“Aging” – Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8

March 16th, 2014

Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8

“Aging”

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Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come . . . — Ecclesiastes 12:1a

                                                                                                                                                                       

Background Information:

  • In the first eleven chapters, Solomon led his students through a comprehensive analysis of secularism.  His rational conclusion: To enjoy life we must acknowledge and fear God, because secularism cannot answer life’s toughest questions!  The past 26 centuries of secular philosophical debate substantiate his conclusion.

In Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon brings the book to a close.  He exhorts his listeners to give the best of their lives to God (Eccl 12:1-7), reminds them one last time of the vanity of life (Eccl 12:8), explains his method of teaching (Eccl 12:9-12), and makes his final point.  Like any good teacher, he led his students to the right questions, to consider all possible answers, and lastly, to understand and accept the truth.  (John A. Stewart, Lamplighters Self-Study: Ecclesiastes, 38)

  • Some commentators think the Preacher is confused here, that he is “giving the contradictory advice that his reader should both enjoy life but also remember that he is going to die.”  This is not confusion but clarity.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 265)
  • (v. 11:7) The eyes are the instrument of the heart (cf. Jb 31:7); several passages of Scripture link the two (e.g. Dt 28:67; Jer 22:17).  The OT speaks of visual beauty (Gn 2:9, etc.) and teaches that the use of sight may lead to joy (Ex 4:14), wisdom (Prv 24:32), delight (Song 6:5), or conversely to lust (2 Sm 11:2ff.), covetousness (Jos 7:21) and disdain (2 Sm 6:22).  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 145)
  • (v. 11:10) To remember him means to keep him and his word constantly in mind and heart, to trust in him and live each new day with him and for him.  It means to be thankful for all his gifts and promises and to call on him in time of need.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 119-20)
  • (v. 11:10) Savor the bright days of youth, “for youth and vigor are meaningless.”  The Hebrew word translated “vigor” is most likely related to the word denoting “blackness of hair.”  It stands in contrast to old age when the hair turns white or is lost.  The time of youth is short.  The vigor of youth is as fleeting as a vapor.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 118)
  • (vss. 12:2-3) This has been taken to mean that here is a feeble old man who cannot help dozing off.  You can also give it a sexual meaning.  Here is a man for whom sexual desire is long past.  All he can do is fall asleep (2) “The grasshopper drags itself along.”  The grasshopper or locust normally flits easily and swiftly from point to point.  Here is a locust so heavy with over eating that it can hardly move; an appropriate image of the labored slow movements of an old man who has difficulty in shuffling about.  The word used for locust, however, is similar in sound to the Hebrew word for ‘making love.’  The words could thus describe an old man who had lost all vigor, a man for whom making love could only be a burden.  (3) “And desire fails”, or more literally, as in the NEB, “and caper-buds have no more zest”.  The caper-berry, which grows on a small shrub, was believed to have certain stimulative effects.  It was thus taken as an aphrodisiac.  But even this no longer has any effect.  Desire has gone and cannot be reawakened.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 86)
  • (v. 12:5)  All these debilities lead to a fear of going out.  “Men are afraid of heights,” afraid of falling, fearful of tripping over unseen obstacles.  And there is also the fear “of dangers in the street.”  Lacking the strength for self-defense, many elderly people do not like to venture out into the city streets.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 121)
  • (v. 12:5) And desire fails.  You can work this one out for yourself.  Hint: there’s a whole new line of pharmaceuticals to help.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 298)
  • (v. 12:5) “And desire no longer is stirred.”  This phrase literally says, “The caperberry fails.”  Solomon could be referring to this food as a fruit for stimulating sexual desire, or as a spice for stimulating the desire to eat.   Whatever this berry was used for, it no longer works on the old person.  It fails to arouse desire.  We might add other desires which fail with advancing age: the urge to learn, the many desires of the will and emotions.  All desires, including even the will to live, cease.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 122)
  • (v. 12:5) The almond trees shall flourish; that is, the hair is blanched, as the almond blossom, which is at first delicate pink, but fades into white.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 406)
  • (vss. 12:5-7) Death is clearly the dominant reality described literally in 12:5, figuratively in 12:6, and literally again in 12:7.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 236)
  • (v. 12:6) Hercules – scene where hades is ready to cut the thread of Meg’s life
  • (v. 12:6) The word, “remember”, is significant.  In Hebrew it carries the idea of “pay attention to” or “fulfill your responsibilities with respect to” and not just “keep in mind.”  No one can expect to know a full, contented, and peaceable old age who, when he arrives there, has only a squandered youth to remember.  Paying attention to God now, in all the daily details of life, will bring the wisdom needed for the present, and the sense of satisfaction and a “job well done” for the latter years of life.  (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, July 25, 2011)
  • (v. 12:6) The second pair of images visualizes a pitcher lowered into a well by a rope running round a wheel.  Death is the smashing of the jar.  The terse Hebrew “The wheel breaks into the well” may be expanded “The wheel breaks so as to crash down into the well”.  The precise wording ‘gives us a picture of the ruined apparatus plus the wheel as they have crashed down into the old cistern” (Leupold).  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 150)
  • (v. 12:6) Seow points to archaeological evidence that pottery was actually broken at burial sites as a sign of mourning.  (Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books, 389)
  • (v. 12:7) Dust is what the earth is made of.  The word emphasizes mankind’s earthly origin (Gn 2:7; 3:19; Jb 10:9) and physical weakness (Ps 103:14).  To return to dust is to go through the reversal of Gn 2:7 and to become a corpse, which in turn is liable to further deterioration.  It is to be no longer animated by the breath that comes from God (cf. Jb 34:14f.).  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 150)
  • (v. 12:8)  Decay and death bring the Preacher back to his opening words.  For the phenomenon of death is the supreme example of the earthly realm with which the Preacher began (1:2).  Having proved his case, he ends his work.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 151)
  • Solomon, drawing to the close of his discourse, brings us nearer to eternity, and presses closely the matter of preparation for it.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 276-77)

 

The question to be answered is . . . What does Koheleth hope to accomplish by forcing us to realize that soon enough we will all be old and decrepit?

 

Answer: First, he is trying to get us to value and enjoy the world God has given us that can only be fully experienced and appreciated in our youth.  Second, he is trying to get us to appreciate our youthful passion, vision and joy that can easily be lost in the aging process.  Third, he is attempting to get us to realize that now, in our youth, is the best time to connect with God our Creator.  When we are old and wasted, it will be much harder to overcome the depression, uselessness and meaninglessness of life under the sun (life without God) to come to terms with the joy and hope of a life under the son (life with God).

 

As a child, life revolves around three simple things: eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom.  In the aged that same cycle returns.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 175)

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Aging

 

As Koheleth wraps up Ecclesiastes, what does he want us to see?:

I-  Enjoy the light and the good cosmos God gave us, for soon, in a life without God, you will spend eternity in darkness. (Eccl 11:7-8; see also: Acts 14:17; 1 Tm 6:17; Jas 1:17) 

 

There is no reason to think that one cannot “enjoy” (v. 8) life under the sun.  Yet all will not always be sweetness and light.  It should never be forgotten that there will be dark days as well.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 206)

 

Even in youth one must view life as a whole.  He must realize that his time on earth is only the prelude to eternity.  He dares not take the view of a skeptic about whom my father, Dr. M. R. DeHaan, wrote.  The man scoffed, “I’m not concerned about the future.  I live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself.”  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 144)

 

The goodness of life is portrayed by light which, as elsewhere in the OT, is used to denote ‘joy, blessing and life in contrast to sorrow, adversity and death’ (cf. Gn 1:3f.; Jb 10:22; 18:5f.).  It is being joyfully alive (cf. Jb 3:20; Ps 49:19).  ‘Since life is not…truly life unless it can be enjoyed, “light” often designates the pleasures of life’ (e.g. Jb 10:22; 30:26; Ps 97:11; Isa 45:7; 60:19-20; Amos 5:18, 20).  Similarly, to see the sun means not merely ‘to live’ but ‘to live joyfully.’  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 144)

 

Work hard.  Leave the results to God.  And then enjoy life.  Approached in this way, life under the sun can be sweet.  Enjoy the days of sunshine and happiness.  Try to find enjoyment in life as long as you live.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 116)

 

11:7, 8 Solomon is no dreary pessimist in 11:7-12:14.  He encourages us to rejoice in every day but to remember that eternity is far longer than a person’s life span.  Ps 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  The wise person does not just think about the moment and its impact; he or she takes the long-range view toward eternity.  Approach your decisions from God’s perspective–consider their impact ten years from now and into eternity.  Live with the attitude that although our lives are short, we will live with God forever.  (Tyndale House Publishers, Life Application Study Bible, 1149)

 

In Scripture, light and sunshine are frequently used to represent the warmth and security of God’s love (see Ps 27:1a, Isa 60:20, Micah 7:8).  Solomon employs this imagery to say that it is good for us to rest in God’s loving protection.  When we do this, we will realize that He accepts us and desires that we enjoy our lives.  To make certain that we do not miss this fact, Solomon writes, “Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all” (Eccl 11:8a).  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 116)

 

Better to prepare for that day now by fixing our delight on eternal verities rather than the fleeting pleasures of the flesh.  Here are joys and pleasures that no amount of bodily decline can eradicate (Ps 16:11).  (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, July 26, 2011)

 

Enjoy the tasks at hand; savor each bit of food and drink; share your joys with the wife of your youth.  Make the most of what you have, Ecclesiastes has urged, because the “days of darkness” are coming when your enjoyment will cease.  Death will pull the blinds and black out the light of life.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 230)

 

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (9:10).  The reason for the command is the one given in 11:8: the rate of unemployment in the grave is precisely 100 percent.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 230)

 

This verse was not a command to piety so much as to “pleasure.”  The Hebrew word can have that sense as well as the meaning “affair,” “activity,” “matter” (see 3:1, 12; 5:8, 8:6).  The Preacher was not begging his pupils to get right with God in terms of obedience in their worship (5:1-7) but of enjoyment in everyday life.  Bad days are coming in which pleasure will be impossible, was his warning.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 238)

 

Once again Qohelet affirms the goodness of creation and the rightness of enjoying all that is gifted to us by God in it.  The young person is to make the most of it all.

That this is not an invitation to hedonism, especially not to atheistic hedonism, is already clear from our reading of Ecclesiastes to this point.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 212)

 

Qohelet’s advice is to start early on this pathway of joyful existence before God. . . in the sure knowledge that life will only ever become more challenging as time passes and as we move inexorably toward the darkness of death: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come” (12:1).  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 213)

 

You can fight Old Man Wrinkle all you want.  You can lavish time and money on the outer you: exercise it, starve it, Botox it, Rogaine it, stretch it, lift it, nip it, tuck it, tan it, dress it up at Neiman Marcus.  One day it will just be very expensive worm food.  Old Man Wrinkle will wait you out.  (John Ortberg, When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box, 49)

 

We are all like smooth pebbles thrown so as to skim and dance over the surface of water.  But we feel ourselves running out of momentum, and we fear that the inevitable moment is coming when there will be nothing left but to sink into a hundred thousand fathoms of nothingness. — Kierkegaard

 

II-  Enjoy the vitality and passion of your youth which is a gift from God.  NOTE: It will soon be gone and your life will be judged.  (Eccl 11:9-12:5)   

 

God’s message is: “Don’t miss out on the days when you are young and healthy wasting them on frivolous activities or things that may ruin your health.  All too soon the more difficult days of old age will come.  There will be plenty of dark days ahead.  Don’t darken the days when the sun is still shining brightly!  Darker days will come all too soon.  Then the vanity of life shall become more obvious in those darker times.”  One will recognize clearly then the tragedies that sin has brought upon us: sickness, pain, grief, death.  So, before those times come is the time to make the most of these brighter days in proper ways (v. 9).  Enjoy youth, with all its vigor and anticipation.  But remember to enjoy it always with the understanding that God looks on, sees all, and judges every act.  Youth must not be a time to “sow wild oats.”  God holds young people responsible for their behavior.  But He also wants them to enjoy youth.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 113)

 

To call God one’s Creator is significant.  By that term he is saying that God made each person and knows what is best for each.  He is also affirming that God owns him and has a right to tell him how to live this life (cf. Ps 100:3).  And by this emphasis on God’s creatorship he is backing up all his statements about the evil effects of sin by referring his words to the One Who knows what is best for human beings.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 115)

 

To remember God as Creator also means to remember His awesome power, His infinite knowledge, and His absolute control of all things.  By way of contrast, it is to realize one’s own creatureliness.  It is to abandon all thoughts of human autonomy.  It is to bow in humble submission to Him.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 116)

 

The evil days (troublesome days) are those described in verses 2 through 6.  They are called such because they are days in which one’s physical pleasures diminish as the result of the deterioration of the body.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 117)

 

We believe Solomon is urging young people to do what they can to enjoy the vigor and strength that are unique to this stage of life.  He is also warning them that if they abuse or harm their bodies while young, they will have to pay the consequences the rest of their lives.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 146)

 

That the book of Ecclesiastes has been wrongly characterized as a book of despair and gloom ought to be plain enough to anyone who fairly studies Solomon’s concluding words.  He is concerned to see that the reader (especially a youth, who can profit most from his earliest days) makes the most out of life that he can.  He wants the reader to avoid as many pitfalls as possible while entering into all of the good things that God provides.  He wants the believer to find purpose and meaning and joy in a world where nothing really matters to those who do not know Him.  The book was designed to help him discover how to live a life that does matter.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 112-13)

 

Remember Him, in thy youth in order that you may have a long and blessed life, that you may be saved from the corruption and misery into which young people in general run; and the evils they entail upon themselves by giving way to the sinful propensities of their own hearts.  As in youth all the powers are more active and vigorous, so they are capable of superior enjoyments.  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 498)

 

Some older people think that they are simply in everybody’s way.  This sense of uselessness is prominent among those who were once very resourceful and highly respected.  Other elderly people wish that they could live their lives over.  These individuals feel guilty about what might or should have been.  Still others age with a sense of bitterness and resentment.  They feel that life handed them a raw deal.  Anger over this frequently leads to self-pity.  Another common feeling among the elderly is intensified fear.  They are often afraid of such things as bankruptcy, heights, ill health, death, loneliness, and senility.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 119)

 

Youth is such a wonderful thing it is a shame to waste it on young people. — George Bernard Shaw

 

When you are young, life seems to stretch endlessly before you.  It seems that you will never grow old.  But as you live through the years, life seems to speed by more rapidly, and at last it seems as if it is very brief.  Suddenly you find yourself looking and feeling old.  As someone has said, “About the time your face clears up, your mind begins to go!”  That is how brief life seems to be.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 175)

 

Life is dear to every man as the light of the sun is to the eye.  A man would give all that he has for his life; and it is particularly dear to him, when he is in ease and affluence: but let each remember that,

Verse 8.  If a man live many years.  And even have prosperity through the whole; yet the days of darkness, times of affliction, weakness, and perhaps old age, will be many.  If he die not a violent death, which no man can wish; he will die a lingering death; and this is ordinarily attended with many pains, and many sorrows: therefore, let him prepare to meet his God; and to carry this thought through life, that all must terminate in death.  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 497)

 

What Koheleth had said was to live all you can while you can, because the time was coming when such exuberant life would be impossible.  What Jesus said was to live fully all your life, even in old age–and beyond.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 244-45)

 

Young people enjoy many blessings in life.  They have fewer of the cares that come with having adult responsibilities.  Their bodies are strong and getting stronger.  Their hearts are full of good cheer and easy laughter.  The future is full of possibilities.  There is freedom to take risks and time to go a new direction in life.  Young people still dare to dream that they can make a difference in the world.  These are all reasons for the young to rejoice.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 265)

 

God “looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens” (Job 28:24).  This means that everything we do and everything we decide matters for eternity.  How we spend our money, what we do with our bodies, the way we use our time, what we decide about our future, how we handle our relationships–what we touch, taste, hear, and see–all of this matters to our Judge and therefore ought to matter to us as well.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 266)

 

It is probable that Solomon wrote this when he was himself old, and could speak feelingly of the infirmities of age, which perhaps grew the faster upon him for the indulgence he had given himself in sensual pleasures.  Some old people bear up better than others under the decays of age, but, more or less, the days of old age are and will be evil days and of little pleasure.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1048)

 

At death, it is laid in the earth, and in a little time will be resolved into earth, not to be distinguished from common earth, according to the sentence (Gn 3:19).  Dust thou art and therefore to dust thou shalt return.  Let us not therefore indulge the appetites of the body, nor pamper it (it will be worms’ meat shortly), nor let sin reign in our mortal bodies, for they are mortal, Rom 6:12.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1049)

 

The absence of capers speaks powerfully of the absence of pleasure, whether in food or in sex (cf. Eccl 12:1).  Thus is apocalyptic language brought to bear on the realities, for many, of the individual aging process.  These are dark days indeed.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 217)

 

III-  While you are still young and alive, never forget to remember your Creator who plays for keeps .  (Eccl 11:9b-12:1, 5b-8)   

 

Many have remembered too late–none too soon. —  Charles Bridges

 

If you are searching for true happiness, you must obtain peace of mind regarding the days of reckoning to come after you die.  Otherwise even the pleasure of the moment is marred by the underlying realization that you as a sinner are living daily under the sentence of death and awaiting execution.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 145)

 

The Almighty reveals clearly in His Word that He is pleased with the laughter of children and the special joys of the young.  In Zechariah’s graphic portrayal of Jerusalem during the millennial age, we read, “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing” (Zech 8:5).  In fact, the Bible frequently praises the strength and beauty of young manhood and womanhood.

After encouraging the young to enjoy the legitimate pleasures of their carefree years, the Preacher concludes with the statement, “Childhood and youth are vanity.”  These words are not to be taken as minimizing this period of life, but as declaring that its freshness and vigor will not last very long.  Therefore its joys must not be considered an end in themselves.  Delight in youth, but do not overlook the whole picture, including judgment and eternity.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 146-47)

 

It is hardly likely that Koheleth is here thinking of any final judgment beyond this present life.  Rather he is insisting that what we do with our life here and now matters to God, that he will hold us responsible for the way in which we handle his gift to us.  If young people do not make the most of their youth, God will want to know why.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 82)

 

The king immediately rules out youthful lusts such as drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, hatred, jealously and laziness, when he adds, “But know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.”  Enjoyment has its limitations.  It is circumscribed by God’s commands.  Many a youth has sown wild oats, only to live with the consequences for a lifetime.  And beyond this life there is the judgment to come.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 117)

 

How many of your joys, my dear young friends, will last when old age comes to you?  How many of them will survive when your eye is no longer bright, and your hand no longer strong, and your foot no longer fleet?  How many of them, young woman!  When the light is out of your eye, and the beauty and freshness out of your face and figure, when you are no longer able for parties, when it is no longer a pastime to read novels, and when the ballroom is not exactly the place for you,–how many of yours will survive?  Young man!  How many of yours will last when you can no longer go into dissipation, and stomach and system will no longer stand fast living, nor athletics, and the like?  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 400-01)

 

11:9, 10 We often hear people say, “It doesn’t matter.”  But many of your choices will be irreversible–they will stay with you for a lifetime.  What you do when you’re young does matter.  Enjoy life now, but don’t do anything physically, morally, or spiritually that will prevent you from enjoying life when you are old.  (Tyndale House Publishers, Life Application Study Bible, 1149)

 

12:1 A life without God can produce a bitter, lonely, and hopeless old age.  A life centered around God is fulfilling; it will make the “days of trouble”–when disabilities, sickness, and handicaps cause barriers to enjoying life–satisfying because of the hope of eternal life.  Being young is exciting.  But the excitement of youth can become a barrier to closeness with God if it makes young people focus on passing pleasures instead of eternal values.  Make your strength available to God when it is still yours–during your youthful years.  Don’t waste it on evil or meaningless activities that become bad habits and make you callous.  Seek God now.  (Tyndale House Publishers, Life Application Study Bible, 1149)

 

The Lord will hold us accountable for all that we think, say, and do (Mt 12:36-37, 16:27, 2 Cor 5:10).  Thus, we should use our freedom for good ends, not for evil.  And as we do what is right, God will increase our joy (Prv 4:18, 10:6, 28, 14:14, 22; Mt 5:6).  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 117)

 

Finally, after chapters filled with dissatisfaction and despair, Solomon tells us the necessary ingredient for experiencing joy in our lives now.  What is it?  “Remember [i.e., act decisively in favor of]…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 delight in them’” (Eccl 12:1).  Put another way, our happiness is directly linked to our obedience to God.  When we submit to His Word through faith in Jesus Christ, we will begin experiencing the Lord’s abundant blessings.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 117)

 

If life has been thrown away in wasteful folly–how awful the guilt–how imminent the danger–of throwing away eternity with it!  “Turn ye, turn ye,” is the voice of your pleading God.  “Why will ye die?” (Ezek 33:11).  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 298)

 

These are days in which people eventually “find no pleasure” (12:1) because of the challenging circumstances in which they find themselves.  They are times of darkness (12:2), similar to the darkness at the close of day (cf. 11:8; contrast the sunlight that is enjoyed in the early morning of life, 11:7, 10) but of a more ultimate nature.  For at nightfall the sun, the moon, and the stars themselves do not normally “grow dark,” as they do in 12:2.  This is the language of the unmaking of creation (note the “light” in Gn 1:3-5, and the sun, moon, and stars in 1:14-18)–the apocalyptic language of the end times (cf., e.g., Isa 13:9-10; Joel 2:31; Amos 5:18; Zeph 1:14-15), in which “clouds” also often feature.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 213)

 

As a matter of fact, abolishing hell from our consciousness only makes matters worse.  Hell, we discover upon analysis, is by no means as threatening as the fears generated by nihilism.  The threat of non-being, contend the existentialists, philosophers, and psychologists, is a far greater threat than any that can be posed by the fear of the fiery furnace.

Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of modernity is that we have a sophisticated intelligentsia that has done away with a literal hell after death only to create a psychological hell before death with their threat of non-being after death.  There is no comfort in nihilism.  Those who tell us that life is all there is offer us no comfort.  I find that none of those nihilistic existentialists who preached a call to be courageous and to create meaning out of the absurdity of our lives were examples of people who lived lives of joyful celebration.  All of them were morbid people who, for the most part, lived lives that were as tragic as the death they believed brought life to an end.  (Tony Campolo, Carpe Diem, Seize the Day, pp. 132-33)

 

Why hope to live a long life if we’re only going to fill it with self-absorption, body maintenance and image repair?  When we die, do we want people to exclaim “She looked ten years younger,” or do we want them to say “She lived a great life”? (Letty Cottin Pogrebin; Getting Over Getting Older)

 

IV-  Life under the sun (without God) is empty, meaningless, vain, uncertain. (Eccl 12:8; actually see the entire book of Ecclesiastes) 
Anyone who thinks old age is golden must not have had a very exciting youth.

A life of obedience and devotion to God is the only way to lasting happiness.  When a young person combines the enthusiasm, idealism, and energy of youth with a deep devotion to the Lord, he has all the ingredients for a wonderful life.  Free from feelings of guilt and fear, he is at peace with himself, God, and the world.  He experiences a sense of fulfillment as he does the will of God, and looks forward to a lifetime of joyous service followed by eternal glory with his Savior.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 149)

 

Celebrate life, says Koheleth, but remember you only have it on temporary loan.  Don’t pretend that you are self-made or self-sufficient; you have a creator.  Time will pass, youth and the prime of life will go, and the years will come when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.”  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 84)

 

This affecting and minute description of old age and death is concluded by the author, with the same exclamation by which he began his Book; O vanity of vanities, saith Koheleth; all is vanity.  Now that man, the masterpiece of God’s creation, the delegated sovereign of this lower world, is turned to dust, what is there stable or worthy of contemplation besides!  All–all is VANITY!  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 499)

 

The greatest futility is a life that has not found a reason for living.  What a waste, to live and never discover why you are here!  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 179)

 

“I am determined”–said a worn-out man of pleasure–“to kill time in the speediest way I can, now that it is become my greatest enemy.”  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 287)

 

The joy of living should continue throughout life.  Yet one must face the inevitable restrictions (ch. 12) that old age bring just as he sees the sun going down toward evening and eventually setting, bringing the final darkness of night (v. 8).  Life is lived in a world of vanity, and part of the vanity is the process of aging.  On the day Adam and Eve disobeyed God, their bodies began to die (Gn 2:17; 3:19).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1190-91)

 

CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: How does trusting in Christ give purpose and meaning to what is otherwise empty, meaningless, vain and uncertain?:

A-  Trusting in Christ allows us to enjoy a new heaven and earth, in the light of God, with perpetual vitality and passion for all eternity(Jn 14:1-6; Rom 8:18-25; 1 Cor 15:21-58; 2 Cor 4:7-5:10; Phil 3:17-21; 2 Tm 1:9b-10; Rv  21:12-22:5)

 

Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, a great Christian educator and president of Morehouse College, wrote a classic poem that’s worth memorizing.  It’s entitled “Life Is Just a Minute.”

Life is just a minute–only sixty seconds in it.

Forced upon you–can’t refuse it.

Didn’t seek it–didn’t choose it.

But it’s up to you to use it.

You must suffer if you lose it.

Give an account if you abuse it.

Just a tiny, little minute,

But eternity is in it!

(David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 289)

 

If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior before we die, then our life beyond death will be more exhilarating than we could ever imagine (Rv 21:1-22:5).  However, if we die before placing our faith in the Messiah, then our earthly life will have been lived in vain (Eccl 12:8), and our life beyond will be one of torment in hell (Mt 8:11-12, 13:49-50; Lk 16:22-28; 2 Thes 1:8-9; Rv 20:10-15).  This is not a pleasant thought, but it is nonetheless the truth.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 121)

 

At death man goes from this world and all the employments and enjoyments of it.  He has gone for good and all, as to his present state.  He has gone home, for here he was a stranger and pilgrim; both soul and body go to the place whence they came, v. 7.  He has gone to his rest, to the place where he is to fix.  He has gone to his home, to the house of his world (so some), for this world is not his. He has gone to his long home, for the days of his lying in the grave will be many.  He as gone to his house of eternity, not only to his house whence he shall never return to this world, but to the house where he must be for ever.  This should make us willing to die, that, at death, we must go home; and why should we not long to go to our Father’s house?  And this should quicken us to get ready to die, that we must then go to our long home to an everlasting habitation.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1049)

 

The aches and pains of old age make the prospect of death far less frightening.  We are being led, as French essayist Montaigne put it, “by nature’s hand, down a gentle and virtually imperceptible slope, bit by bit, one step at a time she rolls us into this wretched state and makes us familiar with it; so that we find no shock when youth dies within us, which in essence and in truth is a harder death than the complete death of a languishing life or death of old age.”

Because we are fallen creatures, the idea that we could live forever is an invitation to total irresponsibility.  If we lived forever, we would no longer care about our children because we could live beyond them.  We would feel no responsibility to pass on the wisdom we have acquired in life.  We would become insufferable in our presumed invincibility.  We see from history what happens to people when they believe they have unlimited power–and how much more power could we have to believe that we could live forever?  That’s why God’s judgment on humanity was also a mercy; death delivers us from enduring a never-ending life of pride and isolation.  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 369)

 

When you’re old as I am, there are all sorts of extremely pleasant things that happen to you…the pleasantest of all is that you wake up in the night and you find that you are half in and half out of your battered old carcass. It seems quite a tossup whether you go back and resume full occupancy of your mortal body, or make off toward the bright glow you see in the sky, the lights of the city of God. (Malcolm Muggeridge, Christian Times, September 3, 1982)

 

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.  If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.  I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.  (C. S. Lewis; Mere Christianity, 120)

 

B-  Trusting in Christ shifts the judgment of our wasted opportunities onto Christ and away from us so we can live forever without fear of condemnation, judgment and punishment.  (Psa 25:7; 103:2-5; Rom 3:21-26; 8:1-4; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:7-11; Heb 10:1-25)

 

When your spirit returns to God, what kind of account will you give?  What have you done with the life he’s given you?  What can you plead but the blood and merits of your Savior?  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 124)

 

“God is a God of new beginnings, and He never leaves me with the sense that I have blown everything or that it’s too late to try anything new.”  (Tony Campolo; Carpe Diem: Seize the Day,  p. 105)

 

Once again the Preacher is honest about the troubles of life, both physical and psychological.  He also has some advice for us:  we should do what we can to remove discouragement from our souls and to minimize damage to our bodies.  This is not a call to deny the very real suffering that everyone experiences.  Nor is it a call to escape pain by living for pleasure.  Rather, it is a call to take care of our mental and physical health.

If we are getting discouraged by various vexations, and if we are tempted therefore to become depressed or disillusioned, we should do what the Preacher says and remove those vexations from our hearts.  This starts with refusing to feel sorry for ourselves.  Rather than dwelling on all the things that are going wrong, we should count our blessings.  We should also seek the care of a pastor or the counsel of Christian friends–brothers and sisters in Christ who are sympathetic to our situation but also able to see our situation for what it is and tell us what we need to hear, especially from the Scriptures.

But the very best remedy for vexation is to go to God in prayer, telling him all our troubles.  “Do not be anxious about anything”–or vexed about anything, we might say–“but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  This command is then followed by a promise: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).  The Biblical way of removing vexation is to cast our cares on God.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 267)

Solomon reiterates the central point that he has made six other times: We should enjoy life with wisdom.  You will get old one day, so enjoy life now but remember God in the midst of your fun.  Don’t become an old person who talks about what you wish you had done.  Instead, be able to talk about what you did.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 185)

 

Be encouraged by this as well:  your Creator remembers you, even if you do not always remember him.  The security of our salvation does not depend on our remembrance of God but on his promise to remember us.  So the psalmist prayed, “O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.  So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me” (Ps 71:17-18).

By the time he was in his early nineties, my grandfather found it hard to remember much of anything, including, on occasion, who he was.  This was extremely distressing for him because he knew that he was confused but didn’t know why.  “I can’t remember who I am!” he said to my mother.  “That’s okay, Dad,” she said, “I know who you are, and I can take care of everything you need.”  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 271-72)

 

C-  Our unwillingness to give of the best of our youth for Christ is a demonstration of our ignorance or lack of understanding of the work of Christ on our behalf as well as an indication that we have a much too inflated view of our own importance. (Rom 6:11-23; 12:1-2; 14:7-8; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 2 Cor 5:11-15; 1 Pt 1:13-16)

 

A happy childhood is a vital factor in the development of a well-balanced life.  Those who are given a stable environment and cultivate a joyful heart while they are in these formative years more than likely will be cheerful people through all their days.  The one who has learned to trust God in youth, and from this step of faith has acquired an optimistic outlook, will undoubtedly be victorious when trials come.  True, we must walk with the Lord on a day-to-day basis, but the person who has learned to do this in childhood has a great advantage over the one who must begin a life of faith in later years.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 147)

 

The call to place God and His will uppermost in your thinking during childhood stands in sharp contrast to the philosophy of many.  All too often people say they will sow their wild oats in their youth and then turn over the rest of their lives to the Lord.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 148)

 

The fact is, that the young man too often has no idea what temptation is.  He realizes no need of any special warning.  He has never allowed the thought, that none but God is capable of knowing what he is, if he be left to himself.  Let him take his Bible, and learn by it what he has yet to learn–the knowledge of himself.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 281)

 

Now for the grand object set before him–thy Creator.  For he who created the universe is the Creator of man–not only of the first man, but of all men, whose birth–however natural–was only wrought by his Omnipotent and Sovereign influence.  For not only did he “form the spirit in man” (Zech 12:1), but his body also–so fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14-16).  It is he, and no other, who is here presented before us–the Creator–the Almighty–the only wise–the chief good–in whose name we were baptized (Mt 28:19)–to whose service we are consecrated.  For if we be of him, should not we be for him?  Do not we owe our service to him, from whom we have received our being?  If he has made us–much more if he has new-made us–what a weight of obligation!  We cannot resist it.  Each Person in the Sacred Trinity equally claims our interest and our service.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 284)

 

Is not forgetfulness of God our course–keeping him out of mind–like the heathen–“not liking to retain God in our knowledge?” (Rom 1:28).  Alas! Do we not naturally make every effort to shrink from him?  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 284)

 

Who of us will doubt the claim, which God makes upon us for constant remembrance?  It is the duty bound upon all men–every age–every time.  The whole of our time is not our own but God’s.  And lest there should be only a moment in our life subtracted from his claim–the exhortation directs–“Be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long” (Prv 23:17; Ps 16:8).  Yet there is one season of special application–the days of thy youth.  Here, however, the great enemy meets us with the ungodly adage–“Youth for pleasure–age for business–old age for religion.”  “Let the devil have the prime, and God the dregs.  Time enough to think of religion when we are old–when we can serve the world no longer.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 285)

 

Who then shall have the present now–the only sure part of life?  If any man can show a better title to youth than God, let him bring it.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 286)

 

You are not your own, you have no right to yourselves.  God made you–He is your Creator.  He made you that you might be happy: but you can be happy only in Him.  And as He created you, so He preserves you;–He feeds, clothes, upholds you.  He has made you capable of knowing, loving, and serving Him in this world, and of enjoying Him in His own glory for ever.  And when ye had undone yourselves by sin, He sent His Son to redeem you by His blood; and He sends His Spirit, to enlighten, convince, and draw you away from childishness, from vain and trifling, as well as from sinful pursuits.  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 498)

 

In youth memory is strong and tenacious: but, through the perversion of the heart by sin, young people can remember any thing better than God.  If you get a kindness from a friend, you can remember that, and feel gratitude for it; and the person is therefore endeared to you.  Have any ever given you such benefits as your Creator?  Your body and soul came from Him; He gave you your eyes, ears, tongue, hands, feet, &c.  What blessings are these!  How excellent!  How useful!  How necessary!–and will you forget Him?  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 498)

 

The best time in life to do this is when we are still young enough to give a whole lifetime to God’s service.  Do not wait until you are so old that you do not have much desire to do anything because life has lost its pleasure.  Rather, give your life to God now, while you still have enough passion to make a difference in the world.  Remember God when at home and at school.  Remember him when outside in his creation or indoors in the kitchen or the bedroom.  Remember him at work and at play–playing baseball or playing the violin.  Do not forget about God, but remember him in everything you do.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 269)

 

D-  If you are not going to trust in Christ and instead follow your own heart (in a life under the sun without God) then go ahead and do it with conviction.   But, when you crash and burn (and you will crash and burn) fight against all odds and repent and come to Christ.  (Josh 24:14-28; 1 Sm 12:20-25; Eccl 11:9; 2:24; 3:17; Isa 6:10; Mt 5:13; 6:24Rom 2:5-8; Eph 4:17-32; Heb 6:4-6; Rv 3:15-16)

 

It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.  —Andy Rooney

 

Compromising with the world, he is trifling with his highest interests–he is grasping at two shadows–the world and a worldly religion.  Between these shadows–he loses the substance–loses heaven–loses his own soul.  Most accurately is the young man’s course described as the way of his own heart.  Hence all the wandering–all the misery.  Wisely did a Christian mother write on this point:  –“As self-will is the root of all sin and misery; so whatever cherishes this in children ensures their after-wretchedness and irreligion; whatever checks and mortifies it, promotes their future happiness and piety.  This is still more evident, if we further consider, that religion is nothing else than the doing the will of God, and not our own: that the one grand impediment to our temporal and eternal happiness being this self-will, no indulgence of it can be trivial, no denial unprofitable.  Heaven or hell depends upon this; so that the parent, who studies to subdue it in his child, works together with God in the renewing and saving a soul; the parent who indulges it does the devil’s work; makes religion impracticable, and salvation unattainable.’  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 281-82)

 

By the time he gets old, Rehoboam will have come to see that all the ways of the flesh decay, decline, and disappoint; thus, we are not wise to make these the source of our pleasure and purpose in life.  Look to your Creator.  He’ll put all these things in a proper perspective so that, when they begin to fail, you’ll still have a real and unfading Source of joy to remember.  (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, July 27, 2011)

 

I have often observed the tragedy of older people who acknowledge they’ve missed the secret of life, but who are unwilling to change, simply because it is so hard to do when they are old.  This is why the Searcher exhorts young people, “Learn about God now; open your heart to Him; seek the wisdom of God now.  Study the Scriptures now, when you are young, while motivation is high and evil pressures are less, and you can discover the secret of living while you are still young enough to enjoy the blessing it will bring.”  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 181)

 

Look, son, if you’re dead set on living a life of sin, then, by all means, sin boldly!  Let it all hang out.  Shoot the moon.  Go for broke.  Knock yourself out.  Indulge your every whim and passion.  Consume everything you get, and get as much as you can.  By now, doubtless, Rehoboam was wised-up to his father’s sarcasm.  But he would have been hard-pressed to deny that this was probably what was on his mind: “Let the good times roll!”  It fell to Solomon to put his plans and purpose in an eternal perspective.  God doesn’t just sit around while fools and rebels squander His gifts and take advantage of others.  His wrath is being poured out even now on all who are determined to follow their “under the sun” way of life to the extreme (Rom 1:18-32).  (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, July 23, 2011)

 

Suddenly–out of frustration or love?–Solomon blurts out his desire for Rehoboam.  He needs to repent of his folly, as Solomon himself apparently had done, lay aside all those foolish and destructive ideas and practices, and think about the rest of his life and all of eternity more than just the days of his youth.  This is about as “point blank” as Solomon gets in Ecclesiastes.  His message is true for every age.  We cannot live “under the sun” and “under the heavens” at the same time.  Solomon had tried that (Eccl 2), and folly always prevails.  We must forsake the one to embrace the other.  The way of wisdom will not tolerate compromises with or accommodations of folly.  If Rehoboam doesn’t get this, he’ never find the Truth of the way of wisdom.  (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, July 24, 2011)

 

Many Christians today are trying to have the best of both worlds–God’s Kingdom and the ways of the flesh.  Jesus warned against this (Mt 6:24) and Paul said it’s oil and water (Gal 5:16ff.).  Yet we don’t hear much about repentance within the Christian community.  We prefer to think of God as infinitely patient with us, willing to forebear our sins and selfish ways, like the loving father of the prodigal son.  And so He is; but He also calls us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:14) and to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God (2 Cor 7:1).  We need to rediscover the way of repentance, so that we may avert the Lord’s discipline and press on to prove our citizenship in the Kingdom of God (2 Pt 1:5-11).  (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, July 24, 2011)

 

God wants us to enjoy life.  We don’t always have to turn everything into a mystical decision.  If you love God, do what you want to do.  God will control things in His sovereignty.

Remember, though, that God will bring judgment.  Make sure you play within the rules.  God knows that the only way truly to enjoy life is to live by wisdom.  You can’t enjoy life outside of the context of holiness.  Ultimately, sinful people can’t have fun.  Life bites you.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 183)

 

To the youth I say:  Rejoice!

Revel in your youth,

let your heart run wild,

and embrace life fully;

drink life deeply.

Follow the passions of your heart.

Heed the desire of your eyes.

But do not expect wisdom from this,

or be sure of success.

 

As you age,

do not lament the passing of passion

or the weakening of sight.

There is a bliss that comes with aging,

but it is lost to those who insist on youth beyond its time.  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 88)

 

Worship point:  Every part of you and every part of nature was designed and created by God to demonstrate God’s provision and love for man created in His image.   Every desire has a corresponding reality by which we might be reminded to worship.  The only desire for which there is no present reality is a life of perfection (justice, relationships, health, expectations, etc.).   But, even this has a corresponding reality for those who trust in Christ.   Seek Christ.  Know Christ.  Worship Christ.   Christ alone can fill the hole in your heart. 

 

Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee, O Lord. — St. Augustine

 

There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any other created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus.  — Blaise Pascal

 

Spiritual ChallengeWisdom is screaming at us from every direction and from all of nature telling us hang on loosely to the things of this world because not only are they temporary, but so are you.   Prepare now to meet thy Creator.

 

Here is an admonition both to old people and to young people, to think of dying, and get ready for it.  Having by many excellent precepts taught us how to live well, the preacher comes now, towards the close of his discourse, to teach us how to die well and to put us in mind of our latter end.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1044)

 

 

 

Quotes to Note:

Young people are apt to be impatient of check and control, to vex and fret at any thing that is humbling and mortifying to them, and their proud hearts rise against every thing that crosses and contradicts them.  They are so set upon that which is pleasing to sense that they cannot bear any thing that is displeasing, but it goes with sorrow to their heart.  Their pride often “disquiets them, and makes them uneasy.”  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1046)

 

Our dying is God’s business; God’s will is our business.  The aged are good at trusting, especially when they have matured for decades in their confidence that God cares.  Remember your Creator, and start to trust God’s will.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 245)

 

Aging may have its futile sides, but its futility is no match for the maturity that Christ provides.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 246)

 

 

Christ:

Fountain of Youth

 

 

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