Ecclesiastes 12

Fear God Now Because Old Age and Death Come Quickly

12:1 So remember your Creator in the days of your youth—
before the difficult days come,
and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;
12:2 before the sun and the light of the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds disappear after the rain;
12:3 when those who keep watch over the house begin to tremble,
and the virile men begin to stoop over,
and the grinders begin to cease because they grow few,
and those who look through the windows grow dim,
12:4 and the doors along the street are shut;
when the sound of the grinding mill grows low,
and one is awakened by the sound of a bird,
and all their songs grow faint,
12:5 and they are afraid of heights and the dangers in the street;
the almond blossoms grow white,
and the grasshopper drags itself along,
and the caper berry shrivels up—
because man goes to his eternal home,
and the mourners go about in the streets—
12:6 before the silver cord is removed,
or the golden bowl is broken,
or the pitcher is shattered at the well,
or the water wheel is broken at the cistern—
12:7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was,
and the life’s breath returns to God who gave it.

Difficult days – Graphic indeed is the picture of old age that is drawn here

The years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them” – decreasing capacity for joy
before the sun and the light of the moon and the stars grow dark and the clouds disappear after the rain –
when those who keep watch over the house begin to tremble – arms
the virile men begin to stoop over – legs
the grinders begin to cease because they grow few – teeth
those who look through the windows grow dim – eyes
the doors along the street are shut – reduced involvement with the outside world
the sound of the grinding mill grows low – hearing loss
one is awakened by the sound of a bird – erratic sleep
all their songs grow faint,
they are afraid of heights and the dangers in the street – fear of falling
the almond blossoms grow white – white hair
the grasshopper drags itself along – unsteady gait
the caper berry shrivels up – reduced sexual drive

If the preceding description is all about the effects of aging, the next is of death itself.

because man goes to his eternal home,
and the mourners go about in the streets—
before the silver cord is removed,
or the golden bowl is broken,
or the pitcher is shattered at the well,
or the water wheel is broken at the cistern—
and the dust returns to the earth as it was,
and the life’s breath returns to God who gave it.

‘A man came rushing up to a ferry, breathless after running at a terrific pace, but he got there just as the door was shut in his face.  A bystander remarked, “You didn’t run fast enough.”  The disappointed man answered, “I ran fast enough, but I didn’t start on time.”  To accomplish the most for God in a lifetime, you must start early – “in the days of your youth”.’  (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 415)

What experience brings

When I have ceased to break my wings
Against the faultiness of things;
And learned that compromises wait
Behind each hardly opened gate.
When I look life in the eyes,
Grown calm and very coldly wise,
Life will have given me the truth
And taken in exchange, my youth.

— Sara Teasdale

Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.  (French Proverb)

Concluding Refrain: Qoheleth Restates His Thesis

12:8 “Absolutely futile!” laments the Teacher,
“All of these things are futile!”

Concluding Epilogue: Qoheleth’s Advice is Wise

12:9 Not only was the Teacher wise,
but he also taught knowledge to the people;
he carefully evaluated and arranged many proverbs.
12:10 The Teacher sought to find delightful words,
and to write accurately truthful sayings.
12:11 The words of the sages are like prods,
and the collected sayings are like firmly fixed nails;
they are given by one shepherd.

In this verse, and the next, we find a very explicit statement about the literary awareness and intentions of the writer.  He has a philosophy of writing, and a very literary view of composition.  ‘Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find pleasing words, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. (Eccl. 12:9-10, RSV)  Several things are important here. One is the picture of the writer as self-conscious composer, carefully choosing from among available options as he selects and arranges his material. A second theme is the preoccupation with artistry and beauty of expression, as suggested by the phrase “pleasing words” or “words of delight.” A third literary aspect of this writer’s theory of writing is his awareness that he is writing in a definite literary genre (“type” or “kind”), in this case by using proverbs.’ (Origin of the Bible)

Concluding Exhortation: Fear God and Obey His Commands!

12:12 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.
There is no end to the making of many books,
and much study is exhausting to the body.
12:13 Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
because this is the whole duty of man.
12:14 For God will evaluate every deed,
including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

In v13f ‘The second wise man tells his son to establish a right relationship with God (“Fear God”) and maintain that relationship by obeying his commands and living life in the light of the future judgment. We might anachronistically say that he speaks of justification, sanctification, and eschatology in a verse and a half.’ (Longman)

According to Longman, ‘it’s also likely that these final two verses, written toward the end of the Old Testament time period, allude to the three-part Hebrew canon: “Fear God” (the Writings), “obey the commandments” (Torah), and the future judgment (Prophets). Thus the father tells his son (and later readers) he shouldn’t try to find meaning under the sun, but only in God. Put God first and then everything else can find its proper place.’