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Go to Bible: Ecclesiastes 12
“Remember.” This is the idiomatic or “pregnant sense” of the word remember, and it means not just keep in mind, but honor Him. [For more on the idiomatic sense of “remember,” see commentary on Luke 23:42].
“in the days of your youth.” Ecclesiastes has said a number of things about death coming and God’s judgment coming after death. Ecclesiastes 12 now gives a progression of some of the things that occur with old age that emphasize that people should “remember” (honor, worship) God in the day of their youth. To fully understand that it must be remembered that “worship” under the Old Covenant was not just a state of mind, but actions taken with the proper state of mind. Thus, doing sacrifices and offerings, or going to Jerusalem to sacrifice or participate in a festival such as Passover or Tabernacles, with the right heart and state of mind, was considered worship. But it is a lot easier to offer a sacrifice or go to Jerusalem when you are young than when you are old and feeble.
“before the evil days come.” The “evil days” are the days of old age, and the text will now describe why the days of old age are considered “evil,” in this context difficult and troublesome.
The Hebrew sentence uses the word “not,” which James Bollhagen (Concordia Commentary: Ecclesiastes), suggests means more like, “during the time the evil days have not come.” Given that the “evil days” are old age when strength decreases, eyesight dims, and teeth give the person problems, the literal rendition, more like “so that the evil days do not come” (which appears in 12:1, 2 and 6), cannot be the meaning of the text. Remembering God does not stop old age and the lack of ability that comes with it, but if you remember God throughout your life, you will be prepared for death.
“I have no delight in them.” The text is not saying that there is no delight at all in old age, because there is. However, the aged remember the days of their youth when they were energetic and strong; when they could run and jump and lift and carry, and in contrast to that there is no delight in being old and feeble. We have to keep in mind that the biblical culture was extremely physical. Water had to be lifted out of the well and carried to the house; cooking was done by chopping and carrying wood and tending the fire and the pots full of food; getting daily food required effort and strength, and so forth. The weakness of age made life difficult.(top)
“and the stars are darkened.” This verse refers to the dimming eyesight in old age. Especially in the ancient world, eye problems were frequent and most people had trouble seeing when they got old.(top)
“in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow themselves.” The meaning of this phrase is not stated in the text, but contextually it could well be that the “keepers of the house” are the arms, which are constantly moving to keep the house running, while the “strong men” are the legs that are relied upon to carry the heavy loads of life from place to place.
“the grinders cease because they are few.” The “grinders,” the teeth, become fewer and fewer with age.(top)
“doors will be shut...sound of grinding is low.” This is likely referring to the fact that in old age a person’s hearing begins to fail, and it seems as if everyone in the village has their doors shut and the joyful sound of grinding grain cannot be heard like it used to be.
“the daughters of music will be brought low.” This may still refer to an aged person’s failing hearing, or more likely that the strength of the voice begins to fail.(top)
“afraid of heights, and terrors will be in the road.” The aged are afraid of falling, so heights, and obstacles in the road, which may not be as easy to see and avoid as they were in the days of youth, are terrors. It also must be kept in mind that roads were “public places” that did not belong to anyone and so were not kept up. Eventually they became full of rocks and holes and could be difficult to walk on (see commentary on Mark 1:3).
“the almond tree will blossom.” This may refer to the white hair of old age. Or it may be that “the almond tree is despised” (“despised” coming from a different Hebrew root), meaning that the sense of taste is gone with old age so even almonds, normally a delicacy, are not enjoyed. Or it may be that the almond tree is despised because in old age as death is on the horizon the beauty of the almond tree sort of taunts the aged person, who will not get to enjoy it for much longer.
“the grasshopper will be a burden.” As a person gets old and weak, even small things can be a burden.
“and desire will fail.” The usual meaning would be that the aged person’s sexual desire will fail, but in this context it may also refer to desire to live. It is very common that aged people who are at peace with God see death as a release from a painful existence.
“age-long home.” This is not the “eternal home” as some English translations suggest. The grave is an “age-long home,” that is, the length of “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). Some versions say “eternal home” instead of “long home” or “age-long home,” but the Hebrew word olam, translated “age-long,” can mean either eternal or of long duration. Christians who believe that when people die they immediately go to heaven or hell and stay there forever say the person goes to his long home at the time that he dies. However, the truth in the Bible is that when people die they go to the grave and are dead, awaiting their resurrection. Thus, the grave is the “long home,” after which comes the resurrection and the person’s Judgment Day. If at the Judgment the person is deemed worthy of life, then they live forever with the Messiah. If the person is not deemed worthy of life, they are burned up (annihilated) in the Lake of Fire, and have no “home” at all. That Ecclesiastes calls the grave the “long home” indicates God had not started to reveal to people that the Day of the Lord was close.
[For more information on dead people being dead in every way, body, soul, and spirit, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.” Also, see Graeser, Lynn, Schoenheit, Is There Death After Life, Christian Educational Services, Indianapolis, IN, 2004. For more on the different resurrections, see commentary on Acts 24:15. For more on unsaved people being annihilated in the Lake of Fire rather than burning forever, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].
“and the mourners go about the streets.” The aged person, now dead, is mourned by those who knew them.(top)
|Ecc 12:6||- (top)|
“and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Here in this context in Ecclesiastes, the word “spirit” can either refer to the natural life of the person, which is sometimes called “soul” and sometimes called “spirit,” because “soul” is a type of “spirit,” or it can refer to the gift of holy spirit that God put on some people before the Day of Pentecost, but the same basic thing happens to both a person’s “soul” and the holy spirit if God put it upon the person. When a person dies, their life simply goes back to God in the sense that God remembers the person and will re-animate them at the resurrection.
Many people think that the “soul” or “spirit” is like a ghost that lives on after the person dies, but that is not the case. When the fetus had soul in the womb or the person got spirit from God, those were not ghosts that God had in some storehouse and then gave out to the person at the proper time. No one was a ghost or spirit being alive somewhere before they were born who then was put inside the fetus in the mother’s womb. Similarly, no one is a ghost or spirit being after they die. The “spirit” goes back to God who gave it, but when God gave it, it was simply the power of life, it was not a ghost or living spirit with mental faculties, etc. When the body dies, there is nothing left to sustain the life, so the life, whether called “soul” or “spirit,” just goes back into the mind of God who will reanimate the body later, at the resurrection.
[For more on the uses of “soul” see Appendix 6, “Usages of ‘Soul.’” For more on the usages of “spirit,” see Appendix 7, ‘Usages of “Spirit.’” For more information on dead people being dead in every way when the body dies, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead”].(top)
“pointless.” See commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:2. Ecclesiastes 12:8 repeats the same message as 1:2.(top)
“because.” See M. Fox, The JPS Bible Commentary: Ecclesiastes.
“also taught.” This is likely in contrast with just writing. While “also taught” seems somewhat awkward, we don’t really know how much ancient Sages were expected to verbally teach (cp. Tremper Longman; The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Ecclesiastes).
“proverbs.” The Book of Proverbs notes that Solomon spoke and wrote many proverbs, and 1 Kings 4:22 says Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs, but there are only some 900 proverbs in Proverbs, and some of them are not from Solomon.(top)
“delightful words.” “Delightful words” are not necessarily words that made one feel good, but words that bring a person closer to God. The words of the wise are goads (Ecc. 12:11), and so they can hurt, but they are delightful in the end (cp. Heb. 12:11).
There are scholars who say that some of the Sage’s words in Ecclesiastes are not “delightful,” but in saying that they use “delightful” in a modern sense that means it makes people feel good and gives them a “warm fuzzy feeling.” But there is no justification for using “delightful” in a way that agrees with the majority opinion and “modern sensibilities.” God, and God’s prophets and sages, use vocabulary in a way that fits with God’s purpose and actions, which is not the purpose and actions of most of the people on planet earth today.
God uses vocabulary according to His standards, not the standards of the world. For example, God says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; (Isa. 5:20). That verse, written over 2,700 years ago, certainly applies today, and the people who are calling “good” evil, and “evil” good, call God and His rules “evil,” and also “dictatorial,” “narrow-minded,” “outdated,” and much more. Tom Jacobs, writing for Pacific Standard news, correctly stated, “…we quite literally create God in our own image, and envision him in ways that imply he is meeting our emotional needs. That means the God of liberals has a different look than his conservative counterpart” (“Conservatives and Liberals Have Differing Mental Images of God,” psmag.com.; Tom Jacobs, June 13, 2018).
But the problem with creating God in our own image is that we did not create God, He created us. Furthermore, on Judgment Day, we will not be the judge, God will be. Also, as much as some people may deny it, the Bible is crystal clear that on Judgment Day those people who have been “evil” by God’s standards will be thrown into the Lake of fire while those people who have been “good” according to God’s standards and have gotten saved will be escorted into a wonderful everlasting life.
We do not “naturally” think and act in a godly manner because the natural heart is selfish and corrupt (Jer. 17:9). However, the wise person realizes that thinking and living in a way that pleases God leads to a wonderful life and so makes a diligent effort to conform their thoughts and actions to God’s ways.
[For more on how to be saved and live forever, see Rom. 10:9. For more on the destiny of the wicked, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].
“what was written uprightly.” The Sage not only wrote proverbs, but he also sought and studied the words of others, as per Ecclesiastes 12:11. There is no need to see “what was written” as an active, “what he wrote,” as many scholars do. The most natural reading of the Hebrew text and the reading of the Septuagint are passive (cp. ASV; DBY; GNV; JPS; KJV; YLT).(top)
“goads.” See commentary on Acts 26:14.
“masters of collections.” The meaning of this phrase is the subject of much discussion among scholars, but it fits the context that the “masters of collections” are the scholars who knew the various collections of wisdom literature and wise sayings.
“given by one shepherd.” The words of the truly wise will agree with each other. True wisdom comes from God and is not scattered or diverse. The One Shepherd is God, the source and fount of all wisdom, and He entrusts faithful shepherds with His work (Jer. 23:4).(top)
“My son.” This is the first time we see that the Sage has included his son in the audience he is addressing.
“beware of anything beyond these.” People are to beware of words that are beyond the words of the wise. There are many “words” and “voices” in life, calling out for us to leave God’s straight and narrow path and be “independent,” to “do our own thing,” and to “obey our own heart,” but humankind was not designed to live without God and we cannot please God by defying or ignoring Him. Our hearts are not essentially godly, they are corrupt, which is why so many people live in defiance of God, or just plain ignore Him. Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt; (Jer. 17:9). It takes discipline to overcome the natural desires of the heart and obey God.
Paul spoke of leaders in the Church, that they must hold firmly to the faithful word that they had been taught (Titus 1:9). God’s people are not to be distracted by fables and things that give rise to speculation (1 Tim. 1:3-6; 2 Tim. 4:2-4).
“much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Although mental effort must be punctuated by breaks, and intense study can be tiring, in the context of Ecclesiastes, the “much study” mainly seems to refer to studying and trying to find out things that are beyond human comprehension and thus just leads to speculation. Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 speak of the business that God has given people to be busy with, and how although God has set eternity in people’s hearts, yet we cannot find out the work of God from beginning to end.(top)
“All has been heard.” Of course “everything” has not been heard. This is a hyperbole to emphasize that everything has been heard that people need to see how life works and what is important in life.
“the whole purpose of humankind.” In the Hebrew text, the phrase is, “for this is the all of humankind.” Although the REV adds “purpose” for some clarity in English, in essence, James Bollhagen (Concordia Commentary: Ecclesiastes) summarizes the phrase well: “...translations with added words [such as “duty”] actually limit the force of the statement, which is much more comprehensive than that. In this context כָּל־הָאָדָֽם [all of humankind] means “the entirety of man,” that is, the sum and purpose of human existence. The essence of living and being a person can only be understood in terms of a person’s relationship to God.”
God created humankind, and He created them for, and with, a purpose. God did not create people so they could be self-willed and live any way they chose. He created them to love Him, fellowship with Him, serve Him, and be blessed and be a blessing. Ephesians 2:10 says we were created to do good works. All of human life is designed to be in relationship with God.(top)
“everything we do.” The Hebrew is more literally, “God will bring everything done into judgment.” Although the Hebrew lacks the personal pronoun, “we,” it is implied in the context. Leaving out the pronoun puts more emphasis on the short and punchy “everything done” so we understand that God will indeed judge everything, and not leave things out.
“every hidden thing.” Many things in life are hidden, some we are aware of and some people do without being consciously aware of them, but this certainly includes hidden motives.(top)