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Ecc 12:1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw near, when you will say, I have no pleasure in them-
This repeats what he has just said in Ecc. 11:7-9. The young can enjoy life, but that enjoyment won't continue because they will get older and face death, and come like Solomon to "hate life" (Ecc. 2:17). That enjoyment of life Solomon sees as remembering their creator. "You can do the God stuff when you're young, but it won't help you when you're older. The reality of death will mean that you will go my way, to hate life". This is the context of this verse, and whilst isolated from the context it indeed reads as a worthy appeal to youth to remember their creator, the second half of the verse, and its entire context, precludes this from being the meaning Solomon intended. See on :3. Solomon sees the grave as man's "everlasting home" (:5). He sees no possibility of resurrection to judgment or salvation (Ecc. 3:22), all is vanity (see on :8). This therefore means that his apparent appeal to youth to believe in a creator is sceptical; he is saying that even if you believe in a creator in youth, and enjoy it, that will not save you from an eternal grave.

Or we can read this as indeed an appeal to youth to believe in a creator; although I prefer the explanation given above. But for Solomon himself, it was far from him (Ecc. 7:23). He refers to himself when he writes at the end of his life of the man whose labour is in wisdom [cp. his labouring to write out so many Proverbs], and yet it is all pointless in that he will leave it all to a fool after him- he had already seen the unspirituality of his children (Ecc. 2:21). This thinking reflects a perception that his wisdom was totally irrelevant to himself- he wrote it all down for others, but not for himself. It's as if here at the end of Ecclesiastes he chuffles that he still preaches his wisdom to the youth, although he himself has the attitude that it is all meaningless (Ecc. 12:1). This is one explanation of the paradox within Ecclesiastes- the teaching of Divine truth, whilst lamenting the pointlessness of it.  

He seems to have contented himself with establishing himself as “the preacher” and his final appeal in Ecc. 12 is to youth- like so many, his view was that it was not for him personally, but the youngsters would benefit more from it. There are several passages in Ecclesiastes where Solomon is evidently half glancing at himself. He sees the error of his ways, as Achan could coolly recount his sin, but to personally do something about it is far, far from him.

We see here Solomon's personal depression: "So remember your Creator while you are still young, before those dismal days and years come when you will say, "I don't enjoy life"" (GNB). Attitudes in old age are the litmus indicator of faith. The true Christian will look forward to the day of change and resurrection. Whereas those like Solomon whose kingdom was only in this life, seeing secular experience as the ultimate outcome and reward, will be deeply frustrated that their brief game is over.


Ecc 12:2 Before the sun, the light, the moon, and the stars are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain-
GNB "And the rain clouds will never pass away". This continues the impression of life under deep depression in old age (see on :1) for the man who only has this life. The hope of the resurrection of the body to eternal life in the Kingdom is indeed transforming. Especially for those brought face to face with the cessation of life as they know it. But as noted on :1, Solomon assumes that his path to depression in old age is going to be the pattern for all the young people he addresses.


Ecc 12:3 in the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look out of the windows are darkened-
GNB interprets this for us as a picture of old age, indeed Solomon in his old age: "Then your arms, that have protected you, will tremble, and your legs, now strong, will grow weak. Your teeth will be too few to chew your food, and your eyes too dim to see clearly". As explained on :1, Solomon seems to be saying that even believing in a Divine creator in your youth won't save you from declining faculties and death. And so we could read :1 as a sceptical comment rather than an appeal to belief.


Ecc 12:4 and the doors shall be shut in the street; when the sound of the grinding is low, and one shall rise up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low-
Again, this all describes the insomnia of Solomon's old age: "Your ears will be deaf to the noise of the street. You will barely be able to hear the mill as it grinds or music as it plays, but even the song of a bird will wake you from sleep" (GNB).

Even in the cynicism of Ecclesiastes, written in Solomon’s later life, he still uses words and phrases which have their root in his father David- e.g. his description of women as snares in Ecc. 7:26 goes back to how his father dealt with women who were a snare (1 Sam. 18:21). And the whole description of old age in Ecc. 12 is based on his father’s experience with Barzillai (2 Sam. 19:35).


Ecc 12:5 yes, they shall be afraid of heights, and terrors will be in the way; and the almond tree shall blossom, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail; because man goes to his everlasting home, and the mourners go about the streets-
The description of old age continues: "You will be afraid of high places, and walking will be dangerous. Your hair will turn white; you will hardly be able to drag yourself along, and all desire will be gone. We are going to our final resting place, and then there will be mourning in the streets" (GNB). "Desire" is clearly sexual desire; and Solomon with his 1000 wives / women had indulged sexual desire as few others. But that too must come to an end, and a man is left just with his failing body. Solomon sees the grave as man's "everlasting home". He sees no possibility of resurrection to judgment or salvation (Ecc. 3:22). This therefore means that his apparent appeal to youth to believe in a creator (:1) is sceptical; he is saying that even if you believe in a creator in youth, and enjoy it, that will not save you from an eternal grave.

But if we insist on reading Eccl. 12:1 as an appeal for the young to believe in God, he is asking the young to turn to God as in old age one has no pleasure in life and, by implication, no possibility of remembering their creator. This, presumably, was how Solomon felt about himself, that he had gotten to a point where spiritual change was impossible. And there are many elderly people who will reject the preaching of the Gospel with this kind of comment. The description of old age in Ecc. 12 seems to be alluding to how Solomon initially had a large and thriving household, with him enjoying the pleasures of women and singing maidens (“the daughters of music”), but now he realizes he doesn’t have the faculties to enjoy it any more- all has gone quiet in the once bustling palace.


Ecc 12:6 before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the spring, or the wheel broken at the cistern-
GNB "the rope at the well will break, and the water jar will be shattered". The rope at the well breaks just as does a silver cord; Solomon sees himself as an earthenware jar, as well as a golden bowl. All his opulence could not finally disguise his weak humanity. No cosmetic fix of his humanity was possible, despite having tried so hard for it. And every man must come to realize this. 

The force of "before", which the LXX repeats in :7, is that before the finality of death there must come the depressive situation of the previous verses, the failing strength which is designed by God to try to elicit humility before Him. And yet Solomon refused even that appeal. 


Ecc 12:7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it-
Solomon had turned away from Yahweh at this point, but he was not an atheist. Even in his nihilism he alludes to some kind of higher hand in life, and he sees the spirit as returning to God. But he believes that death is unconsciousness (Ecc. 11:8), and that therefore all is vanity (:8). But he had no personal relationship with "God", and saw Him as powerless to save from death or eternally judge human behaviour with eternal outcomes. He may here be alluding to the basic truth of Gen. 2:7. But he fails to extrapolate from it what his father David did. The fact that God “holds our soul in life”, a reference to Gen. 2:7, meant that David wanted to “make the voice of his praise to be heard” (Ps. 66:8,9). This was the meaning of the basic facts of creation for David. We too must realize that the spirit / life is given by God to our bodies; it doesn’t come from anywhere else. There is no reincarnation. And this is no painless Bible fact; it demands that we live lives that are His, and not lived out as if our spirit / life / soul is ours.


Ecc 12:8 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher. All is vanity!-
This must be remembered when we come to form an interpretation of :1. The appeal to "Remember now your Creator" in youth is in that same verse balanced against the fact that once youth is over, there will a hating of life as faculties decline and the reality of eternal death dawns upon the previously young person. 


Ecc 12:9 Further, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge. Yes, he pondered, sought out, and set in order many proverbs-
I consider that :9-14 is the inspired commentary of the editor / compiler of Ecclesiastes. It is an appeal to faith, and a reflection upon the life of Solomon and the lessons to be learned from his apostacy. The compiler accepts that Solomon had been wise, and had set in order the book of Proverbs, which was Divine truth, even if Solomon in Ecclesiastes denied the truth of it.

However a case can also be made that this is still Solomon speaking and writing; finally appealing for others to believe, even if he personally didn't. Several times in Ecclesiastes, Solomon considers that he was no longer wise, and many of his statements are an effective abrogation of his earlier Divine wisdom. As this had been openly published in the anthology known as the book of Proverbs, he seems concerned to explain and justify this. "Was wise" could be read as meaning that he had once been wise, in the context of Yahweh religion; but he wasn't now.  

The idea of several of Solomon's proverbs is that "the righteous" are those with "understanding", and it is this understanding which feeds and gives life to others. This is true enough; our sharing with others and influence upon them can indeed lead them to life and not to die eternally. But Solomon appears to again have his own self justification in view; for he considered that he was the preeminently righteous because he was the teacher of Israel, giving them the wisdom given him. But Solomon fell away from Yahweh, even though he says his wisdom remained with him (Ecc. 2:9), and he continued to teach others that wisdom to the end of his life (Ecc. 12:9). And so it was simply not true that teaching others makes a person righteous, as Solomon supposed often in Proverbs (e.g. Prov. 10:21). 

This would mean that even in his spiritual collapse at the time of Ecclesiastes, Solomon still taught Israel true wisdom, and organized his wisdom into more accessible books (Ecc. 12:9-12), giving himself the title koheleth (‘the preacher’). And yet he himself tried alcohol, wealth, women, indeed every addiction, in order to “see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven” (Ecc. 2:3). And yet he knew from childhood the conclusion of the matter- man’s duty is to fear God and be obedient (Ecc. 12:13). He who had been given wisdom started out in a search for it… showing clearly enough that what he knew was so much theory, but never touched his own heart. Solomon taught wisdom to the youngsters, but he gave himself over to search for some kind of vague philosophical truth outside of God. 

 

Ecc 12:10 The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words, and that which was written blamelessly, words of truth-
I suggested on :9 that these are the inspired words of the editor of the book. He wishes to assure us that what was written in Proverbs was indeed Divine truth. Solomon's apostacy as recorded in Ecclesiastes should not lead us to question the book of Proverbs.

If we insist that this is still Solomon writing, then the idea may be that Solomon tried hard in the book of Proverbs and here in Ecclesiastes to write things well; hence LXX "a correct writing". Although the truths he received were indeed given by Divine inspiration, he gives God no credit for that, arguing that all was written down by his own careful device. He failed to recognize the Spirit of God working through him.


Ecc 12:11 The words of the wise are like goads; and like nails well fastened are words from the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd-
The inspired editor is assuring us that the words of the wise, Solomon as the inspired wise man, are to goad us to action. Those words were given from the one shepherd, Yahweh (Gen. 49:24; Ps. 80:1; Jer. 31:10). The book of Proverbs was indeed from the master of assemblies, Solomon, koheleth, but they were the words of God, the shepherd of Israel.

If we take these words as Solomon's, then we can reflect that throughout Proverbs, Solomon held God's truths in his mind and preached them; but his heart was far from them, he never personalized them, and his behaviour with women and in whipping his people was all a stellar denial of the truths which he knew and taught. It was beyond hypocrisy, beyond even narcissism, but rather a mindset which arose from assuming himself to be the Messianic son of David, and his kingdom to be the promised Kingdom of God on earth. As he came closer to death and his faculties failed, he ought to have realized his mistake, and looked forward instead to David's greater son, the Lord Jesus. But instead he simply preferred to conclude that for him, all these great ideas were bunk. He made the mistake so many make; that "truth" is truth 'for you', 'for me'; rather than accepting that Divine truth is indeed absolute and global truth for all hearts at all times.

But his wisdom remained with him, and he still taught those truths, although they were far from his own heart. In this he is a valuable warning to all who hold God's truths; his apostasy, recorded for us in such detail with a unique insight into the psychology of those who turn away. This is the value of Ecclesiastes. Just as I will discuss on the Song of Solomon how we have in those songs a unique insight into the mentality of the man who flirts with those outside the faith. And Solomon may even have been self aware of all this on some level, for he concludes Ecclesiastes by saying that his words are intended as goads; the very observation that "all is vanity" is in fact a goad to action, not lethargy or nihilism.    . 

 
Ecc 12:12 Furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh-
Solomon admits he himself is as the old king who will no longer be admonished (Ecc. 4:13). But the inspired commentator urges us to be admonished, not to go his path. and he warns against the overly abstract, phlegmatic and philosophical path Solomon had taken. For he will conclude by appealing for simple obedience to God's ways, rather than doing as Solomon has done in Ecclesiastes; trying to work around them through philosophy. There is "no end" of such philosophical study, just as there is "no end" of labour (Ecc. 4:8 s.w.). But for the righteous, there is an end- relationship with God, and eternity in His Kingdom.

 If these are Solomon's words, then he is urging others to be admonished when he would not be himself. Just as he had urged others to go to funerals instead of wedding parties [of which Solomon must have had many], so that they might "take to heart" wisdom (Ecc. 7:2), although Solomon says this was "for from me" himself (Ecc. 7:23). He preached God's truth, he accepted it as true, whilst refusing to personalize it himself. He really is a parade example of the dangers inherent in glorying in our mere possession of Divine truth.  

Solomon has so much to say about "correction" or instruction coming from the possession of wisdom (Prov. 8:10,33; 10:17; 12:1; 13:1,24; 15:5,10,32; 16:22; 19:20,27; 22:15; 23:12,13). But in the end he chastised or corrected his people by whipping them (s.w. 1 Kings 12:11,14). Solomon initially asked for wisdom in order to guide his people, but he ended up whipping / physically chastising them into conformity with his wishes rather than allowing wisdom to correct. Again, he was playing God; for it is God through His wisdom who chastises, and not man. But Solomon thought he was effectively God to his people. This is why Solomon argues that servants cannot be corrected by words (Prov. 29:19 s.w.), and a child must be physically chastised (s.w. Prov. 19:18; 29:17 cp. Prov. 13:24; 23:13), regardless of his screams of pain. This kind of thing is a denial of his claims elsewhere that it is Divine wisdom which chastises / corrects, and such correction is from God and not man. Solomon's final description of himself as an old and foolish king who refuses to be admonished says it all (Ecc. 4:13); he admonishes others (s.w. Ecc. 12:12), but refuses to be admonished or corrected by his own wisdom. He failed to personalize it.  

His complaint that there is no end of writing books could be read as another effective retraction of his book of Proverbs; for he has lamented that he had laboured so much in wisdom. The criticism of "many words" in Ecc. 5:7 seems a reference to his own writing down of the wisdom God had given him, codifying it into books such as the compilation we have in the book of Proverbs (Ecc. 12:10,12). He associates the "many words" with "dreams", perhaps an intensive plural for "a great dream". It was as a result of the dream of 1 Kings 3:5 that he was given the "many words" of wisdom which he now considered unhelpful and irrelevant because death meant that there was no particular ultimate advantage of wisdom over folly; wisdom was at best profitable in this life in some short term sense. And he therefore associates "many words" with folly (Ecc. 10:14). He considers he had been foolish by preaching and believing those many words of Divine wisdom. Now, for him, the true wisdom was in idolatry and not Yahweh worship in His temple.


Ecc 12:13 This is the end of the matter. All has been heard. Fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man-
I suggested on :9 that :9-14 are the inspired commentary of the editor of Ecclesiastes. He concludes with an appeal to fear God, whereas Solomon had concluded that the righteous who sacrifice to God have no advantage over those who don't, because death comes to them all (Ecc. 9:2). The implication here therefore is that there is indeed a difference; there will be a resurrection and granting of eternal outcomes to human behaviour.

"The whole duty of man" is "the whole man". What the world hungers for today is the discovery of what it means to be truly human. They admire those they see as “real”. It is through the person of Jesus Christ alone that true humanity, or realness, can be found. Ecc. 12:13 Heb. speaks of “the whole man” as the one who is totally obedient to God; and here we have a prophecy of the wholeness, the realness, of the Lord Jesus.

One of the most beautiful things to behold is a newly baptized brother or sister coming to make the things of God’s Truth their way of life. The daily reading of the Bible becomes a habit, firmly embedded in the daily routine of life; contact with other believers by letter or meeting means that slowly, the convert’s social network becomes focused on other Christians rather than on the world. As a result, worldly friendships and habits slowly fade away; prayer becomes a regular part of life, before meals, morning and evening; slowly, there is the courage to preach the Gospel to others. In particular, a way of thinking develops that is centred upon the Father and His Son, which subconsciously gives priority to their things rather than those of this life. The life of keeping the commandments of God becomes “the whole man” (Ecc. 12:13). These changes are the natural outcome of the new focus.

If this verse is read as the words of Solomon, then it is a major volte face to the spirit of the entire book of Ecclesiastes. Perhaps indeed his final conclusion is that faith, wisdom and obedience is better than unbelief and folly, indeed it is the whole duty of man- although he himself has declined it. To argue one way throughout a book and then present a startlingly different conclusion at the end is not unknown. It is a fairly common rhetorical and philosophical device. 


Ecc 12:14 For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it is good, or whether it is evil
-
I prefer to consider as noted on :9 that this is the inspired conclusion of the narrator. He tackles the fundamental problem in Solomon's reasoning, which has arisen out of the book- that there would be no future judgment. And so the narrator baldly states the fundamental truth which Solomon has denied at such length.

If these are Solomon's words, then this is a radical denial of all he has said so far in the book. Solomon's whole basis for reasoning in Ecclesiastes is that death is man's eternal home (:5), there will be no further judgment (Ecc. 3:22 and often), and therefore one may as well live a life as happily as possible. This could be his very last minute repentance or recognition of truth, arrived at as a result of all his wayward reasoning throughout the book (see on :13). Sudden realization of truth after reasoning in error for so long is completely realistic and true to observed experience.

Or we can again conclude that Solomon comes to the right conclusion and teaches it, but it was still far from him personally. Hence there is no record of his repentance in the historical records, only that he died with his own heart turned away from Yahweh. He himself had an incredibly utilitarian view of life, wanting to see the tangible effect or "profit" of works in this life (Ecc. 3:9). I noted on Ecc. 2:17,18 that he ends up hating his life because he hates his works. The parallel between works and life meant that he was a human doing rather than a human being. He saw no ultimate profit in his works and life because he was now going to die. He had no sense at all that the works of the righteous "follow them" (Rev. 14:13), and we shall be given the eternal consequence of our works (Rev. 22:12).

But if these are indeed his words and not those of a narrator, he here concludes Ecclesiastes by admitting that this is the final truth (Ecc. 12:14), but this was not his personal belief nor how he had lived his life. He finally comes to the right conclusion, and had known it all along on some level, occasionally alluding to in his book of Proverbs; but he did not personalize it. He looked for the result of works in this life and didn't find it, and so he hated life, hated his works, and his heart turned away from God to idols. This is the kind of realization which men facing death often come to, but still they refuse to personalize it. We have all surely encountered this kind of thing. And this is our challenge; to personalize it, and live right now as if we are in God's judgment presence, for things great and small, things public and hidden. Even what we have spoken in the ear will be shouted out (Lk. 12:3) -implying others will somehow observe our judgment, cp. Mt. 12:41. If the judgment is merely a yes/no statement which has been worked out taking our whole life into consideration, then this emphasis on every work having a time for consideration and judgment "there" is pointless. However, these verses must be considered in conjunction with those which speak of God's 'forgetting' of bad deeds on account of how people later chose to live. However, this need not mean that they are erased from God's infinite knowledge; all too often we perceive God's memory as a vast memory bank which can have our sins erased from it. But His knowledge knows no such bounds of human perception; yet He is willing not to hold those things against us, and to therefore count us as having never committed them.

I have suggested on Ecc. 3:1,17,24 that Solomon is there accusing God of being unable to resurrect and judge, and therefore his previous understanding that everything will be brought to judgment was misplaced. Solomon concludes Ecclesiastes however with an admission that this is in fact the case; all in human life will be judged finally, there will be a time of judgment for every small and great action of daily life (Ecc. 8:5,6 cp. 3:1,17,18; 12:14). In this we can take chapter 3 [and much of Ecclesiastes] as bravado, which in the face of his final death he has to admit was wrong, although he still fails to repent and accept the personal implications of this. Because all things will in some ways be judged, and are even now, therefore we must fear God and keep His commands (Ecc. 3:1; 12:13,14). But this is what Solomon preaches to others, especially youth (:1); but it was tragically far from him personally.