curriculum so you can (1) understand it and (2) apply it to your life.
v. 11b: "they are given by one Shepherd" - Scholars say this is an OT metaphor for God, not Christ.
v. 12: "My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh." - The premise here is that the Bible itself is the only 100% reliable tool for learning God's curriculum. Reading other books about the Bible are like taking "electives" (i.e., optional information), which is not mandatory. You can read devotional books by noted authors and gain valuable insights, but they aren't substitutes for the Bible. Down through the ages, thousands of books have been written about the Bible, but none of them replace THE Bible. This is why spending time with God in His Bible each day is so vital in God's school of life. Day-by-day, you keep on learning, and the learning process in this life will continue until God takes you home.
Read Eccl. 12:13-14 - APPLYING GOD'S CURRICULUM TO THE BETTERMENT OF HIS CREATION
13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Comment: Jesus summarized the OT with the following two commands: And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Mt. 22:37-40). And in these last two verses of Ecclesiastes, we have a summary of the OT from Solomon's perspective.
vv. 13-14: These two verses, which form the conclusions of Solomon's search for meaning, press us to do three things which sum up his entire message to us (they are also our application points):
1. "Fear God:" This means maintaining a right relationship with Him. Fearing God doesn't imply fright or terror but means that out of our reverence, respect, and awe of Him that we know Who He is and where we stand in relation to Him. It means taking Him seriously and recognizing Him as the highest good-the best thing-in our lives. It means that we stop trying to be our own little gods and masters and put Him first instead-in all things in life.
2. "Keep His commandments:" This isn't a separate thing but forms the essential rules in the curriculum for living in God's creation. It includes all of God's commandments, and for NT Christians, this means obeying every command of God from Gen. 1 to Rev. 22. This is our stewardship: Doing our part to build and prosper God's kingdom on earth-His creation-by living-out His truth in the here and now. The people of the world who don't know God need to see the "living hope" that Solomon describes in Chapter 9, v. 4, which is the visible evidence of God as seen in our lives.
3. Expect a Final Future "Judgment:" As Christians, we believe that life on earth does matter. We believe that there is a heaven and a hell. To determine one's destination, there will be a future and final judgment of all people (Rom. 14:10-12), including us. And there will be two judgments-a good and bad judgment: A good judgment of rewards for Christians (2 Cor. 5:10) and a bad judgment for those who have rejected Christ as Savior (Rev. 20:11-15). So, now, at the end of this, is living life in the here and now really worth living? Yes, absolutely! But, life only makes sense when you live it according to God's School of Life, using His Word as the curriculum. Alternatively, you can continue your search for life elsewhere, apart from God, but like Solomon, you will eventually end up only finding frustration and emptiness. Or, if you're somewhere in between-undecided-you can come to God this morning and find the answer to your deepest need: You can receive the free gift of eternal life from Jesus Christ and begin living the abundant life today.