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Finale: Chapter 12

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”— before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim; when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint; when men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along and desire no longer is stirred. Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets.

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!”

Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

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


While you are yet young enough to enjoy life, remember God.  You will age and decline, becoming unable to experience pleasure—weak eyes & ears, stooped over, teeth lost, poor sleep, fearfulness, difficulty to walk, and finally death.  As is obvious, everyone will die and their body will decay in the soil or burn.  And their spirits will return to God, whether in heaven with Him forever (as a believer in Jesus) or in judgment before God and everlasting suffering afterward (as a follower of something other than Jesus).  Life is ephemeral and therefore in itself, apart from God, is meaningless. 

For several years we lived in China.  God was never mentioned in the official public forums.  All people heard was empty entertainment and hollow politics, and the emptiness shouted loudly that something major was missing.  It created a hunger for God in people, so that the Good News of Jesus spread more quickly. 

In the New Testament, Romans 8:20-21 states, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  The word frustration is closely related to vanity or meaninglessness, as in Ecclesiastes.  The emptiness and vanity of life apart from God creates a vacuum, drawing humanity to acknowledge their need for God.  Furthermore, according to the New Testament, meaning is found only in Jesus, the Savior of the world (John 4:42).

Ecclesiastes is filled with truly wise words; beware wise-sounding false teaching found in many tiresome books.  Even study is empty of meaning apart from God.  Education, while valuable, is not the answer to the question of meaning.  Jesus is the one ultimate Shepherd, the source of ultimate wisdom.  All meaning is found in Him.  He conquered death, so that even in death now there is meaning.  Remember what Jesus has done.  Do communion with other followers of Jesus. 

The final word:  “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” and woman.  God will judge all; there are no secrets from Him.  Keeping His commandments is not meaningless but deeply meaningful and eternal.  In America, “obey” is a four-letter word.  When our daughters were little, we let them watch a video where a man led a bunch of children to sing a song spelling out O-B-E-Y.  One year when my daughters innocently and joyfully sang this song, my mom, who does not believe in Jesus, cringed.  This teaching isn’t attractive in our culture, but it is true.  Ironically, it is in obedience that we find freedom (see Romans 7-8; freedom is found in living rightly by the Spirit of God, not by striving to fulfill the letter of the Law).  Contrary to popular cultural thinking, duty is not a bad motivation—rather, manipulative control by human beings apart from God, even in religion, is a bad motivation.  In obedience to God, and to a lesser extent even in obedience to authorities that He has provided on earth for our benefit (see Romans 13:1-7), we find meaning and purpose.

Father, my life or death is in your hands.  If I catch the virus, it is in your hands.  If I die, I go to be with you.  You are my God.  We are your people.  Your judgment has fallen on Jesus.  Therefore I need not fear death.  Lead me to fear you; lead me away from sin, even sin in my mind.  Lead me to treasure and obey all your commands.  Your words, Father, are infinitely valuable, and studying them gives me joy.  Forgive my sins, Lord.

Welcome your comments and discussion.

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