by Sam E. Stone
How should a person live in a world where everything seems meaningless at times? That is the question addressed in the book of Ecclesiastes. Late in his life, Solomon summarizes what he has experienced during his time on earth. He describes man’s relentless pursuit of whatever he thinks might turn out to be lasting and satisfying. Many of these things prove to be meaningless, however (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Through it all he discovered that God allows man to experience many things (see 3:1-15; 5:19; 9:11). In today’s text, we find the conclusion to which he eventually came, and with it, a lesson for us.
Warnings About Youth/Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10
Be happy, young man, while you are young. As one person put it, “Don’t seek to put old heads on young shoulders.” Young people should enjoy this stage of their life. At the same time, they need to remember that, like middle-aged and older adults, they too are responsible to obey the will of God. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment. The Lord permits us to make our choices (Proverbs 16:9), but he also holds us accountable for what we choose.
Banish anxiety. In every generation, people need to be reminded, “Don’t worry.” Jesus emphasized this in the Sermon on the Mount as well (Matthew 6:25-34). Young people do not have all of the physical ailments senior citizens experience. They should enjoy and appreciate their health, energy, and opportunity.
Warnings About Aging/Ecclesiastes 12:1-7
In the original text there were no chapter and verse divisions. Remembering this, it is easy to see how the writer continues this emphasis. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. Even when a teen might think, “I’m young. My whole life is ahead,” he needs to realize that what he does now may have lifetime consequences. This is why the apostle Paul told Timothy, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
The time will come when the person who has done many things wrong will admit, “I find no pleasure in them.” Death is compared to a gathering storm. The winter of life is compared to the rainy winter months in Palestine.
Health usually deteriorates with age. Here Solomon uses allegorical terms to describe what happens to the physical body in one’s later years: the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dim (a time of affliction and sadness). The keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop (hands and legs). The grinders (teeth) cease because they are few. Those looking through the windows (eyes) grow dim. The doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades (ears). Men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets.
The writer uses various illustrations to convey the effects of old age. In addition to illustrating it by the physical body, he speaks of darkness, a storm, a house in disrepair, and a deserted well. All of the illustrations combine to make this point: as life draws to a close, eternity awaits. What happens after death makes everything that happened before it pale into insignificance.
One of the book’s best-known pictures is found in v. 6—Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken. Most commentators agree that the picture describes a hanging lamp suspended by a silver chain. If just one link in the chain breaks, the light from this beautiful piece of artwork is gone. Life is fragile!
Wisdom For All/Ecclesiastes 12:13
The last two verses of the book form an epilogue. After all of Solomon’s many proverbs, lessons, and observations it all comes down to this: Apart from God, life is meaningless. Fear God and keep his commandments. Wisdom is basic (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). The word duty is actually not needed. What the writer said is, “This is the whole of man.” In him, you have everything you need!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.