1Remember 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 delight in them";
2before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened, and clouds return after the rain;
3in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble, and mighty men stoop, the grinding ones stand idle because they are few, and those who look through windows grow dim;
4and the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low, and one will arise at the sound of the bird, and all the daughters of song will sing softly.
5Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street.
6Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed;
7then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
8"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "all is vanity!"
In this section, Solomon uses various analogies and figures of speech to describe the nature of aging with the purpose of reminding us that this life is temporary. We are told to remember our Creator in our youth, knowing that life is short and that we will be accountable for our choices. Old age can be particularly delightful if we know we have lived in the fear of the Lord in our youth. Doing things God’s way always leads to more joy in the long run. As we age, we tend to stoop, we get tired, our eyesight diminishes, we don’t sleep as well, we get physically weaker and less agile, we tend to be afraid more, and we become sexually impotent. Man walks this earth but a short time until he must go to his eternal home. He will be mourned, and then life will go on for the rest. In light of the temporal nature of life, man must remember the Lord. His body will return to the dust from which it was made (Genesis 3:19), and his spirit will go to be with the Lord Who first breathed life into him (Genesis 2:7). If life is lived for self and in sin, it is meaningless and will render the soul in hell. This is why the fear of the Lord must dictate how we live and how we make our choices. God alone gives life direction and meaning. He alone can fill the soul with joy in childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age, even into eternity.
9In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs.
10The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.
Solomon, though he didn’t make wise choices for the duration of his life, was a wise man who sought to teach his people knowledge. He wanted to pass on wisdom to them and to warn them of the error of sin as he had learned firsthand. He wrote many proverbs, many of which are recorded in the Book of Proverbs, and he did much thinking about life, its meaning, and its purpose. Some people say that the Book of Ecclesiastes is depressing, but Solomon says that the purpose of his writing was to bring delight and to teach true things accurately. Thus, in order to have joy, we must accept the truth and live accordingly. If we don’t, we will end up living for ourselves and experience the meaninglessness of “under the sun” living. If we fear the Lord and do things His way, we can have joy. This is the purpose of Solomon writing this book.
11The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd.
Wisdom is given to guide us and keep us on the right track. Just as a goad is used to prod an animal on in the proper direction and to continue to labor, so wisdom does for man. Just as a nail firmly holds a structure, truth supports a life and a nation. The Lord, the One True Shepherd, is the giver of all that is true. Wise men are merely stewards of God’s truth, and it is their call to shepherd, protect, and instruct those under their care in righteousness.
12But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.
The pursuit of knowledge for prideful reasons or for the sake of knowledge itself is tiring and meaningless. Reading, pondering, studying, and thinking too much is wearying on the body. The point is to have delight, and there can be delight in thinking and reasoning if it is done for the purpose of edification of others and for the worship of God. But life must have balance. It is not healthy to spend the whole of one’s life studying and writing books. We have people to love, a world to enjoy, a God to praise, people to share the gospel with, and a life to live enjoying God. Studying and reflection is important, but it cannot become an idol.
13The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.
14For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
Solomon’s desire is that those who hear his teaching have joy and know the truth (Ecclesiastes 12:10). Thus, the only sensible and true way to live is in the fear of the Lord which leads to obedience and a trust in His Word. Those who keep the commands of God by faith can have true joy because the truth will set them free as they enjoy a relationship with their Creator. The fear of the Lord causes one to be mindful of the judgment to come, understanding that life isn’t just about the here and now but about eternal things. Thus, this life is best lived if lived serving the Lord and pursuing eternal rewards. Only such a mindset can enable one to enjoy life which can be unfair, difficult, and strenuous under the sun. And, more importantly, living in the fear of the Lord leads to an eternal inheritance and many good rewards. Man will be held to account for his time on earth, and God is the Judge. To neglect Him is to miss the meaning, purpose, and joy of life. To love Him and worship Him is to find all of these things.