12:1 Remember [to pay attention to with the intent of obeying; cf. Matt. 6:33] your Creator [the only time this term is used as a description of God in this book] in the days of your youth [before you become “set in your ways”; and thus have more years to devote in service to the Lord], before the days of trouble [days of infirmities and pain in older adulthood] come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”—
Solomon cautioned those who are young to remember their Creator. He understood how easy it is for those who are caught up in the enjoyments of youth to neglect the Lord. The word remember refers to more than simple intellectual recall. To remember means to pay attention to with the intent of obeying. It is a call for responsible living based on remembering and reflecting on all that God has done for us. The best way to avoid future sorrows and heartaches is by remembering our Creator in the days of our youth.
This is the only time Solomon referred to God as Creator in this book. Remembering our Creator is a way of guarding against living a self-indulgent and sinful lifestyle while young. Those who neglect God in their youth store up regrets for the days of trouble or the days of infirmities and pain in older adulthood. However, those who remember God when they are young and live wisely can extend the joy of life to their latter years.
12:2 [note in the following verses the references to the problems that the aging must face…] before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark [cf. 11:7 to the description of the sky when one is young], and the clouds return after the rain;
The knowledge that the advancing years will bring with them increased limitations should cause each of us to live each day with more of a Godward focus. Solomon had previously referred to the light as pleasant (11:7). During youthful years the sky is bright and life seems full of endless possibilities. However, in the first part of this verse he referred to the light being darkened—perhaps a description of the loss of pleasures as one grows older.
The latter years of life often are characterized by storms or physical challenges that make life more difficult. Advancing age also impacts vision. Some see the imagery of clouds returning after the rain as a reference to glaucoma. Glaucoma is a disease of the eye characterized by partial or complete loss of vision. Clouds usually dissipate after a downpour and the sky is sunny again. However, clouds that return after the rain may refer to vision that does not clear up.
12:3 [note the imaginative description (metaphors) of old age using the figure of a house (a metaphor for the human body; cf. Job 4:19; 2 Cor. 5:1-2; 2 Peter 1:13) that is falling apart…] when the keepers of the house [arms and hands] tremble, and the strong men [legs, knees, shoulders] stoop, when the grinders [teeth] cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows [vision] grow dim;
Solomon used a series of metaphors to describe the various physiological changes that people experience as they get older. The most notable thing about this verse is the mention of a house in a state of decline. This verse does not refer to the literal decline of one’s household. Instead, Solomon imaginatively used the figure of a house that is falling into disrepair to describe some of what we experience as we grow older. He listed four characteristics of aging.
First, the guardians of the house most likely refer to the hands which tremble in old age.
Second, the strong men may refer to the major muscle groups of the legs and back that begin to weaken with age and cause one to stoop rather than to stand up straight.
Third, the grinders are teeth which cease to chew food because they are few.
Fourth, the ones who see dimly as they watch through the windows are the eyes.
12:4 when the doors [possibly hearing or a closed mouth] to the street are closed and the sound of grinding [possibly inability to chew food] fades; when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint [hearing loss];
Some students interpret the doors to the street as a reference to the ears. People generally shut their doors when they want to exclude outside noise. When the doors are closed the sound of the mill fades, as do many other sounds. So, Solomon’s reference may be to the loss of hearing that often comes with the advancing years. However, paradoxically, while some older adults cannot hear well, they can be easily startled and awakened by the slightest noise—such as the sound of a bird.
Others see the doors to the street as a reference to a closed mouth. Some people lose their teeth as they grow older. As a result they may smile less to conceal this fact. Some may even lose the ability to eat certain foods, a possible meaning of the sound of the mill, or the sound of grinding, fades. Either interpretation supports the idea that Solomon tried to convey about aging—growing older increasingly limits what a person can and cannot do.
12:5 when men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets [fearful of stairs or steps or obstacles that can cause one to fall]; when the almond tree [hair turns white like almond blossoms] blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along [“the grasshopper loses its spring” (HCSB); suggests a slower and more deliberate gait] and desire [perhaps appetite for food or sexual appetite] no longer is stirred. Then man goes to his eternal home [heaven] and mourners [professionals hired to participate in funeral ceremonies] go about the streets.
Solomon continued his description of the limitations of older age. As people grow older they must exercise caution in regard to heights, such as climbing or descending stairs, lest they fall and injure themselves. The dangers on the road include obstacles that can cause one to fall or increased vulnerability to the dangers of travel. Solomon described three additional physiological changes that occur in the latter years of life.
First, the almond tree blossoms. Almond trees in the Middle East blossom in midwinter and have white blossoms thus suggesting that whatever hair we have left later in life turns white.
Second, the grasshopper loses its spring or drags himself along. As we grow older we tend to walk slower and more deliberately.
Third, the caper berry has no effect or no longer bears fruit, suggesting a loss of sexual desire.
Finally, death comes and takes us to our eternal home and mourners go about in the street. All of us are aging and none of us know exactly when we will reach our eternal home, therefore we are to live every day for God.
12:6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well,
12:7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
12:8 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!”
12:9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs.
12:10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.
12:11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd.
12:12 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
12:13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion [the bottom line] of the matter: Fear God [attitude of reverence and awe and respect for God; cf. Prov. 1:7] and keep [consistently obey] his commandments [cf. Prov. 13:13], for this is the whole duty [purpose] of man [obeying God is His purpose for everyone].
Solomon searched for meaning in life under the sun. Guided by human wisdom, Solomon explored a variety of avenues that looked promising but proved disappointing. Every earthly experience and material possession left Solomon empty. After his exhaustive search for meaning, Solomon announced the conclusion of the matter. Life’s ultimate meaning cannot be found by human wisdom; only God can give meaning to life.
Solomon concluded the candid record of his search for life’s meaning by pointing out two important things people must do.
First, Solomon said people must fear God. The word fear means “awe, respect, reverence.” The fear of the Lord consists of reverent devotion to God and submission to His will. When people fear God they not only take Him seriously, they also allow God to have His way in their lives.
Second, Solomon said people must keep His commands. Obedience is the outward demonstration of inward devotion to God. True reverence for God without obedience to God is not possible. Reverence and obedience go hand in hand. Solomon discovered that revering and obeying God give life true meaning. Solomon’s conclusion that people should revere and obey God is for all humanity in all places at all times.
12:14 For God will bring every deed [while Solomon had advised enjoying life, he did not advise enjoying sin] into judgment [we all are accountable to God; cf. Ecc. 3:17; 11:9], including every hidden thing [God knows everything about us], whether it is good or evil.
The knowledge that God will bring every act to judgment or hold people accountable, should serve as an incentive to fear and obey God. No person can sin with impunity or get away with sin. Ultimately and eventually, our sins will be exposed and judged righteously. Therefore we should live each day revering and obeying God, for that is the purpose for which He created us. By revering and obeying God we advance His redemptive purposes and, in the process, experience life’s greatest sense of fulfillment.
Note: When it comes to living life, there is a bottom line!
B — Boundaries: God has established boundaries not because He wants to spoil our fun, but because He wants to protect us.
O — Obedience: Obeying God is always the best choice in life.
T — Time: We only have a brief period when we are young and can take advantage of the opportunities and pleasures of youth.
T — Think: We must live each day with an awareness of God, what He has done for us, and what He expects of us.
O — Old Age: As we grow older we increasingly lose the capacity to do and enjoy certain things.
M — Ministry: Because life is brief we should look beyond ourselves and serve others.
L — Live: We should live each day to the fullest.
I — Integrity: God will hold us accountable for how we live our lives.
N — Neglect: Neglecting God will result in serious consequences both now and for eternity.
E — Eternity: We should live each day with eternity in mind.