THE CONCLUSION Ecclesiastes 9–12
“Fear God and kepp His commanments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc 12:13–14).Life truly is short. Unless we learn to live with eternity in view, our lives will also be meaningless.
The Teacher continued to explore the choices a secular man can make in view of life’s essential meaninglessness. His advice: Enjoy life while you can (9:1–12), choose wisdom’s ways (v. 13–10:20), prepare for the future (11:1–6), and enjoy your youth (v. 7–12:8). Finally, stepping out of his secular role, the Teacher advised: “Fear God and keep His commandments” (vv. 9–14).
Understanding the Text
“All share a common destiny” Ecc. 9:1–10.
Death is the destiny that awaits all men. This, when life is viewed from a secular viewpoint, is all one can say. The dead have no “part in anything that happens under the sun.” As far as one can tell apart from divine revelation “the dead know nothing; they have no furthur reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten.” If this life is all there is, then all one can do is enjoy and live this life to the full (chaps. 9–10). It’s important to remember that the writer was not serving as God’s spokesman, but as spokesman for secular man. The text represents what man can discover about the most basic issues of life using only reason and data available to the senses. such phrases as “the dead know nothing” are not revelations from God, but reasoned human conclusions. Perfume jars like these were used in Old Testaments times to hold sweet-smelling ointments. The image in Ecclesiates 10:1 of dead fliews spoiling the odor of perfume has given us the saying, “there’s a fly in the ointment.” We use it to mean that something has gone seriously wrong. “Wisdom is better” Ecc. 9:11–10:20. In this extended passage the Teacher expressed his preference for wisdom over folly. But there’s a fly in the ointment! While wisdom is preferable, wisdom cannot quarantee anyone a better life! What is seriously wrong with wisdom? First, Solomon asked us to realize that nothing in this life can guarantee success (9:11–12). The swift do not always win the race. The largest army is not always victorious. Wisdom is no guarantee of wealth. In this world men are vulnerable, likely to be “trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” Chance is not the only factor that makes wisdom of uncertain benefit. Here is the writer’s list: 9:13–16. Wisdom is often unrecognized. People pay more attention to rich fools than to poor wise men. 9:17–10:1. Wisdom can be thwarted, by those in authority (9:17), by moral deficiency (v. 18), and by mistaking spoiled advice for the real thing (10:1). 10:2–3. Folly, which is the opposite of wisdom and is associated with wickedness, competes with wisdom, and we are vulnerable. 10:4–7. When offended we are likely to react foolishly—and since so many fools hold high positions, we’re likely to be offended. Here the author drifted slightly and examined the consequences of folly: 10:8–11. Any foolish action has bad consequences for the actor, as illustrated by several sayings and proverbs. 10:12–14. Wise words are “gracious.” The word means kind, appropriate, helpful. But foolish words degenerate into even wilder thoughts and actions, including pronouncements about a future no one can know. 10:15. Fools are incompetent guides to life: A fool can’t even find his way into town! 10:16–20. Folly in national life, as in the individual, leads to disaster. “Sow your seed in the morning” Ecc. 11:1–6. While no one can control the futre (v. 3), it is best to prepare for it as carefully as possible. “Let him enjoy them all” Ecc. 11:7–12:6. It is best to enjoy each day as it comes, and especially while you are young. The exhortation to “remember your Creator in the days of your youth” is not a call to monastic life, but an invitation to enjoy all the good things God has provided in this creation. All too soon old age—the “days of trouble”—will come, when we lose the capacity to enjoy things. Then the world becomes dark (v. 2), for the body stoops (v. 3), teath wear out (v. 3), eyes dim (v. 3) and hearing fades (v. 4). Weakness brings fear (v. 5) and drains desire (v. 5). Then man, like a cut cord, a broken bowl, or a shattered pitcher, is useful no more, and the “the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Man is born. Man lives a brief and empty life. Man dies, and returns to dust. If this is all there is, then life truly is meaningless. “Now all has been heard” Ecc. 12:9–14. It’s comforting to suppose that the Teacher, who the text here and in other places suggests is solomon, stepped out of his role as representative of secular man at the end of Ecclesiastes. Although even here he did not use the name Yahweh, he did speak of God’s commandments, which are least implies some self-revelation. If solomon is in fact the Teacher, and he did step out of his secular role, his words are especially powerful. In the end we must all turn to find hope and meaning. When we not only look back to see God as Creator, but also look up to see Him as our Lord and ahead to see Him as mankind’s Judge, then we discover not only who God is, but whi we are as well. Then we realize that any life lived for the Lord will find its meaning in Him.
Wise Too Late(Ecc. 11:7–12:14)
Solomon, who most believe is the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, was a godly young man. But in middle age, like the Teacher, he turned aside from wholly following the Lord. First Kings 11 tells us that passion for his foreign wives led him astray, even to the extent of worshipping their gods. During this extended perios of his life Solomon lived as a secular man. He accrued vast wealth, undertook massive building projects, and denied himself no pleasures. But then having “had it all,” Solomon saw how empty his life was. “Meaningless! Meaningless!” is a cry of anguish that surely fits the tragic experience of Israel’s most spolndid king. How sad that Solomon, so wise in many ways, lost his spiritual moorings. If indeed Solomon is the one who urges us “to remember the days of our youth,” uttering these words must have been tragic for him indeed. there is no greater tragedy than to become wise and old at the same time, and to look back and realize one has lived a wasted life. I know unsolicted advice is about as welcome as unexpected visitors who appear on the doorstep with luggage in hand. But at least Solomon’s advice is cheap. Not to him, of course. He pais for everything he learned in becoming wise too late. For us the advice is free. Only if we fail to follow it will we pay the truly terrible cost.
Put God first today. Tomorrow will be too little, too late.