Ecclesiastes 12 has Solomon wrapping up his discourse on life making the conclusion of what is, has been, and will be. He has given us plenty to think about through these twelve chapters, and as he summarizes his teaching, he begins by telling us to “Remember also your Creator”. He’s looking back from his old age to the days of his youth, to a time when he wasn’t quite so pessimistic and jaded in how he views the world. He recalls the many things that he’s experienced in life, and recognizes that God has been part of all of it as Creator. We have no right to ourselves. God has created each one of us and we exist to love and serve Him.
Solomon taught God’s Word. “Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care”. He has given us much wisdom and prods us toward the true wisdom that only God can provide. He has taught us well as he “wrote words of truth”. We are fortunate to have God’s Word to read, study and obey. There really is little excuse for our lack of knowledge of what God expects – it’s been written and taught by many of God’s servants. Guzik shares these observations of how we should proclaim God’s truth:
- He should teach the people knowledge.
- He should seek to find acceptable words.
- He should seek to bring forth that which is upright – words of truth.
- He should make his words as goads and well-driven nails, with point and direction.
- He should bring forth the words given by one Shepherd.
- He should realize that good study is wearisome to the flesh and be willing to pay that price.
Solomon boils down the summary of his teaching to this statement: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man”. That’s about as simple as it gets. If we want to please God and fulfill our destiny it boils down to one things – obedience. Solomon had learned that it was worth it to fear and obey God. This is man’s all – the entire destiny to which God has called us. We are to be in relationship with Him, know His truth, and live it in fear of God. There is no other mission for which we have a higher calling. It is His purpose for our life.
And soon we’ll stand before God and give account around how we have done. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil”. There is and will be an eternal accounting around everything we do. In the end, everything will have meaning. Every decision we made, every choice we selected, every action we executed – we’ll stand before God and have to explain our actions. Things matter to God. All things, little or big, will be on the table. We’ll fall short and need the grace of Jesus’ death on the cross to cover our sin, but we’ll stand there condemned on our own. That is the outcome of life – we’ll face God and give account. Are you ready for that meeting?
Ecclesiastes 11 has Solomon giving us some insight into the future. He paints a picture of needing to be prepared for whatever comes our way. We can’t know what lies ahead, so we must do what we can to try and be ready. “You know not what disaster may happen on earth”. God’s definitely in control of all things, but He doesn’t necessarily broadcast what lies ahead. We need to realize that good and bad happen and wisely prepare to deal with whatever might come across our path.
He goes on to talk about the reality of the land. He talks about clouds and rain and falling trees and wind. All facets of nature that are completely in God’s control. There is often a cause and effect to what happens in the world around us. Things may not be as mysterious as we sometimes think. God wants us to move on, even if things are perfect. “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap”. A farmer who waits for conditions that are favorable may never plant the crop thus preventing a harvest for sure. Life is seldom perfect, so we have to move on in spite of the circumstances.
None of us have perfect knowledge and understanding. “You do not know the work of God who makes everything”. While we think God owes us an explanation to everything He chooses to do, He doesn’t. As humans we are very limited in our knowledge of God’s ways. We will never full understand how and why God does what He does. But that is not our place. We merely need to accept His activity and press on. “Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes”. We just need to keep on.
As we continue through life though, we have to realize that God does have a standard that we are going to be held to. “But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment”. We will stand before God and deal with the result of our choices. Judgment is a reality that we will face. We need to live life with that reality in mind. We need to be ready to stand before Him. How we face that judgment will determine our eternity. It matters as eternity is a very long time. Are you ready?
Ecclesiastes 10 has Solomon teaching us the difference between wisdom and foolishness. He begins his discourse with something that might be interpreted through a political lens, but that is not his intent. “A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left”. Solomon is not talking about our politics here. Right and left are natural symbols for the strong and good, on the one hand, and for the weak and bad, on the other hand. He’s saying that a wise man’s heart is based on his strength, skill and favor, while a fool’s heart is weak and bad.
He goes on to teach us the importance of sharpening the ax. “If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed”. Scripture talks about ‘iron sharpening iron’ as a key principle. A dull knife or ax is much more difficult to use than a sharp one. But you don’t sharpen anything without some pain and effort. There are times all of us are blunt, through much usage . When that happens we need to pray and ask God to let his power be magnified in our dull state and weakness. While having a sharp tool is important, more work is done by a blunt edge and divine power, than by a sharp edge and our own power.
Wisdom is an important characteristic to seek. “The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him”. People are drawn to wisdom. There is foolishness at every turn, but wisdom is like gold and people seek it. When we have it, we must be willing to share. God grants us wisdom not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those in our patch. It is His gift to those He blesses. As it is shared, we have to understand that not all will receive it. Wisdom is not about changing others, but sharing God’s truth.
Solomon hits on another of his principles here. “Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks”. There are a couple meanings related to this. The first is the leadership of a nation. He understood that a land was blessed by good, faithful leaders, but cursed under wicked and incompetent leaders. But it also applies to the individual in caring for his home and family. We have to be diligent in our work, both as a nation and as individuals. If we aren’t things will fall apart. It’s a pretty simple reality!
Ecclesiastes 9 begins with a very simple truth, yet one so powerful that it is one of the ultimate realities we must face. We will all die someday. “The same event happens to all”. Solomon helps us get down to the basics. There are many things that differentiate people from one another. He calls out things like love and hate, righteousness and wickedness, clean and unclean, sacrifice and no sacrifice, even saint and sinner. But he boils down the reality of life to this: we live our individual lives and “after that they go to the dead”.
That’s the truth of life – it will end in death. And while most of us think like Solomon that “a living dog is better than a dead lion”, it doesn’t really matter. When our time comes to leave this life on earth, it will happen. We won’t take anything with us, so all the stuff we accumulate and trade our time to gather while we live will be left behind when we die. So the most important thing we need to address is where we’ll spend eternity, not how much money we can make or how many toys we’ll have in storage.
Eternity is coming for each of us. And if there’s one thing we need to recognize about eternity, it is a very long time. So we need to carefully consider how we prepare for that reality which is the outcome of death. We will move on to eternal life, and there are two potential outcomes. We can spend it with God in heaven, or apart from God in hell. There aren’t any other choices. And the outcome isn’t something we vote on or pick. It is determined by our preparation ahead of time. Our eternity is decided by how we live – and in particular what we do about the big problem we have an mankind – sin.
Sin left undealt with will place us in an eternity apart from God. He can’t tolerate sin. He is perfect and just and sin will never enter heaven. So if we live and don’t deal with our sin, either by never committing any so we are pure (which will not happen) or receiving God’s grace through Christ’s blood on the Cross, we’re going to live apart from Him. That’s not a good choice since eternity is a very, very long time and we don’t get to do life over if our eternity isn’t what we like. We have to address sin while we live, and Jesus is the only way to do that. We’ll stand before God and give account. The bottom line will be ‘what did you do about sin’ which can be boiled down to ‘what did you do with Jesus’? If we received His grace and made Him Savior and Lord we’ll be invited into eternity with God. If not, we won’t be entering heaven. It’s that simple. Solomon says it straight. We will die. We better know what the outcome will be!
Ecclesiastes 8 has Solomon continuing to share his thoughts on wisdom. “A man’s wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed”. He knew that wisdom makes a man happier and changes him. A shining face indicates the glow of the facial expression of a man who knows things from God’s perspective. There is confidence and understanding. Wisdom changes us. As we allow God’s perspective to take over the way we see the world, our heart becomes more aligned with His and our external impact is changed.
Solomon continues by challenging us to walk in submission to authority. “Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him”. This is a tough pill to swallow, as often we don’t necessarily like or agree with those who are in authority. But scripture is clear that we are to obey those in authority over us. It is part of our obedience to God. Obedience is not based on agreement, but rather a choice to do what God has commanded us. In the event that an earthly authority asks us to do something that is in conflict with God’s commands, we then need to tactfully refuse the earthly authority. Obedience to God takes precedence over all others.
Our time on earth is limited and no one knows when that time will come. “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death”. We don’t have assurance about most things in life, but we certainly do this one. 100% of mankind will die (unless Jesus comes first). We can’t control the time or place. We can’t determine the how or why. We merely can know it will come and we need to be prepared for that time. We will stand before God when death comes. That’s another thing we can be assured of. There is a judgment we will face. We need to be ready for that as well!
Solomon goes on to say “Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him”. It seems that sometimes those who do evil get rewarded for their actions. And on earth, that may in fact be the case. But it is only temporary gain. We’re all going to stand before God and face Him some day. How we live will matter. Our entrance into Heaven and eternity with Him will be based on how we’ve addressed our sin – as we’re all sinners and guilty of disobedience and falling short of God’s requirements. If we’ve accepted the grace of the blood of Christ’s death on the cross, we’ll gain entry. If not, eternity will be apart from God. There will be a day of reckoning. We must never lose sight of that.
Ecclesiastes 7 has Solomon continuing in his pain and sense of meaninglessness. “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth”. He starts out reminding us how important it is to have a good name – which likely means a name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Which could explain the second half of his statement, that the day of death is a better day that the day of one’s birth. It is true for those of us who know Christ – our death will be a glorious day that will provide entry into eternity through the shed blood of the Savior.
Solomon continues by reminding us that we learn much through the hard times in life. “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools”. God often teaches us wisdom as we face adversity and suffering. We don’t learn much while enjoying ease and comfort. While we never like rebuke and being told what is wrong in our life, that is an important thing for us to hear. He compares the song of fools to the ‘crackling of thorns under a pot’ which refers to a very short lived fire that lasts for but a moment. We need to to hear words that can change us long term for the future – the wisdom of a wise rebuke.
Solomon reminds us of the place we fit in God’s creation. It is His plan, done His way, in His time. “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked”? We may not like what God has chosen to do. We may question God’s choices and decisions. But we need to remember where we fit in all of Creation – we were created by God for a purpose. We are His creation, not the Creator. We need to learn to accept His decisions around what He has chosen to do and quit trying to take His place as the one who made it all. God alone decides what is straight and what is crooked. It is not our place to question that.
Solomon makes it clear that we have a problem as man on this earth. “Wisdom gives strength to the wise man….Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins”. Wisdom is a fantastic gift from God. It is a blessing from God that we need to seek, learn, and make a part of our life. God has shared it in His Word. We can learn it from wise people in our patch. It is powerful and extremely valuable in living life. But it won’t keep us from making bad choices – we’ll still fall short of God’s standards – and that is called sin which carries a very big price. Solomon says it clearly, just like many other places in scripture. None of us will live life without sin. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. God provided that Savior through the death of His Son on the Cross. Jesus paid the price for our sin – we merely need to receive that gift of grace to be set free!
Ecclesiastes 6 has Solomon continuing to talk about the reality of life “under the sun”. He talks about the reality of life for all of us. He uses an extreme example for us about children and years of life. “If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he “. Solomon knew that a man could have all the outward signs of a good life – but still not be satisfied with God’s goodness.
A hundred kids is a sign of blessing in terms used in the Old Testament. One could have the things men dream of – which in Old Testament terms meant children by the score, and years of life by the thousand – and still depart unnoticed, unlamented, and unfulfilled. We tend to measure our value and success in dollars and years, no longer the number of kids like they did in Solomon’s day. But the reality is that stuff is not the way we measure success. Validation doesn’t come from our bank account, but rather our character. That is what God cares about.
“Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind”: Solomon knew that in a world of uncertainty and absence of meaning, that what one can actually see is always better than what one merely desires. Many today refuse to know what Solomon knew. They believe that when they face God they will in fact tell God a thing or two. Unfortunately, they are seriously and sadly going to discover how wrong they are. God is in control. He will determine the outcome of life.
Solomon asks a deep question. “For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun”? The understanding of immortality was at best cloudy in the Old Testament. Jesus cleared up these questions in the New Testament. We will spend eternity somewhere. There is life after our earthly death, and where we spend that eternity is dependent upon what we do with Jesus and the things God has entrusted to us. Solomon asks the important question we all need to ask – what will happen to me after I die? Do you know the answer for your life? If not, it’s high time to figure it out!