Ecclesiastes 12



The division into chapters is unfortunate here, as this verse is

closely connected with ver. 10 of the preceding chapter.


1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,” -  Set God always

before thine eyes from thy earliest days; think who made thee, and what thou

wast made for, not for self-pleasing only, not to gratify thy passions which now

are strong; but that thou mightest use thy powers and energy in accordance with

the laws of thy being as a creature of God’s hands, responsible to Him for the

use of the faculties and capacities with which he has endowed thee. The

word for “Creator” is the participle of the Verb barn, which is that used in

Genesis 1:1, etc., describing God’s work. It is plural in form, like

Elohim, the plural being that of majesty or excellence (comp are Job 35:10;

Isaiah 54:5). It is used here as an appellation of God, because

the young have to bethink themselves that all they are and all they have

COME FROM GOD!  Such plurals are supposed by some to be divinely

intended to adumbrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity — a dark saying

containing a mystery which future revelation should explain – “while the

evil days come not,  i.e. before they come. - αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς κακίας  - ai haemerai

taes kakias - days of evil; - Septuagint - (Matthew 6:34);

tempus afflictionis (Vulgate).  The phrase refers to the grievances and

inconveniences of old age, which are further and graphically described in

the following verses, though whether the expressions therein used regard

literal anatomical facts, or are allegorical representations of the gradual

decay of the faculties, has been greatly disputed. Probably both opinions

contain a partial truth, as will be noted in our Exposition. Ginsburg considers

that the allusion is not to the ills that in the course of time all flesh is heir to,

but rather to that premature decay and suffering occasioned by the

unrestrained gratification of sensual passions, such as Cicero intimates

(‘De Senect.,’ 9:29), “Libidinosa et intemperans adulescentia effetum corpus

tradit senectuti” – but there is nothing specially in the text to support this

view, and it is most reasonable to see here generally a figurative description

of decay, whatever may be the cause -  “nor the years draw nigh, when

thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”   Ere the time comes when

a man shall say, “I have no pleasure in life.” Thus the aged Barzillai asks,”

Can I discern between good and evil? Can thy servant taste what I eat,

 or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing-men and

singing-women?” (II Samuel 19:35).



Remember thy Creator (v. 1)


  • REMEMBER: WHOM? “Thy Creator.” The language implies:


Ø      That man has a Creator. It would certainly be strange if he

had not, seeing that all things else have (Colossians 1:15-16).

(O how jealous is Hollywood of their copyrighted artworks in which

they deny God’s claim on His – they would be the first to run to

the courts for protection as the Constitution states, but all the while,

promoting all kinds of behaviors that fly in the face of the Creator,

and refuse to Him what He has so graciously provided for them,

protection of their own ideas and works!!!!!!!!!!!!!  - this is just one

of myriads of examples in the world today of foolish and hypocritical

thinking of thoughtless liberalism and/or so called progressivism – CY –

2013). And that Creator is not man himself, since he is at best

a dependent creature (Genesis 3:19);  or an inferior divinity,

since there is none such (II  Samuel 7:22; Isaiah 44:6); but


o       GOD, the one living and true God (I Thessalonians 1:9), the

Almighty Maker of the universe (Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20:11;

Psalm 124:8; Isaiah 40:28; Jeremiah 10:16), and therefore of

man (Genesis 1:26; Deuteronomy 4:32; Psalm 100:3; Acts

17:25-26, 28); and


o       JESUS CHRIST, the Image of the invisible God (II Corinthians

4:4; Colossians 1:15) and the unbeginning Word of God (John 1:1),

by whom all things were made (John 1:3), whether they be things

 in heaven or on earth, visible or invisible (Colossians 1:16), and



Ø      That man originally knows God. That even in his fallen condition he is

not entirely destitute of a knowledge of God — not, perhaps, a knowledge

clear and full, but still real and true — appears to be the teaching of

Scripture (Romans 1:21, 28) as well as of experience, no man ever

requiring to argue himself into a belief in God’s existence, though

many try to reason themselves out of it.


Ø      That man may forget God. Moses was afraid lest Israel should be guilty

of so doing (Deuteronomy 6:12), in which case they would be no better

than the heathen peoples around them (It is to this that our culture is

falling today! – CY – 2013 - Psalm 9:17). Practically this is

the world’s sin today (I John 4:8), and the sin against which Christians

have to guard (Hebrews 3:12). It is specially the sin against which

young persons should be warned, that of allowing the thought of God to

slip out of their minds.




Ø      By thinking of His Person. A characteristic of the wicked is that

God is not in all their thoughts (Psalm 10:4); whereas a good

man remembers God upon his bed, and meditates upon him in

the night watches (Psalm 63:6).


Ø      By reflecting on His character. The Creator being neither an

abstract conception nor an inanimate force, but a living and

personal Intelligence, He is also possessed of attributes,

the sum of which compose His character or name; and one who

would properly remember Him must frequently permit his

thoughts to dwell on these (Psalm 20:7), as David (Psalm

42:8) and Asaph (Psalm 77:3) did — on His holiness, His

lovingkindness, His faithfulness, His truth, His wisdom,


IN JESUS CHRIST and so made much more easily the subjects

 of study.


Ø      By acknowledging His goodness. God’s bounties in providence and

mercies in grace must be equally recalled and thankfully retained before

the mind, as David aptly said to himself (Psalm 103:1-2 – “Bless the

Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”) and protested

before God (Psalm 42:6). One who simply accepts God’s daily

benefits as the lower animals do, for consumption but not for

consideration, is guilty of forgetting God; who knows about,

but never pauses to thank God for HIS UNSPEAKABLE

GRACE IN CHRIST,  comes far short of what is meant by

remembering his Creator.


Ø      By meditating in His Word. Those who lovingly remember God

will not forget that He has written to them in the Scriptures words

of grace and truth, and will, like the good man of the Hebrew Psalter

(1:2), meditate therein day and night (See also Psalm 119:97, 99;

104:33-34).  Where God’s Law, with its wise and holy precepts, is

counted as a strange thing (Hosea 8:12),  no further proof is

needed that God himself is forgotten. (Let us sit up and take

 heed! – CY – 2013).  The surest evidence that“no man

remembered the poor wise man” was found in this, that

his wisdom was despised, and his words were not heard (ch.9:16).


Ø      By keeping His commandments. As Joseph’s recollection of

Jehovah helped him to resist temptation and avoid sin (Genesis 39:9),

so a sincere and loving remembrance of God will show itself in

 doing those things that are pleasing in His sight. When Christ

asked His disciples to remember Him, he meant them to do so,

not simply by thinking of and speaking about Him, or even by

celebrating in His honor a memorial feast (Luke 22:19), but also

by doing whatsoever He had commanded them (John 15:14).


  • REMEMBER: WHEN? “In the days of thy youth.”


Ø      Not then only. The remembrance of God is a duty which extends

THROUGHOUT LIFE!  No age can be exempted from it, as none is

unsuitable for it. The notion that religion, while proper enough for

childhood or youth, is neither demanded by nor becoming in manhood,

IS A DELUSION!  The heart-worship and life-service of God and

Jesus Christ are incumbent upon, needed by, and honorable to, old

as well as young.


Ø      But then firstly. The reasons will be furnished below; meantime it may

be noticed that Scripture writers may be said to be unanimous in

recommending early piety; in teaching that youth, above all other



o       Moses (Deuteronomy 31:13),

o       David (Psalm 34:11),

o       Solomon (Proverbs 3:1-2), and

o       Jesus (Matthew 6:33)


combine to set forth the advantage as well as duty of giving one’s

early years to God and religion.




Ø      Why remember one’s Creator?


o       Because HE IS INFINITELY WORTHY of being


o       Because He is entitled to be remembered on the

simple ground of being Creator.


OF HIM, happiness is impossible here and

salvation hereafter.

o       Because the human heart is prone to forget Him,

and remembers only His creatures andHis comforts.


Ø      Why remember Him in the way above specified?


o       Because any remembrance short of that is incomplete,

insincere, formal, external, and therefore essentially


o       Because the above is the sort of remembrance that is

demanded by Scripture.

o       Because only such remembrance is worthy of being

presented to God.


Ø      Why remember Him in youth?


o       Because youth, as the first portion of a man’s life,


o       Because youth, as the formative period of life, is the most

important time for acquiring religious habits (Proverbs

22:6).  (Being within 6 weeks of turning 70, I can still

quote passages which I learned in my youth – within the

last five years I have tried to memorize Exodus 34:6-7,

but have not been able to retain memorization of it! – CY –


o       Because youth, as the happiest season in life, is the time in

which God can most easily be remembered. Then

“the evil days” of”

§         business and worry,

§         temptation and sin,

§         affliction and sorrow,

§         disease and decay,

have not come; and the soul, besides being comparatively

disengaged, is also in a mood for yielding to devout and

holy impressions.

o       Because if God is not remembered in youth He is apt to be

forgotten as we age.  (This mistake in life will not happen

if one would remember the 1st and 3rd Commandments

once a week [preferably every day]) – CY – 2013)




            1. The real essence of religion — fellowship with God.

            2. The dignity of man — that he is capable of such fellowship.

            3. The responsibility of youth — for shaping all one’s after-life.

            4. The evanescence of earthly joys — all doomed to be eclipsed by

                the darkness of evil days.



                        The Vanity and Glory of  Youth (v. 1 with ch. 11:10b)


·   THE VANITY OF YOUTH. There is an aspect in which it is true that

childhood and youth are vanity.”


Ø      Its thoughts are very simple; they are upon the surface, and there is no

depth of truth or wisdom in them.


Ø      Its judgments are very mixed with error; it has to unlearn a great deal of

what it learns; the young will have to find, later on, that the men of whom

and the things of which they have made up their minds are different from

what they think now; their after-days will bring with them much

disillusion, if not serious disappointment. Much that they see is

magnified to their view, and the colors, as they see them today, will

look different tomorrow.


Ø      Itself is constantly disappearing. Few things are more constantly

disturbing, if not distressing, us than the rapid passage of childhood and

youth. Sometimes the young life is taken away altogether — the flower is

nipped in the bud. But where life is spared, the peculiar beauty of

childhood or of youth — its simplicity, its trustfulness, its docility, its

eagerness, its ardor of affection, its unreserved delights, this is perpetually

passing and “fading into the light of common day.” Yet is there — and

it is the truer and deeper thought —


·   THE GLORY OF YOUTH. Whatever may be said of youth in the way

of qualification, there is one thing that may be said for it which greatly

exalts it — it may be wise with a profound and heavenly wisdom, for it

may be spent in the fear and in the love of God (see Proverbs 1:7;

Job 28:28). To “remember its Creator,” and to order its life according

to that remembrance, is the height and the depth of human wisdom.

Knowledge, learning, cunning, brilliancy, genius itself, is not so desirable

nor so admirable a thing as is this holy and heavenly wisdom. To know

God (Jeremiah 9:24), to reverence Him in the innermost soul, to love

Him with all the heart (Mark 12:33), to be obedient to His

commandments, to be patiently and cheerfully submissive to His will, to be

honoring and serving Him continually, to be attaining to His own likeness in

spirit and character, — surely this is the glory of the highest created

intelligence of the noblest rank in heaven, and surely this is the glory of our

human nature in all its ranks. It is the glory of our manhood, and it is the

glory of youth. Far more than any order of strength (Proverbs 20:29),

or than any kind of beauty (II Samuel 14:25), or than any measure of

acquisition, does the abiding and practical remembrance of its Creator and

Savior glorify our youth. That makes it pure, worthy, admirable, inherently

excellent, full of hope and promise. We may add, for it belongs to the text

as well as to the subject:


·   THE WISDOM OF YOUTH. “While the evil days come not,” etc.

Let the young live before God while they are young; for:


Ø      It is a poor and sorry thing to offer to God, to a Divine Redeemer, the

dregs of our days. To Him who gave Himself for us it becomes us to

give, not our wasted and worn-out, but our best, our freest and freshest,

our purest and strongest self.


Ø      To leave the consecration of ourselves to Christ to the time:


o       when faculty has faded,

o       when the power of discernment and appreciation has declined,

o       when sensitiveness has been dulled with long disuse,

o       when the heavenly voices fall with less charm and interest on

     the ear of the soul,


this is a most dangerous thing. To hearken and to heed, to recognize

and to obey, in the days of youth is the one wise thing.




The Vanity and Glory of Youth (v. 1 with latter part of ch. 11:10)


  • THE VANITY OF YOUTH. There is an aspect in which it is true that

“childhood and youth are vanity.”


Ø      Its thoughts are very simple; they are upon the surface, and there is no

depth of truth or wisdom in them.


Ø      Its judgments are very mixed with error; it has to unlearn a great deal

of what it learns; the young will have to find, later on, that the men of

whom and the things of which they have made up their minds are different

from what they think now; their after-days will bring with them much

disillusion, if not serious disappointment. Much that they see is magnified

to their view, and the colors, as they see them today, will look otherwise



Ø      Itself is constantly disappearing. Few things are more constantly

disturbing, if not distressing, us than the rapid passage of childhood

and youth. (I am thankful that when I was young, I knew it and was

taught this verse “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy

youth while the evil days come not nor the years draw nigh,

when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”  Now, I

have, through God’s mercies, been retired for thirteen years and

for all practical purposes, the way time flies, am in a second childhood –

CY – 2013)  Sometimes the young life is taken away altogether — the

flower is nipped in the bud. But where life is spared, the peculiar beauty

of childhood or of youth — its simplicity, its trustfulness, its docility, its

eagerness, its ardor of affection, its unreserved delights, this is perpetually

passing and “fading into the light of common day.” Yet is there — and

it is the truer and deeper thought:


  • THE GLORY OF YOUTH. Whatever may be said of youth in the way

of qualification, there is one thing that may be said for it which greatly

exalts it it may be wise with a profound and heavenly wisdom, for it

may be spent in the fear and in the love of God (see Proverbs 1:7;

Job 28:28). To “remember its Creator,” and to order its life according

to that remembrance, is THE HEIGHT AND DEPTH OF HUMAN

WISDOM!  Knowledge, learning, cunning, brilliancy, genius itself, is not so

desirable nor so admirable a thing as is this holy and heavenly wisdom.


Ø      To know God (Jeremiah 9:23-24),

Ø      to reverence Him in the innermost soul,

Ø      to love Him with all the heart (Mark 12:33),

Ø      to be obedient to His commandments,

Ø      to be patiently and cheerfully submissive to His will,

Ø      to be honoring and serving Him continually,

Ø      to be attaining to His own likeness in spirit and character,


surely this is the glory of the highest created intelligence of the noblest rank

in heaven, and surely this is the glory of our human nature in all its ranks.

It is the glory of our manhood, and it is the glory of youth. Far more

than any order of strength (Proverbs 20:29), or than any kind of beauty

(II Samuel 14:25), or than any measure of acquisition, does the abiding

and practical remembrance of its Creator and Savior glorify our youth.

That makes it pure, worthy, admirable, inherently excellent, full

of hope and promise. We may add, for it belongs to the text

as well as to the subject:


  • THE WISDOM OF YOUTH. “While the evil days come not,” etc.

Let the young live before God while THEY ARE YOUNG, for:


Ø      It is a poor and sorry thing to offer TO GOD, OUR

DIVINE REDEEMER,  the dregs of our days. To Him

who gave himself for us it becomes us to give, not our wasted

and worn-out, but our best, our freest and freshest, our

purest and strongest self.


Ø      To leave the consecration of ourselves to Christ to the time

when faculty has faded, when the power of discernment and

appreciation has declined, when sensitiveness has been dulled

with long disuse, when the heavenly voices fall with less charm

and interest on the ear of the soul,THIS IS A MOST

PERILOUS THING! To hearken and to heed, to recognize

and to obey, in the days of youth is THE ONE WISE




                                    Youthful Religion (v. 1)


The Preacher spoke from a heart taught by long experience. Himself

advanced in years, having enjoyed and suffered much, having long

observed the growth of human character under diverse principles and

influences, he was able to offer to the young counsel based upon extensive

knowledge and deliberate reflection.



Amplifying this terse and impressive language, we may hear the wise man

addressing the youthful, and saying, “Remember that thou hast a Creator;

that thy Creator ever remembers thee; that He not only deserves, but

desires, thy remembrance; that:


Ø      His character should be remembered with reverence,

Ø      His bounty with gratitude,

Ø      His Law with obedience and submission,

Ø      His love with faith and gladness,

Ø      His promises with prayerfulness and with hope.”



LIFE. Religion is indeed adapted to the whole of our existence; and what

applies to every age of life, applies with especial force to childhood and



Ø      Youth has peculiar susceptibilities of feeling, and religion appeals to


Ø      Youth has especially opportunities of acquiring knowledge and

            undergoing discipline, and religion helps us to use them.

Ø      Youth has abounding energy, and religion assists us to employ this

            energy aright.

Ø      Youth is a time of great and varied temptations, and religion will enable

            us to overcome them.

Ø      Youth is introductory to manhood and to age; religion helps us so to live

when young that we may be the better fitted for the subsequent stages of

life’s journey.

Ø      Youth may be all of life appointed for us; in that case, religion can

            hallow those few years which constitute the earthly training

            and probation.




Ø      It is a tendency of human nature to be so absorbed in what is present

      to the senses as to overlook unseen and eternal realities.

Ø      Our own age is peculiarly tempted to forget God, by reason of the

prevalence of atheism, agnosticism, and positivism (and by

worldliness living in a secular culture - CY - 2021)

Ø      Youth is especially in danger of forgetting the Divine Creator, because

the opening intelligence is naturally interested in the world of outward

things, which presents so much to excite attention and to engage inquiry.



TO THIS ADMONITION. The figure of our blessed Lord Himself appears

to the imagination, and we seem to hear His winning but authoritative voice

pleading with the young, and employing the very language of the text. He

who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me” (Matthew 19:14).

He who, beholding the young inquirer, loved him, draws near to every

youthful nature, and commands and beseeches that reverent attention,

that willing faith, that affectionate attachment, which shall lead to a life

of piety, and to an immortality of blessedness.


From this v.2 onwards there is great diversity of interpretation. While some

think that the approach of death is represented under the image of a storm,

others deem that what is here intended is first the debility of old age, and

then, at v. 6, death itself, which two stages are described under various

metaphors and figures.


2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened,”  -

Under these figures the evil days spoken of above, the advent and infirmities

of old age, are represented. It would be endless and unprofitable to recount

the explanations of ‘the terms used in the following verses. Every

commentator, ancient and modern, has exerted his ingenuity to force the

poet’s language into the shape which he has imagined for it. But, as we

said above, there are at least two distinct lines of interpretation which have

found favor with the great majority of expositors. One of these regards the

imagery as applicable to the effects of a heavy storm upon a house and its

inmates, explaining every detail under this notion; the other regards the

terms used as referring to the man himself, adumbrating the gradual decay

of old age, the various members and powers that are affected being

represented under tropes and images, Both interpretations are beset with

difficulties, and are only with some straining and accommodation forced

into a consistent harmony. But the latter seems to us to present fewer

perplexities than the other, and we have adopted it here. At the same time,

we think it expedient to give the other view, together with our own, as

there is much to be said in its favor, and many great writers have declared

themselves on its side. Wright supposes (and makes a good case for his

theory) that Koheleth is referring especially to the closing days of winter,

which in Palestine are very fatal to old people. The seven last days, indeed,

are noted even now as the most sickly and dangerous of all the year. The

approach of this period casts a dark shadow upon all the inhabitants of the

house. The theory is partly borne out by the text, but, like the other

solutions, does not wholly correspond to the wording. In the present verse

the approach of old age, the winter of life, is likened to the rainy season in

Palestine, when the sun is obscured by clouds, and the light of heaven

darkened by the withdrawal of that luminary, and neither moon nor stars

appear - “nor the clouds return after the rain:” -  i.e. one storm succeeds

another (Job 37:6). The imagery is intended to represent the abiding

and increasing inconveniences of old age. Not like the spring-time of life

and season, when sunshine and storm are interchanged, winter and old age

have no vicissitudes, one dreary character invests them both. The

darkening of the light is a common metaphor for sorrow and sadness (see

Job 30:26; 33:28, 30; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Amos 8:9). The symbolism of the details

in this verse has been thus elucidated: The diurnal lights appertain to the soul,

the nocturnal to the body; the sun is the Divine light which illumines the soul,

the moon and the stars are the body and the senses which receive their radiance

from the soul’s effulgence. These are all affected by the invasion of old age.

Some consider that this verse depicts the changes which pass over the higher

and more spiritual part of man’s nature, while the succeeding imagery refers

to the breaking up of the corporeal frame. We should say rather that v. 2

conveys a general impression, and that this is then elaborated into particulars.

According to the interpretation mentioned above, a gathering tempest is here

depicted, the details of which are worked out in the following verses.


The gradual decay which creeps over the body, the habitation of

the spirit, is depicted under the figure of a house and its parts (compare

Job 4:19; II Corinthians 5:1; II Peter 1:13-14).


3 “In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble,” -  i.e. this is

the case when, etc. The hands and arms are appropriately called the keepers

of the house, for with them (as Volek quotes from Galen) man ὁπλίζει καὶ

φρουρεῖ τὸ σῶμα παντοίως hoplizei kai phrourei to soma pantoios -

arms and guards his body in various ways). The shaking and

palsy of old men’s limbs are thus graphically described. This would be one

of the first symptoms discerned by an observer. Taking the alternative

interpretation, we should see in these “keepers” the menservants who keep

watch before the house (In the last half of my seventh decade upon this

earth, I am beginning to see signs of this in myself – CY – 2013). These

menials are appalled by the approach of the tempest, and quake – “and

the strong men shall bow themselves,” -  The “men of power” are the

legs, or the bones generally, which in the young are “as pillars of marble”

(Song of Solomon 5:15), but in the old become feeble, slack, and bent.

(When I first started noticing this (at 54 years of age) I went to the doctor

and was later diagnosed with a peripheral neuropathy – at first I was depressed

but then I concluded that I would have rather had God in my life for 54

years as it was than an eternity without Him!  Two verses of the Bible

really helped me during this period.  [1] “Cast not away therefore your

confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.  For ye have need

of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive

the promise.”  - Hebrews 10:35-36 – and [2] The Lord delighteth not

in the strength of the horse:  He taketh not pleasure in the legs of a

man.  The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those

that hope in His mercy.”  - Psalm 147:10-11 – I give this example

because of the issue of the legs – CY – 2013 – “and the grinders

cease because they are few,” -  The word for “grinders” is feminine (αἱ ἀλήθουσαι

hai alaethousai - the grinding-women -Septuagint), doubtless

because grinding was especially women’s business (Matthew 24:41). By them

are meant the teeth, as we speak of molars, though, of course, the term

here applies to all the teeth; so the Greeks used the term μύλαι fmulai

for the denies molares. These, becoming few in number and no longer

continuous, cannot perform their office – “an those that look out of the

windows be darkened.”  These are the eyes that look

forth from the cavities in which they are sunk; they are regarded as the

windows of the bodily structure, the eyelashes or eyelids possibly being

deemed the lattice of the same. The dimness in the eye and the failing in the

powers of sight are well expressed by the terms of the text. It is noted of

Moses, as something altogether abnormal, that at a hundred and twenty

years of age “his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated”

(Deuteronomy 34:7).


4 “And the doors shall be shut in the streets,” -  Hitherto the symbolism

has been comparatively easy to interpret. With this verse inextricable

difficulties seem to arise. Of course, in one view it is natural that in the

bitter weather, or on the appearance of a tempest, the doors towards the

street should be closed, and none should leave the house. But what are

meant by the doors in the metaphorical house, the body of the aged man?

Jewish expositors understood them to be the pores, or excretive apertures

of the body, which lose their activity in old age — which seems an

unseemly allusion. More natural is it to see in the word, with its dual form,

the mouth closed by the two lips. So a psalmist speaks of the mouth, the

door of the lips (Psalm 141:3; compare Micah 7:5). As it is only the external

door of a house that could be employed in this metaphor, the addition, “in [or,

‘towards’] the streets,” is accounted for – “when the sound of the grinding is

low,” – The sound of the grinding or the mill is weak and low when the teeth have

ceased to masticate, and, instead of the crunching and grinding of food,

nothing is heard but a munching and sucking. The falling in of the mouth

over the toothless gums is represented as the closing of doors. To take the

words in their literal sense is to make the author repeat himself, reiterating

what he is supposed to have said before in speaking of the grinding-women

— all labor is lessened or stopped. The sound of grinding betokened

cheerfulness and prosperity; its cessation would be an ominous sign (see

Jeremiah 25:10; Revelation 18:22) “and he shall rise

up at the voice of the bird,” -  This is a very difficult sentence, and has been

very variously explained. It is usually taken to mean that the old man sleeps

lightly and awakes (for “rises up” may mean no more than that) at the

chirp of a bird. The objection to this interpretation is that it destroys the

figurative character of the description, introducing suddenly the personal

subject. Of course, it has another signification in the picture of the terror

stricken household; and many interpreters who thus explain the allegory

translate the clause differently. Thus Ginsburg renders, “The swallow rises

to shriek,” referring to the habits of that bird in stormy weather. But there

are grammatical objections to this translation, as there are against another

suggestion, “The bird (of ill omen) raises its voice.” We need not do more

than refer to the mystical elucidation which detects here a reference to the

resurrection, the voice of the bird being the archangel’s trumpet which calls

the dead from their graves. Retaining the allegory, we must translate the

clause, “He [or, ‘it,’ i.e. the voice] rises to the bird’s voice;the old man’s

voice becomes a “childish treble,” like the piping of a little bird. The

relaxation of the muscles of the larynx and other vocal organs occasions a

great difference in the pitch or power of tone (compare what Hezekiah

says, Isaiah 38:14, “Like a crane or a swallow so did I chatter,” though

there it is the low murmur of sorrow and complaint that is meant) -  “and all

the daughters of music shall be brought low.”  “The daughters of song”

are the organs of speech, which ere now humbled and fail, so that the man

cannot sing a note. Some think that the ears are meant, as St. Jerome

writes, Et obsurdescent omnes filiae carminis, which may have some such

notion. Others arrive at a similar signification from manipulation of the

verb, thus eliciting the sense — The sounds of singing-women or songbirds

are dulled and lowered, are only heard as a faint, unmeaning murmur.

This exposition rather contradicts what had preceded, viz. that the old man

is awoke by the chirp of a sparrow; for his ears must be very sensitive to

be thus easily affected; unless, indeed, the “voice of the bird” is merely a

note of time, equivalent to early cock-crowing. We must not omit Wright’s

explanation, though it does not commend itself to our mind. He makes a

new stanza begin here: “When one rises at the voice of the bird,” and sees

here a description of the approach of spring, as if the poet said, “When the

young and lusty are enjoying the return of genial weather, and the concert

of birds with which no musician can compete, the aged, sick in their

chambers, are beset with fears and are sinking fast.” We fail altogether to

read this meaning in our text, wherein we recognize only a symbolical

representation of the old man’s vocal powers. It is obvious to cite

Juvenal’s minute and painful description of old age in ‘Sat.,’ 10:200, etc.,

and Shakespeare’s lines in ‘As You Like It’ (act 2. sc. 7), where the

reference to the voice is very striking-


“His big, manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound.”

Cox paraphrases, "The song-birds drop silently into their nests," alarmed

at the tempest.


5 “Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high,” -  There is

no “when” in the original, which runs, “Also, or yea, they fear on high.”

“They” are old men, or, like the French on, “people” indefinitely; and the

clause says that they find difficulty in mounting an ascent, as the Vulgate

renders, Excelsa quoque timebant. Shortness of breath, asthmatic

tendencies, failure of muscular power, make such an exertion arduous and

burdensome, just as in the previous verse a similar cause rendered singing

impossible. The description is now arriving at the last stage, and

allegorizing the closing scene. The steep ascent is the via dolorosa, the

painful process of dying, from which the natural man shrinks; for as the

gnome says —


Τοῦ ζῇν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ὡςγηράσκων ἐρᾷ
Tou zaen gar oudeis hos ho gnraskon era

None dotes on life more than the aged man.”


The old man is going on the appointed road “and fears shall be in the

way,” or, all sorts of fears (plural of intensity) are in the path; as in his

infirm condition he can walk nowhere without danger of meeting with

some accident, so analogously, as he contemplates his end and the road he

has to travel, “fearfulness and trembling come upon him, and horror

overwhelms him” (Psalm 55:5) – “and the almond tree shall flourish,” –

or, is in blossom. The old man is thus figured from the observed aspect

of this tree. It blossoms in winter upon a leafless stem, and its flowers, at

first of a pale pink color, turn to a snowy whiteness as they fall from the

branches. The tree thus becomes a fit type of the arid, torpid-looking old

man with his white hair. So Wright quotes Virgil, ‘AEneid,’ 5:416 —


Temporibus geminis canebat sparsa senectus;”


though there the idea is rather of mingled black and grey hair than of ahead

of snowy whiteness. Canon Tristram (‘Nat. Hist. of the Bible,’ p. 332),

referring to the usual version of this clause, adds, “But the better

interpretation seems to be, that as the almond blossom ushers in the spring,

so do the signs referred to in the context indicate the hastening (shaked,

‘almond,’ meaning also ‘hasten’) of old age and death.” Plumptre adopts

the notion that the name of the tree is derived from a stem meaning “to

watch,” and that thus it may be called the early-waking tree (see

Jeremiah 1:11), the enigmatic phrase describing the wakefulness that

often attends old age. But this seems a refinement by no means justified by

the use of the word. The versions are unanimous in translating the clause as

the Authorized Version. Thus the Septuagint, ἀνθήσῃ τὸ ἀμύγδαλον

anthaesae to amugdalonthe almond tree shall blossom  -  Vulgate,

fiorebit amygdalus. (So Verier. and the Syriac.) Wright takes this clause

and the next to indicate the opening of spring, when nature reawakens

from its winter sleep, and the dying man can no longer respond to the call

or enjoy the happy season  - “and the grasshopper shall be a burden,” –

Chagab, rendered “grasshopper” here and Leviticus 11:22; Numbers 13:33,

etc., is rightly translated “locust” in II Chronicles 7:13. It is one of the

smaller species of the insect, as is implied by its use in Isaiah 40:22,

where from the height of heaven the inhabitants of earth are regarded as

chagabim. The clause is usually explained to mean that the very lightest

burden is troublesome to old age, or that the hopping and chirping of these

insects annoy the querulous senior. But who does not see the incongruity

of expressing the disinclination for labor and exertion by the figure of

finding a grasshopper too heavy to carry? Who would think of carrying a

grasshopper?  The Septuagint gives, καὶ παχυνθῇἀκρίς - kai

pachunthae hae akrisand the grasshopper shall be a burden –

 the Vulgate, imping, uabitur locusts, “the locust grows fat. Founded on

this rendering is the opinion which considers that under this figure is depicted

the corpulence or dropsical swelling that sometimes accompanies advanced life.

But this morbid and abnormal condition could not be introduced into a typical

description of the usual accompaniments of age, even if the verb could be rightly

translated as the Greek and Latin versions give it, which is more than doubtful.

Some Jewish interpreters consider that under the term “locust” is

meant the loins or hips, or caput femoris, which is thus named” because it

includes in itself the mechanism which the two-membered foot for

springing, placed at an acute angle, presents in the locust.” The poet is

thought to allude to the loss of elasticity in the hips and the inability to bear

any weight. We cannot agree to the propriety of this artificial explanation,

which seems to have been invented to account for the expressions in the

text, rather than to be founded on fact. But though we reject this

elucidation of the figure, we think Delitzsch and some others are right in

taking the verb in the sense of “to move heavily, to crawl along.” “The

locust crawls,” i.e. the old man drags his limbs heavily and painfully along,

like the locust just hatched in early spring, and as yet not furnished with

wings, which makes its way clumsily and slowly. The analogy derives

another feature from the fact, well attested, that the appearance of the

locust was synchronous with the days considered most fatal to old people,

namely, the seven at the end of January and the beginning of February. So

we now have the figure of the old man with his snow-white hair, panting

and gasping, creeping painfully to his grave. One more trait is added – “and

desire shall fail:” -  The word rendered “desire” (אֲבִיּונָה) is found nowhere

else in the Old Testament, and its meaning is disputed. The Authorized

Version has adopted the rendering of some of the Jewish commentators

(and that of Venet., ὔρεξιςhae urexis - , but, according to Delitzsch,

the feminine form of the noun precludes the notion of an abstract quality, and the

etymology on which it rests is doubtful. Nor would it be likely that, having

employed symbolism hitherto throughout his description, the writer would

suddenly drop metaphor and speak in unfigurative language. We are,

therefore, driven to rely for its meaning on the old versions, which would

convey the traditionary idea. The Septuagint gives, κάππαριςhae

kapparis - and so the Vulgate, capparis, by which is designated the caper

tree or berry, probably the same as the hyssop, which is found throughout the

East, and was extensively used as a provocative of appetite, a stimulant and

restorative. Accordingly, the writer is thought here to be intimating that

even stimulants, such as the caper, affect the old man no longer, cannot

give zest to or make him enjoy his food. Here, again, the figurative is 

dropped, and a literal, unvarnished fact is stated, which mars the perfection

of the picture. But the verb here used (parar) is capable of another

signification, and is often found in the unmetaphorical sense of “breaking”

or “bursting;” so the clause will run, “and the caper berry bursts.”

Septuagint, καὶ διασκεδασθῇκάππαρις -  kai diaskedasthae hae

kapparis - Vulgate, dissipabitur capparis. The fruit of this plant, when overripe,

bursts open and falls off — a fit image of the dissolution of the aged frame,

now ripe for the tomb, and showing evident tokens of decay. By this interpretation

the symbolism is maintained, which perhaps is further illustrated by the fact that the

fruit hangs down and droops from the end of long stalks, as the man bows his

head and stoops his back to meet the coming death. (Compare “Thou shalt

come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his

season.”  - Job 5:26 – CY – 2013) – “because (ki) man goeth to his

long home,” -  This and the following clause are parenthetical,

v. 6 resuming the allegory. It is as though Koheleth said — Such is the

way, such are the symptoms, when decay and death are approaching; all

these things happen, all these signs meet the eye, at such a period. “His

long home;” εἰς οϊκον αἰῶνος αὐτοῦ  - eis oikon aionos autouhis

everlasting home - (Septuagint), “to the house of his eternity,” “his

 everlasting habitation,” i.e. the grave, or Hades.  Compares Job 10:21;

30:23. So Psalm 49:11 (according to many versions), “Their graves are

their houses for ever.” The σκηναὶ αἰώνιοι  skaenai aionioi

everlasting habitation - of Luke 16:9 are a periphrasis for life in heaven.

Diodorus Siculus notes that the Egyptians used the terms ἀίδιοι οϊκοι

aidioi oikoi and αἰώνιος οἴκσις  - hae ainonios oiksiseternal

house or home - of Hades (2. 51; 1. 93). The expression, “domus eterna,”

appears at Rome on tombs, as Plumptre observes, both in Christian and non-

Christian inscriptions; and the Assyrians name the world or state beyond

the grave “the house of eternity” (‘Records of the Past,’ 1:143). From the

expression in the text nothing can be deduced concerning Koheleth’s

eschatological views. He is speaking here merely phenomenally. Men live

their little span upon the earth, and then go to what in comparison of this is

an eternity. Much of the difficulty about αἰώνιοςaionioseverlasting –

would be obviated if critics would remember that the meaning of such words

is conditioned by the context, that e.g. “everlasting” applied to a mountain and

TO GOD cannot be understood in the same, sense“and the mourners go

about the streets:” -  This can hardly mean that the usual funeral rites have begun;

for the death is not conceived as having already taken place; this is reserved

for v. 7. Nor can it, therefore, refer to the relations and friends who are

sorrowing for the departed. The persons spoken of must be the mourners

who are hired to play and sing at funerals (see II Samuel 3:31;

Jeremiah 9:17; 34:5; Matthew 9:23). These were getting ready to ply their trade,

expecting hourly the old man’s death.


6 “Or ever” -  i.e. before, ere (ad asher lo). The words recall us to

vs. 1 and 2, bidding the youth make the best use of his time ere old age

cuts him off. In the present paragraph the final dissolution is described

under two figures – “the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be

broken,” -  This is evidently one figure, which would be made plainer by

reading “and” instead of “or,” the idea being that the lamp is shattered by

the snapping of the cord that suspended it from the roof. But there are

some difficulties in the closer explanation of the allegory. The “bowl”

(gullah) is the reservoir of oil in a lamp (see Zechariah 4:3-4), which

supplies nourishment to the flame; when this is broken or damaged so as to

be useless, the light, of course, is extinguished. The Septuagint calls it

τὸ ἀνθέμιον τοῦ χρυσίονto anthemion tou chrusionthe golden

bowl - the Vulgate, vitta aurea, “the golden fillet,” or flower ornament on

a column, which quite sinks the notion of a light being quenched.

The “cord” is that by which the lamp is hung in a tent or a room.

But of what in man are these symbols?  The general break-up of life

is here delineated, not the progress of destruction in certain organs or parts of

the human frame. The cord is what we should call the thread of life, on which

hangs the body lit by the animating soul; when the connection between these is

severed, the latter perishes, like a fallen lamp lying crushed on the ground.

In this our view the cord is the living power which keeps the corporeal substance

from failing to ruin; the bowl is the body itself thus upheld. The mention of gold

and silver is introduced to denote the preciousness of man’s life and nature.

But the analogy must not be pressed in all possible details. It is like the parables,

where, if defined and examined too closely, incongruities appear. We

should be inclined to make more of the lamp and the light and the oil,

which are barely inferred in the passage, and endeavor to explain what

these images import. Koheleth is satisfied with the general figure which



the immediate cause of this dissolution, injury, paralysis, etc., is not handled;

only the rupture is noticed and its fatal result.  Another image to the same effect,

 though pointing to a different process, is added – “or the pitcher be broken

at the fountain, or (and) the wheel broken at (in) the cistern.”  The picture

here is a deep well or cistern with an apparatus for drawing water; this apparatus

consists of a wheel or windlass with a rope upon it, to which is attached a bucket;

the wheel fails, falls into the well, the bucket is dashed to pieces, and no water

can be drawn. It is best to regard the two clauses as intended to convey one

idea, as the two at the beginning of the verse were found to do. Some

commentators, not so suitably, distinguish between the two, making the

former clause say that the pitcher is broken on its road to or from the

spring, and the latter that the draw-wheel gives way. The imagery, points

to one notion which would be weakened by being divided into two. The

motion of the bucket, the winding up and down, by which water is drawn

from the well, is an emblem of the movements of the heart, the organs of

respiration, etc. When these cease to act, life is extinct. The fraction of the

cord and the demolition of the bowl denoted the separation of soul and

body; the breaking of the pitcher and the destruction of the wheel signify

the overthrow of the bodily organs by which vital motion is diffused and

maintained, and the man lives. The expressions in the text remind one of

the term, “earthen vessel,” applied by Paul (II Corinthians 4:7) to

the human body; and “the fountain of life,” “the water of life.” so

often mentioned in Holy Scripture as typical of the grace of God and the

blessedness of life with Him (see Psalm 36:9; Proverbs 13:14; John 4:10, 14;

Revelation 21:6).


7 “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was:” -  rather, and

the dust return, etc. — the sentence begun above being still carried on to

the end of the verse. Here we are told what becomes of the complex man

at death, and are thus led to the explanation of the allegorical language

used throughout. Without metaphor now it is stated that the material body,

when life is extinct, returns to that matter out of which it was originally

made (Genesis 2:7; 3:19; compare Job 34:15; Psalm 104:29). So

Siracides calls man “dust and ashes,” and asserts that all things that are of

the earth turn to the earth again (Ecclesiasticus. 10:9; 40:11). Soph., ‘Electra,’

1158 —


                                    Ἀντὶ φιλτάτης

Μορφῆς σποδόν τε καὶ σκιὰν ἀνωφελῆ


                                    Anti philtataes

Morphaes spodon te kai skian anophelae


                        “Instead of thy dear form,

            Mere dust and idle shadow.”


Cornelius a Lapide quotes a remarkable parallel given by Plutarch (‘Apol. ad

Apollon.,’ 110) from Epicharmus,” Life is compounded and broken up,

and again goes whence it came; earth indeed to earth, and the spirit to

upper regions.” – “and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” –

Or, for the spirit — the clause being no longer subjunctive, but speaking

indicatively of fact. In the first clause the preposition “to” is עַל, in the

second אֶל, as if to mark the distinction between the downward and the

upward way. The writer now rises superior to the doubts expressed in

ch.3:21 (where see note), “Who knoweth the spirit of man,

whether it goeth upward,” etc.? It is not that he contradicts himself in the

two passages, as some suppose, and have hence regarded v. 7 as an

interpolation; but that after all discussion, after expressing the course of his

perplexities, and the various phases of his thought, he comes to the

conclusion that there is a future for the individual soul, and that it

 shall be brought into immediate connection with A PERSONAL

GOD!   There is here no thought of its being absorbed in the anima mundi, i

n accordance with the heathen view, which, if it believed dimly in an immortality,

denied the personality of the soul, have we any opinion given concerning the

adverse doctrines of creationism and traducianism (origin of the soul), though the

terms used are most consistent with the former. God breathed into man’s

nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7), when this departs, HE WHO GAVE

IT RECEIVES IT!   God gathereth in” man’s breath (Psalm 104:29).

The clause, taken in this restricted sense, would say nothing about the soul,

the personal “I;” it would merely indicate the destination of the vital breath;

and many critics are content to see nothing more in the words. But surely this

would be a feeble conclusion of the author’s wanderings; rather the sentence

signifies that death, releasing the spirit, or soul, from the earthly tabernacle,

places it in the more immediate presence of God, there, as the Targum

paraphrases the passage, returning TO STAND IN JUDGMENT





                                    Old Age and Death (vs. 2-7)


By a natural transition, a striking antithesis, youth suggests to the mind of

the Preacher the condition and the solemn lessons of old age. How

appropriately does a treatise, dealing so fully with the occupations, the

illusions, the trials, and the moral significance of human life, draw to a

close by referring expressly to the earlier and the later periods by which

that life is bounded!


·   THE BODILY SYMPTOMS OF AGE. These are, indeed, familiar to

every observer, and are described with a picturesqueness and poetical

beauty which must appeal to every reader of this passage. It is enough to

remark that the decay of bodily power, and the gradual enfeeblement of the

several senses, are among the usual accompaniments of advancing years.


·   THE MENTAL SYMPTOMS OF AGE. Reference is naturally made

especially to the effect of bodily enfeeblement and infirmity upon the

human emotions.


Ø      The emotions of desire and aspiration are dulled.

Ø      The emotions of apprehension, self-distrust, and fear increase.



that there are old persons of a sanguine temperament who seem unable to

realize the fact that they are approaching the end of their earthly course.

Yet it does not admit of doubt that the several indications of senility

described in these verses are:


Ø      reminders of the end,

Ø      premonitions of the dissolution of the body, and

Ø      of the entering upon a new and altogether different state of being.




Ø      There is scope for the exercise of patience under growing infirmities.

Ø      There is a call to the acquisition and display of that wisdom which the

      experience of long years is particularly fitted to cultivate.

Ø      The aged are especially bound to offer to the young an example of

      cheerful obedience, and to encourage them to a life of piety and



·   THE CONSOLATIONS OF AGE. Cicero, in a well-known treatise of

great beauty, has set forth the peculiar advantages and pleasures which

belong to the latest stage of human life. The Christian is at liberty to

comfort himself by meditating upon such natural blessings as “accompany

old age,” but he has far fuller and richer sources of consolation open to



Ø      There is the happy retrospect of a life filled with instances of God’s

compassion, forbearance, and loving-kindness.


Ø      And there is the bright anticipation of eternal blessedness. This is his

peculiar prerogative. As the outer man perisheth, the inner man is

renewed day by day. (II Corinthians 4:16)  The earthly tent is gradually

but surely taken down, and this process suggests that he should look

forward with calm confidence and hope to his speedy occupation of the

house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  (ibid. ch. 5:1)


It has been much questioned whether this next verse (v.8) is the conclusion of the

treatise or the commencement of the epilogue. For the latter conclusion it is

contended that it is only natural that the beginning of the final summing-up should

start with the same words as the opening of the book (ch.1:2); and that thus the

conjunction “and,” with which v. 9 begins, is readily explained. But the treatise

is more artistically completed by regarding this solemn utterance as the conclusion

of the whole, ending with the same burden with which it began — THE

NOTHINGNESS OF EARTHLY THINGS!   Koheleth has labored to show

this, he has pursued the thought from beginning to end, through all circumstances

and conditions, and he can only re-echo his melancholy refrain.


8 “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher;” -  He does not follow the destiny

of the immortal spirit; it is not his purpose to do so; his theme is the fragility of

mortal things, their unsatisfying nature, the impossibility of their securing

man’s happiness: so his voyage lands him at the point whence he set forth,

though he has learned and taught faith in the interval  - “all is vanity.”

If all is vanity, there is behind and above all a God of inflexible justice,

 who must do right, and to whom we may safely trust our cares and

perplexities. Koheleth,” Preacher,” here has the article, the Koheleth,

 as if some special reference was made to the meaning of the name — he who

has been debating, or haranguing, or gathering together, utters finally his careful

verdict. This is the sentence of the ideal Solomon, who has given his experiences

in the preceding pages.



                        Death, its Meaning and its Moral (vs. 5-7)


Whatever be the true interpretation of the three preceding verses, there is

no doubt at all as to the Preacher’s meaning in the text; he has death in his

view, and he suggests to us —


·   ITS CERTAINTY. Childhood must pass into youth, and youth into

prime, and prime into old age — into the days which are bereaved of

pleasure (v. 1); and old age must end in death. Of all the illustrations which

human life presents to us, the last one is that of “the mourners going about

the streets.” Other evils may be shunned by sedulous care and unusual

sagacity, but death is the evil which no man may avoid.


·   ITS MEANING. What does death mean when it comes?


Ø      It means a shock to those that are left behind. The mourners in the street

express in their way the sadness which is afflicting the hearts of those

who weep within the walls. Here and there a death occurs which disturbs

no peace and troubles no heart. But almost always it comes with a shock

and an inward inexpressible pain to those who are bereaved. Even in old

age the hearts of near kindred and dear friends are troubled with a keen

and real distress.


Ø      It means separation. Man “goes to his long home.” They who are left go

to their darkened home, and he who is taken goes to his long home, to

dwell apart and alone, to revisit no more the familiar places, and look no

more into the faces of his friends. They and he henceforth must dwell

apart; the grave is always a very long distance from the old home.


Ø      It means loss. The loss of the beautiful or the useful, or of both

together. “Our life may have been like a golden lamp suspended by silver

chains, fit for the palace of a king, and- may have shed a welcome and a

cheerful light on every side; but even the durable costly chain will be

snapped at last, and the beautiful ‘bowl be broken.’ Our life may have

been like ‘the bucket’ dropped by village maidens into the village

fountain, or like the ‘ wheel’ by which water is drawn from the village

well, — it may have conveyed a vital refreshment to many lips; but the

day must come when the bucket will be shattered on the marble edge

of the fountain, and the timeworn wheel drop into the well” (Cox).

The most beautiful life vanishes from our sight; the most useful life

is taken away.


Ø      It means dissolution. “The dust shall return to the earth as it was.”

      Our body, however fair and strong it may be, however trained, clothed,

adorned, admired, must return to “dust and ashes,” must be resolved

into the elements from which it was constructed.


Ø      It means departure. “The spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” This

is by far the most solemn view of death. At death we “return to God”

(see Psalm 90:3). Not, indeed, that we are ever far from him (see Acts

17:27; Psalm 139:3-5). We stand and live in His very near presence.

Yet does there come an hour — the hour of death — when we shall

consciously stand before our Divine Judge, and when we shall learn from

Him “our high estate” or our lasting doom (II Corinthians 5:10). Death

means departure from the sphere of the visible and tangible into the close

and conscious presence of the eternal God.


·   ITS MORAL. The one great lesson which stands out from this

eloquent description is this: Be the servant of God always; take care to

know Him and to serve Him at the end, by learning of Him at the beginning,

and serving Him throughout your life. Remember your Creater in youth,

and He will acknowledge you when old age is lost in death, and death has

introduced you to the judgment scene. Happy is that human soul that has

drawn into itself Divine truth with its earliest intelligence, and that has

ordered its life by the Divine will from first to last; for then shall the end of

earth be full of peace and hope, and the beginning of eternity be full of joy

            and of glory.




The Last Scene of All


Man Goeth to His Long Home (vs. 2-8)




Ø      The decay of man’s higher faculties. “Or ever the sun, and the light,

and the moon, and the stars be darkened, and the clouds return after

the rain” (v. 2).  We may see:


o       In the sun an emblem of man’s spirit, elsewhere compared to the

lamp of Jehovah (Proverbs 20:27), and described by Christ as

“the light that is in thee” (Matthew 6:23), and in its light a

symbol of the spirit’s activity of apprehension — thought,

memory, imagination, etc.


o       In the moon a figure for the animal soul, “by means of which the

Spirit becomes the principle of the life of the body (Genesis 2:7),”

and which as the weaker vessel (it, according to Hebrew ideas,

being regarded as female, while the spirit is male) is comforted

by the spirit (Psalm 42:6).


o       In the stars an allegorical representation of the five senses, by

which the soul has cognizance of the outer world, and the light

of which is dim and feeble in comparison with that of the soul

and spirit, or of the reason and intelligence of man.


o       In the clouds that return after the rain, a materialized picture of

those calamities and misfortunes, sicknesses and sorrows,

“which disturb the power of thought, obscure the

 consciousness, and darken the mind,” and which,

though leaving man for a while, return again after a season

without permitting him long to experience health.


Ø      The failure of man’s bodily powers. Picturing man’s corporeal frame as

a house, the Preacher depicts its ruinous condition as old age approaches.


o       The keepers of the house tremble. The aged person’s arms,

which bring to the house (of the body) whatever is suitable for it,

and keep away from it whatever threatens to do it injury, now,

touched with infirmity, shake, so that they are able neither to

grasp securely, to hold fast and. use, nor actively to keep back

and forcibly avert evil.


o       The strong, men bow themselves. The legs, of young men like

marble pillars (Song of Solomon 5:15), are in aged persons

loose, feeble, and inclined to stoop.


o       The grinders, or the grinding-women, cease. That these are the

molars, or teeth, which perform the work of mastication,

is apparent; so is the reason why they are not now at work, viz.

because in aged persons they are few.


o       Those that look out of the windows are darkened. The eyes,

called by Cicero “the windows of the mind” (‘Tusc.,’ 1:20),

become dim, and as a consequence the soul’s eyes, which

look through the body’s eyes, lose their power of perception.


o       The doors are shut in the street. These are probably the lips,

which in old age are usually closed and drawn, because the

teeth have disappeared.  (But I have noticed that many keep

the mouth open, possibly a sign of stress –  also consider

the ears and not hearing as well as we used to - CY – 2013)


o       The sound of the grinding is low. The noise made by an old man

in mastication is that of a low munching, he being unable any more

to crack, crunch, or break his food.


o       One rises up at the sound of a bird. So timid and nervous, and

so light a sleeper, is the old man, that if even a bird chirps he

awakes, and, being put off his rest, is obliged to rise.  (I trust

that this is not universal for soHe giveth His beloved sleep.” -

Psalm 127:2 – CY – 2013)


o       The daughters of music are brought low. Not so much the old

man’s powers of singing are diminished, his once strong and

manly treble having become so feeble and low as to be scarcely

 audible (Isaiah 38:14), as the old man, like Barzillai (II Samuel

19:35), has now no longer an ear for the voice of singing-men

and singing-women, so that to him as a consequence “the

daughters of song” must lower their voices, i.e. must

retire so as no longer to disturb him, now so feeble as to be

“terrified by the twittering of a little bird.”


o       That which is high causes fear (v. 5). To the old man “even a little

hillock appears like a high mountain; and if he has to go a journey

he meets something that terrifies him” (Targum, ‘Midrash’).

Decrepit old men “do not venture out, for to them a damp road

appears like a very morass, a gravelly path as full of neck-breaking

hillocks, an undulating path as fearfully steep and precipitous,

that which is not shaded as oppressively hot and exhausting”

(I should think also a fear of falling as the bones are so

brittle – uneven terrain, climbing on ladders or chairs, etc.

CY – 2013)


o       The almond tree blossoms. An emblem of the winter of age,

with its silvery white hair.


o       The grasshopper is a burden, or the grasshopper drags itself

along, the old man resembling a grasshopper, drags himself

along with difficulty.


o       The caper-berry fails. The appetite, which this particular

condiment is supposed to stimulate, ceases; the stomach

can no more by means of it be roused from its dormant

and phlegmatic condition. So low and feeble is he

that no quinine or phosphorus can help him now.


o       “Desire shall fail.” Romance is gone. You can try to act as if

you are just as young as you were, but you don’t fool anyone.

I remember listening to an evangelist who had married a young

girl. He hopped on the platform, jumped in the air, and said,

“I’m just as young as I ever was.” He wasn’t fooling anybody

but himself, and he died shortly after that.  (J. Vernon McGee)



of the organs of the body).


Ø      The loosening of the silver cord, and the breaking of the golden



o       The figure. A golden bowl or lamp suspended from the roof of

a house or tent by a silver cord, through the sudden snapping of

which it, the golden bowl or lamp, is precipitated to the ground,

thus extinguishing its light.


o       The interpretation.  The silver cord is the spinal cord, the

golden bowl, the brain.  The functioning of the brain decreases

in its efficiency as one gets older, and at death it ceases to

function at all.” (J. Vernon McGee)


Ø      The breaking of the pitcher at the fountain, and of the wheel at the



o       The image. That of a pitcher, which is used for letting down by

a rope or chain into a well or fountain, becoming shivered at the

fountain’s side through the sudden breaking down of the wheel

during the process of drawing water.  (“The pitcher is the lungs.

“The pitcher is broken at the fountain”. The wheel is the heart

“the wheel broken at the cistern.” It is no longer pumping blood

through the body. All of this is a picture of the deterioration of

old age leading to death. Life cannot be sustained without the

functioning of these organs. – J. Vernon McGee).


o       The significance. The action of the lungs and the heart, the

one of which like a pitcher or bucket, draws in the air-current

which sustains life, and the other of which pumps up the blood

into the lungs; or the wheel and the pitcher may be the breathing

apparatus, and the pitcher at the fountain the heart which raises

the blood (We are “ fearfully made and wonderfully made.”  -

Psalm 139:14).




Ø      Of the body.The dust returns to the earth as it was” (v. 7). As the

body came forth from the soil, so to the soil it reverts (Genesis 3:19).


Ø      Of the soul. “The spirit returns unto God who gave it.” Whatever

may have been the Preacher’s opinion at an earlier period (ch.3:21),

he was now decided as to three things:


o       that man had  a spirit, as distinguished from a body;

o       that this spirit, as to origin, PROCEEDED FROM

GOD (Genesis 2:7; Job 32:8); and

o       that on separating from the body it did not cease to be,

but ascended to Him from whom it came — not to be

reabsorbed into the Divine essence, as if it had originally

emanated therefrom, but to preserve in God’s presence

an independent existence, as the Targum translates,

“The spirit will return to stand in judgment before

God who gave it to thee.”


  • THE LAST TRIBUTE OF AFFECTION. “The mourners go about

the streets” (v. 5).


Ø      Sorrowing for the departed. Probably the Preacher describes either

the professional mourners who go about the streets, in anticipation of the

dying man’s departure, ready to offer their services the moment he

expires, or the actual procession of such mourners following the dead

man’s funeral to its place of sepulture. Still, it is permissible to

think of the deceased’s relatives, who, like Abraham mourning for Sarah

(Genesis 23:2), and Martha and Mary for Lazarus (John 11:31),

give expression to their sadness by going about the streets in the garb of



Ø      Exciting the sympathy of the living. This is one reason why private

griefs are paraded in public. The heart in times of weakness, such as those

occasioned by bereavement, instinctively craves the compassion of others,

to whom, accordingly, it appeals by the visible cerements of woe.


  • LEARN:


Ø      The mercy of God as seen in the gradual approach of death.

Ø      The wisdom of improving the seasons of youth and manhood.

Ø      The solemn mystery of death.

Ø      The duty of preparing for a life beyond the grave.

Ø      The lawfulness of Christian mourning.



THE EPILOGUE (vs. 9-14)


This contains some observations commendatory of the author, explaining his

standpoint and the object of the book, the great conclusion to which it leads.

Koheleth as teacher of wisdom (vs. 9-11) 


9 “And moreover,” -  וְיֹתֵר; καὶ περισσόν kai perissonfurther –

Septuagint); rather, with the following שֵׁ, besides that“because the Preacher

was wise,” -  If we render “because the Preacher was wise,” we are making an

unnecessary statement, as the whole book has demonstrated this fact, which goes

without saying.  What the writer here asserts is that Koheleth did not merely

possess wisdom, but had made good use of it for the instruction of others.

The author throws aside his disguise, and speaks of his object in composing the

book, with a glance at the historical Solomon whom he had personated.

That he uses the third person in relation to himself is nothing uncommon in

historical memoirs, etc. Thus Daniel writes; and St.John, Thucydides,

Xenophon, Caesar, mask their personality by dropping their identity with

the author (compare also ch.1:2; 7:27). The attestation that

follows is compared with that at the end of John’s Gospel (John 21:24),

and is plainly intended to confirm the authority of the writer, and to

enforce on the hearer the conviction that, though Solomon himself did not

compose the work, it has every claim to receive attention, and possesses

intrinsic value – he still taught the people knowledge. As well as being

esteemed one of the company of sages, he further (od) took pains to

instruct his contemporaries (τὸν ἄνθρωπον - ton anthroponthe

people - Septuagint), to apply his wisdom to educational purposes -

“yea, he gave good heed,” -  literally, he weighed (like our word “ponder”);

only thus used in this passage. It denotes the careful examination of every fact


“and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.” There is no copula in the

original; the weighing and the investigation issued in the composition of “proverbs,”

which term includes not only the wit and wisdom of past ages in the form of pithy

sayings and apophthegms, but also parables, truths in metaphorical guise, riddles,

instructions, allegories, etc., all those forms which are found in the canonical Book

of Proverbs. The same word (mishle) is used here as in the title of that book.

Koheleth, however, is not necessarily referring to that work (or to I Kings 4:29,

etc.), or implying that he himself wrote it; he is only putting forth his claim

to attention by showing his patient assiduity in the pursuit of wisdom, and

how that he adopted a particular method of teaching. For the idea

contained in the verb taqan, “to place or make straight” (ch.1:15; 7:13),

applied to literary composition, Delitzsch compares the German word for” author”

(Schriftsteller). The notion of the mashal being similitude, comparison, the writer’s

pondering and searching were needed to discover hidden analogies, and, by means

of the known and familiar, TO LEAD UP TO THE MORE OBSCURE



10 “The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words:” -  literally,

words of delight; λόγους θελήματος logous thelaematosacceptable

words(Septuagint); verba utilia (Vulgate); so Aquila, λόγους χρείας

logous chreias.  The word chephets, “pleasure,” occurs in ch.5:4; 12:1. Thus

we have “stones of pleasure” (Isaiah 54:12). He added the grace of refined

diction to the solid sense of his utterances. We are  reminded of the “gracious

words” (λόγοις τῆς χάριτος - logois taes charitos -- saying of grace; gracious

words)  Luke 4:22) which  proceeded from the mouth of Him who, being the

Incarnate Wisdom of God, was indeed greater than Solomon – “and that

which was written was upright, even words of truth.”  The Authorized Version,

with its interpolations, does not accurately convey the sense of the original. The

sentence is to be regarded as containing phrases in apposition to the “acceptable

words of the first clause; thus: “Koheleth sought to discover words of pleasure,

and a writing in sincerity, words of truth. ‘The Septuagint has, kai καὶ γεγραμμένον

εὐθύτητος   kai gegrammenon euthutaetosthat which was written blamelessly -

a writing of uprightness; Vulgate, et conscripsit sermones rectissimos. The meaning

is that what he wrote had two characteristics:


  • it was sincere, that which he really thought and believed, and
  • it was true objectively.


If any reader was disposed to cavil, and to depreciate the worth of the treatise

because it was not the genuine work of the celebrated Solomon, the writer claims

attention to his production on the ground of its intrinsic qualities, as inspired by the

same wisdom which animated his great predecessor.




                                                A Model Preacher (vs. 9-10)




Ø      Possessed of secular knowledge. Gathered as precious spoil from all

departments of human learning and experience. As much of this sort of

wisdom as possible; the more of it the better. All knowledge can be

rendered subservient to the preacher’s art, and may be utilized by him

for the instruction of his hearers.


Ø      Endowed with heavenly wisdom. If that, much more this, is indispensable

to an ideal preacher. The wisdom that cometh from above as much

superior to that which springeth from below as heaven is higher than

earth, and eternity longer than time. A preacher without the former

wisdom may be rude; without the latter he must be ineffective.


·   A DILIGENT STUDENT. Like Koheleth, he must ponder, seek out,

and set in order the truth he desires to communicate to others; like

Timothy, he must give attendance to reading (1 Timothy 4:13). In

particular, he should be a student:


Ø      Of the sacred Scriptures. These divinely inspired writings, being the

principal source of heavenly wisdom accessible to man (II Timothy

3:16), should be the preacher’s vade mecum (handbook), or constant



Ø      Of human nature. Having to deal directly with this, in the way of

bringing to bear upon it the teachings of Scripture, he ought to acquaint

himself accurately with it, by a close and patient study of it in himself and

others. Much of a preacher’s efficiency is derived from his knowledge of

the audience to which he speaks.


Ø      Of the material creation. Like Job (37:14), David (Psalm 8:3; 143:5),

      and Koheleth (ch. 7:13), he should consider the works of God.

Besides having much to tell him of God’s glory (Psalm 8:1; Romans

1:20), the physical universe can impart to him valuable counsel

of a moral kind concerning man and his duties (Job 12:7; Proverbs

6:6; Matthew 5:26).


·   A SKILLFUL TEACHER. As Koheleth taught the people

knowledge, as Ezra caused the people to understand the reading

(Nehemiah 8:8), as Christ according to His Word taught such as

listened to Him (Mark 10:1), as the apostles taught the things of the Lord to

their hearers (Acts 4:2; 11:26; 18:25), so must a model preacher be an

instructor (1 Timothy 3:2; 4:11; 6:2; II Timothy 2:2). To be this

successfully, in addition to the wisdom and study above described,

he will need four kinds of words.


Ø      Words of truth. These must constitute the burden of his discourse,

whether oral or written. What he publishes to others must be objectively

true, and no mere guesswork or speculation. Such a word of truth was

the Law of God in the Hebrew Scriptures (Psalm 119:43), and is the

gospel or the doctrine of Christ in the New Testament (Ephesians 1:13;

Colossians 1:5; II Timothy 2:15; James 1:18).


Ø      Words of uprightness. Whether he writes or speaks, he must do so

sincerely, with perfect integrity of heart, “not handling the Word of God

deceitfully (II Corinthians 4:2), but teaching out of honest personal

conviction, saying, “We believe, therefore do we speak” (ibid. v. 13).


Ø      Words of delight. Selected and intended, not to gratify the hearer’s

corrupt inclinations and perverted tastes, or minister to that love of

novelty and sensation which is the peculiar characteristic of itching

ears (II Timothy 4:3), but to set forth the truth in such a way as to win

for it entrance into the hearer’s heart and mind. For this purpose the

preacher’s words should be such as to interest and sway the listener,

arresting his attention, exciting his imagination, instructing his

understanding, moving his affections, quickening, his conscience,

and impelling his will. Dullness, darkness, dryness, deadness, are

                        inexcusable faults in a preacher.


11 “The words of the wise are as goads,” -  The connection of this

verse with the preceding is maintained by the fact that the “acceptable

words,” etc., are words of the wise, emanate from the same persons.

Herewith he proceeds to characterize them, with especial reference to his

own work. The goad was a rod with an iron spike, or sharpened at the end,

used in driving oxen (see Judges 3:31; I  Samuel 13:21; Acts 9:5). Words of

wisdom are called goads:


·         because they rouse to exertion,

·         promote reflection and action,

·         restrain from error,

·          impel to right;


 if they hurt and sting, the pain which they inflict is healthful, for

good and not for evil -  “and as nails fastened by the masters of

assemblies,” -  The proposition “by” is an interpolation, and the sentence

should run: And like nails fastened [are] the, etc. masmeroth, “nails,”

as in Isaiah 41:7. There is much difficulty in explaining the next words,

בַּעַלִי אַסֻפות  - baale asuppoth). We have had similar expressions applied

to possessors in ch.10:11, “lord of the tongue,” and “lord of wings” (ch.10:20);

and analogy might lead us to apply the phrase here to persons, and not things; but

in Isaiah 41:15 we find a threshing-instrument termed “lord of teeth;” and in

II Samuel 5:20 a town is called Baal-Perazim, “Lord of breaches;” so we must

be guided by other considerations in our exposition. The Septuagint, taking the

whole sentence together, and regarding baals as a preposition, renders, “As nails

firmly planted, (οι{ παρᾶ τῶν συνθεμάτων ἐδόθησαν ἐκ ποιμένος ἑνός

hoi para ton sunthematon edothaesan ek poimenos enos which

from the collections were given from one shepherd.Schleusher

takes οι{ παρὰ τῶν συνθεμάτων  to mean, “Ii quibus munus datum

erat collectionem faciendi,” i.e. the author, of collections. The Vulgate has,

Verbaquae per magistrorum consilium data sunt a pastore uno. The

“masters of assemblies” can only be the chiefs of some learned conclaves,

like the great synagogue supposed to exist in the time of Ezra and later.

 It seems best to take the word translated “assemblies” as denoting collections,

not of people, but of proverbs; and the compound phrase would thus mean

proverbs of an excellent character, the best of their sort gathered together in writing.

Such words are well compared to nails; they are no longer floating loosely about,

they are fixed in the memory, they secure other knowledge, and, though they are

separate utterances, they have a certain unity and purpose. Nails are often used

proverbially as emblems of what is fixed and unalterable – “which are given from

one shepherd.”  All these words of the wise, collections, etc., proceed from one

source, or are set forth by one authority. Who is this shepherd? Some say that he is

the archisynagogus, the president of the assemblies of wise men, to whose

authority all these public utterances are subjected. But we do not know that

such supervision existed or was exercised at the time when Koheleth

wrote; and, as we saw above, there is probably no reference to any such

assemblies in the passage. The “one shepherd” is doubtless JEHOVAH,

 who is called the Shepherd of Israel, who feeds His people like a flock, etc.

(see Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Psalm 23:1; 80:1). The appellation is

here used as concinnous with the thought of the ox-goad, intimating that

God watches and leads His people like a tender shepherd and a skilful

farmer. This is an important claim to inspiration. All these varied

utterances, whatever form they take, whether his own or his predecessor’s,

are outcomes of wisdom, and proceed from Him who is only wise,

Almighty God. It is no disparagement of this work to imply that it is not

the production of the true Solomon; Koheleth is ready to avow himself the

writer, and yet claims a hearing as being equally moved by heavenly

influence. It is like Paul’s assertion (I Corinthians 7:40), “I think

that I also have the Spirit of God.”




                        he Religious Thinker and Teacher (vs. 9-11)


The author of this book was himself a profound thinker and an earnest

teacher, and it is evident that his great aim was to use his gifts of

observation, meditation, and discourse for the enlightenment and the

spiritual profit of all whom his words might reach. Taught in the quiet of

his heart by the Spirit of the Eternal, he labored, by the presentation of

truth and the implant of piety, to promote the religious life among his

fellow-men. His aim as he himself conceived it, his methods as practiced by

him in his literary productions, are deserving of the attentive consideration

and the diligent imitation of those who are called upon to use thought and

speech for the spiritual good of their fellow-creatures. Words are the

utterance of the convictions and the desires of the inner nature, and when

spoken deliberately and in public they involve a peculiar responsibility.



EXPRESSION OF WISDOM. They should not be thrown off carelessly,

but should be the fruit of deep study and meditation. For the most part,

they should embody either original thought, or thought which the teacher

should have assimilated and made part of his own nature, and tested in his

own individual experience. They should be the utterance of knowledge

rather than of opinion; and they should be set forth in the order which

comes from reflection, and not in an incoherent, desultory, and

unconnected form.



WORDS OF UPRIGHTNESS. In order to this they must be the utterance

of sincere conviction; they must harmonize with moral intuitions; they must

be such as consequently appeal to the same conscience in the hearer or

reader, which approves them in the speaker or writer. Crafty arguments,

specious and sophistical appeals, sentimental absurdities, do not fulfill these

conditions, and for them there is no place in the Christian preacher’s

discourses, in the volumes of the Christian author.



WORDS OF PERSUASIVENESS. The author of Ecclesiastes commends

proverbsand “words of delight.” Harshness, coldness,

contemptuousness, severity, are unbecoming to the expositor of a religion

of compassion and love. A winning manner., a sympathizing spirit,

language and illustrations adapted to the intelligence, the habits, the

circumstances of auditors, go far to open up a way to their hearts. No

doubt there is a side of danger to this requirement; the pleasing word may

be the substitute for the truth instead of its vehicle, and the preacher may

simply be as one that playeth upon a very pleasant instrument. But the

example of our Lord Jesus, “the great Teacher,” abundantly shows how

winning, gracious, condescending, and touching language is divinely

adapted to reach the hearts of men.



CONVINCING AND EFFECTIVE. The goads that pierce, the nails that

penetrate and bind, are images of the language of him who beateth not the

air. Let the aim be kept steadily before the eye, and the mark will not be

missed. Let the blow be delivered strongly and decisively, and the work

will be well done.


Ø      The understanding has to be convinced,

Ø      the conscience awakened,

Ø      the heart touched,

Ø      the evil passions stilled,

Ø      the endeavor and determination aroused;


and the Word is, by the accompanying energy of the Spirit of God,

ABLE TO EFFECT ALL THIS! “Who is sufficient for these things?”

(II Corinthians 2:16)




If his word be the Word of God, who commissions and strengthens every

faithful herald and ambassador, then he may comfort himself with the

promise, “My Word shall not return unto me void; it shall accomplish that

which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

(Isaiah 55:11)


In the last three verses the author warns against profitless study, and gives the

final conclusion to which the whole discussion leads.


12 “And further, by these, my son, be admonished;” -  rather, and

what is more than these, be warned. Besides all that has been said, take

this additional and important caution, viz. what follows. The clause,

however, has been differently interpreted, as if it said, “Do not attempt to

go beyond the words of the sages mentioned above; or, “Be content with

my counsels; they will suffice for your instruction.” This seems to be the

meaning of the Authorized Version. The personal address, “my son,” so

usual in the Book of Proverbs, is used by Koheleth in this place alone. It

does not necessarily imply relationship (as if the pseudo-Solomon was

appealing to Rehoboam), but rather the condition of pupil and learner,

sitting at the feet of his teacher and friend – “of making many books there

is no end;” - This could not be said in the time of the historical Solomon,

even if we reckon his own voluminous works (I Kings 4:32-33); for

we know of no other writers of that date, and it is tolerably certain that

none existed in Palestine. But we need not suppose that Koheleth is

referring to extraneous heathen productions, of which, in our view, there is

no evidence that he possessed any special knowledge. Doubtless many

thinkers in his time had treated of the problems discussed in his volume in a

far different manner from that herein employed, and it seemed good to

utter a warning against the unprofitable reading of such productions.

Juvenal speaks of the insatiable passion for writing in his day (‘Sat.,’ 7:51)


“Tenet insanabile multos

Scribendi cacoethes et aegro in corde senestit;”


which Dryden renders:


“The charms of poetry our souls bewitch;

The curse of writing is an endless itch.”


As in taking food it is not the quantity which a man eats, but what he

digests and assimilates, that nourishes him, so in reading, the rule, Non

multa, sed multum, must be observed; the gorging the literary appetite on

food wholesome or not impedes the healthy mental process, and produces

no intellectual growth or strength. The obvious lesson drawn by spiritual

writers is that Christians should make God’s Word their chief study,

“turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the

knowledge which is falsely so called” (I Timothy 6:20). For as St.

Augustine says (‘De Doctr. Christ.’), “Whereas in Holy Scripture you will

find everything which has been profitably said elsewhere, to a far greater

extent you will therein find what has been nowhere else enunciated, but

which has been taught solely by the marvelous sublimity and the equally

marvelous humility of the Word of God.”- “much study is a weariness of

the flesh.”  The two clauses in the latter part of the verse are co-ordinate.

Thus the Septuagint, Τοῦ ποιῆσαι βιβλία πολλὰ οὐκ ἔστι περασμὸς καὶ μελέτη

πολλὴ κόπωσις ("weariness") σαρκός.Tou poiaesai biblia polla ouk esti

perasmos kai meletae pollae koposis -  The word for

“study” (lahag) is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament, nor in the

Talmud, but the above meaning is sustained by its connection with an

Arabic word signifying “to be eager for.” The Vulgate (like the Septuagint)

renders it meditatio. You may weary your brain, exhaust your strength, by

protracted study or meditation on many books, but you will not necessarily

thereby gain any insight into the problems of the universe or guidance for

daily life. Marcus Aurelius dissuades from much reading: “Would you

examine your whole composition?” he says; “pray, then let your library

alone; what need you puzzle your thoughts and over-grasp yourself?”

Again, “As for books, never be over-eager about them; such a fondness for

reading will be apt to perplex your mind, and make you die unpleased”

(‘Medit.,’ 2:2, 3, Collier).




                        The Function of the Teacher (vs.  9-12)


1. The wise man, because he is wise (v. 9), teaches. There is no better,

no other thing that he can do, both for his own sake and for the sake of his

fellow-men. To know and not to speak is a sin and a cruelty, when men are

perishing for lack of knowledge.” To know and to speak is an elevated

joy and a sacred duty; we cannot but speak the things we have learned of

God, the truth as it is in Jesus.  (Acts 4:20; Ephesians 4:21)


2. The wise man also takes what measures he can to perpetuate the truth

he knows; he wants to preserve it, to hand it down to another time; he

therefore “writes down the words with truth and uprightness” (v. 10); or,

if he cannot do this, he labors to put his thought into those parabolic or

proverbial forms which will not only be preserved in the memory of those

to whom he utters them, but can be readily repeated, and will become

embedded in the traditions and, ultimately, into the literature of his country

(v. 9).


3. The wise man restrains his literary ardor within due bounds (v. 12).

Otherwise he not only causes a drug in the market, but seriously injures his

own health. He knows it is better to do a little and do that thoroughly, than

to do much and do it hastily and imperfectly. But what is the teacher’s

function, his sacred duty, as related to the people of his charge or his




ponder and seek out,” or to “compose with care and thought” (Cox’s

translation). Divine truth, in its various aspects and applications, is manifold

and profound; it demands our most patient study, our most reverent

inquiry; we should gain help from all possible sources, more particularly

should we seek it from the Spirit and from the Word of God.


·   TO INTEREST AND TO CONSOLE. The Preacher sought to find out

acceptable or “comfortable” words — “words of delight” (literally). This

is not the main duty of the teacher, but it is one to which he should

seriously address himself.


Ø      A teacher may be speaking in the highest strain, and may be uttering the

deepest wisdom, but if his words are unintelligible and, therefore,

unacceptable, he will make no way and do no good. We must speak in the

language of those whom we address. Our thoughts may be far higher than

theirs, but our language must be on their level — at any rate, on the level

of their understanding.


Ø      The teacher will do wisely to spend much time and strength in

consoling; for in this world of trouble and sorrow no words are more often

or more urgently needed than “comfortable words.”


·   TO RETAIN. “The words of the ‘masters of assemblies’ are like

stakes (nails) which the shepherds drive into the ground when they pitch

their tents;” i.e. they are instruments of fastening or of securing; they act

as things which keep the cords in their place, and keep the roof over the

head of the traveler. It is one function of the Christian teacher — and a

most valuable one — so to speak that men shall retain their hold on the

great verities of the faith,


Ø      on the true and real Fatherhood of God,

Ø      on the atonement of Jesus Christ,

Ø      on the openness of the kingdom of heaven to every seeking soul,

Ø      on the blessedness of self-forgetful love,

Ø      on the offer of eternal life to all who believe, etc.


·   TO INSPIRE. At other times the Preacher’s words are “as goads” that

urge the cattle to other fields. To comfort and to secure is much, but it is

not all that they who speak for Christ have to do. They have to illumine

and to enlarge men’s views, to shed fresh light on the sacred page, to invite

those that hear them to accompany them to fields of thought hitherto

untrodden, to induce them to think and study for themselves, to unveil the

beauties and glories of the wisdom “that remains to be revealed,” to inspire

them with a yearning desire and with a full purpose of heart to enter upon

works of helpfulness and usefulness; he has to “provoke them to love and

            to good works.” (Hebrews 10:24)




                                    Reading, Writing, Speaking (vs. 11-12)




Ø      Pushed to excess, it becomes hurtful to the body. “Much study is a

weariness to the flesh,” and as a consequence, reflexively, injurious to the



Ø      Pursued in moderation, it first enlightens the understanding, next

quickens the whole spiritual nature, and finally tends to stimulate the

health of the body. “A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine”

(ch. 8:1).


·   “WRITING MAKES A CORRECT MAN.” If professional authorship

in the Preacher’s day was a nuisance, much more is it so in ours. Yet in

book-writing lie advantages as well as disadvantages. If, on the one band,

the multiplication of books often signifies nothing more than an

accumulation of literary rubbish, and a terrible infliction to those who must

read them, on the other hand it secures the preservation and distribution of

much valuable knowledge; while if the knowledge is not valuable, the

formal deposition of it in a book, which may be quietly consigned to a

library, secures that it shall not roam at large, to the disquieting of peace-

loving minds. But, apart from the multiplication of volumes, the habit of

setting down one’s thoughts in writing is attended by distinct advantages.

It promotes:


Ø      Clearness of thought. One who intends to write, more especially for the

information of his fellows, must know what he purposes to say. The effort

of putting one’s ideas on paper imparts to them a definiteness of outline

they might not otherwise possess.


Ø      Order in arrangement. No writer will, voluntarily, fling his thoughts

together into a confused heap, but will strive to render them as clear and

luminous as possible. If for no other reason than this, the practice of

preparing for public speech by means of writing is to be commended.


Ø      Brevity in expression. If brevity is the soul of wit, and verbosity the

garment of dullness, then the sure way of attaining to the former, and

avoiding the latter, is to write.


·   “SPEAKING MAKES A READY MAZE.” “The words of the wise

are as goads, and as nails.” Though designed to apply to the wise man’s

written words,” the clause may be accepted as correct also with reference

to his “spoken words.” Like the former, the latter are as goads and nails.


Ø      They stimulate. The words of a practiced speaker, always supposing him

to be a wise man, incite the minds and quicken the hearts of his hearer.

The true preacher should be progressive, not only in his own discovery

of truth, but in conducting his hearers into fresh fields of instruction,

leading them out into “regions beyond,” causing them to forget

the things that are behind, and reach forward unto those things that

 are before” (Philippians 3:13) persuading them to leave the first

principles of Christ, and to go on unto perfection.”  (Hebrews 6:1)


Ø      They abide. They lodge themselves in the understanding and

     affections so firmly that they cannot be removed.   (God’s work

     by the Holy Spirit  - CY - 2021)  Facility in arousing and fixing

conviction can only be attained by diligent and wise cultivation of

the art of speech.




                                    The Scholar’s Sorrow (v. 12)


In these closing paragraphs of his treatise the writer reveals his own

feelings, and draws upon his own experience. It is interesting to observe

how largely study was pursued and literature cultivated at the remote

period when this book was written; and it is obvious to remark how far

more strikingly these reflections apply to an age like our own, and to a

state of society such as that in which we live. The diffusion of education

tends to the multiplication of books and to the increase of the learned

professions; whilst growing civilization fosters the habit of introspection,

and consequently of that melancholy whose earlier and simpler symptoms

are observable in the language of this touching passage.



HUMAN NATURE. As soon as men begin to reflect, they begin to

embody their reflections in a literary form, whether of poetry or of prose.

A native impulse to verbal expression of thought and feeling, or the desire

of sympathy and applause, or the calculating regard for maintenance, leads

to the devotion of ever-growing bodies of men to the literary life.

Literature is an unmistakable “note” of human culture.



PROMOTIVE OF THE GENERAL GOOD. The few toil that the many

may profit. Knowledge, thought, art, right feeling, liberty, and peace, are

all indebted to the great thinkers and authors whose names are held in

honor among men. Doubtless there are those who misuse their gifts, who

by their writings pander to vice, incite to crime, and encourage irreligion.

(In our day pornography - CY - 2021) But the bulk of literature, proceeding

from the better class of minds, is rather contributive to the furtherance of

goodness and of the best interests of men. Books are among the greatest

of human blessings.  (Even God has sent us HIS BOOK!  - CY - 2021)



THE SERVICE OF RELIGION. We have but to refer to the Hebrew

Scriptures themselves in proof of this. There is nothing more marvelous in

history than the production of the Books of Moses, the Psalms, and the

prophetic writings, at the epochs from which they date. Lawgivers, seers,

psalmists, and sages live yet in their peerless writings; some of them

inimitable in literary form, all of them instinct with moral power. The New

Testament furnishes a yet more marvelous illustration of the place which

literature holds in the religious life of humanity. Men have sneered at the

supposition that a book revelation could be possible; but their sneers are

answered by the facts. Whatever view we take of inspiration, we are

constrained to allow for human gifts of authorship. To make up the sacred

volume there are “many books,” and every one of them is the fruit of

much study.”






Ø      There is weariness of the flesh arising from the close connection

between body and mind. The brain, being the central physical organ of

language, is, in a sense, the instrument of thought; and, consequently,

brain-weariness, nerve-exhaustion, are familiar symptoms among the

ardent students to whom we are all indebted for the discovery, the

formulation, and the communication of truth and knowledge.


Ø      But there is a mental sorrow and distress which deeper thinkers cannot

always escape, and by which some among them are oppressed. The vast

range of what in itself can be known is such as to strike the mind with

dismay. Science, history, philosophy, etc., have made progress so

marvelous, that no single finite mind can embrace, in the course of a life

of study, however assiduous, more than a minute department, so as to

know all of it that may be known; and a highly educated man Is content

to know something of everything, and every thing of something.


Ø      Then beyond the realm accessible to human inquiry lies the vaster realm

of what cannot be known — what is altogether outside our ken.


Ø      It must be borne in mind, further, that, whilst man’s intellect is limited,

his spiritual yearnings are insatiable: no bounds can be set to his

aspirations; his nature is akin to that of GOD HIMSELF! Thus it is

that sorrow often shades the scholar’s brow, and that to the weariness

of the flesh there is added the sadness of the spirit, that finds, in the

memorable language of Pascal, the larger the circle of the known,

the vaster is the circumference of the unknown that stretches beyond.


The teaching of the whole book is now gathered up in two weighty sentences.


13 “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:” -  The

Revised Version gives, This is the end of the matter; all hath been heard.

The Septuagint has, Τέλος λόγου τὸ πᾶν ἄκουεTelos logou to pan

akouethe end of the matter,  the sum, hear thou;” Vulgate, Finem

loquendi pariter omnes audiamus. Another rendering is suggested,

“The conclusion of the matter is this, that [God] taketh knowledge of all things;”

literally, “everything is heard.” Perhaps the passage is best translated, The end

of the matter, when all is heard, is this. The first word of this verse, soph,

“END” is printed in the Hebrew text in large characters, in order to draw

attention to the importance of what is coming. And its significance is rightly

estimated. These two verses guard against very possible misconception,

and give the author’s real and mature conclusion. When this is received, all

that need be said has been uttered -  “Fear God (ha-Elohim), and keep His

commandments:” -  This injunction is the practical result of the whole

discussion. Amid the difficulties of the moral government of the world,

amid the complications of society, varying and opposing interests and

claims, one duty remained plain and unchanging — the duty of

PIETY AND OBEDIENCE!   - “for this is the whole duty of man.”

The Hebrew is literally, “This is every man,” which is explained to mean,

“THIS IS EVERY MAN’S DUTY!” Septuagint, Ὅτι τοῦτο πᾶςἄνθρωπος -

Hoti touto pas ho anthroposthis is the whole duty

of man - Vulgate, Hoc est enim omnis homo. For this man was made and

placed in the world; this is his real object, the chief good which he has


and HAPPINESS! The obligation is put in the most general terms as

applicable to the whole human family; for God is not the God of the

Jews only, but of Gentiles also (Romans 3:29).  The great duty just named

is here grounded upon the solemn truth of  A FUTURE JUDGMENT!


God “hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in

Righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof

He hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised

Him from the dead”  (Acts 17:31). 


14 For God shall bring every work into judgment,” -  It will then be seen

whether this obligation has been “ATTENDED TO OR NOT!”  The

judgment has already been mentioned (ch.11:9); it is here more emphatically set

forth as a certain fact and a strong motive power. The old theory of earthly

retribution had been shown to break down under the experience of practical life;

the anomalies which perplexed men’s minds could only be solved and remedied

by a future judgment under the eye of the OMNISCIENT AND UNERRING

GOD!  - “with every secret thing,” -  The Syriac adds, “and manifest thing.” The

Septuagint renders, “with EVERYTHING that has been overlooked” — a very

terrible, but true, thought. The doctrine that the most secret things shall be revealed in

the dies irae is often brought forward in the New Testament, which makes

plain the personal nature of this final investigation, which the earlier

Scriptures invest with a more general character (see Luke 12:3; Romans 2:16;

14:12; I  Corinthians 4:5). So this wonderful book closes with the

enunciation of a truth found nowhere else so clearly defined in the Old

Testament, and thus opens the way to the clearer light shed upon the awful

future by the revelation of the gospel.



The Conclusion of the Whole Matter


         The Whole Duty of Man




Ø      The fear of God. Not servile or guilty, but


o       reverential, such as the Divine greatness and glory are fitted

 to inspire (Deuteronomy 28:58; Psalm 89:7; Matthew 10:28;

Hebrews 12:28);


Ø      filial, such as a child might cherish towards a parent (Psalm 34:11;

Hebrews 12:9).


Ø      The service of God. Not that merely of external worship (Deuteronomy

6:13; Psalm 96:9; Hebrews 10:25), but that of inward devotion

(John 4:24), which expresses itself in the homage of the heart and life,

or in the keeping of God’s commandments — in particular of the three

named by the Preacher, charity, industry, hilarity.


  • THE REASON OF IT. The certainty of judgment.


Ø      By God. He is the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25);

the Judge of all (Hebrews 12:28), who will yet judge the

world in righteousness (Acts 17:31).


Ø      In the future. Not merely here upon the earth, but also hereafter

in the world to come (Daniel 7:10; Matthew 11:22; 16:27;

I Corinthians 4:5; II Timothy 4:1).


Ø      Of works, Not of nations or communities, but of individuals

(Mark 8:38; Romans 2:5-6); not of open actions merely, but of

secret things as well (Luke 12:2; Romans 2:16; I Corinthians 3:13; 4:5);

not of good deeds only, but also of evil (II Corinthians 5:10; II Peter




The Last Word (v. 13)


“Fear God, and keep His commandments.” Both  the inward disposition and the

outward conduct are covered by the exhortation.


In the passage with which the Book of Ecclesiastes concludes, the clue is

found which leads the speaker out of the labyrinth of skepticism in which

for a time he had gone astray. He at last emerges from the dark forest in

which he had long wandered, and finds himself under the stars of heaven,

and sees in the eastern sky the promise of the coming day. It is true that

from time to time in his earlier meditations he had retained, even if it were

with but a faltering grasp, the truth which he now announces confidently

and triumphantly. “It had mitigated his pessimism and hallowed his

eudemonism (a system of ethics that bases moral value on the likelihood

that good actions will produce happiness) ch. 7:18; 8:12; 11:9. And it must be taken

as canceling much of what he had said about the vanity of human life. Over

against his somber thoughts about one fate awaiting both the righteous and

the wicked, the wise and the foolish (ch. 9:2), and the leveling

power of death, that makes no distinction between man and the brute

(ch. 3:18-22), and shakes one’s faith in the dignity and worth

of our nature, is set his final verdict. God does distinguish, not only

between men and the brutes, but between good men and bad. The efforts

we make to obey Him, or the indifference towards the claims of

righteousness we may have manifested, are not fruitless; they result in the

formation of a character that merits and will receive His favor, or of one

that will draw down His displeasure. The nearness of God to the individual

soul is the great truth upon which our author rests at last, and in his

statement of it we have a positive advance upon previous revelations, and

an anticipation of the fuller light of the New Testament teaching. God, he

would have us believe, does not deal with men as nations or classes, but as

individuals. He treats them, whatever may have been their surroundings or

national connections, as personally accountable for the disposition and

character they have cultivated. His judgment of them lies in the future, and

all, without distinction of persons, will be subject to it. In these points,

therefore, the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes transcends the teaching of

the Old Testament, and approximates to that of Christ and the apostles.

The present life, with all its inequalities, the adversity which often besets

the righteous, and the prosperity which the wicked often enjoy, IS NOT


which the righteous will openly receive the Divine favor, and the wicked the due

reward of their deeds. The blessings which were promised to the nation that was

faithful to the Divine Law will be enjoyed by each individual who has had the

fear of God before his eyes. Judgment will go by character, and not by outward

name or profession (Matthew 7:21-23; Revelation 20:12). We

have, therefore, here a great exhortation founded on truths which cannot

be shaken, and calculated to guide each one who obeys it to that goal of

happiness which all desire to reach. “Fear God, and keep His

commandments.” Both the inward disposition and the outward conduct are

covered by the exhortation.




THE “FEAR OF GOD.” This is the root from which the goodly leaves

and choice fruit of a religious life will spring. If the word “fear” had been

used in this passage only, and we had not been at liberty to

understand it in any other than its ordinary sense, one would be forced to

admit that such a low motive could not be the mainspring of a vigorous

and healthy religious life. But all through the Scriptures the phrase, “fear of

God,” is used as synonymous with a genuine, heartfelt service of Him, and

as rather indicating a careful observance of the obligations we as creatures

owe to Him, than a mere dread of His anger at disobedience. It is not to be

denied that fear, in the ordinary sense of the word, is reasonably a motive

by which sin may be restrained, but it is no stimulus to that kind of service

which we owe to God. “I thank God, and with joy I mention it,” says Sir

Thomas Browne, “I was never afraid of hell, nor ever grew pale at the

description of that place. I have so fixed my contemplations on heaven,

that I have almost forgot the idea of hell; and am afraid rather to lose the

joys of one than endure the misery of the other. To be deprived of them is

a perfect hell, and needs methinks no addition to complete our afflictions.

That terrible term hath never detained me from sin, nor do I owe any good

action to the name thereof. I fear God, yet am not afraid of Him; His

mercies make me ashamed of my sins, before His judgments afraid thereof.

These are the forced and secondary methods of His wisdom, which He useth

but as the last remedy, and upon provocation — a course rather to deter

the wicked than incite the virtuous to His worship. I can hardly think there

was ever any scared into heaven: they go the fairest way to heaven that

would serve God without a hell. Other mercenaries, that crouch unto him

in fear of hell, though they term themselves the servants, are indeed but the

slaves, of the Almighty” (‘Rel. Med.,’ 1:52). Plainly, therefore, when the

fear of God is made equivalent to true religion, it must include many other

feelings than that dread which sinners experience at the thought of the

 laws they have broken, and which may consist with hatred of God and of

righteousness. It must be a summary of all the emotions which belong to a

religions life — reverence at the thought of GOD’S INFINITE MAJESTY,

HOLINESS, AND JUSTICE,  gratitude for His loving-kindness and tender

mercy, confidence in His wisdom, power, and faithfulness, submission to His

will, and delight in communion with Him. If fear is to be taken as a prominent

emotion in such a life, we are not to understand by it the terror of a slave,

who would willingly, if he could, break away from his owner, but the

loving reverence of a child, who is anxious to avoid everything that

would grieve his father’s heart. The one kind of fear is the mark of an

imperfect obedience (I John 4:18); the other is the proof of a disposition which

calls forth God’s favor and blessing (Psalm 103:13).



“KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS.” This is the outward

manifestation of the disposition of the heart, and supplies a test by which

the genuineness of a religious profession may be tried. These two elements

are needed to constitute holiness:


Ø      a God-fearing spirit and

Ø      a blameless life.


If either be wanting the nature is out of balance, and very grave defects

will soon appear, by which all of positive good that has been attained will

be either overshadowed or nullified. If there be not devotion of the heart

to God, no zeal and fidelity in discharging the ordinary duties of life

will make up for the loss. The reverence due to Him as our Creator —

gratitude for His benefits, penitent confession of sins and shortcomings, and

faith in His mercy — cannot be willfully omitted by us without a

depravation of our whole character. And, on the other side, an

acknowledgment of Him that does not lead us to “keep His

 commandments” is equally fatal (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 13:25-27).


The Preacher appends two weighty considerations to induce us to attend to

his exhortation to “fear God, and keep His commandments.”



So would we interpret his words, “For this is the whole of man.” The word

“duty” is suggested by our translators to complete the sense, but it is not

comprehensive enough. “To fear God and keep His commandments is

not only the whole duty, BUT THE WHOLE HONOR AND INTEREST

AND HAPPINESS OF MAN!  The quest with which the book has been

largely concerned is that for happiness, for the summum bonum, in which alone

the soul can find satisfaction, and here it comes to an end. The discovery is

made of that which has been so long and so painfully sought after.

In a pious and holy life and conversation REST IS FOUND; ALL



  • The second motive to obedience is THE CERTAINTY OF A FUTURE

JUDGMENT  (v. 14). “For God shall bring every work into judgment,

with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”



WISE,  who will be free from all partiality; AND HIS SENTENCE

WILL BE FINAL!   If, therefore, we have no such regard for our own

happiness in the present life as would move us to secure it by love and

service of God, we may still find a check upon self-will and self-indulgence

in the thought that we shall have to give an account of our:


Ø      thoughts,

Ø      words, and

Ø      deeds


to One from whose sentence THERE IS NO APPEAL!




            Religion, Righteousness, and Retribution (vs. 13-14)


After all the questionings and discussions, the doubts and perplexities, the

counsels and precepts, of this treatise, the author winds up by restating the

first, the most elementary, and the most important, principles of true

religion. There are, he felt, in this world many things which we cannot

fathom, many things which we cannot reconcile with our convictions and

hopes; but there are some things concerning which we have no doubts, and

these are the things which most nearly concern us personally and

practically. Thoughtful men may weary and distress themselves with

pondering the great problems of existence; but, after all, they, in common

with the plainest and most illiterate, must come back to THE ESSENTIALS




of God, reverence for the Divine character and attributes, the habit of mind

which views everything in relation to HIM WHO IS ETERNALLY HOLY,

WISE, JUST AND GOOD! This Book of Ecclesiastes is, upon this point,

at one with the whole of the Bible and with all deeply based religion.

We cannot begin with man; we must find an all-sufficient foundation

for the religious life in God Himself, His nature, and His Law.


·   THE GREAT EXPRESSION OF RELIGION. This is obedience to the

Divine commandments.’ Our convictions and emotions find their scope

when directed towards a holy and merciful God; our will must bend to the

moral authority of the eternal Lord. Feelings and professions are in vain

unless they are supported by corresponding actions. It is true that mere

external compliance is valueless; acts must be the manifestation of spiritual

loyalty and love. But, on the other hand, sentiment that evaporates in

words, that does not issue in deeds, is disregarded in the court of heaven.

Where God is honored, and His will is cheerfully performed, there the

whole duty of the Christian man is fulfilled. It is the work of the mediation

of the Divine Savior, of the operations of the Divine Spirit, to bring about

such a religious and moral life.


·   THE GREAT TEST OF RELIGION. For this we are bidden to look

forward to the future. Many things, which are significant as to the religious

state of a man, are now hidden. They must be brought to light; secret

deeds, alike of holiness and of iniquity, must be made manifest before the

throne of judgment. Here, in this world, where men judge by appearances,

the wicked sometimes get credit for goodness which does not really belong

to them, and the good are often maligned and misunderstood. But, in the

general judgment hereafter, the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, and

men shall be judged, not according to what they seem to be, but according

to what they actually are. With this solemn warning the Preacher closes his

book. And there is no person, in whatsoever state of life, to whom this

warning does not apply. Well will it be for us if this earthly life be passed

under the perpetual influence of this expectation; if the prospect of the

            future judgment inspire us to watchfulness, to diligence, and to prayer.





                   Divine Requirement and Human Response (vs. 13-14)


What is the conclusion of this inquiry? What result may be gained from

these inconsistencies of thought and variations of feeling? Deeper down

than anything else is the fact that there are:




Ø      Reverence. We are to “fear God.” That is certain. But let us not mistake

this “fear” for a very different thing with which it may be confounded.

It is not a servile dread, such as that which is entertained by ignorant

devotees of their deities. Only too often worship rises no higher than

that; it is an abject dread of the malignant spiritual power. This is both

a falsity and an injury. It is founded on a complete misconception of

the Divine, and it reacts most hurtfully upon the mind of the worshipper,

demoralizing and degrading. What God asks of us is a well-grounded,

holy reverence; the honor which weakness pays to power, which he

who receives everything pays to him who gives everything, which

intelligence pays to wisdom, which a moral and spiritual nature pays

to rectitude, to goodness, to love, to absolute and unspotted worth.


Ø      Obedience. We must “keep His commandments;” i.e. not only


o       abstain from those particular transgressions which He has

      forbidden, and:


o       practice those virtues which He has positively enjoined; but also


o       carefully study His holy will in regard to all things, and strive

      earnestly and patiently to do it. This will embrace, not only

all outward actions observable by man, but all the inward

thoughts of the mind, and all the hidden feelings and purposes

of the soul. It includes the bringing of everything of every kind

for which we are personally responsible “into obedience to the

will of Christ.”  (II Corinthians 10:5)  It requires of us rectitude

in every relation that we sustain to others, as well as in all that

we owe to ourselves. The text suggests:



such reverent obedience is:


Ø      Our supreme obligation. “This is the whole duty of man,” or, rather,

“This it behooveth all men to do.” This is what all men are in sacred

duty bound to do. There is no other obligation which is not slight and

small in comparison with this. The child owes much to his father, the

pupil to his teacher, the beneficiary to his benefactor, the one who

has been rescued to his deliverer; but not one of these obligations,

nor all added together, expresses anything that approaches the

indebtedness under which we rest to God. To him from whom we

came, and “in whom we live and move and have our being,”

(Acts 17:28) who is the one ultimate Source of all our blessings and of

all our powers, who has poured out upon us an immeasurable wealth

of pure and patient love; to the gracious Father of our spirit; to the

gracious Lord of our life; to the holy and the benignant One, — to Him

it does indeed become all men to render a reverent obedience. The

other reason why we should respond is found in:


Ø      Our supreme wisdom. “For God will bring every work to judgment,

      with every secret thing..”God is now bringing all that we are and do

under His own ‘Divine judgment, and is now approving or disapproving.

He is also so governing the world that our thoughts and actions are

practically judged, and either rewarded or punished, before we

pass the border-line of death. But while this is true, and while there is

much more of truth in it than is often supposed, yet much is left to the

future in this great matter of judgment. There are “secret things” to

be exposed (Luke 12:2-3); there are undiscovered crimes to be made

known; there are iniquities that have escaped even the eye of the

perpetrators, who “knew not what they did,” to be revealed. There

is a great account to be settled. And because it is true that “of Christ,

that every one of us may  receive the things done in his body”

(II Corinthians 5:10) because “God will judge the secrets of all hearts”

(Romans 8:20), because sin in every shape moves toward exposure

and penalty, while righteousness in all its forms travels toward its

recognition and reward, therefore let the spirit be reverent in

presence of its Maker, let the life be filled with purity and worth, with

integrity and goodness, let man be the dutiful child of his Father who

is in heaven.




                                    The Epilogue (vs. 8-12)


The sentence, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!” with which the Book of

Ecclesiastes opened, is found here at its close. And doubtless to many .it

will seem disappointing that it should follow so hard upon the expression

of belief in immortality. Surely we might say that the nobler view of life

reached by the Preacher should have precluded his return to the pessimistic

opinions and feelings which we can scarcely avoid associating with the

words, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!” But on second thoughts the

words are not contradictory of the hope for the future which v. 7

expresses. The fact that Christians can use the words as descriptive of the

worthlessness of things that are seen and temporal, as compared with those

that are unseen and eternal, forbids our concluding that they are necessarily

the utterance of a despairing pessimism. A great deal depends upon the

tone in which the words are uttered; and the pious tone of the writer’s

mind, as revealed in the concluding passages of his book, would incline us

to believe that the sentence, “all is vanity,” is equivalent to that in the

Gospel, “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his

own soul?” (Mark 8:36)   No one can deny that the ‘De Imitatione Christi’

(the imitation of Christ) is a noble expression of certain aspects of Christian

teaching with regard to life. And yet in the very first chapter of it we have

these words of Solomon’s quoted and expanded. “Vanity of vanities; and

all is vanity beside loving God and serving Him alone.


·   It is vanity, therefore,  to seek after riches which must perish, and to trust in them.

·   It is vanity also to  lay one’s self out for honors, and to raise one’s self to a high


·   It is vanity  to follow the desires of the flesh, and to covet that for which we

   must afterwards be grievously punished.

·   It is vanity to wish for long life, and to take little care of leading a good life.

·   It is vanity to mind only this present life, and not to look forward to those

   things which are to come.

·   It is vanity to love that which passes with all speed, and not to hasten

   thither where ever lasting joy abides.”


In the opinion of many eminent critics the eighth verse contains the concluding

words of the Preacher, and those which follow are an epilogue, consisting of a

commendatory attestation” (vs. 9-12), and a summary of the teaching of the

book (vs. 13-14), which justifies its place in the sacred canon. On the whole,

this seems to be the most reasonable explanation of the passage. It seems more

likely that the glowing eulogy upon the author was written by some one else than that

it came from his own pen; and a somewhat analogous postscript is found in another

book of Holy Scripture, the Gospel of St. John (John 21:24-25). Those who

collected the Jewish Scriptures into one, and drew the line between

canonical and non-canonical literature, may have considered it advisable to

append this paragraph as a testimony in favor of a book which contained so

much that was perplexing, and to give a summary (in vs. 13, 14) of what

seemed to them its general teaching. The Preacher, they say, was gifted

with wisdom over and above his fellows, and taught the people knowledge;

and for this pondered and investigated and set in order many proverbs or

parables (v. 9). Like the scribe, “who had been made a disciple to the

kingdom of heaven,” “he brought forth out of his treasure things new and

old(Matthew 13:52). Knowledge of the wisdom of the past, ability to

recognize in it what was most valuable, and to cast it into new forms and

zeal in the discharge of his sacred office, were all found in him. He sought

to attract men to wisdom by displaying it in its gracious aspect (compare

Luke 4:22), and to influence them by the sincerity of his purpose, and

by the actual truth he brought to light (v. 10). “He aimed to speak at

once words that would please and words which were true — words which

would be at once goads to the intellect, and yet stakes that would uphold

and stay the soul of man, both coming alike from one shepherd” (v. 11,

Bradley). Some of his sayings were calculated to stimulate men into fresh

fields of thought and new paths of duty, others to confirm them in the

possession of truths of eternal value and significance. Like the apostle, he

was anxious that his readers should no longer be like “children tossed to

and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of

men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error” (Ephesians 4:14); but should

prove all things, and hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

How much better to study in the school of such a teacher than to weary

and perplex one’s self with “science falsely so called” (I Timothy 6:20),

than to be versed in multitudinous literature, which dissipates mental energy,

and in which the soul can find no sure resting-place (v. 12)! All who set

themselves, or who have been called, to be teachers of men, may find in the

example of the Preacher guidance as to the motives and aims which will alone

give them success in their work.




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