On Monday nights, I’ve been having a study on the book of Ecclesiastes. Of the wisdom books of the Old Testament, it is my favorite. It is my favorite because Ecclesiastes asks, how shall we live then in a world that often makes no sense? It is only at the end of the book does the final puzzle piece lock into place, and the whole picture comes into view. So tonight, we will be looking at Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 as an outline for the message of the book.
9 And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yes, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs.
10 The Preacher sought to find acceptable words; and what was written was upright—words of truth.
11 The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd.
12 And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
14 For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.
He Taught the People:
“And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yes, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs” (Ecclesiastes 12:9).
Throughout the book, one can get the impression that Solomon is a pessimistic nihilist. However, the very existence of the book proves otherwise, and verse nine tells us as much. Solomon penned Ecclesiastes so that others would not fall for the same snares as he did. We still taught the people, and he sought to record wisdom for future generations to benefit from.
The conclusion of this book is where Solomon, once again, tells us the meaning of his words. Instructs us one last time to help us get the point of this sermon and says that we should walk away with four things from this book.
David Gibson in “Living Life Backwards: How Ecclesiastes Teaches US to Live in Light of the End” makes an observation that I wholeheartedly agree with. He said, “It is a sad irony that many find Ecclesiastes to be a gloomy and pessimistic book or are left unable to make any sense of it when it was actually written to bring us pleasure” (Gibson 2017, 154). After all, the text reads, “The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly” Ecclesiastes 12:10 NASB ’95.
But how do the words of Ecclesiastes bring us pleasure or delight? There is a delight in drawing “near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). Listening and reading the Word that God has given us can be a delight and, arguably, should be. King David in Psalm 19:7-10 compared the word of God to some of the finest luxuries of his day and took delight in it. But how can we delight in the word? I would suggest one way this can happen is by approaching the Bible with the expectation that it will teach you something new every time.
There is also a delight in knowing that God has given all things good in this life for us to enjoy. Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 that the fruit of labor, food, and drink, are all gifts from God meant to be enjoyed.
Another takeaway from Ecclesiastes is pain. The kind of pain that comes from someone telling you the truth. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 12:11-12, “The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd. And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh.”
Goads and nails. A goad was a long rod with a pointed tip. Its use was to prod livestock along the path they should go. If the ox, for example, began to drift, it would be prodded with the goad inflicting some pain to tell it not to go that way. And well-driven nails provide stability and firmness but also pain if your finger is in the wrong spot. These two illustrations are to help us understand that truth hurts. And truth often hurts the most when we need to hear it. In Ecclesiastes, we grabble with some hard and necessary truths that stop us in our tracks and prevent us from going the wrong direction.
- “There is nothing new under the sun” Ecclesiastes 1:9.
- “Therefore, I praised the dead who were already dead, more than the living who are still alive” Ecclesiastes 4:2.
- “Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all men: and the living will take it to heart” Ecclesiastes 7:2.
There is nothing new. We all are going to die. No one lives forever. One way we can remember our creation “in the days of [our] youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1) is by letting His word inflict its momentary pain to dispel our self-deception so we can keep on the right path. So, when we come across a command in Scripture, a Biblical principle to be applied, that knocks the wind out of us, obey. Don’t try and redefine or reinterpret. Or as David Gibson said, “Don’t domesticate your Bible” (Gibson 2017, 159).
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” Ecclesiastes 12:13. Why would we let a book inflict pain in our lives? Because it is God’s book, and the whole duty of man is to “fear God and keep His commandments.” Solomon said in Proverbs 9:10 that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” To fear Him is to remember Him. This is the beginning of wisdom. And while Solomon would be quick to remind us of the limits of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:18), it is wisdom that is ultimately the best path in life when that wisdom begins with the Lord. And to acknowledge and act on Ecclesiastes 12:13 is to be wise.
The final takeaway from Ecclesiastes is this, preparation. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 12:14, “For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.” The extraordinary comfort in a world that makes no sense at times is that God will judge, and the righteous will be vindicated. And while there is no profit or gain under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:3), death is inevitable for all. Death and life actually are gain for those in Christ. As Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
I want to close with a quote from Gibson. “Your death and the judgment to follow – the great fixed points of your life – are the very things that can reach back from the future into today and transform the life God has given you to live” (Gibson 2017, 162). So, because these things are fixed, how shall we live today?