Ecclesiastes 12 Meaning Commentary Summary

Ecclesiastes 12

Before we start studying Ecclesiastes 12 meaning I want to deal with a few matters before we get into the text.

If you’ve ever read the book of Ecclesiastes you’re probably aware of the contents of this last chapter. If you don’t know, basically, the author – whom we know as the Preacher – he describes some of the difficulties associated with growing old. And he does it in a poetic way. For instance, he talks about “grinders”. And when he does, he’s using that image metaphorically to refer to teeth. And then he goes on to say that they are few – which is something that does indeed happen in old age.

And we can tend to look at the way that the Preacher poetically pictures old age. And we can tend to laugh and think it’s humorous. Now, you’re free to laugh, but I don’t believe that’s the Preacher’s goal. He’s not writing this chapter to make you laugh. He’s writing this chapter to warn you. This is coming to you. You want to laugh about the absence of teeth or the tendency to wake up easily in older folks? Well, just you wait! It’s coming to you some day.

And that brings me to another point I want to make. This chapter is not primarily written to those who are experiencing these difficulties. No – older people already know about these things. The preacher is writing to those who are – verse 1 – “in the days of thy youth”. He’s writing to younger people who know nothing from personal experience of the realities that he’s describing. And he’s urging you younger people to a certain way of living and thinking in light of the fact that dark days – as he describes them – are coming.

And yet, the Preacher’s description of old age isn’t value-less for people already experiencing some of these issues. The Preacher himself – we can assume – was at least close to – if not completely experiencing – the time of life that he describes in chapter 12. His descriptions of old age are too real to be described by someone who knows nothing about them.

So, with those considerations in mind, let’s move on to the text.

Now, we ended our lesson last week with chapter 11 – where young men were told to rejoice in their youth, knowing that dark days are coming and will be many. And now we have a similar admonition in verse 1 of chapter 12…

KJV Ecclesiastes 12:1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil [difficult] days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;

So, what better time to remember and know and serve your Creator than in the prime of your life? These are years of opportunity. Years of ability and strength. They’re easy years – compared to what’s to come in your life.

And we’re told what’s to come. Years that are evil – not in the sense of moral evil, but in the sense of difficulty. Years that will find you saying that you don’t have any pleasure in them. That’s what’s to come in this life for every one of us.

And the Preacher really focuses on these days to come for an extended period in chapter 12. This is like the crescendo to the Preacher’s whole message in this book. He’s been impressing upon us the vanity or emptiness of life on this earth – especially if you’re living without God and without concern for spiritual realities. And he’s addressed it from all angles. And he’s spoken of death before in this book. But now, as his last topic, he wants to focus in on the end of this vain life and what it’s going to be like. And all this in order to impress on younger people that they need to enjoy the life that God has given them while they still can. They need to know and serve God while there’s still time.

Because time is running out. Remember the one who created you, he says, verse 2…

2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened,
nor the clouds return after the rain:

It seems that the first part of verse 2 is referring to one’s deteriorating vision as he gets older. What else would darken the light of heavenly bodies – whose light really never darkens? It’s referring to the perspective – the eyesight – of the one who sees that light.

The second part of verse 2 is a little more difficult. Are the clouds here speaking of something like cataracts? That’s a condition that tends to occur in older folks that clouds their vision. People who experience it tend to claim that it’s like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window – it’s cloudy. And then the “rain” would refer to tears or the natural moisture of the eye. This interpretation has the benefit of being related to the idea that just preceded it – which had to do with vision.

So, serve God with your eyes, while they’re still fully functional.

Moving on to verse 3…

3 In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble,
and the strong men shall bow themselves,

Let’s try to figure out the literal picture painted for us in these two descriptions.

Keepers of the house are ones who would guard a house from invaders. You expect them to be strong. But in the picture we’re given, they’re not. In this metaphor, the ones you count on to be strong just aren’t anymore. They tremble, either from physical weakness or from the emotion of fear.

Likewise, the “strong men” are now bowing themselves or being stooped. But that’s not the position you expect to see a strong man assume. You expect a strong man to be physically upright. But something happened and now this man is stooped over.

So, based on the literal physical pictures that these two descriptions paint for us, now we can apply these metaphorically to the “days of darkness” that all youth will some day experience.

The picture is one of strength giving way to weakness. As the dark days come, young men and women can expect this kind of situation to set in. This kind of weakness where there had been strength – generally.

And that’s why – for youth – now is the time to remember your Creator – to know him and serve him – while there’s still strength to do it. Because that strength will be gone some day.

Let’s look at the next description…

and the grinders cease because they are few,
and those that look out of the windows be darkened [grow dim],

I think it’s pretty obvious that the “grinders” refer metaphorically to teeth. As you age, the chances are that you’ll lose all or at least some of your teeth. They decay. And so, that’s pictured as the ceasing of those who would grind flour because there are only a few of them.

What I don’t think is as obvious is the second description about those who “look out of the windows”. Some would interpret this as a reference to failing eyesight. But, we’ve already dealt with eyesight. And – more importantly – if these descriptions are in parallel – and they have been thus far – then this description would be related in some way to the grinders from the first description. In which case, these who are looking out of the windows would be a reference to teeth. And in particular, teeth that are falling out as decay and other elements “darken” them or cause them to fall out. [Explain the window reference – teeth look like windows and so when you lose one it’s dark]

So – young man and young woman – serve God with your mouth while there’s time.

Moving on to verse 4…

4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets,
when the sound of the grinding is low,

So, we’re given two metaphorical pictures – one regarding doors and another regarding sound.

The doors are said to be facing the streets. And normally I guess you’d expect them to be open. But not anymore. Now, they’re shut.

The second description speaks of grinding – like we’ve seen before. But notice whats emphasized – not the grinding itself, but the sound of that grinding. Presumably, you’d hear the grinding normally through the open door that faces out to the street. But the door is shut and the sound is now low.

And I think that gives away what this is meant to convey. As a young man or woman grows older, yet one more faculty that deteriorates is their hearing. So, I think this is referring to the loss of hearing as one grows older.

So, young man or woman – remember God with your ears. Hear his word. Converse with people about him – while you can still hear what’s being said.

Now, the next two descriptions of the days of darkness are related to the two that we just considered…

and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird [hard to stay asleep],
and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low [hearing loss];

It seems that these two descriptions of the dark days to come have to do with two seemingly contradictory phenomena in the life of a man who’s entered those days. There seems to be on the one hand a tendency to wake up at the slightest noise – the “voice of the bird” as we have it here. And at the same time, as we’ve already considered – the man’s hearing gets worse – “the daughters of musick shall be brought low”. So, your hearing gets worse – but somehow – in ways that are very unhelpful – your hearing becomes keener to things that you don’t want to notice.

On to verse 5…

5 Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high,
and fears shall be in the way,

These two descriptions refer to increased fears that can attend old age. If older folks aren’t careful – and especially if they don’t know the Lord – the fears can increase to the point where it can be debilitating. There’s always some worry or fear that you find yourself communicating to others. But those same things wouldn’t have bothered you when you were younger. You wouldn’t even have given them a second thought. But there’s something about the days of darkness that tends to increase fears within one’s heart.

So – young man or woman – remember your Creator before the time when irrational fears will multiply in your heart. Remember and love and serve him now while there’s time!

Now, the next three descriptions are all fairly unrelated – in the sense that each seems to describe a different aspect of the difficulties of old age – rather than all of them describing the same aspect…

and the almond tree shall flourish [blossom – progression from pink to white – hair],
and the grasshopper shall be a burden [bear a heavy burden or drag himself along],
and desire [caper berry – aphrodisiac] shall fail:

So, the almond tree – I’ve been told – as it blossoms – goes from a pinkish color to white. What tends to turn white when a person grows older? Hair. Now, white hair is portrayed in other parts of Scripture as a sign of wisdom. It means you’ve lived wisely enough in order to live long enough to have your hair change colors from whatever it was to white. And the Preacher here isn’t refuting that. He’s not saying that having white hair is bad. He’s just associating that phenomenon with growing old and entering into the days of darkness.

On to the grasshopper. How do grasshoppers usually move? They hop. They spring. They’re unhindered – uninhibited. But this description sees the light, springing grasshopper dragging himself along. That’s very uncharacteristic of a grasshopper. And it’s uncharacteristic of a young man or woman. But as we grow older – the spring in our step can turn into a characteristic shuffle of the feet. The grasshopper drags himself along, so to speak.

And then desire fails. The Hebrew word behind our English “desire” only occurs once in the Old Testament. And it refers to the caper berry – which is something that tends to heighten sexual desire in a person. But even that kind of assistance in the realm of physical intimacy fails as the dark days come upon a person.

And the final insult of this cruel life is stated in the next two descriptions…

because man goeth to his long home [the house of his eternity],
and the mourners go about the streets:

Man goes to his eternal home – the house of his eternity. The body – after experiencing all the indignities that we’ve mentioned thus far – goes to its home in the grave. And mourners attend the funeral.

Young man or woman – remember your Creator before you die and it’s too late.

And death is described with a few more pictures in verses 6 and 7…

6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed [or broken or bound],
or the golden bowl be broken,
or the pitcher be broken at the fountain,
or the wheel broken at the cistern.

The silver cord and golden bowl are pictured as being broken. Perhaps the materials of which these two items are made are intended to represent the preciousness of life. Gold and silver are both precious metals. They’re not particularly strong metals. But they are very costly. They’re highly valued. And so is your life. Use that precious life to remember your Creator while you still have it!

Then a pitcher would be used to draw water out of a spring. And a wheel would likely be used to draw up a bucket of water from a well. The Bible – both Old and New Testaments – portrays life poetically as water. And so when your access to the water that is life is stopped – by the image of the broken pitcher or the broken wheel – then what this is metaphorically portraying is the end of access to life – or, in other words, death.

And when that happens to someone, the actions of verse 7 occur…

7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was:
and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

God created man from the dust of the earth. And when man dies, that’s right where his body returns. But here we’re also told that man’s spirit returns to God. Why? Because God gave it to him.

Now, this is interesting. Do you remember in Ecclesiastes where the Preacher asked rhetorically “who really knows that man’s spirit ascends upward?” And I think at that point, the Preacher was trying to challenge the outlook of a man who rejects spiritual realities. Without God telling you that man’s spirit ascends upward to God – you don’t really know that that is how it works. But here the Preacher just cuts to the chase and says – “yes, man’s spirit does indeed return to God.” [3:21]

So, again, remember your Creator – because he gave you your spirit – that aspect of yourself that survives death. He gave you that spirit – and some day he will take it back. You better remember him right now while you can – before the dark days come. Before you meet your end and need to face the judgement of God – that we’ve already heard about in this book.

And with that last consideration of death, the Preacher ends his sayings just as he started them – all the way back in chapter 1, verse 2…

8 Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all [of these things] is vanity.

It truly is. Everything in this life is so empty – if we’re seeking meaning and fulfillment from them. If this is all we had, we’d be of all men most miserable. But the Preacher holds out to us the possibility that this life doesn’t have to be the end. There’s a God in heaven who is judge of all and who will receive your spirit some day. Even in this life he gives you good gifts. And he wants you to enjoy them. And yet, he wants you to enjoy him even more.

And with the end of the words of the Preacher, we have an unknown narrator who penned verse 1 of chapter 1 and now at the end here, verses 9 through 14 of chapter 12. So, let’s see how the narrator finishes this book…

9 ¶ And moreover, because [or in addition to the fact that] the preacher was wise, he still [also] taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed [or pondered], and sought out, and set in order [or arranged] many proverbs.

So, the Preacher had a teaching ministry in addition to being wise. He spent his time finding, pondering, evaluating, and arranging many proverbs.

10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable [delightful/pleasant] words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth [or, removing the italicized words, and write words of truth uprightly].

So, the Preacher sought to write delightful words. And what we just studied in this last chapter is likely intended to be included in that group – believe it or not. He spent his life seeking words like that and writing truth-filled words correctly. He sought the truth and sought to communicate it in a delightful way.

And then it seems like the narrator is encouraged to try a little delightful truth-telling of his own in verse 11…

11 ¶ The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies [collections – of these sayings], which are given from one shepherd.

So, what is the narrator’s proverb communicating? He’s considering the words of the wise. Words like those of the Preacher. And he says that they’re like goads – like sharp sticks that move irrational animals to action. And isn’t that a helpful picture of the intention of wisdom literature? It’s meant to move man – who can at some times be as irrational as beasts – into wise action – into a wise course of life.

And wise sayings are like nails fastened to a wall. They’re intended to be unmoveable – unshakeable – never changing. And isn’t that what we have in our hands? Words that are still as applicable today as they were thousands of years ago. They’re fastened securely by the one who collects and communicates them – like the Preacher – and they’re not going anywhere.

But books come and go. It’s almost unexplainable as to why these sayings in this book haven’t been lost or why they haven’t lost their value and applicability over time. Well, that’s because these are given by one shepherd. And Shepherd should be capitalized. It’s speaking of the Lord – the one who breathed out Scripture through authors like the Preacher. His word never fails. It’s infallible. And that’s why it remains so relevant even to this day. [Proof of inspiration!]

And because God’s words are so valuable and really the only ones that will last forever and that never lose their power – be careful to be focused on these words and not let the reading of other things take your attention away from them. That’s what the narrator says in verse 12…

12 And further, by [beyond] these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Either be warned BY the words that the narrator has just said… or be warned about paying such close attention to anything BEYOND the words of God – the words that have been given by one Shepherd. And here’s the warning. There are all sorts of books out there. There’s just no end to the making of them. Everyone’s writing books. And now with the internet – there’s even more. And if you want to keep track of everything you will wear yourself out. [Give story about thoughts of the Talmud and Mishnah in Israel]

So, the narrator would warn his son – or maybe his disciples – against being devoted to any other words besides the Scriptures.

And when it comes down to it, here’s the narrator’s conclusion. In light of all that the Preacher said throughout this book. In light of what the narrator has appended to that. Here it is…

13 ¶ Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 ¶ For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

Life isn’t lived just under the sun. Life on this earth isn’t all there is to it. And if you’re living that way, you’re living wrong. Your life is to be about fearing God. Reverencing him. Fearing to displease him because you love him. This is the duty of every man.

And if you don’t fulfill your duty – there will be judgement. Everything you do will be judged by God. Even secret things. He knows them all. And he will evaluate them and discover if they were good or evil.

So, in this life lived on earth – get ready to meet God. Get ready to give an account to him. Live your life with an eye to the judgement to come.

Christians aren’t exempt from judgement. We will stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ. Our works will be evaluated. We’ll receive reward… and we’ll lose reward there.

So, the conclusion of this whole book? Fear God. Keep his commandments. This is your duty in light of the coming judgement.

Ecclesiastes 11 Commentary Meaning

Ecclesiastes 11 Commentary

Now, we move on to chapter 11 for our Ecclesiastes 11 Commentary. And in this chapter, the Preacher in the first six verses gives us some good sound financial advice. And the advice is given in light of the unpredictability of life…

Business Advice

11:1 Cast [send] thy bread [grain] upon the waters [overseas]: for thou shalt find it [like what Christ says, in the sense that you’ll be paid for the cost of the grain and much more] after many days.

So, don’t horde your grain – if you’re a farmer. Take some calculated risk. Sending grain overseas would have come with some definite risks in Old Testament times. But the reward would have been well worth it.

Continuing with his financial advice…

2 Give a portion to seven, and also to eight [7 or 8 what? investments!]; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.

So, there’s the element of unpredictability. Who knows what evil will be on the earth? And therefore, diversify your investments. Because if evil hits one of those investments, the others might still be protected. But if you have all your investments in one place and evil strikes that one place, then all you had is gone.

And you never know where disaster or prosperity will strike. I think that’s the message of verse 3…

3 If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.

So, in this verse, clouds would indicate blessings and the falling tree would indicate disaster. And both of these events are portrayed as unpredictable. The clouds empty when they are full of rain. But who can tell when that will happen? Not even our modern-day weather forecasters. And trees fall sometimes without notice. And wherever they might fall – that’s where they will lie. And there’s nothing you or I can do to change that fact.

In other words, you can’t change some factors that influence financial success or failure. The best you and I can do is try to mitigate the risks. And the Preacher advises diversifying your investments because of this fact.

But don’t let all that risk scare you off. That would not be wise, according to verse 4…

4 He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.

So, if you pay attention to the wind – the wind that might blow over that tree we just talked about – the thing that brings the disaster that you’re trying to avoid – you won’t sow.

Or if you pay attention to the clouds that promise to bring blessings on an agricultural society… you won’t reap. You’ll hope for more rain. Either way, if you pay too much attention to the potential of risk or reward – you will be moved to inactivity!

Why? Because we are finite. We cannot possibly take into account every possibility. We can’t imagine the way that God might move in our life…

5 ¶ As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit [path of the wind], nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.

Why does trying to get every possible advantage in life so often not work? Why does trying to avoid every single risk in life not work? What is it about trying to do these things that moves a person to inactivity? It’s our limitations. You don’t know the works of God. And that’s just like you don’t understand the path of the wind or how bones grow in the womb – especially before the advent of ultrasound.

So, you don’t understand how God makes things to work – especially how to avoid all risk and how to benefit from every reward. And therefore, the Preacher advises you this way…

6 ¶ In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.

So, just keep working. Work hard. Be diligent. Work in the morning – that might bring some success. Work in the evening. Maybe that will be successful. Just be wise and engage in business and diversify your investments to try to minimize risk. But know that ultimately you can’t avoid all possible risk and you can’t reap all potential reward.

And with that, the Preacher will start to address a topic that will occupy him for the rest of this book. It’s the topic of death. And in verses 7 through 10 the Preacher advises younger people to rejoice in their youth, knowing what’s coming…

Rejoice in Youth, Knowing What’s Coming

7 ¶ Truly the light is sweet [pleasant or agreeable], and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold [see] the sun:

The reality is that light and the sun are pleasant. It’s good to be alive. That’s the idea of seeing the Sun, I think. And while you have the light, rejoice in the light. Enjoy your youth – because darkness is coming…

8 ¶ But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity.

As long as you live, rejoice! But, again, the Preacher wants us to consider our mortality and respond wisely in light of our imminent death. Days of darkness are coming. And the Preacher says that they will be many. The worst years of life. The hardest years of life. They’re coming for each and every one of us. And in this sin-cursed world, the end of life is vanity – it’s fleeting and passing and temporary. There’s nothing permanent about life under the Sun.

And because of that, rejoice in your youth, soberly…

9 ¶ Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.

So, enjoy your current life in light of the difficult days ahead. Follow your heart. Follow your eyes. And if we left it there, we’d be hedonists. We’d be advocating self-indulgence – the existence of which the Preacher just lamented a few verses ago! And that’s where the Preacher’s last statement comes in – remember that God will judge you for everything you do. That’s the great balance. Enjoy life to the fullest. And also remember God’s coming judgement.

So, the Preacher concludes with verse 10…

10 ¶ Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity [fleeting].

And we all in this room are pretty well past childhood and youth. Some of us are in the prime of life. And for those kinds of folks, the Preacher says – enjoy it while you can. Really, enjoy it. But really, do it while you can.

Because in chapter 12 next week we’ll hear less about the days of one’s youth and prime of life – and we’ll hear a lot more about the fleeting days of darkness that are coming.

Ecclesiastes 10 Commentary Summary Meaning

Ecclesiastes 10-11

Check out this Ecclesiastes 10 Commentary!

So, in chapters 10 and 11 of this book, the Preacher is going to give us wise counsel on wisdom and folly, rulers, the unpredictability of life, speech, business, and your perspective on life.

So, in chapter 10 verses 1 through 3, the Preacher begins by contrasting wisdom and folly…

Wisdom and Folly

KJV Ecclesiastes 10:1 Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary [perfume] to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for [is weightier than] wisdom and honour.

So, what’s the relation between dead flies in perfume and folly in a wise man?

Well, think about perfume. It smells nice. That’s why it exists. That’s why people make it and buy it. It smells good.

And then think about dead flies. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever smelled the smell of dead flies. But I’ve heard it’s a pretty awful smell. And yet, flies are so small. How could something so small invade something that smells so good and exists solely to smell good and turn it into something that smells awful? The flies utterly ruin the perfume!

That’s exactly what happens when foolishness enters into a man who’s known for his wisdom and honor. It only takes a little foolishness. His reputation may be impeccable. But just let a little foolishness enter him and be displayed by him – and all of a sudden, what he was renowned for is ruined.

The discussion of wise men and fools continues in verse 2…

2 A wise man’s heart [source of direction/guidance] is at his right hand [leads him to the right – a place of protection]; but a fool’s heart at his [leads him to the] left [no such protection, he’s vulnerable].

There’s no doubt that the heart leads the body. Your desires and values and such lead the path you take in life. And, for a wise man, his desires and values lead him into safe places. Whereas the fool’s heart leads him to many vulnerable and dangerous places.

And it’s not difficult to spot a fool, is it? That’s what verse 3 tells us…

3 Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith [by demonstration] to every one that he is a fool.

So, a fool cannot hide his nature. Even when he walks around it can be apparent that he lacks wisdom. It’s as if he’s literally telling people that he’s a fool – by the way he conducts himself.

It’s kind of a humorous picture – a guy walking around telling everyone that he’s a fool. But considering the dangers of foolishness, it really is tragic.

Now, in verses 4 through 7 the Preacher moves from considering wise men and fools to considering rulers…

Rulers

4 If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place [don’t immediately leave your position]; for yielding [composure/a calm response] pacifieth great offences.

So, first of all, regarding rulers and those in authority, don’t lose your cool if a ruler’s spirit or temper rises against you. I think that’s what the admonition to not “leave” your “place” is saying. So, don’t get terrified and lose your cool, but rather yield to him! If you back down and yet remain in the presence of this person, even if you really offended and angered the man, your staying and yielding will pacify him. Fleeing is the only other option – and the Preacher does not advise you to do that.

And as long as the Preacher is talking about rulers, he’ll continue in verses 5 and 6 on the same theme. But this time he wants to tell us about wisdom and folly – again – but specifically as it applies to rulers…

5 ¶ There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler [ruler’s make]:

So, whatever is to come is viewed by the Preacher as evil. It’s an error – something that shouldn’t happen. And it has something to do with rulers. So, what is it?…

6 Folly is set in great dignity [many exalted places/many positions of authority], and the rich sit in low place [humble places/lowly positions]. 7 I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.

So, foolishness is in many positions of authority. The rich sit in lowly positions. And in this case, “the rich” would need to refer to a type of person who is the opposite of foolish. He’s rich in this case because he’s not a fool and he’s living wisely and such.

And in verse 7, seeing servants where princes ought to be and vice versa is seen as an evil error. And if we take verse 7 to be parallel to verse 6 then we have to assume that the servants here are the fools and the princes are the wise rich men.

When fools are exalted and wise men are humiliated – this is an evil error in the Preacher’s mind.

And this is consistent with his outlook on situations where the thing that should happen – the thing that everyone would expect – doesn’t happen. It’s like when both evil and good men die with no distinction. We’d expect that good men will live forever – or at least a long time – and that evil men would die early. But that’s not the way it works in this sin-cursed world. And the Preacher says that this kind of reversal of the way things ought to be is evil.

And so next in verses 8 through 11 the Preacher goes from the unpredictable in regard to rulers – to the unpredictable aspects of life in general. Sometimes those rulers who should be ruling aren’t. Sometimes those who shouldn’t be ruling are. And sometimes – verses 8 and 9 …

Unpredictability of Life

8 He that diggeth a pit shall [or may] fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge [a wall], a serpent shall [or, may] bite him. 9 Whoso removeth [quaries] stones shall [or, may] be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood [splits logs] shall [or, may] be endangered thereby.

Let me just point out that we have four verbs in these two verses, and the KJV translates them as “shall”. And that gives us the idea that this will certainly happen at some point in the future. But verbs in Hebrew are a little different than in English. Hebrew can leave a little more uncertainty as to whether a verb ought to be indicative (“shall”) or what grammarians call “modal” (“may” or “might”). And this is what we ran into last lesson where I was asked why I interpreted the verb “delivered” in chapter 9 as “could have delivered”. It’s the same issue here. In Hebrew, sometimes verbs can be either indicative in English or modal. If it’s indicative then it’s stated as fact. If it’s modal, then it’s less certain and more conditional. And what happens for us as interpreters is that we need to make a decision between one or the other possibilities. And context is probably the most helpful in determining how to translate the verb.

And in this case, what is the context? Someone digging a pit and falling into it. Someone breaking through a wall and a snake biting him. Someone quarrying stones and being hurt in the process. And someone chopping wood and being endangered by the process.

So, let me ask – does the one always involve the other? Does digging a pit always eventuate in falling into it? No. It’s potential. It’s a possibility. Someone MAY fall into it. Does breaking through a wall ALWAYS eventuate in a snake biting you? No. It MAY happen. But it doesn’t always happen. And on and on. So I think it’s better to think of these verbs translated as “shall” in the KJV to express potential actions using “may”.

But, getting beyond grammar, here’s the point of the Preacher. Just like there are uncertainties in the arena of who’s ruling in a society – so too is there uncertainty in everyday life.

Digging pits, breaking down walls, quarrying stones, and chopping down trees – all of these things take a lot of effort. They’re not passive events. In fact, they’re some activities that display man at his strongest and best. But even at his strongest and best – mankind is hopelessly at the whim of the unpredictability of life.

Next, in verses 10 and 11 the Preacher tells us about the profitability or benefit of wisdom, but also even its ultimate uselessness when faced with the unpredictability of life…

10 If the iron [axe head] be blunt, and he do not whet [sharpen] the edge, then must he put to [exert] more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct [give success]. 11 Surely [If] the serpent will bite without [before] enchantment; and a babbler [then the master of the tongue – snake charmer] is no better [has no profit].

So, if your axe head is blunt then you’ll need to exert more strength to cut down a tree or split wood. Or you could be wise about it and sharpen the axe. That would be wise and by that wisdom you would gain some profit and benefit. That’s the point of verse 10.

But unfortunately, life with its unpredictability sometimes nullifies the benefits of wisdom. That’s where the snake charmer – the master of the tongue, literally – in verse 11 comes in. You can be as skilled as a snake charmer – but ultimately if that snake bites before being charmed – which is something you have no control over – there’s no benefit to your wisdom. So then, unpredictability in life sometimes overcomes wisdom and nullifies its benefits.

Now, since the Preacher just spoke of the “master of the tongue”, he moves on in verses 12 through 15 to address speech – the action that’s typically associated with the tongue. And in this section he’s contrasting the speech of the wise with the speech of fools. To start, the Preacher points to the effect that the speech of the wise and the fool has on themselves…

Contrasting Speech of the Wise and Fools

12 [And speaking of the tongue…] The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.

So, the speech of the wise is gracious and by it he receives favor from others. But the speech of a fool destroys himself. That’s because the speech of a fool goes from bad to worse…

13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.

And despite the fact that a fool’s speech is self-destructive and only gets worse as the words increase – he just doesn’t stop talking…

14 A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?

Who can tell you what shall be after you? Who can tell you what the future holds? Answer – certainly not a fool with all his words.

And the Preacher finishes the contrast between the speech of the wise and the fool in verse 15…

15 The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.

In other words, who would want to listen to a fool? He doesn’t even know how to get to the city to work! You’re going to listen to him advise you on what’s to come after you in the future? He can’t even find his way to the city!

So, the Preacher has addressed the speech of the fool. Now, he wants to return to the matter of rulers and authorities once again. But this time – at least to start with – he contrasts the woe that foolish rulers brings to a land… with the blessing of wise rulers…

Rulers

16 Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!

The idea here is that the king is childish or naïve or unprepared for his duties and is therefore irresponsible. And the princes that attend that king “eat in the morning”. Now, I don’t think this is condemning eating breakfast. Rather, if you contrast this statement with the one in the verse to follow, you see that eating in the morning is associated with gluttony and overindulgence and a lack of self-control.

So, it’s bad for a land to have foolish and self-indulgent rulers. On the other hand…

17 Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles [and therefore prepared for the job], and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness [They’re self-controlled]!

It’s good to have rulers who are ready for the job. Rulers who are self-controlled and balanced.

Now, verses 18 and 19 seem to be unrelated to what we’ve just been talking about – the curse of self-indulgent rulers. But I think you’ll see that they contribute to what we’ve just been told…

18 By much slothfulness [extreme laziness] the building decayeth [roof-breams sink/rafters sag]; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through [house drips/roof leaks].

So, verse 18 I think is another instance of the great detriment that foolish rulers bring upon their country. And the picture is one of a house. And sometimes in Scripture a nation is described as a house – the “house of Jacob” represents Israel, for example. And here, a physical literal house is brought to our minds. If you’re lazy the roof-beams will sink. And if you’re idle the roof will leak. So, in both cases our attention is brought to the roof of the house. Laziness and idleness will eventuate in the roof sagging and leaking. And you don’t want that to happen to your country. You don’t want the very thing protecting you from the elements to be weakened so as to let through things that can make your life uncomfortable and that can harm you. And that’s what will literally happen when you have princes and kings that are lazy and foolish – they will let harmful elements into your society. And it won’t be good for anyone.

And then verse 19 I think is the way that these rulers tend to think and then express what’s on their mind…

19 A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things. [Or so the wrong kind of ruler thinks]

So, this verse can be sort of confusing. Because it seems pretty materialistic and self-indulgent. But that’s exactly the kind of mindset in rulers that the Preacher is warning about – self-indulgent ones.

So then, I think what we have in verse 19 is a quotation from foolish rulers. They’re concerned only with laughter and merriment. They think money will solve all their problems. But it won’t. And reality will hit hard for them and their country someday.

And yet, whether your authority is wise or foolish, the Preacher will recommend in verse 20 that you speak well of him…

20 Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

So, be so careful to not curse your king with your mouth, that you don’t even do it in your mind. Don’t even do it in your room. Because you never know how that curse might be conveyed to the very one that you’re cursing. So, just don’t do it, for your own good.

 

Ecclesiastes 9 Commentary Explained

Ecclesiastes 9 Commentary

We start our Ecclesiastes 9 commentary considering that death is inevitable.

9:1 For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred [he doesn’t know which he might experience — either or both of these] by all that is before them.

So, the wise are in the hand of God and don’t know what’s coming to them…

2 All things come alike to all: there is one event [death] to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.

So, it doesn’t matter who you are. Death is coming to you. It doesn’t matter if you live life well or not. Death is coming. And you might not like that fact. And, you’re not alone. The Preacher doesn’t like it either. He calls this “an evil”…

3 This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all:

The fact that all die no matter how they live is evil in the Preacher’s eyes. It’s a bad thing. And yet, it’s sort of necessary, given the heart of man and how evil it is…

yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

And this seems to be one reason that God shortened the life span of people after the flood. The longer man is able to live, the more evil he’s capable of accomplishing. Death ends that evil on this earth. But before death, there’s hope that a man will turn from his evil…

4 For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward [for their labor]; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.

The living know that they will die. And it’s that knowledge that the Preacher has continually commended to us through this book. This thought of death is somber and unpleasant. But it’s crucial. There’s hope for one who’s living and can consider his death – for him to consider God and his works and fear him.

So, in light of your inevitable death, the Preacher advises you to enjoy your life…

Enjoy Life in Light of Your Inevitable Death

7 ¶ Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth [already approved] thy works [that he just mentioned in this verse]. 8 ¶ Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.

God approves of you enjoying the life that he gave you. Don’t deny yourself the simple joys that he gives in this life…

9 ¶ Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. 10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

If you have a wife, live joyfully with her. If you don’t have a wife, find one – and then live joyfully with her!

And verse 10 is a verse that’s oft-quoted when someone wants to encourage himself or others to work hard and not be lazy. And the context is helpful to consider. What motivates someone to work hard? Well, this at least – pretty soon you won’t be able to work or do anything. So do it now, while you still have time in this life. Work for the night is coming when no one can work anymore.

But, the Preacher can’t focus on anything positive for very long – because he wants to give us wise counsel about the reality of life – and the reality of life is often unpleasant. So, next the Preacher counsels us to be ready for the unpredictable…

Be Ready for the Unpredictable

11 ¶ I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Sometimes the fastest runner doesn’t win the race. Sometimes the strongest man doesn’t win the fight. Sometimes the wisest man doesn’t have the most stuff. Why? Because time and chance – from a human perspective – sometimes mess things up.

And just like everyday-things are unpredictable, so is your death…

12 For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.

Fish and birds are caught and they don’t expect it. Then comes their death. And just like them, death comes unexpectedly to us.

But – you know – sometimes death is avoidable. Sometimes – as the Preacher has said before – wisdom can preserve the life of him that posesses it. So, the Preacher ends chapter 9 with a story about the potential of wisdom to benefit a whole city… but we also see that wisdom has it’s limitations…

The Benefits and Limitations of Wisdom

13 ¶ This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great [impressive/a great burden] unto me:

Here’s the story…

14 There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:

So, there’s no way that this city will stand against the great king…

15 Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom [could have] delivered the city;

Great! What a wonderful story. The city was outnumbered and outpowered – but a poor wise man was able to deliver the city through his wisdom! Well, not so fast. He had the potential of delivering the city. But…

yet no man remembered [listened to – based on v 16] that same poor man.

Ugh! There was such potential! Wisdom could have granted a great deliverance against all odds. And yet, the people didn’t listen to the wise man. And you can imagine what happened to that city because they rejected wisdom.

So, this story leads the Preacher to a conclusion about wisdom…

16 Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.

So, if you compare wisdom to strenth – wisdom wins. And yet, it’s strength that’s highy valued and wisdom is thought little of by many people.

And then the Preacher ends his message with two proverbs about wisdom…

17 ¶ The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.

In other words, fools won’t listen to wisdom…

18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.

Wisdom can be more effective than weapons. But – returning to the concept of vanity – all sorts of good things can be undone by one sinner. This is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 8 Summary Study Guide Sermon Commentary

Ecclesiastes 8-9

As we enter this Ecclesiastes 8 summary article, we remember that chapter 7 ended with considering our need of wisdom in dealing with the unjust. Now, the Preacher talks more about wisdom…

External Marks of a Wise Man

KJV Ecclesiastes 8:1 Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation [solution] of a thing [matter]?

Well, who is a wise man? Would you know one if you saw him? Well, the Preacher gives you one identifying mark of a wise man in the second part of the verse…

a man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine [illumines him/brightens his appearance], and the boldness of his face shall be changed [causes his stern (strong) face to beam/softens his harsh countenance].

So, what a man possesses on the inside – wisdom – will affect how he appears on the outside, particularly on his face.

Next, the Preacher counsels us regarding our relating to kings and authorities (vv2-9)…

Relating to a King

2 ¶ I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and [do] that in regard of the oath of [that you or he made to] God.

So when a king or someone in authority gives a command, you do well to obey it. Why? Because either you or he swore an oath to God. It’s possible that this was referring to an oath that the citizens of a kingdom would make regarding obeying the king during his coronation. Or maybe it’s saying that the king himself made an oath to God concerning his duties while in office.

The US doesn’t coronate kings, but we do inaugurate our presidents. And each President thus far has put his hand on a Bible and recited an oath that begins “I do solemnly swear…” and ends with “So help me God.”

Again, the idea is that you ought to obey the king because both you and he have a solemn obligation to each other.

The Preacher continues with his counsel regarding how to relate to a king…

3 Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not [don’t join] in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.

Going out of the king’s sight hastily and joining yourself to an evil thing are probably both referring to abandoning your allegiance to the king to go join a rebellion against him. Maybe the going out hastily is talking about having an angry attitude toward him that eventuates in joining a rebellion.

And why should you not abandon the king and join a rebellion against him? Because he does whatever he pleases. Including, putting down rebelions. So, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that.

Still on the theme of obeying your king or authority…

4 Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?

This goes along with the idea that the king does whatever he wants. Nobody can question what he’s doing. And that’s where our system of government is a little different. We of course don’t have a king. We have a President or Executive Branch. We have Congress or a Legislative Branch. And we have the Supreme Court or the Judicial Branch. And we’re a Democratic Republic. We elect our rulers – well, most of them. And yet, the effect is the same. I mean, you can petition a king. And in the same way you can petition your American government. You can also try to vote people out of office. But ultimately, if the person is in office and the law is the law, then you better obey it because the government does whatever it will and no one can say “what are you doing?” to them because they have power. They have authority. And Romans 13 tells us that this authority actually comes from God. Ultimately, what was true of kings in ancient civilizations is ultimately true in our modern day, with a few adjustments.

And we’ll read the last verse that draws our attention to our duty to obey our authority…

5 Whoso keepeth the [king’s] commandment shall feel [know/experience] no evil thing [trouble]: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.

Again, this sounds a lot like Romans 13. Do you want to not fear authority? Then do what they say – so long as it doesn’t go against God’s commands to you. You’ll be prudent about this if you’re wise. That’s how verse 5 ends.

Now, in verses 6 through 8 it seems like the Preacher starts discussing something totally different from what he’s just been saying. But we have two reasons that would lead us to think that verses 2 through 9 are one section. First, the phrase “time and judgement” that just appeared in verse 5 also appears in verse 6. So, there’s some connection between verse 5 and verse 6. Second, look at verse 9. “…There is a time wherein one man–” what? RULETH OVER ANOTHER. Hey, that sounds like something a king does! So, even in verse 9 we’re still talking about kings.

So, I think verses 6 through 8 are related to the broader discussion about kings and how to relate to them. But this section also forms sort of an aside. And a big emphasis in these three verses is helplessness. So let’s read and try to figure this out…

Helplessness

6 Because to every purpose [pleasure] there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.

So, the misery is great upon whom? I think it’s talking about the wise man from the previous verse – the one whose heart can discern time and judgement. The misery that’s common to man is great or heavy upon him. Why? Verse 7…

7 For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?

So, the wise man is miserable. And this seems strange – since he’s discerning enough to be able to deal rightly with a king. And yet, not all is well. For as wise as he is, he still can’t predict the future. And in particular, for all his wisdom, he still cannot predict the day of his death. That’s verse 8…

8 There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death:

In other words, if it’s your appointed time to die, you have no power to change that. You can’t “retain your spirit”. And in the context, I think this is speaking of what happens when you cross a king. If you don’t follow the Preacher’s advice and obey the king, then remember that you don’t have power over the day of your death – which is what you’re going to experience from your enraged king for your disobedience.

And, the Preacher makes it clear in the last part of verse 8 that disobedience to a king is wickedness…

and [just like] there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.

There’s no discharge in a war. There may be discharge before a war – like when Gideon let go all those who were scared and who didn’t drink water in a certain way. There’s discharge after a war. But during a war? That’s called “going AWOL”. It shouldn’t happen. There’s no legitimate way of being released from the military during a time of war if you’re a soldier.

And just like that, there’s no way of being released from anything by wickedness. And I think this relates to the Preacher’s admonition in verse 3 to not leave a king’s presence hastily in order to join in a rebellion against him. That rebellion won’t deliver you from the wrathful king whom you’ve disobeyed.

So, we’ve seen that the Preacher is really advocating that his readers obey their king. But it’s not to say that the king is always going to be right – or even righteous. And that’s where the Preacher ends his consideration of relating to a king in verse 9…

Oppressive King

9 All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.

So, this whole time, the Preacher has been urging us to obey the king. And yet, he’s not unrealistic about the character of some kings. Some kings do in fact rule over men in a hurtful way. They’re bad to their subjects. And yet, that doesn’t cancel out anything of what he’s just said. Those under authority still need to obey that authority – even when it results in their hurt.

Now, the Preacher moves on to consider several negative aspects of wickedness. Remember – he already considered that wickedness can’t deliver people who are given to it. And so he wants to explore that thought a little more in verses 10 through 13…

Drawbacks of Wickedness

10 ¶ And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity.

Here’s vanity or emptiness or meaninglessness – a wicked man who comes and goes from the Temple – “the place of the holy” – and then he dies and is buried. And the crowning emptiness to that situation is the fact that this man is forgotten in his city after he dies.

Next, the Preacher speaks of the spreading of evil due to its punishment not being executed swiftly…

11 Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

Which tells you that the common practice in our nation of having inmates on death row for decades is really not the best way to go. Evil needs to be punished swiftly – in order for the general populace to to be discouraged from committing the same evil.

And sometimes sinners do get away with their sin in this life. Sometimes sentences against evil are not executed swiftly – or even at all! And yet, the Preacher isn’t fooled about the sinner’s position in the sight of God…

12 Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: 13 But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.

So, in this world it might appear that sinners are on top and the righteous are the losers. But it doesn’t matter how it appears. Take it from the Preacher that it will be well with the righteous. It will not be well with the wicked.

And yet, in this world, often that’s not the way it looks or how it goes. Often, we have the situation described in verse 14…

More Contradictions to the Law of Retribution

14 ¶ There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked [they get what the wicked deserve]; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.

So, even though we know that ultimately it will be well for the righteous and not so for the wicked – in this life, it can look like the exact opposite is true. This is vanity and emptiness and frustrating.

So, in light of all of this, the Preacher again comes back to advising us to enjoy life…

Enjoy Life

15 Then I commended mirth [pleasure/enjoyment of life], because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that [joy] shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.

Enjoy your work – whatever it is you do. Eat, drink, be happy. And recognize that God gives you these things and fear him.

And the Preacher keeps his focus on God in verses 16 and 17, where he considers God’s work and concludes that it is unsearchable…

God’s Work is Unsearchable

16 ¶ When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes: [this is what this kind of quest requires]) 17 Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.

God’s work is unsearchable. You can’t discover every single thing that God has done, is doing, or will do. It’s marvelous. It’s beyond our ability to comprehend – even if you never sleep! Even if you’re wise. You won’t get all of it.

Now, earlier in the book, we were led to consider that one of God’s works is humbling men through death. We just considered God’s works and how they’re ultimately unsearchable. And now, in 9:1-6 we’re reminded of this work of death again. And this time we’re led to think of its inevitability…