Chapter 10 and the beginning of chapter 11 contain single proverbs much like what can be read in the book of Proverbs. After speaking these proverbs the Teacher presents his final conclusions concerning his observations about life under the sun.
9 Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. And walk in the ways of your heart and in the sights of your eyes; but know that for all of these things God will bring you to judgment. 10 Remove sorrow from your heart, and put away pain from your flesh, because youth and the prime of life are fleeting. (11:9-10; HCSB)
Enjoy Your Life (11:9-10)
Enjoy life, but know that you will brought into judgment. Enjoy life, especially while you are young. Enjoy the days of your youth. There is a whole world of possibilities and opportunities. There are many things you can do with your life. There are many places you can go. Enjoy life. The older you get, the more responsibilities you have and the less you can do. The older you get, the less you want to go and do things. The older you get, the harder it is on the body to go and do the things that are available to enjoy in life. The Teacher’s council is to do things in life while you are young because those opportunities will not be available later in life. But as you go into this world never forget that for all that you do you will be brought into judgment by God. Too often the young go and enjoy life but forget that their actions are going to be held accountable to the Lord.
The second admonition given is to not let the human condition cause grief. Do not be weighed down with grief and consternation over the human ills that consume people. A person can waste one’s life, the days that are meant for enjoyment, by being sorrowful about the plight of the conditions of life. The point that we learned last week is that stuff happens. Things happen in life that cannot be controlled. Things happen in life that do not have rhyme or reason. So do not be consumed by the troubles of life that happen to yourself or to others. These things are simply the nature of life. Your life is a vapor and your time is short. So do not waste your precious time grieving and worrying about life’s troubles.
Start With God Early (12:1-10)
This section of text has some beautiful imagery about aging. Let’s enjoy the figurative language used-
Verse 2: The eyes begin to fail. A person’s vision begins to become cloudy.
Verse 3: The guardians of the house refer to the hands as they begin to tremble. The strong men refer to the muscles of the arms and back. The muscles are no longer strong. The grinding ceases because they are few refers to the loss of teeth. The windows of the eyes grow dim.
Verse 4: The doors of the street are shut while the sound of the mill fades refers to the loss of hearing. Rising at the sound of a bird refers to the aged sleeping lightly and how the slightest disturbance is enough to take away sleep.
Verse 5: The aged begins to be more fearful about things that are common in life and things that one used to do without thought. The blossoming of the almond tree refers to the hair turning white. The grasshopper losing the spring in its step refers to the greater difficulty of walking. The caper berry has no effect is a Hebrew idiom referring to the loss of sexual desire. The body is failing as he is preparing to go to his eternal home.
Verses 6-7: These are all images of the coming of death. The dust is going to return to the earth, that is, our bodies will be buried. Further, our spirit will go back to God who gave it.
Typically, these verses are understood to be saying that a person needs to come to the Lord before one’s death. While this is true, and has been a point that has been made by the Teacher, I do not think that is point being made here at this moment. Carefully read the first verse of chapter 12 again and see the point the Teacher wants us to know.
So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them.” (12:1; HCSB)
Start with God early before life grows difficult. Get close to God early in life to help you get through all of the adversities and troubles that will come in life. Develop a good relationship with God while you are young and it will help when the difficult days arrive. I believe one of the implicit points is that it is easier to turn to God when you are young than when you are older. Like any habit, the longer you are away from something the easier it is to stay away. In the same way, the longer a person remains away from God the easier it becomes to stay away from God. The longer one goes without praying, the easier it is to continue not praying. The longer one goes without reading and studying the scriptures, the easier it is to not read and study the scriptures. The more often you miss services, the easier it is to continue to miss services. This is just human nature. Therefore, get close to God while you are young. God’s wisdom will keep you away from foolish mistakes. God’s wisdom will help you through life’s difficulties. A relationship with God will help you keep from being completely demoralized and depressed when problems in life arise. Start with God early in life.
Pay Attention To These Teachings (12:11)
The sayings of the wise are like goads, and those from masters of collections are like firmly embedded nails. The sayings are given by one Shepherd. (HCSB)
A goad was a pointed stick to keep cattle going in the right direction. These wise sayings by the Teacher are goads. These words are to be pointed sticks that keep us going in the right direction. These sayings are not in question. They are teachings that are firmly embedded nails that you can rely on your life. These teachings are God’s wisdom, the one Shepherd. Consider what we have learned from the Teacher in his journal writings:
- The lure of something better tomorrow robs us of the joys offered today.
- Nothing in life brings satisfaction.
- Apart from God, life is futile. Wisdom, pleasures, wealth, and work have no value without God.
- Life is always changing. Do not expect the way things are today to stay the same tomorrow.
- Excessive work leads to being alone. Better to have companions.
- “It is better to be content with what the eyes can see than for one’s heart always to crave more. This continual longing is futile- like chasing the wind.” (6:9; NET)
- Enjoy the fruit of your labor. Enjoy what life has to offer.
- Time and chance happen to all.
These are useful, powerful words of wisdom from God to help us endure the challenges of life.
Ignore Worldly Wisdom (12:12)
But beyond these, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. (HCSB)
God has given you the words that are useful. But anything else is not useful. There is no end to the making of self-help books and books about “wisdom” and “spirituality.” But these things are not useful. God has given you the owner’s manual on how to live your life. Everything else is not going to help. A couple of months back we look at what Oprah and Eckhart Tolle are doing with their new “spirituality.” Again, there really is no end to the making of books that try to give you the meaning of life. No end to books of philosophy. Just listen to God and follow his scriptures and you will do well.
The Meaning of Life (12:13-14)
After having heard it all, this is the conclusion: Fear God, and keep his commands, for this is the whole of humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.
This is the conclusion to all of the Teacher’s observation. Here is the meaning of life. Here is where true satisfaction can be found. Fear God and keep his commands. After this life journey the Teacher realizes that this is what life is all about. Life is about doing God’s will. Submitting one’s self to God will bring lasting satisfaction. This is the whole of mankind. Many translations read that this “is the whole duty of man.” But the word “duty” is inserted for clarification. But I do not think the teaching is at all about what our “duty” is as humans. Rather, the teaching is that this is what life is all about. The satisfying life that avoids futility is the life that fears God and keeps his commands. Lasting satisfaction and value cannot be found anywhere else. Thus, obeying God is the “whole of humanity.” Fearing God is what life is all about.
The final thought by the Teacher is this. Do not forget that God will bring every act into judgment, even the hidden things. You and I need the grace of God. You and I need to obey God because one day we will be held accountable for our decisions and actions.