Season Finale | Ecclesiastes 12:1-14
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ecclesiastes 12:1–12:14
Introduction | Beginning of the End
Good morning! This week we are continuing our series of Ecclesiastes called The Pursuit: Chasing Meaning Under the Sun. Where do we go to find wisdom, meaning, and purpose? What is the point of all our accomplishments? Where is our hope when we life is met with failure or even simple toil and boredom? Is this all there is to life? In life under the sun all seems to be vanity as we struggle to find our purpose and meaning apart from God. The message of this sermon of Ecclesiastes isn’t “all of life is meaningless and nothing matters”; it’s because of God as the source of all meaning, and goodness, as we live the life we are given EVERYTHING matters! The Preacher spent 10 chapters making the case for what life looks like under the sun, apart from God and how trying to find meaning and purpose in this life while being indifferent or opposed to God is a vain errand. Chapter 11 he began to make his final pitch; decision time. If he was an evangelist this would be the beginning of his altar call. Here he is giving his final call to action. Because there is a creator God we are going to be called to faith in Him. The urgency is going to be dialed up because the time of life is short. Life under the sun is not to be engaged with tepid insecurity, but rather dive in and BE BOLD and rejoice in the good life God has given as early in life as possible.
Verse 1-8 | Remember BEFORE; not AFTER
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; 2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, 3 in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, 4 and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— 5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— 6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 8 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.
“Remember your creator” This is more than a passing “oh yeah” He’s there. It is keeping Him central in all aspects of your life. It is, as we’ve repeated often, looking not only “under the sun” the world that can be easily seen, but looking “above the sun” to reality of a Creator who made the sun, and everything under it. The call to “remember” is to divorce ourselves from any illusion that we are “independent” or “self-sufficient” apart from the Creator who made the universe and who made us individually. It is more than a passing acknowledgement but a full commitment to live our lives pledging our allegiance to Him and living out the purposes He has for our lives. To “remember” is to be reminded that the most joy will be experienced when we’re living in the ways our creator has made us. All our pursuits we have under the sun will be found empty and meaningless if they are not subordinate to a paramount pursuit of our Creator.
Remember your Creator before your discouragement. (v1-2) There are years we are given of vitality, hopefulness, and anticipation. Years that seem “lighter” even “good”. But there will be years when all pretense of youth is gone and they will be replaced with years that seem “evil” (not morally) but exceedingly distressing. You have to know where hope is found before lights begin to dim and the epic storm of the close of life settles in. You can weather a storm when you have hope for life after the storm, you regroup, you rebuild, you look forward to better days. But then seasons end never to return. You graduate school that chapter is done you cannot go back and rewrite it. Your married you are no longer single. You’re raising kids and they grow up and leave the house and are “launched” your active daily training of them is over. Your career is complete you no longer think of the next rung of the ladder to climb. All our hopes are either realized or turn to regrets. Life begins to feel less like spring or summer and more like the dead of winter. Eventually rain, a storm will come, and afterwards it’s not bright hopeful sunshine, but endless grayness of winter. You hope the clouds will eventually clear but you’re concerned that time has passed. Years will come where it is easy to say “there is no pleasure here.” If you’ve failed to remember your Creator discouragement can lead to despair. For all of us with years or decades left of vitality the call is not to despair but to purposeful action remembering our Creator has granted us life.
Remember your creator before your deterioration (v3-5) After “youth” comes a time when physical trials are no longer setbacks they are the new normal. Here is this poetic imagery of what it means to move from vitality to frailty. A once strong and noble man is equated to a grand house fallen into disrepair and moving to inevitable deterioration:
Keepers of the house are your hands. What God has given you to help with your provision, your protection, and even to fulfill your purposes will begin to shake and tremble. They will no longer be reliable.
Strong men are your legs and shoulders. Muscle and bone formations that held you up firmly and boldly are now bent out of shape your legs bow your shoulders slouch, your poster gives out never to straighten out.
Few grinders ceasing are your teeth. To have people grinding out wheat and flour was to have people active in preparing food. There are fewer than there used to be and they don’t function as they should. Old age has left you with just ol’chomper so say good bye to steak and hello to mushy peas.
Dim windows and shut doors are your eyes and ears. With failing eye sight and hearing your ability to meaningfully engage with the relentless flow of life in the world is greatly diminished. You don’t experience things as fully as you once did. Images are not as sharp, sounds are not as clear. Even your voice (daughters of song) starts to tremble, your hair turns white (almond blossoms are white). A once spritely and agile person is now dragging their feet and leaning on a walker. Desires and appetites that once seemed nearly all consuming fade away and no longer drive us. Death is near.
John Quincy Adams is well. But the house in which he lives at present is becoming dilapidated. It is tottering up on its foundation. Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it. Its roof is pretty well worn out. Its walls are much shattered and it trembles with every wind. I think John Quincy will have to move out of it soon. But he himself is quite well, quite well. – Letter written on his eighth birthday responding to his condition.
When we remember our creator before our deterioration we can meet this season not with growing fear of our abilities fading and life ending but with peace knowing these bodies are not our final eternal home.
2 Corinthians 5:1 | For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Remember your Creator before your death. (v6-8) Discouragement flows into deterioration and finally death will come for us all. The preacher is urgently pleading to orient your life around the truth of who your creator is before the finality of your fatality. The valuable cord and priceless bowl holding your life up and together; one link in the chain will snap and your life is broken beyond repair. The pitcher and wheel at the well of living water will be shattered and no more life under the sun will be experienced. There is an inevitability of this day for all us of. But it was not always so. The Creator made the world good and men and women in his image. Because humanity failed to heed the call to “remember your creator” they pursued life apart from Him. Life apart from the giver of life is a life of sin which leads to death. God is gracious to grant us all life even when we live it without “remembering Him” but there is a final consequence. It is no accident that Verse 7 is pointing back to the creation narrative; Gen 2:7 says God formed man out of the dust of the earth and breathed life (soul, spirit) into his very body and being. You may not easily believe this account of creation but you absolutely cannot deny the reverse is true all of our bodies, after our death, will return (quickly or slowly) to dust. Our final breath in these bodies will be our last on this earth, but we see our spirit and soul will live on. We will be brought before God, verse 14 reminds us there is a point where all that we’ve done and all that we are will be brought under the Creators’ judgement. At that time you will no longer have the ability to “remember your creator” you will only meet your judge. The time to reconcile your relationship with your creator is in this life, after your death it is too late. Verse eight’s familiar refrain of “vanities of vanities” drives home the urgency of this plea. It isn’t “all is meaningless” so give up. It’s all is a “mist” literally “all is fleeting” meaning don’t delay!!
Verse 9-12 | Preaching Notes
9 Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. 11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
What the point of this whole sermon? Why study this book? To gain wisdom on how we are to live in the world the Creator has made for us. There is more to remembering the creator than knowing fact about Him and His creation. The purpose of great wisdom literature is not to be puffed up with knowledge; but to grow in knowledge that is used to build up ourselves and others. The preacher was a teacher of others. He studied he wrote and was intentional about both; but he didn’t do it for its own value; but to train others!
There are words of delight (what sounds good and is good to the ear) and there are words of truth. An effective communicator of Gospel Truth is not just a dry scholar or winsome artistic performer they are a marriage of the two, while staying true to both. It’s not so appealing they stop being upright and not so cold and hard truths they cease to be ultimately attractive. To be true and unpleasant is to be a jerk, to be pleasant and untrue is to be a fraud. Neither have their place in how we share the world of God.
Goads and nails - The purpose of studying God’s word is be guided in the direction we’re supposed to go AND grounded in a foundation that never moves. All truth is God’s truth. While the sermon of Ecclesiastes is written and prepared by the preacher it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. These are as much God’s words as they are Solomon’s. What is true, delightful, and upright is all from ONE Shepherd. Remembering the Creator should lead us to marvel in the bigness and gloriousness of God. That can also lead us to think wrongly that God is distant and we are left alone. Him giving us words of firm guidance and foundational truths to rest in show us that he is also a God who is intimately and personally present loving, caring, and leading us as the one good shepherd. I find great truth and peace in verse 12, I am constantly concerned that I haven’t studied enough, written enough. We error when we believe all questions should only be pursued and wrestled with and never answered or settled. There are things about God and life that are a mystery and those that are clearly revealed, we will exhaust ourselves if we’re always wrestling with what is unknown and never resting on what is true and clear. Living a live remembering the creator isn’t study for study sake but drinking deeply from his word to be refreshed and empowered to live out His purposes.
Verse 12-14 | Season Finale; not Series Finale
13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
We come to the end of Ecclesiastes and things seem to have this end of “fear God and keep his commandments with a final warning and reminder of Judgement.” This rings hollow for us because all the joy of life promised can only be experienced if we have a “good ending” resolution. The preacher of Ecclesiastes is ending his sermon but something incredibly significant is missing. I was taking with a young man this week who saw I was studying Ecclesiastes and said “isn’t that the depressing book where all of life is meaningless?” If we come to the end of this book and see it like a TV series finale where the story is over it would be both burdensome and discouraging. This is especially true when we know certain seasons of our lives have passed and we recognized our failures to “fear God, and keep his commandments” when we’ve refused to “remember our creator in the days of our youth.” This is not a satisfying ending.
Whole duty of man means this is the responsibility of all of mankind. Everyone of us was created for a purpose and are responsible to worship God and follow His commands. All of us have failed. This is not good news. When we started Ecclesiastes back in September and when we did we said this book is not a destination. This couldn’t be more clear then as it finishes. It’s merely mileage on the road that leads to Jesus. It’s not a series finale where the show and story are over, it’s a season finale with a cliffhanger that tells us the story isn’t resolved and that there is more to the story to see and experience. We can’t simply have “worship God and obey Him” as the end of the matter because we never do it perfectly. That doesn’t mean the pursuit isn’t a noble and right one. When the series continues with Jesus as the perfect preacher and teacher He’s asked what is the greatest commandment. His answer:
Matt 22:27 | “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. What is this if not a version of fear/worship God and obey his commandments? We now we don’t do this perfectly or easily so we need a shepherd to guide us to streams of living water.
John 10:11 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. In Jesus we see he’s a shepherd who guides, leads, and cares for us, but he’s also a savoir who sacrifices for us! Why is this important? Because all of our failures those know and those we think are secret will be revealed in our day of judgment when we meet the creator face to face. All will be found to have not met our full duty all are justly deserving death and wrath from a good, perfect God. God sends Jesus on a specific mission of mercy to condemned sinners to, while still failing at our whole duty, to absorb our wrath at the cross.
1 John 4:10 | In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. In Jesus we see God who secured the punishment for the judgement of our sin and nailed it firmly fixed on the cross. It’s never leaving there. In Jesus His just wrath for our sin is dead and buried in the tomb. The purposeful life of Joy worshipping him and following his Commands rises with Jesus.
Knowledge of God’s love leads to worship of God and then to obedience to God’s commands. Order matters. What we do flows from who we worship. We worship and obey God because of his grace to us.
John 15:10-11 | 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
In Jesus we see he secured our joy not because we pursued him but because he pursued us. When we’ve remembered the character of our Creator and see the loving pursuit he has for us in Jesus Christ “fear” of God does not mean we’re afraid, but that we have a joyful reverence, and wonder before Him, knowing we don’t face judgement for our sin but forgiveness. We come before our king not cowering in fear but reporting for duty. The last verse of Ecclesiastes is no longer a terror to all our conduct but reminds us that because God sees and cares about all that we are and all that we do NOTHING in this world under the Sun can possibility be meaningless. In Jesus resurrection, because the Son of God has risen we see our lives with him as a new season of joyful life and purpose when we Trust Jesus!
1 Cor 15:54-58 |54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
More in The Pursuit | Ecclesiastes
December 20, 2015Bridled Joy | Ecclesiastes 11:1-10
December 13, 2015Farmers Market of Foolishness | Ecclesiastes 10:1-20
December 6, 2015Die One Day, Live All Others | Ecclesiastes 9:1-18