Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 19 2019 - Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:14 – The end of it all

We have skipped to the end of Ecclesiastes to see what conclusions the Teacher has come to in his search to understand the meaning of life.

Firstly, he concludes that there is much in life to be enjoyed. Death may be coming and will reduce everything to vanity or meaninglessness (11:8), but that provides all the more reason to enjoy life while it lasts. In particular, the young should enjoy life while they have the ability to enjoy it.

But the Teacher is well aware that all life comes from God and that every human being remains accountable to God, so he counsels, "Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment." (11:9). So, secondly, the Teacher calls for young people to: "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come  and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them'" (12:1).

Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 is a moving and poetic piece of writing about the increasing frailties of old age: one's vision begins to fail; arms tremble and legs become bowed; teeth fall out; one becomes housebound and incapable of working; hearing fails and one is filled with all manner of fears – justifiable and imagined; one's hair goes white – if you have any of it left; one can no longer take pleasure in anything. And all of this is just the precursor to death itself when, "the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (12:7).

This analysis of the brief span of human life concludes, "'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Everything is meaningless!'" (12:8). The Teacher has ended his book just where he started it. His investigations have not helped him find any answer to the meaning of life.

But 12:8 is not quite the end; 12:9-14 form a kind of appendix to the book. It's a strange appendix, commending the Teacher for his wisdom while at the same time warning of the dangers of the multitude of books and of the wearisome nature of study. These verses then conclude:

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil. (12:13-14)

There is much about the world, human life in general and your own life in particular which you may not understand. The best advice in such a situation is to "fear God and keep his commandments" – to trust and obey.

That was the best advice that Old Testament wisdom could come up with, but we have Christ. Ecclesiastes encourages us to feel the burden of a world that is not what it ought to be and prompts us to look with renewed longing for the day when our Lord Jesus shall return from heaven and our bodies, and this world, at present subject to vanity, corruption and death, shall at last be changed, renewed and decked with glory. Perhaps this is a longing we feel more keenly with the advance of old age and loss of the faculties we enjoyed in the years of our youth. We long for their return.

Father God, we thank you that the revelation of your redemptive purposes in the Lord Jesus exceeds all that human wisdom could imagine or the human heart desire. Your Spirit has taught our hearts to groan along with a groaning creation. Help us by your Spirit to tell others of the Lord Jesus, the answer to this world's longings and hope. Help us to serve you gladly until all our faculties fail and our breath ceases and then to serve you with renewed strength in glory.

Peter Misselbrook