Read Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, 13-14
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”—
2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
3 when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
4 when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
5 when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.
6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
8 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.[a]
“Everything is meaningless!”
13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
Why do people want to know the future?
When should we a special effort to remember our Creator? (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
How did Solomon describe old age? (Ecclesiastes 12:2-5)
How did Solomon symbolize death? (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7)
What did Solomon conclude is meaningless? (12:8)
What is a person’s whole duty? (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
Why did Solomon tell his reader to fear God and keep His commandments?
What is one piece of advice you would give to a younger or less mature Christian?
What can you do this week to learn from another Christian who is older or wiser?
What can we do to keep our accountability to God in mind?
How should we respond to the seemingly meaningless aspects of life?
What can you do always to be conscious of God’s commands?
What is something you can do this week to remind yourself of God’s place in your life?
Whether young or old what is something you will do today to enjoy the life God has given you?
“INDUSTRY FOR OTHERS
How, then, do we remember our Creator? We do so by keeping God’s commandments (Eccl. 12:13), especially “the great commandment” (Matt. 22:36, 38)—loving God and loving others. As Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (vv. 37, 39). Pastor Solomon gives a similar summary. He exhorts us to work hard in order to give generously to others (Eccl. 11:1–6) and enjoy life in light of our Creator and Judge (11:7–10). Let’s look first at his exhortation to remember our Creator by working hard so that we can be generous:
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.
If the clouds are full of rain,
they empty themselves on the earth,
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
He who observes the wind will not sow,
and he who regards the clouds will not reap.
As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.
In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. (Eccl. 11:1–6)
As David Hubbard rightly notes, “Ours may be the first generation in civilized times that has not raised its young on proverbs.”17 Because of this unfortunate reality, the proverbs contained in these verses perhaps sound strange to many of us. To make sense of them, start by making some simple observations. First, notice the four commands (italicized above): “cast your bread” (Eccl. 11:1), “give a portion” (v. 2), “sow your seed” (v. 6a), and “withhold not your hand” (v. 6b).
Second, notice the phrase “you do not know,” which is repeated four times (in Eccl. 11:2, 5 [2×], and 6). Admittedly, we know something about precipitation and gravity: “If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie” (v. 3). Isn’t that impressive knowledge! Yet there are some limitations to our knowledge. Three limitations are listed. Two have to do with the future: we don’t know when disaster might strike (v. 2) or whether we will be prosperous (v. 6). The other limitation has to do with God: just as we do not understand perfectly how a baby is formed within a woman’s womb, so we cannot comprehend everything that God does (v. 5).
When my youngest son, Simeon, was seven years old, we went to visit my oldest son, Sean, in college. When we visited Sean, we stayed in the old, refurbished granary on the farm belonging to our friends Sharon and Peter Taylor. At night, I made a fire and we warmed ourselves. Around the cast-iron wood-burning stove, we had a fireside chat. I don’t know how the conversation got to the topic of heaven and hell, but it did. (Stranger things happen when you hang out with me.) Simeon asked, “What happens to babies who die in a mommy’s tummy?” The question took me by surprise—not in the sense that I hadn’t heard it before, but because it was coming from my seven-year-old son. I fumbled around and said something to this effect: “Whatever happens, remember that God is merciful.” Simeon replied, “Yeah, maybe he brings them to heaven.” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Who knows?”
Wise people learn to say “who knows?” in response to a lot of questions. But wise people also learn to labor diligently in spite of their lack of knowledge. If we put together the commands to work (“cast,” “give,” “sow,” and “withhold not your hand”) with the statements of ignorance (“you do not know”), we get this: work diligently in spite of your lack of knowledge. Put differently, let God take care of his mysteries and let us take care of our work. The surprise is that our limitations should not lead us to despair or sloth, but rather to investment and industry. Ecclesiastes 11:4 and 6 especially touch on this theme. Verse 4 reads:
He who observes
will not sow, and
he who regards
will not reap.
Someone who watches (“observes,” “regards”) the Weather Channel all day waiting for the perfect weather (no “wind” or “clouds”) for planting crops might never leave the sofa. So stop the sloth. Put off the procrastinating. Ignorance is no excuse for idleness. Trust God, get off your duff, and obey verse 6:
In the morning
sow your seed, and
withhold not your hand.
Work all day. Put in a full workweek (not 24/7, but 12/6). Why? “For you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (Eccl. 11:6). We cannot know all the works of God (see v. 5)—“The wind blows where it wishes” (John 3:8)—but we can know that our sovereign God wants us to work. So let’s work!”
O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. Ecclesiastes. Ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Iain M. Duguid. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014.. Reformed Expository Commentary.
heavenly father, I thank You for all the opportunities You give me to learn about our life: where it is, where it is going, and what You have prepared for us. Fill my heart and mind with your word so that I may look forward to my end, not with fear or discouragement, but with hope and joy. Especially keep me ever mindful of what You have done for me in Your Son, Jesus Christ, who overcame death and the grave. Amen.