Ecclesiastes—Trying to Make Sense of a World That Seems All Wrong

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Introduction
The title of this book comes from a Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, Qoheleth, translated “Preacher” or “Teacher” in our English Bibles. It is taken from the opening line of the book, which credits Solomon as its author, stating, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (Eccl. 1:1).

While Solomon seems to have written the more optimistic Proverbs early in his administration—when he still adhered to YHWH as his God and source of true wisdom—Ecclesiastes was likely composed later in Solomon’s life, after he had drifted away from the Lord into idolatry (See 1 Kings 11:1-10). Squeamish with the thought of the apostate king’s writings being included as Scripture, and concerned that the style of Ecclesiastes appears to be a more recent form of Hebrew, many modern scholars debate his authorship.

I personally question why this book—which contains no direct reference to YHWH by name and is rife with Nihilism and fatalistic ideas—was even included in the canon of Scripture, regardless of its authorship. To my knowledge, it is quoted nowhere in the New Testament, although parts of it sound vaguely reminiscent of other portions of Wisdom Literature. Perhaps it was to show how far even the ‘wisest man in the world’ can fall, when he takes his eyes off the Lord.

Ecclesiastes Chapter 1
After introducing the author, the chapter launches in with the sad thesis that permeates the book: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (Eccl. 1:2). While traditional versions of scripture translate the Hebrew word, hebel, as “vanity,” the term literally means “vapor” or “breath.” Other synonyms include: delusion, emptiness, futility, useless and worthless. Any one of these translations conveys a sense of abject hopelessness and pessimism toward our brief and often confusing existence.

The writer of Ecclesiastes asked, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (v. 3). Like an Eastern mystic, he reflected on the endless cycle of generations, days and nights, and the movement of winds and water on the earth in its rotation (4-7). He complained, “All things are wearisome”—our eyes and ears never have their fill of seeing and hearing, and “what has been done will be done again” (8-9). He was tired of the ‘same old same old,’ as we say. A frequent refrain throughout this book, the Preacher asserts, “there is nothing new under the sun,” since everything we have now has existed previously; we just don’t necessarily have any record of it (9-11).

In a sort of biographical sketch, we receive some background regarding the author’s “research” into the content of this book:

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (12-14).

How depressing! Do you see why this is one of my least favorite books of the Bible?

In a rather unrelated statement, he says, “What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted” (15). Compared to his predecessors [All two of them!], he had accumulated more wisdom and knowledge (16). So he moved on to study madness and folly, as well, coming to the conclusion that those were empty pursuits, too (17). The first chapter closes with the observation that the more you know, the more depressed you feel (18).

Ecclesiastes Chapter 2
His next area of exploration was pleasure, but even that did not seem to accomplish anything worthwhile (Eccl. 2:1-2). Laughter seemed like a waste of time, so he next sampled alcohol and frivolity to see if he’d feel better—all the while convinced his superior intellect would reveal what was worthwhile in this life (vv. 2-3).

That didn’t work, so he took on projects—building houses, planting vineyards, gardens, parks and fruit trees, and digging lakes to irrigate them all (4-6). He accumulated possessions—slaves, animals, gold and silver, professional entertainers, and hundreds of wives (7-8). He soon had more fame and fortune than anyone before him (9). Nevertheless, it did not satisfy. His summation of this undertaking:

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
and this was the reward for all my labor.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
(10-11).

That’s the problem with people who think too much—they over-analyze and miss out on the simple joy of just being and doing. And when you look for pleasure in anything besides God and the activities He permits, you set yourself up for bitter disappointment.

The Preacher decided no one could accomplish more than what he had done already (12). Of wisdom and folly, wisdom was better, “just as light is better than darkness” (13). Even though a wise man is enlightened, while a fool wanders in darkness, they still face the same fate—death. Therefore, a wise man appeared to have no advantage over a fool in the long run (14-15). This, too, seemed meaningless to the Preacher, considering no one was likely to remember either fellow after they both died (16).

Of course, had he considered their destinations after death, the self-proclaimed genius might have had a different perspective. But, by this time, Solomon seems to have abandoned his previous belief in the hereafter [as recorded in Proverbs 22:17-18]. Thus, we find his next statement:

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. (Eccl. 2:17-18)

He not only resented the impermanence of what he had accomplished, but also the fact that his predecessor might not manage it as well as he had (v. 19). It depressed him that someone who hadn’t invested the same hard work and thought into what he had made would inherit everything (20-21). How ego-centric can you get?

The Preacher said it was meaningless for a man to suffer hard work and anxiety all the days of his life for nothing (22-23). It’s best just to enjoy what you can of what you have to show for your labors now (24a). In verses 24b-25, the Preacher made this positive observation: “This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” He negates the lesson with the follow-up statement that it is meaningless that “God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness” to the person who pleases Him, “but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God” (26). Why is this a problem, so long as you’re the one living a God-honoring life that will be blessed?

Ecclesiastes Chapter 3
To anyone familiar with the classic 60’s anti-war song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” the first eight verses of this chapter will seem very familiar. According to Wikipedia, Pete Seeger put the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 to music in 1959, adding only the lyrics, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” after each verse and “I swear it’s not too late,” after the concluding line. First released in 1962 on his The Bitter and the Sweet album by Columbia Records, the song did not become an international hit, until 1965, when the American folk rock band, The Byrds, took it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. As Wiki experts observe, “The Byrds’ version of the song easily holds the record for the number 1 hit with the oldest lyrics.” [See the full article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turn!_Turn!_Turn! To hear the Byrds’ version of the song and see a slide show of publicity photos of the band, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4ga_M5Zdn4.]

Essentially, the Preacher was observing that there was an appropriate time for people to do just about every activity and its opposite. Although the apostate king picked up from there with two more statements expressing the futility and burdensome nature of man’s labor on the earth (vv. 9-10), verse 11 is the more fitting conclusion to this list: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Because of man’s sin in the garden, work is not as satisfying or long-lasting in its results as God originally intended. There are forces at work constantly undoing all that we do. But it all makes us long for the missing component, which is a relationship with God and the blessing He provides that makes everything worthwhile. Verse 12 adds, “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.” As previously mentioned in Ecclesiastes 2:24, the Preacher realized that the ability to enjoy food, drink and a sense of accomplishment from one’s labor is a gift from God (Eccl. 3:13). The contrast between the permanence and the perfection of what the Lord does and what man can accomplish is intended to cause us to revere Him (14).

Verse 15 takes a minute to comprehend, but makes perfect sense: “Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.” In The Preacher’s mind, there was no such thing as true originality. As we might say, ‘It’s all been done before.’

He hated the injustice he saw, but did express the hope that God would eventually bring every person to judgment for the deeds they had done (16-17). Like many evolutionists today, he believed men were no different than animals, in that they all die—their breath returns to God and their bodies return to dust (18-20). He wasn’t willing to speculate whether a man’s spirit rose to heaven, while an animal’s life-force, or essence, returned to the earth (21). He decided that, if this life is all we can count on, then it’s best to make the most of it (22).

Ecclesiastes Chapter 4
This chapter focuses on the oppression that prevails on the earth. Even from his lofty position, the Preacher saw the tears of the downtrodden, who had no strength or comfort (Eccl. 4:1). He decided that the dead were better off than the living who still had suffering to look forward to (v. 2). Better off, yet, was the person who had never been born to see all “the evil that is done under the sun” (3).

He realized most achievement was motivated by envy (4). The fool, through inactivity, ruins himself (5). It’s better to enjoy a little bit with peace, than more gained by excessive toil and pursuit of some elusive goal (6).

The Preacher talked about the futility of a man who had no family, yet was constantly pursuing wealth. Although he never took the time to enjoy what he had, it never occurred to him that he was depriving himself for nothing (7-8). Hmm, that makes me think Howard Hughes had a predecessor in ancient Israel!

The next several verses are a great endorsement for friendship and are frequently quoted at weddings:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
(9-12)

I love that last statement; it makes me think of the following equation: You + me + God = 1 formidable unit.

The next few verses are ironic, considering Solomon’s predecessors and what happened to his own son. He says it’s better to be a poor youth with a bit of wisdom, than an old, unteachable king (13). That sounds like David and Saul. The young man may have come from prison to his position of leadership [like Joseph to Pharaoh’s court], or he may have been born in poverty [more like David] (14). Everyone followed the king’s successor [David was nicer than Saul, and David made sure everyone followed Solomon.] (15). The last verse sounds a little like Absalom’s coup, but a lot more like what happened to Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam: “those who came later were not pleased with the successor” (16).

Ecclesiastes Chapter 5
The first several verses of this chapter have to do with acceptable worship. The Preacher warned people to be careful when they go to God’s house and “to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong” (Eccl. 5:1). Apparently, he had seen quite a few people make rash promises to the Lord in the heat of religious fervor, and then change their minds later.

The statement, “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few,” was intended to keep people at around 950 BC from saying more than they ought to at the temple (vv. 2-3). But in 2000 AD, it was apparently also inspiration to Matt and Beth Redman to keep our worship simple, as you find in their wonderful praise song, “Let My Words Be Few.” To hear this song and see the lyrics go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqIA_l2ypkE.

Verse 4 says we shouldn’t delay to fulfill our vows to the Lord. It’s better not to vow at all than to make a promise to God and not fulfill it (5). It’s insulting to God and his ministers to say later that you made a mistake in promising what you did. We need to be in awe of Him and not commit the sin of lying to God (6-7).

Returning to the subject of oppression, the Preacher said not to be surprised when you find the rights of the poor violated. There is a whole ‘food chain’ of men in authority over him, who may be corrupt all the way to the king himself (8-9).

Regarding materialism, he said people who love money never have enough (10). The more you have, the more dependents there are to help consume it all, so wealth really doesn’t do its owner much good (11). Common laborers sleep soundly, whether they enjoy a good meal or not; rich men don’t sleep nearly so well, for all the worries attached to their riches (12). What’s really sad is when a tight-fisted man hoards everything while he’s living, then loses it all, leaving nothing to his son who was so deprived (13-14).

With words very similar to Job’s response to his tragic losses, the author of Ecclesiastes writes, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand” (15). All of this fruitless labor the Preacher saw as evil, darkness, and a source of affliction and anger (16-17). Again, he asserted that the best we could do was enjoy what we have and hope we don’t have too much time to think about how futile our existence really is (18-20).

Ecclesiastes Chapter 6
If the writer of Ecclesiastes was indeed Solomon, then the opening verses of this chapter are probably partly autobiographical. “I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them…” (Eccl. 6:1-2). If a man fathers a hundred children [quite possible for the king who has 1,000 wives and concubines], but neither enjoys his wealth, nor gains a proper burial, a stillborn child is better off, according to the Preacher (v. 3). He explained that the infant that dies in childbirth comes and goes in obscurity, having never known nor experienced anything on earth; yet it is better off than someone who lives a long life without happiness (4-6).

Here’s a telling observation: “All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied” (Eccl. 6:7, NKJV). If we only work to feed our bellies, what purpose does it serve? What good is it to know how to behave, if you don’t gain any advantage (v. 8)? It’s better to make the most of what you have, rather than wishing for what you don’t have (9). The New Living Translation says it this way: “Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless; it is like chasing the wind.”

The Preacher complained that no one could fight someone stronger (10). The more you say, the less people understand, so what good is it to talk much (11)? The last verse of this chapter is really depressing: “In the few days of our empty lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? And who can tell what will happen in the future after we are gone?” (Eccl. 6:12, NLT).

Seriously, this guy needed an attitude adjustment! If we live our lives the way God tells us to, we don’t have to worry about the result.

Ecclesiastes Chapter 7
This chapter reads more like the book of Proverbs—although with a more pessimistic tone—with its couplets and longer passages offering advice. The first part of verse 1 is lovely: “A good name is better than fine perfume” (Eccl. 7:1a). Just as expensive perfume delights the senses, so a reputable name can leave a positive impression. It’s important that we do all we can to guard our reputations, as well.

The second part of that verse, and the thoughts immediately following it are a real downer:

The day of death is better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a funeral than to a party.
We all must die, and everyone living should think about this.
(Eccl. 7:1-2, NCV)

Of course, it’s not uncommon for an old man to think about this—especially if that person does not know or has gotten out of touch with God. Right now, I am praying fervently for my grandfather, who is dying of cancer, to think about the day of his death and whether he is prepared to ‘meet his Maker.’ If a person knows Jesus, then the day of death truly can be something to look forward to (c.f.—Philippians 1:21 & 23). But if you do not, like my grandpa, then it will not be a happy occasion at all. For there is an afterlife, and one’s destination is determined by what we do with Jesus Christ—the only means of salvation (Acts 4:12).

The Preacher totally contradicts what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 15:13 & 17:22, when he says, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” (Eccl. 7:3). Even contemporary science confirms that laughter promotes healing, while excessive sorrow can hasten a person’s demise. While it is true that too much levity can be a bad thing, as suggested in verse 4, it’s also true that too much mourning and seriousness can be harmful, as well.

I do agree with the next several proverbs: “It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools” (5). The cackling of a fool is as meaningless and irritating as the crackle of thorns burning under a pot (6).

Extortion turns a wise man into a fool,
and a bribe corrupts the heart.
The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
and patience is better than pride
(7-8).

Verse 9 indicates a quick-tempered man is a fool, while 10 says it’s silly to ask why the old days were better than the present.

The next two verses talk about wisdom. Verse 11 compares getting wisdom to receiving an inheritance. Verse 12 says that wisdom, like money can provide a shelter for us, but wisdom is better, in that it can save a person’s life.

God’s sovereignty is the focus of verses 13-14: No one can change what He has set, and He has ordained both good times and bad. God alone knows the future and a person’s destiny.

Clearly depressed by his life experiences, the Preacher observed that sometimes the good man dies young, while the wicked live a long and prosperous life (15). This led him to believe a person should neither work too hard to be good, nor be too foolish and behave wickedly (16-17). He advised moderation in both respects (18). This is not godly advice at all!

Verse 19 tells us that wisdom makes a person more powerful than ten rulers in a city. Verse 20 is absolutely true, except in the case of Jesus Christ: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” The next two verses are equally astute in advising us not to listen too closely to what others say, lest we catch them insulting us; but then we, too, have insulted our share of people (21-22)!

The Preacher does admit that he never quite achieved his goal of being wise, since wisdom is beyond the grasp of humanity (23-24). It’s too bad he spent so much time not only delving into wisdom, but also seeking to understand stupidity, wickedness, madness and folly (25). How much better it is to fear God and receive wisdom, as Psalms 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10 tell us!

If, indeed, Solomon was the author of this book, then one can see why he made the following statement.

I found that some women are worse than death
and are as dangerous as traps.
Their love is like a net,
and their arms hold men like chains.
A man who pleases God will be saved from them,
but a sinner will be caught by them.
(Eccl. 7:26, NCV)

His negative attitude toward women is further expressed in verse 28, where he said you can find one good man in a thousand, but not a single upright woman! He acknowledges that God made mankind good, but we “have gone in search of many schemes” (29).

Ecclesiastes Chapter 8
The first part of this chapter mostly advises proper conduct around royalty. The second half continues the Preacher’s observations about life and its injustices. The chapter opens with a couple of rhetorical questions, and then says, “Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its hardness” (Eccl. 8:1, NLT).

Verses 2-6 describe proper etiquette in the presence of royalty. Not being the citizen of a monarchy, I’m not sure what the second half of verse 2 is about. It says, “Obey the king because you have vowed before God to do this” (Eccl. 8:2, NLT). When immigrants become citizens of the United States, they take an oath to uphold the Constitution and obey agents thereof. But I don’t know that any born citizen of a State takes such an oath, unless he/she joins the military or takes some sort of public office. Verse 3 says not to be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence or to stay and argue a lost cause. It’s not a good idea to confront a king, either (4). Obedience is a life-saver, and if you need to bring up a matter, timing is key (5-6).

No one knows the future [except God] (7). We can’t retain our spirits, nor prevent our own deaths, and doing evil doesn’t help at all (8).

The Preacher’s next focus was the abuse of power (9). He talked about how wicked men, once honored, are soon forgotten once they are dead and gone (10). When wicked people are not quickly punished, they get the idea that they can get away with evil (11). Even though this may seem to be the case to those who observe this injustice, the Preacher did insist that God-fearing men are better off in the long run, and the wicked will eventually get what they deserve (12-13). Unfortunately, sometimes good men suffer the punishment the wicked deserve, while evil men get the rewards that should be reserved for the godly (14).

As already stated in Ecclesiastes 5:18, he advised for folks to make the most of their situation and enjoy what God had given them (Eccl. 8:15). It’s not worth losing sleep, trying to figure out the future, since it’s not knowable (vv. 16-17).

Ecclesiastes Chapter 9
In the Preacher’s eyes, it seemed like the same sorry fate awaited every human being—whether good or bad, clean or unclean, devout or not—that is: all die (Eccl. 9:1-3). He believed every man’s heart was full of evil and madness, yet as long as they lived, they had some hope (vv. 3-4). He summed up his sad conclusions this way:

For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
and even the memory of them is forgotten.
Their love, their hate
and their jealousy have long since vanished;
never again will they have a part
in anything that happens under the sun
(5-6).

 If it were true that there is no life after death, then this disheartening belief would be valid. However, other portions of Scripture—especially the New Testament—tell us there is a heaven for those who live for God and a hell reserved for those who live only for themselves. In fact, we find there is eternal regret for those who neglect God, and eternal life on the new earth the Lord will create for those who trust Him (See Matthew 13:36-43 & Revelation 21:1-8).

With this ‘you only live once’ mentality, the Preacher advocated indulging oneself with food, wine, nice clothing, perfume and a good woman “all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun,” as a consolation for their hard work (Eccl. 9:7-9). He added, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom” (v. 10). On the contrary, Jesus indicated in Luke 16:19-31 that men are fully conscious and aware, not only of themselves but others, when they go to hell or heaven.

Furthermore, having observed that the swift do not always win the race, nor the strong the advantage in battle, and the wise do not always prosper, the Preacher concluded it was due to chance that things turn out as they do (Eccl. 9:11). No better off than birds or fishes caught in snares and nets, human beings find themselves “trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly on them” (v. 12). Do you see how sad a man can be without proper perspective from God?

The Preacher told the story of a small town invaded by a mighty king. While he erected siegeworks against the walls to overthrow the city, a poor but wise fellow talked the king into breaking off his invasion. Yet once the hero died, no one remembered what he had done. (13-15) “So I said, ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded” (16). The quiet words of wise men are more important to listen to than the shouts of kings or fools (17). “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good” (18).

Ecclesiastes Chapter 10
Here’s a graphic illustration: “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” (Eccl. 10:1). I will refrain from assigning political parties to correlate with the following: “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left” (v. 2). The truth is, a wise man lets God instruct him, so he deviates neither right nor left of where he ought to go (See Isaiah 30:21). Verse 3 says even when a foolish person walks along the road he shows everyone how stupid he is. Verse 4 is good advice to those working at a difficult job: “If your boss is angry with you, don’t quit! A quiet spirit can overcome even great mistakes” (Eccl. 10:4, NLT).

The Preacher complained about fools being promoted, while the rich are demoted, and of slaves riding on horseback, while noblemen go on foot (vv. 5-7). The man who digs a pit may fall into it; someone busting down a wall may be bitten by a snake; if you quarry stones, one may crush you; a log may fall on the man cutting timber (8-9). A dull axe requires more strength to cut with it (10). A charmer isn’t much good, if the snake bites before he can subdue it (11). Ah, well, there are occupational hazards for everyone. So what?

Verses 12-14 compare the speech of wise men to fools: Wise men’s words are pleasant. Fools’ mouths get them into trouble. Fools start out speaking nonsense, but escalate to wicked madness. They simply talk too much for their own good.

The Preacher said it’s bad when a kingdom is ruled by a former slave, whose sons party first thing in the morning (16). But a land is blessed, when its ruler is of noble birth, and the princes eat at appropriate times—“for strength and not for drunkenness” (17).

If a man is lazy, his house will soon show his neglect (18). Here’s a materialistic mindset: “A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything” (19). Try telling that to Whitney Houston or her family. Verse 20 warns us not to criticize the rich and powerful—even in the privacy of our homes—since our words have a way of reaching those we don’t want to hear!

Ecclesiastes Chapter 11
How many remember the old Imperials tune, “Bread upon the Water”? The chorus of their classic song was based on Ecclesiastes 11:1 and Luke 6:38. To see a live performance by the band (big hair and all), go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1cjG_inwPI.

In other words, verses 1-2 encourage people not to keep everything to themselves, but to share with others and invest in different ventures, since you never know when trouble is going to come. The person who waits for just the right weather conditions will never plant or harvest (v. 4). In verse 6, the Preacher advised farmers to plant their seed at different times, since there’s no telling which would grow best.

Here’s a great truth:

As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things
(5).

The Preacher advised people to enjoy the light while they had it, and even to think about the times of darkness, since they would not be aware of either after they died (7-8). He encouraged young men to enjoy themselves and follow their hearts and desires, but bear in mind that they would be held accountable for their actions (9). He further urged young men to throw off anxiety and trouble, since “youth and vigor are meaningless” (10).

My question is: If all is chance and meaninglessness, if there is no life after death, then why fear any consequences? This poor fellow was so confused and conflicted!

Ecclesiastes Chapter 12
At last, we come to the end of the Preacher’s ramblings! And most of his concluding thoughts are not bad.

He urged his readers, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’” (Eccl 12:1). Then he poetically described the troubles that come with old age:

  • the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain (v. 2)—Cataracts darken and cloud one’s vision.
  • the keepers of the house tremble (3)Weakness and involuntary tremors cause the legs and hands to shake.
  • the strong men stoop—Gravity wins out against a man’s posture.
  • the grinders cease because they are few—It’s hard to chew with the few teeth that have not fallen out.
  • the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint (4)—A person’s hearing is impaired; he startles at even familiar sounds, but doesn’t pick up all he used to.
  • men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets (5)—Because of frailty, an elderly person becomes overcautious and timid.
  • the almond tree blossoms—White hair gives age away.
  • the grasshopper drags himself along and desire is no longer stirred—This is why there’s such a market for Viagra!
  • Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets—Death ultimately triumphs.

 In verses 6-7, the Preacher said to remember God before your body quits working and you die. Then he had to get in one more refrain of “Meaningless! Meaningless! …Everything is meaningless!” (8).

Someone else must have penned the last six verses. They tell us that the Teacher was wise and “imparted knowledge to the people,” having looked long and hard for ways to communicate truth through many proverbs (9-10). “Words from wise people are like sharp sticks used to guide animals. They are like nails that have been driven in firmly. Altogether they are wise teachings that come from one Shepherd” (Eccl. 12:11, NCV). We posted something like this paraphrase of the last part of verse 11 on a wall in the library at my husband’s Bible school: “People are constantly writing books, and too much study wears a body out!”

The final verses of this book should have been kept in mind by its author all along:

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole [duty] of man.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
(13-14).

Conclusion
Any search for understanding in this universe that does not depend on Divine revelation will be fruitless. We can never comprehend the meaning of our existence or find true happiness relying on our intellect alone—no matter how brilliant we may be.

That was Solomon’s problem. He lost sight of the Source of true wisdom, meaning and purpose and looked in all the wrong places and people. Although he possessed and achieved more than any other man, he wound up with a profound sense of emptiness—and quite likely died a bitter, unhappy old man, leaving behind an equally empty son to rule in his place.

If only he had taken his own advice expressed in the closing chapter of this book: “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come” (Eccl. 12:1, NKJV), and “Fear God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of every person” (Eccl. 12:13, NLT)! If only he had continued to live for the Lord and not to please himself, Solomon would have enjoyed the blessings God gave him, and his unified kingdom would’ve continued after his death.

May Solomon’s tragic story and the legacy of the three books he authored be a lesson to us. May we each trust in YHWH and not ourselves, so that we enjoy every day of a meaning-filled life on this earth—loving God and loving one another!

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is quoted from the New International Version (© 1989-1995, Zondervan Corp.).

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