The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Ecclesiastes 12

Ecc 12:1

Ecc 12: "Creation" theme: Ecc 12:1 with Gen 1:1; Ecc 12:2 with Gen 2:17; 1:14-18; Ecc 12:7 with Gen 3:19.

Ecc 12: "As the years roll by, the energy and enthusiasm of youth becomes increasingly more difficult. The memory that was more retentive in youth, and the abilities to achieve whatever the heart desires, turns into distress and trouble as age takes its toll. The springtime of bright lights and warm, joyful days, is replaced by the autumn leaves, and the impending winter of life. Gradually the effects of age are felt, as the body becomes tired and feeble. Solomon speaks from experience, as he observes and feels in himself, the deterioration that comes over the physical condition. Gradually the activities of the body break down. The teeth and mouth falters (v 3), appetite diminishes (v 4), trembling and fear becomes a fact (v 5), circulation weakens, and soon the whole nervous system collapses (v 6), and death is a reality (v 7).The whole experiences of Solomon, all his wisdom and opportunities, finally end in the cemetery. But there is hope and joy in the final verses of the remarkable book. The conclusion of the matter is to 'Fear God, and keep His commandments.' The reason is simple: 'This is the whole duty of man.' The word 'duty' is not in the original and is best omitted. 'This is the whole man.' Without the law of Yahweh, men and women are only half-right. They live physically, but do not live spiritually. Adam was only half made until the Creator provided a woman to complement his qualities. So the 'whole man' will be found in Yahshua the Anointed, and his Bride are those who 'keep his commandments.' Thus, the next book in the Scriptures reveals the 'whole man' formulated in the multitudinous Christ and his glorified Bride" (GEM).

Vv 1-7: The song of the aged. Dimming of natural senses (Gen 27:1; 48:10; 2Sa 10:32-35; 1Ki 1:1-4), yet greater perception of spiritual values (ie Gen 27:33-40; cp words of Barzillai to David: 2Sa 19:35).

This section contains uniquely strong links with the early chapters of Genesis -- all very obvious ones. Gen 1-3 explain, of course, how came that state of "hebel" (vanity) in the first place, and it is appropriate to recall the language and figures of speech and occurrences of that time, against the vision of man's declining year and approaching death: in these verses, as in Genesis, we have: (a) God as a Creator; (b) the slow, agonizing process of death; (c) the sun, moon, and stars; (d) the return to the ground -- "dust to dust"; (e) "fear God and keep His commandments"; and (f) the certain judgment of God.

There is also the overarching analogy of a great house. The man, as he ages and nears the end, is seen under this figure. We may think of a palace, perhaps, with many servants, and guards, and kitchen workers, and visitors coming and going -- slowly, slowly losing these retainers, and then being at last deserted altogether: its shutters rattling, its doors boarded up, and only hollow echoes where once there was laughter and excitement and bustling activity. Now, at last, there is only the empty shell; there is no one home! (Cp the similar analogy employed by Paul in 2Co 5:1,2.)

Expositors suggest other figures employed in this section, alongside that of the empty house: (a) the metaphor of a winter storm, illustrating an aged person's frailty and weakness in the face of approaching death; (b) the coming of night, with its total darkness, portraying the finality of death; and (c) the sorrow and gloom of a household in which the master has recently passed away.

REMEMBER YOUR CREATOR IN THE DAYS OF YOUR YOUTH, BEFORE THE DAYS OF TROUBLE COME AND THE YEARS APPROACH WHEN YOU WILL SAY, "I FIND NO PLEASURE IN THEM": Continuing the message of Ecc 11:7-10, Qoheleth urges youth to observe and heed, voluntarily, the lessons lived out and thus more or less forcibly learned by the old (other exhortations directed at the young: Psa 71:17; 90:10; 148:12). "It is easy to praise God when one is happy, and it is right to do so, thanking Him for His favor... Youth can forget God. So can prime and age. But perhaps there is more to make youth forget Him. The underlying idea is for all to remember him at all times: and to remember Him is to be continually aware of His dealings with us. How can such awareness evoke other than praise in us? He has given us life, this life so valued that even our instincts teach us self-preservation. We are endowed with faculties to enjoy life; the earth about us teems with interest and wonder, and 'God has given it all to the children of men' " (CM).

REMEMBER YOUR CREATOR: In Heb, "creator" here is plural; this is most certainly what is called "the Hebrew plural of majesty" -- meaning "the GREAT Creator". Parallel passages include Deu 8:18: "But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant"; and Neh 4:14: "Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome."

Ecc 12:2

BEFORE THE SUN AND THE LIGHT AND THE MOON AND THE STARS GROW DARK: The heavenly bodies suggest, generally, springtime and youth. "[These], performing their God-given functions perfectly, are figures used by Qoheleth to illustrate the healthy and strong body of youth -- with eyes clear, mind alert, full of activity and joy of living" (Krygger).

GROW DARK: Impending death; man "departing in darkness" (Ecc 6:4), to the grave (Job 10:21). Gloom, misery, vanity.

AND THE CLOUDS RETURN AFTER THE RAIN: That is, not a likely occurrence. Clouds, like men, pour out their being, and then are no more.

Ecc 12:3

WHEN THE KEEPERS OF THE HOUSE TREMBLE: The arms (Luk 11:21) of this body (Job 4:19; 2Co 5:1; 2Pe 1:13) tremble -- palsy is a common ailment in the elderly.

AND THE STRONG MEN STOOP: Faltering legs bent at knees; the tottering, bow-legged gait of the elderly: see Job 4:4; Eze 7:17; 21:7; Nah 2:10; Dan 5:6; Hab 3:16; Psa 147:10; Song 5:15.

WHEN THE GRINDERS CEASE BECAUSE THEY ARE FEW: The Heb is literally "the grinding-women", because women almost always ground meal and prepared bread. Symbolically, the "grinders" are the teeth, which fall out one by one, until it becomes quite difficult to bite and chew one's food.

AND THOSE LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDOWS GROW DIM: Deteriorating vision: Gen 27:1; 48:10; 1Sa 4:15.

Ecc 12:4

WHEN THE DOORS TO THE STREET ARE CLOSED AND THE SOUND OF GRINDING FADES: Lips (cp Psa 141:3; Mic 7:5: "doors of your mouth" in KJV).

WHEN MEN RISE UP AT THE SOUND OF BIRDS: This suggests a nervous disposition, and Increased difficulty in sleeping. Little sounds startle the old. "Zippor" = sparrows, symbolic of trembling (Hos 11:11) and fleeing (Lam 3:2).

An alternative is "he shall rise up TO the voice of a bird"; ie, the voice rises in pitch and grows thin and squeaky -- like the twitter of a bird. One emendation gives: "The voice of a bird is silent" (cp NEB); ie, the old man no longer hears high-pitched sounds; this would be akin to the next phrase.

BUT ALL THEIR SONGS GROW FAINT: Hearing (of song) and voice (to sing) both fail. Cp the aged Barzillai's words, to David: "Can I still hear the voices of men and women singers?" (2Sa 19:35).

Ecc 12:5

WHEN MEN ARE AFRAID OF HEIGHTS: Deteriorating reflexes, weakness of limbs, shortness of breath, and poor vision leave men afraid of falling, and thus especially afraid of heights.

AND OF DANGERS IN THE STREETS: Busy, bustling streets, filled with jostling people, are a nuisance and a potential threat to older people. (In modern times, it is easy to substitute here: 'busy streets and roads, with jostling motor traffic'!)

WHEN THE ALMOND TREE BLOSSOMS: The almond tree is covered by a mantle of white blossoms. "In that affecting picture of the rapid and inevitable approach of old age drawn by the royal preacher, it is said that 'the almond tree shall flourish', or blossom. The point of the figure is doubtless the fact that the white blossoms completely cover the whole tree, without any mixture of green leaves, for these do not appear until some time after. It is the expressive type of old age, whose hair is white as wool, unrelieved with any other colour" (LB 319).

AND THE GRASSHOPPER DRAGS HIMSELF ALONG: The grasshopper often propels itself along with great bounds and leaps, suggesting the vigor of the young. But when it attempts to move slowly, it betrays an awkward, angular, peculiar walk -- suggesting the walk of a very old person.

The grasshopper's littleness also suggests how puny and inconsequential is man on the breadth and expanse of the earth (the same figure occurs in Num 13:33 and Isa 40:22). On this IC comments: "All nations are before God as grasshoppers in the sense of being feeble and insignificant. The faint-hearted spies who brought back an evil report of the land felt as grasshoppers because they were terrified by the sight of giants. If the word is used in this sense, the saying of the wise man becomes intelligible and significant. When a man has grown old and weary, a very little thing may be a burden to him. Tasks which were light in the day of youth and vigour become impossible. Vexations such as at one time were dismissed with a laugh, now seem unbearable. Indeed, when we grow old it is often the little difficulties of life which seem the hardest to bear" (CEcc).

AND DESIRE NO LONGER IS STIRRED: The LXX suggests this is the word for the "caperberry", a traditional aphrodisiac -- although others dispute this translation. Whether or not the LXX has any validity, "desire" is a very appropriate rendering here. It suggests sexual impotence, a mark of increased age (although, for a rare few such as Moses -- Deu 34:7 -- this seems not to have been the case).

THEN MAN GOES TO HIS ETERNAL HOME AND MOURNERS GO ABOUT THE STREETS: Or "is going" and "are going" (continuous tense) -- as though the funeral procession is underway at this very moment. On the other hand, "going" may suggest a long, slow decline before death is finally reached. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." We are on an extended but inexorable march to the grave.

"Mourners" are pictured as a distinct class, and they were: professional mourners flourished in Israel, with their practiced wailing and lamenting -- no self-respecting funeral would be without them! (Such mourners seem to lapse all too easily into laughter and mocking, as in Luk 8:52,53.)

ETERNAL HOME: "Beth olahm" = house of eternity (cp Job 30:23), meaning of course the grave.

The EBC cites this poignant little poem, by Charles Kingsley, which catches something of the exciting possibilities of youth, as well as the restrictions and decline of age:

"When all the world is young, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad,
And every lass a queen:
Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away;
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.

"When all the world is old, lad,
And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale, lad,
And all the wheels run down;
Creep home, and take your place there,
The spent and maimed among:
God grant you find one face there
You loved when all was young."

And God grant that, when we have safely passed through every trial but the final one, may our "eternal home" not be eternal after all, but may we arise to see the face of the blessed Saviour who died for us, and who loves us still!

Ecc 12:6

V 6 contains the twin symbols of light and water -- the lampstand (of oil, for light) and bowl or skin (with water). Oil and water both symbolize life and knowledge -- which are contained in frail vessels: "We have this treasure in jars of clay," Paul tells us (2Co 4:7; cp Jer 19:1; Lam 4:2). Cp idea, Isa 38:12.

REMEMBER HIM -- BEFORE THE SILVER CORD IS SEVERED, OR THE GOLDEN BOWL IS BROKEN: The figure is a golden lamp, suspended from a beam by a long silver cord. When the cord breaks, then the lamp plummets to the floor and is shattered into pieces -- spilling all its oil, and extinguishing its light forever. "Humpty Dumpty" cannot be put back together again -- not by the best and most prolonged efforts of man!

BEFORE THE PITCHER IS SHATTERED AT THE SPRING: A pitcher is carried to the spring, and filled with water. But while it is being borne back home, it is dropped on the pavement, and is broken into pieces, irretrievably spilling its contents. Never again will it carry the water of life.

OR THE WHEEL BROKEN AT THE WELL: The wheel whereby a bucket or animal skin with water is drawn up from the well. When the wheel is broken, the operation of securing water must cease.

So these elaborate figures of speech are used to portray the human body. More specifically, it may be suggested that: (a) the
silver cord = the spinal cord; (b) the golden bowl = the head, and skull; (c) the pitcher = the kidneys; and (d) the wheel = the heart (which lifts and carries, or pumps, the blood through the body). When any one of these vital body parts loses its functionality, the whole body will quickly perish.

Ecc 12:7

AND THE DUST RETURNS TO THE GROUND IT CAME FROM, AND THE SPIRIT RETURNS TO GOD WHO GAVE IT: Man is but animated dust, and destined to return, upon dissolution, to the very dust from whence he came: cp Gen 2:7; 3:19; Psa 103:14; Job 10:9; Ecc 3:18-21.

Furthermore, the last "meaningless" statement (of v 8) not only concludes the Book -- it also concludes the last section of the Book, which is concerned with the aging process that ends in death. This is quite significant. If a person "returns" to God in some conscious state when he dies (as some interpret v 7), then death could scarcely be an example of vanity (futility, meaninglessness); rather, it would be the most blessed of all experiences. So it seems clear that death is NOT a return to God as a conscious being, but rather the end of a mortal existence. No... Qoheleth is telling us that the slow deterioration of the human body after the age of 35 or 40, with the finality of death, is the greatest "vanity" of all. (And so resurrection, and not heaven-going, is the hope of the righteous -- and Qoheleth knows it.)

Ecc 12:8

V 8: The theme of the Book restated (cp Ecc 1:2).

"MEANINGLESS! MEANINGLESS!" SAYS THE TEACHER. "EVERYTHING IS MEANINGLESS": This full phrase is duplicated from Ecc 1:2. These two verses (Ecc 1:2 and Ecc 12:8) form a kind of frame around the main part of the book. The main argument of the book (Ecc 1:3 -- 12:7) takes place within the boundaries of this frame. See Ecc 1:2n.

Ecc 12:9

Vv 9-14: The conclusion: Fear God and keep His commandments. (Notice how the "framing verses", ie Ecc 1:2 and Ecc 12:8, set off the main body of the book -- thus leaving these final 6 verses as a conclusion.) The conclusion is, as we would expect, a statement summarizing or making explicit the overall message that is to be understood from the book; we find it in 12:9-14: this conclusion shows clearly that -- despite the seemingly negative aspects in the main body of the book -- the overall message is a positive one.

NOT ONLY WAS THE TEACHER WISE, BUT ALSO HE IMPARTED KNOWLEDGE TO THE PEOPLE: The wiser "Qoheleth" became, the more he was able to impart that same wisdom to the people who assembled together to hear him.

TEACHER: "Qoheleth" (Ecc 1:1n).

HE IMPARTED WISDOM TO THE PEOPLE: As did Hezekiah, through the Levites (2Ch 30:22,27).

HE PONDERED AND SEARCHED OUT AND SET IN ORDER MANY PROVERBS: This may point to the compiling and editorial work of Hezekiah (as hinted at in Pro 25:1), and perhaps applied here in the book of Ecclesiastes as well (cp also Ecc 12:11): bringing together the experienced "wisdom" of his forefathers along with his own into this final production. "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings" (Pro 25:2).

PONDERED: A rare word which means literally "to weigh on a scales" -- and thus to assess and evaluate carefully. "It is related to the scales used for weighing money or commercial items (eg, Jer 32:10; Eze 5:1)" (NETn).

SEARCHED OUT: "Chaqar" = to penetrate, ie to examine closely.

SET IN ORDER: "To arrange", pointing to the skillful ordering of his material, and to its artistic presentation.

PROVERBS: "Mashalim". "The 'proverb' had a wide range of meaning. It could include such things as Jotham's fable (Jdg 9:7-15), the riddle of Samson (Jdg 14:12-18), the witticism concerning Saul and David (1Sa 10:12; 18:7), the 'proverb of the ancients' (1Sa 24:13), and Nathan's parable (2Sa 12:1-4). Its techniques abounded in crisp sayings (1Ki 20:11; Jer 23:28; 31:29), parallelisms (Pro 18:10), comparisons (Pro 17:1), numerical sequences (Pro 30:15-31), acrostic patterns (Psa 37; Pro 31:10-31), allegories (Isa 5; Ecc 12:2-6), aphoristic questions (Amo 6:12), and similar devices, all geared to piercing the crust of indifference" (Eaton). Solomon spoke 3,000 "proverbs" (1Ki 4:32), many more than appear in the book of that name. But of course, as we see from that book as well, "proverbs" were not the sole domain of that king.

Ecc 12:10

THE TEACHER SEARCHED TO FIND JUST THE RIGHT WORDS, AND WHAT HE WROTE WAS UPRIGHT AND TRUE: The "Teacher" is, of course, "Qoheleth" (Ecc 1:1n). But we notice here that he is referred to in the third person, as if to say that the author (at least, of these particular words) is not Qoheleth -- OR that there is and was more than one "Qoheleth"! This idea is explored further in the introduction: Eccl, authorship.

THE RIGHT WORDS: "Acceptable words" (AV). Literally, "words of delight", or "pleasure" (the Heb "chephets" is the root of the name "Hephzibah", the wife of Hezekiah). As to "acceptable" or "pleasant", this may remind us of the words of Jesus, which were said to be "gracious words" (Luk 4:22). A description of "pleasant, or delightful" words is in Pro 25:11: "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." It is appealing, it arrests the attention, and therefore it is more apt to convey its message.

UPRIGHT: Heb "yasher" = "righteous". These two descriptions balance off one another: the words of Qoheleth are not so "pleasing" that they cease to be "upright", and not so "upright" that they cease to be "pleasing"! To be pleasing at the expense of upright is to be a charlatan or swindler, speaking beautiful but deceitful words. To be upright but unpleasant is to be Pharisaical, and to make the message unpalatable, and ultimately ineffective, even if it is technically "right".

TRUE: Heb "emeth", which signifies that which is trustworthy, to be believed (cp "Amen"). Or, it might be said, that which is
authoritative, as in Mar 1:22: "The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law." Jesus' words were true and authoritative, because they were God's words, the words of truth (Joh 17:17) and eternal life (Joh 17:2,3).

Ecc 12:11

THE WORDS OF THE WISE ARE LIKE GOADS: Goads were used by the shepherds to guide the wandering sheep, and also by farmers to stimulate the indolent farm animal into action (Act 9:5). Even though they hurt, they were beneficial. And so it is with God's word in its effect upon us.

Vv 10,11 almost literally recall the old proverb, about the plowhorse being propelled along by both the carrot and the stick! The "carrot" is the "pleasant, or delightful, words" of v 10 (which nevertheless must also be "true") -- while the "stick" is the "wise words" which acts like a goad. True enough, the words of truth in the Bible have something of both elements: beautiful promises to draw us forward, but at the same time stern warnings and admonitions (and yes, even threats) to spur us along. The love of the Father, and the fear of the Great Judge -- they are both there in the pages of Scripture; and they both serve a purpose.

THEIR COLLECTED SAYINGS LIKE FIRMLY EMBEDDED NAILS: "Collected sayings" is the Heb "assupoth": which could mean "collections, or assemblies, of people" (which is reflected in the KJV and RV translations), or "collections of sayings, or wisdom" (as in the NIV and RSV). (Thus "collected sayings" would seem to be parallel to "the words of the wise" in the same verse.)

Following the second of these possibilities, it seems to have been the work of the "Qoheleth" (collector, or teacher) to gather together the experienced "wisdom" of his forefathers into this compilation that became "Ecclesiastes" (as Hezekiah did in the compilation that became the "Proverbs": Pro 25:1). (Is "Qoheleth" therefore Hezekiah? Perhaps. Or were Solomon, Uzziah, and Hezekiah each -- in his own turn -- a "Qoheleth"? And was there another "Qoheleth" after these, who compiled all their previous collections into a final one? See Ecc, authorship.)

The KJV translation ("masters of assemblies") and idea is not necessarily wrong, however: the collecting of these sayings, and their dissemination, led to the collecting or gathering together, of groups of people who were moved by this wisdom. The teaching of the gospel has the effect of gathering together "assemblies" or "ecclesias" of those who believe it. And these believers, like the sayings which they believe, are then joined or fastened to the One in whom they have come to trust and hope. Thus saints are fastened securely to their hope (Isa 22:23-25; Zec 10:4; Ezr 9:8), like the curtains of Solomon's temple are fastened securely to the God of Israel (Song 1:5).

The reference to nails obviously takes one further step, and points to the cross. As firmly fixed as was Christ to the cross, so sure was our salvation! So hang your hopes on a firm nail or peg... something that will not slip nor give way. (Cp the general idea in Heb 4:12,13 -- where the word of God is likened to a sharp sword!)

GIVEN BY ONE SHEPHERD: In compiling wisdom, and in assembling his subjects to hear that wisdom, the Qoheleth/King of Judah (whether Solomon, Uzziah, Hezekiah, or another) was acting as a true "shepherd" of Israel -- he was feeding his "flock"! In the NT sense, the "one shepherd" is plainly the Lord Jesus Christ. Man's highest good is found in this "one Shepherd", who leads his flock in green pastures and causes them to rest by still water, but who especially offers them abundant life in himself (John 10:9,10).

But of course these "collected sayings" were not his words first -- rather, they were the words of his Father, who -- no matter which human writer put these sayings down on parchment -- was and is the true and eternal "Shepherd of Israel" (Psa 23:1; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Jer 31:10; Eze 34:11,12). Thus it works with divine inspiration: the vessels that are used to communicate truth may be many; they may range from golden bowls to cracked pots; but at the source there is one Shepherd who gives all truth, and that is Yahweh Himself.

Ecc 12:12

BE WARNED, MY SON, OF ANYTHING IN ADDITION TO THEM. OF MAKING MANY BOOKS THERE IS NO END: The KJV reads: "And further, by these, my son, be admonished..." But the NIV, in effect, changes the order of these phrases -- as if to say, "Be warned, my son, of anything further than these." And this gives us the key to explaining an otherwise difficult verse: Qoheleth is not warning of spiritual wisdom, that which is derived directly or indirectly from the Word of God (and the study of which is not a weariness but a delight: Psa 1:2; 119:97-104; Pro 1:8,9; 2:1-11; 3:1-18). Instead, he is strongly warning against anything above and beyond such "wisdom". (Is "many books" an exaggeration, at such an early date as that when Ecclesiastes was written? There was a time when scholars might have thought so. But in the last couple of generations evidence has been uncovered of vast libraries in the ancient world -- in Egypt, Babylon, and Syria. No, "many books" was true enough even of these days!)

It is books of recorded worldly wisdom that are something to be careful of! Be careful, he says, of anything -- including any worldly studies or other pursuits -- that may take you away from the Word of God! Note, however, this is a "warning" -- not a prohibition! In any library, there are thousands of books written by men -- on subjects ranging from aardvarks to zygotes. Such books will allow you to pursue interests in finance, biology, horticulture, psychology, physiology, or needlework -- in fact, anything "under the sun". And practically every book, and every subject, may be of some value to some people at some time. (Of course, some books are so worthless that they deserve only to be burned: Acts 19:19!) But even the best of secular books, all of them together, heaped up in the tallest stack imaginable, are of extremely limited value on the subject of life in the sight of God.

AND MUCH STUDY WEARIES THE BODY: "Study" = "lahag", intense mental application. This fatigues the body. Why? Because, as Paul writes, "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1Co 1:20). And so it seems, in this context, that it is the conflict between worldly "wisdom" and true spiritual wisdom that leads to weariness and fatigue in the life of the believer -- an endless wrestling and back-and-forth "warfare" between what Paul calls the mind of the flesh and the mind of the spirit (Rom 8:5-11), as first one, and then the other, seems to gain the ascendancy in the heart and life of the individual.

Ecc 12:13

NOW ALL HAS BEEN HEARD; HERE IS THE CONCLUSION OF THE MATTER: FEAR GOD: The fear of God is the realization of His unchanging power and justice (Ecc 3:14). It delivers from wickedness and self-righteousness (Ecc 7:18) and leads to a hatred of sin (Ecc 5:6,7; 8:12,13). It is the beginning of wisdom (Pro 1:7; 9:10; Psa 111:10). And, here, it is the end or conclusion of wisdom.

AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS: "Keep" = Heb "shamar". Of all the kings of Israel over Judah, this phrase is attributed only to Hezekiah (2Ki 18:6). By contrast, Solomon failed in this very respect (1Ki 11:31-33).

FOR THIS IS THE WHOLE DUTY OF MAN: The words "duty of" are italicized in the AV -- they do not appear in the original. Literally, "this is the whole man", or "this is all of man!" "There is no more to man than this" (NEB). Everything else is meaningless (Ecc 1:2; etc). Man discovers all of himself in fearing God and keeping His commandments; all other pursuits are empty and, in fact and in futurity, nothing! A man who does not obey God is not "whole" -- he is an empty shell, a dead man walking: a vital part is missing.

In the absolute sense, only one man ever did or ever could attain to the totality of "the whole man" or "the one man" -- and that is the Lord Jesus Christ, the "Word made flesh" (Joh 1:14), "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (Heb 1:3).

But, in and through that man Christ Jesus, other men and women -- far less than perfect of themselves -- may attain to HIS perfection, and be joined together with him, fastened into one body by the "Master of assemblies", so as to share in the fulness of the glory of the One Body, with Christ as its Head (1Co 12:12-27; Eph 4:13-16; Col 1:17-19; 2:9,10)!


LGS concludes his study with these words: "With all its apparent meanderings, its alternations and seeming contradictions, the Book of Ecclesiastes has an essential unity of character and purpose. It is marked by a freedom of play of thought, a ready and sometimes complex use of image and symbol which belong to poetry. And as with poetry, its meaning and purpose must be judged not in the isolated passage but in the whole. Then it is seen to lead from the exploration of life in terms of purely human experience to a loftier understanding which relates man's life to eternal aims. To follow through the thought is like tracing a stream from its earthy beginnings through all its turns and twists till with a full and even flow it merges with the sea: and it is a rich experience."


Bowen summarizes the whole Book in this way: "We should be in a position now to draw a portrait of a whole man [Ecc 12:13]. He would be a person who has confirmed by his own experience that the cycle of life is mirrored in the things he can monitor in nature. He would accept that this means God has made it that way. He would accept that increasing knowledge will address only a portion of the problems he faces, and will bring with it its own travail. He would be aware that fulfillment now will allude him because there is no profit. He is aware that life that is lived as an end in itself will leave a person very miserable. He will be honest enough to admit that man does not do eternal things and is therefore in no position to expect to live forever. Death will take everything away if God does not intervene.

"He recognizes that some men are worse off than others, and none have control over all they face. He will on that account deal well with all those who suffer, endeavoring to ease their burden by whatever means. His own view -- of what ought to be -- will often conflict with the normal way of looking at things because he will see through the shallow concerns of the many. He will reflect on all experiences of life, rejoicing in both prosperity and adversity. [He will be] willing to accept responsibility for, and to show remorse for his own sin. He will not expect too much from his fellows, knowing they are not as innocent as they make out. He will not expect God to account to him for every unhappy event. He knows he is unable to find out the works of God and understands that many things occur as a result of the bondage of decay. He anticipates adversity and tries to handle it in the same way as prosperity...

"He uses every opportunity to grow in character, not squandering the time as if it has no limit. He is energetic, resourceful, generous, a cooperative and helpful man. He is not a man satisfying God's requirements [merely] as a matter of obedience. He is also a man satisfying his own need to be fulfilled."


The "whole man" has, in short, observed at some length -- and participated in -- a chaotic, difficult, and trying world. He has made his peace with this world, and the God who created it, accepting what he cannot change. Yet he is willing to work in this world to change, especially in himself, that which can be changed. The wisdom he has gained from observation, and from revelation, enables him to know the difference.

And now he knows, as surely as anything can be known, that -- when all is said and done -- the whole man, the man of the heart, the real person, is defined and created and renewed through one simple yet fully comprehensive idea: understand the Creator of all things, fear Him, and keep His commandments. The man knows he will not achieve this object perfectly, for he is himself a part of a world subjected to vanity. Nevertheless, to the best of his own knowledge and ability, he will try. And in this endeavor alone, praying for help as he proceeds, may he hope to realize his true potential, and at last find unity with the Great Eternal One.

Ecc 12:14

FOR GOD WILL BRING EVERY DEED INTO JUDGMENT, INCLUDING EVERY HIDDEN THING, WHETHER IT IS GOOD OR EVIL: This echoes Ecc 3:17; 11:9, and also provides a fitting end to the Book. The "hebel" of the whole creation (the vanity, the frustration, the meaninglessness) is revealed from the garden of Eden onward -- when the God of judgment dismissed His creatures from the pleasures and fellowship of that lovely place, and sent them out into a world of pain and suffering and death. This is the starting point of the Book of Ecclesiastes.

And now we have come to the end of that same Book. And now we see that this whole process of decay, and decline, and dissatisfaction, which the Book describes, will have an end! When God's work in the "new creation" will have run its course, then all those who are responsible, all who have heard the words of the "Qoheleth" -- the great Compiler, Teacher, Preacher, and Shepherd -- will stand before him in a final judgment. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2Co 5:10; cp 1Co 4:5; Heb 9:27).

And when that work is done, then the saints, the TRUE work of God's "new" creation, will have been assembled and perfected! For the first time ever, those who have feared God and kept His commandments to the best of their ability, and who have been covered and washed and forgiven -- through the shed blood of the Great Shepherd and King -- when they came short of that Glory... they will then stand up... the Whole Man... the multitudinous Man... the One Man in Christ Jesus their Lord.

And God's "creation" will finally be seen... not to have been in vain at all!

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