Ecclesiastes 11–12. The Conclusion of the Matter.
Key Note: Good general advice: go for it. A poetic description of aging. Biblical and modern aging. Summary of Ecclesiastes.
We have seen that the Teacher-Scholar progressively shifts his readers away from the delusions of wealth, success and permanence, and into the development of practical wisdom. The word “vanity” still is used five times in this section so that we cannot get the wrong idea, but he closes out the book with a firm commitment to God and His judgment. The notes are presented as a paraphrase, as many commentators do. I regard these six verses as a unit.
11:1–6. The Teacher advises his students to be active, generous and flexible.
11:1 Give some of your stuff away even if there is no gratitude in the receivers. There will be a reward later.
11:2 Give your money away. It may be worthless if you hoard it.
11:3 There are conditions you cannot control. The rain comes. The tree falls.
11:4 If you wait until the conditions are ideal, you may not succeed in doing anything.
11:5 You cannot understand “ensoulment”, much less all the other work God does.
11:6 Keep active. Explore new options—evangelistic methods, different leisure activities, opportunities for children, new programs and organizations. Some people have made careers out of their hobbies.
Comment: We have many opportunities to do good.
Could you show kindness to a new student from Sri Lanka?
Should you support a Christian worker in a Ugandan orphanage?
Would you dare to try helping teach Bible in a prison?
Have you tried a short-term missions trip?
Are you too old to learn to use a computer?
Would you give canned goods to the food pantry?
Could you adopt an orphaned child?
11:7–9 The second lesson is to realize that life is sweet. Enjoy the sunset. Visit the shore. Surely there will be dark times as well as joyous. Live life without fear except for God’s judgment.
11:10–12:8 Enjoy your youth (or whatever is left of your life). “…the dawn of life is vanity.” Remember God when you are young. Don’t give God your leftovers, the dregs of your life. The end of life is decay, as well as vanity.
This next passage uses metaphors of the human body to describe the dying process. It is a unique text and deserves to be read aloud.
12:2 Eventually there are no more bodily pleasures. The risk of depression increases.
12:3 The arms grow weak; the back is bent; the teeth fall out; the eye-sight is poor.
12:4 You don’t get out much anymore. Work grinds to a halt. You get up earlier and earlier. The voice is low and croaky.
12:5 Fear of heights, crowds and strangers increases. The hair turns white. One limps from stroke or arthritis. Sex is a thing of the past. Then the funeral comes.
12:6 Death may be from injury to the spinal cord ("the silver cord") , or a fractured skull ("the golden bowl"), a rupture of the heart muscle ("the pitcher") or the aortic arch ("the wheel") from hypertension or atherosclerosis.
12:7 The body decays to dust. The spirit returns to God.
12:9–12 Some say that another person or persons must have written these concluding words because they are written in the third person instead of the first. We will stick to the message. The message has been prepared with care to detail—weighing, studying, arranging. They are words of truth, given by One Shepherd.
Wisdom literature is like goads. It irritates us, makes us move, and redirects our path.
Wisdom literature is also like nails—reliable pegs to hang ideas that are true and secure.
Wisdom literature is also limited. Don’t try to create your own. There are too many books already. Some are “ever-learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth.” (IITim.3:7)
12;13–14 Finally, remember to fear God and keep His commandments. This is our universal human responsibility. God will bring everything into judgment—secret or obvious, good or evil.
The Bible says little about aging. The detailed analogies to describe aging in Eccl. 12 are uniquely unhappy. We wonder why this text is given to us. To the youthful to whom it is addressed, however, it may have the desired effect: remember God while you are young.
In Gen. 6:3 God cut the life-span of the long-lived Antediluvians from around 900 to 120 years. Psalm 90 is about aging. It is ascribed to Moses and says the average life-expectancy was 70, or 80 years with extra strength. Psa.90:10. Moses lived 120 years. Four-hundred and more years later, the average life-span of 17 kings of Judah was 42 years, (range:18–70 yrs.) in spite of all the advantages of royalty. In many third-world countries today, the life-expectancy is still around forty years.
The Psalmist prays:
“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent. “ Psa71:9
“So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, till I proclaim Thy might to all the generations to come. “ Psa.71:18
We are happy to report that aging has changed remarkably in the last 50 years. Better nutrition and control of tuberculosis allowed the post-WW II Asian generation to grow a head taller. Medicines to control blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipids have added good years of life. Orthopedic work with artificial joints, plus hearing aids, dental repairs and motorized chairs have improved the function of young and old. Cancer treatment and kidney transplants have permitted the previously doomed to live out their years. The average life-expectancy is prolonged five years or more and approaches 80.
The Teacher gives us a succinct statement of the will of God.
“Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
There are several other such brief summaries in Scripture of our responsibility to God.
* “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with your God?” Mic. 6:8
* “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Jm.1:27
* “…chose life…loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for that means life for you….” Deut.30:18
* “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” Prov.3:5,6
Summary of the book.
Life is enigmatic, brief as a puff of smoke, and much that we do is futile, vanity.
But God has put eternity in our hearts, yet without the wisdom to understand what He is doing, the end from the beginning. So we are forced to live in the moment. We are to do our work diligently, and enjoy our day and the fruits of our labor. That is our lot.
The wisdom we are given is intended to guide us in the everyday decisions we must make. We are made aware that justice does not necessarily prevail in this life.
What shall we do with the fruits of our labor? We are to be generous, wise and flexible with our money and other assets, taking a long view of their uses.
And where does it all end up? We must chose to follow the Lord early in life, living in the knowledge of His final judgment of every person. Since justice is often neglected in this life, we are being told that there is another time, another world in which justice and righteousness will be realized.
Praise God for His grace.