Numbers 2, Psalm 36, Ecclesiastes 12, Philemon

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 2, Psalm 36, Ecclesiastes 12, Philemon. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Ecclesiastes 12.

I haven’t written much about the book of Ecclesiastes as we’ve been reading it together, but I think it is an important contribution to the Old Testament. Solomon, the author, has had the time, money, and wisdom to spend on trying to find the best possible life. Most of the first six chapters described the various ways people seek to find meaning in life. Solomon tried them and found them to be meaningless—a word that probably means something more like “a frustrating enigma” than totally empty of any meaning at all. In other words, he found some value in these things, but far less of a payoff in each than what each seemed to promise. These disappointing approaches to life were:

  • wisdom (1:12-18)
  • pleasure & possessions (2:1-11)
  • wisdom & folly (2:12-16)
  • achievement through hard work (2:17-26)
  • advancement (4:13-16)
  • wealth (5:8-6:12).

Interspersed within these were exhortations such as

  • to enjoy life (2:24-3:22)
  • to realize that injustice is an unfortunate fact of life (4:1-4)
  • to build relationships (4:5-12)
  • to worship God carefully with reverence (5:1-7)

Then, beginning in Ecclesiastes 7, we have a series of proverbs on wise living that runs through 11:10. Here in chapter 12, Solomon begins to sum up his experience and bring the book to a close. Chapter 12 opens with a command to remember God, the creator, while you are young (v. 1a). Verses 2-8 explain why it is important to focus your life on God while you are young, but what he says in these verses has been understood in a couple of different ways:

  1. One approach to 12:1a-8 is called the “allegory of old age.” This interpretation sees every image as describing a body that is breaking down as it gets older. For instance “the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark” is a description of an older person’s failing vision. And “the grinders cease because they are few” is a poetic way of talking about the fact that a person’s teeth are falling out. Each line in this poem, then, describes a body part that is declining in performance as a person gets older.
  2. A second approach is to see this as describing the end of life and the onset of death through the metaphor of a storm. In this interpretation, “the sun and the light” etc. growing dark is describing the approach of the storm. Likewise “the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades” because people see the storm coming and are seeking shelter before it arrives.

Both of these interpretations have some weaknesses, but the second of the two seems to explain the passage best to me. Regardless, both of them are leading toward the inevitable of approach of death. The end of verse 5 demonstrates this when it says, “Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets.” It may come slowly and agonizingly like the long decline of old age or it might come--no matter what age you are--fairly quickly like a rapidly moving storm front. Regardless, the point of the passage is that you should not wait to seek God until you are near death. All the godless approaches to life that Solomon tried were frustratingly enigmatic, so none of them will give you the satisfaction you think they will. If you think you should live for pleasure while you’re young then turn to God when you get older, you’ll find that the pleasure you seek is unsatisfying anyway and death will descend on you so quickly that it is too late to do anything differently with the few days of life you have left. 

This truth is one that we should reflect on for ourselves and urge on those who are younger. We all have a tendency to think that there is plenty of time left for us, so people can and will get serious about God as they get older, more mature, and wiser. But the truth is that as you get older you tend to get more set in your ways. Instead of turning to God because you’ve found every other approach to life unsatisfying, older people who have lived apart from God just tend to become cynical and jaded, not worshipful and godly. Solomon’s advice, then, is found in verse 13: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” There are many frustrating, enigmatic problems that come with living in this life. We all wish we could solve the riddle of why things that should make us happy leave us feeling, at best, disappointed and, at worst, miserable. But it is foolish to waste our lives trying to disprove Solomon’s teaching. Instead, to make the best of the life God has given you, follow his ways in faith and let him be the judge of all things (12:14). Whether you are young or old, there is no sense in waiting until you get older to serve God. The fun you think you have pursuing your own life will not be satisfying and death will close in on you faster than you can possibly imagine. So, follow God’s ways and trust him to provide the joys and satisfactions that the righteous enjoy. This is the secret of life.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.