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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 12

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

Verse 1

12:1 "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, "I have no delight in them";"

"Remember also your Creator" -In addition to remembering that you must eventually stand before God in judgment (11:9), remember that it is God who created you in the first place. This is a powerful thought! 1. Seeing that God created me, God then must know what will truly make me happy. Therefore, I can submit to His will cheerfully and have the confidence in knowing that the path of obedience is the best path for me. I will only find my true potential when I fully submit to His will. 2. Being my Creator, such gives God the moral right to expect obedience from me. In fact, disobedience and rebellion are acts committed by ungrateful people. And who wants to act like a spoiled and ungrateful child? Yuk!

Points To Note:

2 "Let your mind be turned to your Maker" (Bas). To remember God includes dropping any kind of arrogant self-sufficiency and committing ourselves to Him. 2. "Your Creator": Yes, God is the Creator of all. 3. "Remember" certainly implies more than to recall that there is a Creator. It surely means to let that remembrance shape conduct, for He is to be remembered as 'Creator'. As such, being the Author of our being, He has complete and absolute claims upon us (including our talents, time, and prosperity) these we should acknowledge by our surrender to Him" (Leupold p. 273). 4. When we obey God, we are really only giving to Him what rightfully belongs to Him in the first place (Acts 17:26-27; Luke 17:7-10). "The command 'Remember your Creator' means to revere God, to keep His laws faithfully, to serve Him responsibly, remembering that because He created people, everyone owes Him his life….the meaning of the verb 'remember' in Deut. 8:18 and Psalm 119:55 is parallel to keeping the Law, in Judges 8:34 it is contrasted with self-reliance and worship of other gods" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 1004).

"in the days of your youth" -"days of your strength" (Bas); "in the days of thy vigor" (Rhm). 'Youth' certainly includes more than just childhood or the teenage years. For there are many people who remember God in those years but they forget Him in their 20's, 30's and 40's.

Points To Note:

3 Youth has the habit of demanding 'rights', resisting and questioning rightful authority, including God's authority. 2. There is also the great temptation to concentrate on earthly goals when one is young. Often, getting ahead in a career, amassing physical possessions, and the quest for recreation and getting away so we can undo all the damage caused by the previous wrong priorities, take young people away from God. 3. Young people, and I am also talking to people in their 20's, 30's and 40's, need to remember that all they are and all they have is due to the fact that there is a God. 5. The days of strength and vigor are also days in which you can really accomplish something for God, the days in which we can be busily involved in spreading the gospel, going good deeds, etc…(Titus 2:14). 6. Youth is also an ideal time to commit ourselves fully to God: Youth is the time when self-surrender is still possible, but a life lived for self can harden the heart. God is not impressed by the person who is trying to live as much for self until the possible last moment. 7. Will we squander the days of our strength? We will spend most of our time, money and talents on earthly goals or vain pursuits? Or will we give God the best of our youth? Listen to the following passage:

"May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy"

(Psalm 137:6)

"before the evil days come and the years draw nigh" -"Days of discomfort" (Rhm); "Troubling days come" (Ber); "The time of trouble comes" (NEB). In the context, these days include the days of old age, days that will be filled with aches and pains and failure of physical and mental strength. The final crippling stages of old age.

"when you will say, "I have no delight in them"" -"I do not enjoy them" (Ber); "I see no purpose in them" (NEB). "Them"-i.e. the days of advanced old age. "Means that such closing years of life have lost the pleasure of youth and the prime of life" (Kidwell p. 274). See 2 Samuel 19:35 "Can I distinguish between good and bad? Or can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink?…") Old age is really devastating to the person who never placed their confidence in God, who has all their eggs in this earthly basket.

Points To Note:

4 Especially, if one hasn't chosen to serve God, the supposed "golden years" can turn out to be very depressing. 2. People in our world, especially the baby-boomer generation just assumes that their retirement years will mean--- just that much more time they can spend pleasing themselves. But such years can bring disease, illnesses and financial hardship. The person who has not remembered God and served Him while young, is faced with many regrets. He or she might want to serve God now, but they are greatly limited in what they can do for Him. 3. Our happiness in old age is directly linked with the type of life we have lived while young. One cannot be a miserable and selfish child, teenager, 20,30,40, etc., year-old and then expect to enjoy the final years of your life on earth.

What We All Will Face

"The following metaphors all describe the deterioration of the body as old age comes on" (Garrett p. 341).

Not only does all work cease in the grave (Ecc. 9:10), but our productiveness might end a good number of years prior to our actual death. You might live to be 80, but for how long will you able to remain productive? How long really do you have to serve God effectively?

Verse 2

12:2 "before the sun, the light, the moon, and the stars are darkened, and clouds return after the rain;"

"before the sun" -note the declining order, the sun, which is the most powerful giver of light, then the moon, then the stars, which are the bearers of the faintest light. Some think this is an illusion to declining eyesight which often afflicts the aged. But it also might picture the gradual decline that precedes death. One moves from the prime of life (the light of the sun), to retirement (the light of the moon), to advanced old age (star light) and finally to death.

"and clouds return after the rain" -clouds are often symbolic of trouble. "one storm succeeds another" (P. P. Comm. p. 297). The word "return" suggests that old age brings one complication or problem after another. One health problem is followed after another.

Point To Note:

"There is the chill of winter in the air of verse 2, as the rains persist and the clouds turn daylight into gloom, and then night into pitch darkness. It is the scene somber enough to bring home to us not only the fading of physical and mental powers but the more general desolation's of old age. There are many lights that are liable then to be withdrawn, besides those of the scenes and faculties, as, one by one, old friends are taken, familiar customs change, and long-held hopes now have to be abandoned. All this will come at a stage when there is no longer the resilience of youth or the prospect of recovery to offset it. In one's early years, and for the greater part of life, troubles and illnesses are chiefly set-backs, not disasters. One expects the sky to clear eventually. It is hard to adjust to the closing of that long chapter: to know that now, in the final stretch, there will be no improvement: the clouds will always gather again, and time will no longer heal, but kill. So it is youth, not age, that these inexorable facts are best confronted, when they can drive us into action---that total response to God which was the subject of verse 1---not into despair and vain regrets" (Kidner pp. 101-102).

Verse 3

12:3 "in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble, and mighty men stoop, the grinding ones stand idle because they are few, and those who look through windows grow dim;"

"watchmen of the house tremble" -"Likened to a great house in decline, it's former glories of power, style, liveliness and hospitality can now be surmised only by contrast with their few, pathetic relics" (Kidner p. 102). Some feel that the watchmen (keepers, guards) of the house are the arms of the human body, which can accomplish most by way of protection. In these verses Solomon appears to depict the declining physical and psychological powers of old age. The arms and hands grow weak and actually begin to tremble.

"mighty men stoop" -the legs grow bent and feeble. The legs of the aged bend themselves, i.e. are shaky and unreliable. "Stooping with age, dragging their feet heavily along, when men are no longer upright in stature" (P.P. Comm. p. 298).

"the grinding ones stand idle because they are few" -Some feel this is a reference to the teeth, which cease to function properly because few of them are left

"those who look through windows grow dim" -i.e. the eyes becoming dim with age (Deut. 34:7).

Point To Note:

It appears to me that God might be comparing old age to the decline of an estate. In youth the human body is like a prosperous estate, filled with servants, productivity and activity. But old age is like an estate that has fallen into disrepair. Resources are limited, the "servants" (arms, legs, ears, eyes) are old and feeble.

There is a myth in our society that we will eventually turn old age into a great period of vigor and productivity. But since these words were penned almost 3000 years ago, advanced old age hasn't changed much. Christians need to prepare now for the years of declining health, our faith needs to be strong to face the setbacks, frustrations, problems, etc…, that often face the aged. I need to have the faith in God whereby I cannot only die gracefully but also age gracefully at the same time.

Verse 4

12:4 "and the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low, and one will arise at the sound of the bird, and all the daughters of song will sing softly".

"doors on the street are shut" -i.e. on the street side. Some say this refers to the picture of the lips sinking in, due to the loss of teeth. "'On the streets' suggest communication with the world; but now such activity has ceased. In youth the appetite is keen and the mouth is employed in work and pleasure, but now the lips are drawn over the toothless gums, and the 'sound of the grinding mill is low'" (Kidwell p. 278).

"sound of the grinding mill is low" -"He cannot any more crack or crunch and break his food, one hears only a dull munching and sucking (as he or she eats)" (Keil/Del., pp. 408-409).

Points To Note:

Some feel that the above verses refer to the ears rather than the mouth. "As people shut doors when they want to exclude outside noise. Deafness is meant, as indicated by the sounds of grinding and singing fading out. But rising up at the sound of birds alludes to a cruel paradox of old age: one cannot hear well, but one sleeps so lightly that the slightest disturbance is sufficient to take away sleep" (Garrett p. 342).

If we wonder why God allows such suffering, all of us need to remember that mankind, in sinning has brought such upon themselves (Genesis 3:19). The aches, pains and complications associated with aging should remind all of us that we live in a world cursed by sin. A world in which all of us should eventually want to leave. Why should I place all my hopes and goals in a world that, like the Titanic, is sinking! (Matthew 6:19-20; Colossians 3:1-3).

"one will arise at the sound of the bird" -Could refer either to insomnia which is often associated with aging, or the habit of aged people to arise early in the morning, like our, "up with the lark".

"all the daughters of song will sing softly" -"With old age, these cheerful evidences of a living world about us grow remote and faint; one feels no longer fully part of it" (Kidner p. 103). Even aged Christians can feel that they are isolated from the world and even other believers. This is especially true of those who find themselves house bound due to health complications. Some feel that this refers also to the voice of the aged. The organs of speech, which are now humbled and frail, so that one's ability to sing is greatly impaired. (See 2 Samuel 19:35).

Verse 5

12:5 "Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street."

"afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road" -the 'high place' would include a steep place. The aged are often afraid of falling, especially of breaking a hip. "An old man's fear of falling or being jostled, now that he is unsteady and slow-moving" (Kidner p. 103). "Terrors on the road" would include all sorts of fears which are associated with getting out. Narrow and crowded streets, the danger of being pushed or knocked down, obstacles over which one could easily stumble, or just the difficulty in walking.

This points to a very real fear that the aged have of venturing out. The aged realize that they are vulnerable. Often criminals specifically prey on the aged. And nothing has really changed. Even in modern times, the aged often are very concerned about their personal security, are afraid of venturing out, only drive during the daytime or when traffic is light, go to the store before the crowds hit, etc…Often these fears will dictate how they plan each day.

"the almond tree blossoms" -when the almond tree blossoms, it is filled with while blossoms. "The almond tree first puts forth light, pink blossoms which turn snowy white before falling from the limbs to the ground" (Kidwell p. 279). This appears refer to the hair changing from a dark color to gray or white.

"the grasshopper drags himself along" -"speaks of the body being bent and one's walk being slowed; the grasshopper, normally moving about quickly, is an apt figure of the past liveliness of one's childhood and youth" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 1005).

"the caperberry is ineffective" -"the Desire shall fail" (ASV). The caperberry was highly regarded as a stimulus to appetite and as an aphrodisiac. The flower bud of this berry has been used since antiquity as a spice. This appears to refer to a loss of appetite, whether for food, or a loss of sexual desire.

"For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street" -And our eternal home can either be comfort or torment (Matthew 25:46). While life here is temporary and fleeting, eternity is permanent! The verse also seems to reveal the ineffectiveness of human power. All that we can do when a person dies is mourn, we are completely helpless in the face of death. Clearly, we must reject the view of those who claim that the writer of Ecclesiastes didn't believe in an afterlife.

Verse 6

12:6 "Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed;"

"before" -this verse goes back to the admonition found in 12:1. God is admonishing all young people to seriously consider what the future holds. Serve God now while you have youth, energy, and vigor! "Seize the day-not for self, but for God". Because you will face old age and dying, just like every other generation.

"silver cord….golden bowl….pitcher by the well" -"the pictures of verse 6 capture the beauty and fragility of the human frame: a masterpiece delicately wrought as any work of art (Psalm 139:13-14), yet as breakable as a piece of earthenware, and as useless in the end as a broken wheel. The first half of this verse seems to portray a golden lamp suspended by a silver chain; it will take only the snapping of a link to let it fall and be spoilt. And if this seems too finely-drawn a picture of our familiar selves, it is balanced by the scene at the deserted well---eloquent of the transience of the simplest, most basic things we do. There will be a last time for every familiar journey , every routine job" (Kidner pp. 103-104).

The idea also seems to be of things broken beyond hope of repair. As far as man and his power is concerned, death is final (Hebrews 9:28). While we are young, we think that we are invincible and will live forever. But the truth of the matter is that we are just as fragile as a pitcher (James 4:13ff).

Verse 7

12:7 "then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it."

"then" -following the moment of death. The physical body will immediately begin the process of decay, and the spirit will return to its Creator. Man is a dual being (James 2:26). Here we see the vanity of putting all our hopes and dreams in the beauty or continued existence of the human body. All human bodies eventually end up as a pile of dust.

Points To Note:

2 God is also the author of our spirits (Zech. 12:1; Genesis 1:26-27), which clearly establishes the principle of ownership. "The body will revert to its own elements, and the spirit was always God's to give, and God's to take away" (Kidner p. 104). 2. Every spirit is accountable to God and will answer and be judged by God (2 Cor. 5:10). Every spirit will meet its Maker. 3. Clearly, death isn't the end of man. We must reject the idea that one ceases to be at death or that man doesn't have a soul. If this is the case, then "what" returns to God? 4. The word "dust" takes our minds back to Genesis 2:7 and 3:19. Science tells us that all of the chemicals that make up a man (human body) are also found in the soil.

Verse 8

12:8 "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "all is vanity!"

This is a conclusion summing up Solomon's observations of this physical world or life under the sun. He has indeed proven his point. "Having demonstrated the limitations of all human efforts (1:12-6:9) and of all human wisdom (6:10-11:6), Solomon then reiterated the theme with which he opened his book (1:2)" (Bible Knowledge Comm. pp. 1005-1006). "with the experience of the whole book behind us, the finality with this chapter's haunting pictures of mortality to enforce the point, we come back to the initial cry, Vanity of vanities , and find it justified . Nothing in our search has led us home; nothing that we are offered under the sun is ours to keep (not even our own physical body)….But we are forgetting the context. This very passage points us beyond anything 'under the sun', in the words your Creator , and it invites response to Him. It also points us to the present, as the time of opportunity. Death has not yet reached out to us: let it rattle its chains at us and stir us into action!" (Kidner p. 104).

"the Preacher" -reflects the hortatory nature of this book and especially these closing words. Solomon has indeed been "preaching" to us. Let us never tire of being "preached to" (2 Timothy 4:2-4).

Verse 9

12:9 "In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs."

Solomon didn't not merely possess wisdom or a high IQ, but made good use of it for the instruction of others. And neither was Solomon a proud thinker who has not time for lesser minds! He took pains to teach the common people.

"pondered, searched out and arranged" -He carefully examined every fact and argument before it was presented to his audience or the people. The expression "searched out", means to accurately search out, to investigate, connotes a diligent difficult probing.

"many proverbs" -which is something that Solomon did (1 Kings 4:32). God is telling us the extreme care which went into composing not only this book but also the book of Proverbs.

Verse 10

12:10 "The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly."

"find delightful words" -"Made search for words which were pleasing" (Bas); "He did not hastily record what he sought to impart but implies a careful search after the most acceptable 'right' terms for conveying the message" (Leupold p. 294)

"words of truth correctly" -"And to set down truthful thoughts in a straightforward manner' (Jerus).

Points To Note:

2 God is telling us that He never sacrifices the truth in order to retain readers. 2. Tremendous attention has been given to both form and content. 3. What is written is factual knowledge, this isn't a book of allegory, myth or fiction. This verse should be the pattern for every teacher: "teachers must go ahead of pupils to seek out the truth and so convey it to their pupils. In addition, a teacher seeks to make his or her words as palatable as possible and teaches in a way that communicates well" (Garrett p. 344).

Verse 11

12:11 "The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd."

"words of wise man are like goads" -"The goad was a rod with an iron spike, or sharpened at the end used for driving oxen (Judges 3:31; 1 Samuel 12:21; Acts 9:5)" (P.P. Comm. 304).

Points To Note:

2 "Like goads they can rouse to action, promote reflection, restrain from error, impel to right; if they hurt and sting, the pain which they inflict is healthful, for good and not for evil" (P.P. Comm. p. 3-4). 2. "The purpose of goads is to prod the sluggish to action. Good proverbs do that. They bear in them power to give a mental and spiritual stimulus" (Leupold p. 295). 3. "they spur the will and stick in the memory" (Kidner p. 106) 4. The verse infers that we all need a good "goading" now and then (2 Tim. 4:2; 3:16-17).

"and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails" -i.e. the collection of words from wise men. The book of Ecclesiastes is such a collection. Such words are like well-driven nails: "For nails fastened give a definite point on which all manner of things may be hung, so stable words of the wise give a man something to hold and to tie. They furnish a kind of mental anchorage" (Leupold p. 295). "a picture of that which makes something fixed and immovable, a symbol of the stabilizing and sure character of wise teachings" (Garrett p. 344).

The words of Scripture are like nails in the sense that they establish a definite and sure reference point, something upon which you can hang everything, a definite point that will not move with time and culture (John 12:48). They also "nail down" all sorts of truths, so that we can say, "this is the truth", this is the final say.

"they are given by one Shepherd" -The origin of such words, the reason for the unity behind such words, is that God is the true author and editor of Scripture (Psalm 23:1; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:4). This is a definite claim that the content of this book came from God. Observe the correct and clear conception of the inspiration of the Old Testament. These men knew they were writing the words of God (2 Peter 1:20-21). Note, just because Solomon searched, pondered and sought (12:10), doesn't mean that he was necessarily writing down his own opinion. All true wisdom comes from one Shepherd.

Verse 12

12:12 "But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body."

"be warned" -"Curiously enough, as verse 12 perceives, this may not suit us. We grow addicted to research itself, in love with our hard questions. An answer would spoil everything " (Kidner p. 106).

Points To Note:

2 Here is an admonition to all of us. There is a great temptation on the part of mankind to seek answers beyond those God had given through the wise. How many people keep looking for answers, when God has already clearly given the answer? And how many people are more in love with searching for an answer, then in actually wanting to find one? There is a time when research must end and application must begin. 2. This verse isn't talking about the writing of inspired books, which are not endless in number. In addition, we are to diligently study the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). 3. "It is the nature of the wisdom of this world to never give a final answer to the most basic and penetrating questions of life" (Kidwell p. 280). It is also the nature of this world's wisdom to always want to hear something new or novel, or to jump on the latest self-help book.

Verse 13

12:13 "The conclusion, when all has been heard is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person."

"The conclusion" -lit., 'the sum of all'. The final result after all is learned.

"when all has been heard" -The point is that no matter "how much" could be said…we would always reach this same conclusion.

"fear God and keep His commandments" -if one respects God, they will naturally obey what He has said. In the final analysis the fear of God and the love of God result in the same thing, i.e. obedience (John 14:15; Romans 13:9-10). "'Fear God' is a call that puts us in our place, and all other fears, hopes and admiration's in their place" (Kidner p. 107).

Points To Note:

2 Therefore, to obey God is what is means to be truly human. "Humanity sought to become like God in disobeying him, but instead they lost the one thing that made them truly human" (Garrett p. 344). 2. No human being is exempt from keeping the commands of God. Note, Solomon didn't say, "This applies to every Jewish person". Lit., this expression (this applies to every man) means "this is every man", i.e. this is the duty of every man. "we might translate it, 'is all that there is to man'" (Kidner p. 107). "For this man was made and placed in the world; this is his real object, the chief good, which he has to seek, and which alone will secure contentment and happiness" (P.P. Comm. p. 306).

Verse 14

12:14 "For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil."

Points To Note:

2 "with the final blow that is sharp enough to hurt, but shrewd enough to jolt us out of apathy. It kills complacency to know that nothing goes unnoticed and unassessed, not even the things that we disguise from ourselves. But at the same time it transforms life. If God cares as much as this, nothing can be pointless….it colors all the teaching of Christ, to whom no detail on earth could be too small to matter in heaven---an idle word (Matt. 12:36), the death of a sparrow (10:29), a cup of cold water (10:42), the repentance of one sinner (Luke 15:7)" (Kidner p. 107). 2. "Everything"-we can't hide anything from God, therefore, we need to be honest with ourselves and the Scriptures (Hebrews 4:12-13). 3. Good and evil do exist, there are objective and timeless standards for what is right and wrong. God isn't going to excuse evil. See Proverbs 15:3; 1 Corinthians 4:5

Apart from God everything is vanity, with God, everything matters! As someone noted, "Keep your eye on God because He is keeping His eye on you".

Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dun/ecclesiastes-12.html. 1999-2014.
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