Right now, I’d like all of us to take out our Bibles and turn to Ecclesiastes 12. Can we have someone volunteer to read this passage for us, please? [Read passage] Great, thanks for reading.
So, before we begin with the actual teaching, I’d like to know if anything stood out to you in this passage? Was there anything you didn’t fully understand or that you have questions about? [Allow response time]
Personally, I find this passage to be kind of confusing. It uses a lot of symbols: grasshopper, caperberry, silver cord. What exactly do those things mean? How do they even apply to us in our daily lives – in our schooling, our jobs, or our marriage?
Well, I am going to help explain this passage to you. It’s probably easiest if you just leave your Bible open while I do the explaining so you can follow along with what I’m saying. I’ll give you the verses we are discussing so that it’s easier for you to know where I am in the passage.
For the past few months, we have been looking at each chapter in the book of Ecclesiastes and we’ve discovered many different things about what the Bible tells us. The book of Ecclesiastes itself has been dealing with the Christian response to the evil, pain, and suffering that takes place in the world. It asks itself, “Is this really all there is? Is there something more? Is there something I can truly look forward to even in the midst of this whole mess?” Here, in this chapter, Ecclesiasticus (the Preacher) summaries it all by saying that in the end of the day all that is left is to worship God. We were created for the purpose of giving God honour and glory. We can’t take fame, money, or power with us, we can only leave this world with our trust in God. Therefore, we need to make sure we have our lives right with Him before it is too late. After this life, we will never get a second chance.
Throughout this chapter, the Preacher reminds us that although we may get distracted by many other things in our lives: like our jobs, our families, and our friends, there are really only three things we need to do to ensure that we will have a happy and blessed life:
First, we must REMEMBER God in everything we do. The word “remember” is mentioned in two very pivotal points in this passage. Verse 1 tells us to “remember our Creator in the days of our youth” and verse 6 reminds us to “remember God before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed.” In other words, we are to remember God before our old age.
The other two actions are found in verse 13. We are to fear God and keep His commandments.
Let’s talk about the first action first. We are to REMEMBER God. How do we remember God? Any ideas? [Give time for responses] Well there are actually many different ways. We can remember God in our devotional times, by going to church, and even by helping others and being respectful to our parents and family. Here’s my second question: is it always easy to remember God in everything we do? Do we sometimes forget? I think all of us forget at different times to place Christ at the center of our lives.
For example: all of us here can think of someone or a few people are who so wrapped up in their careers that everything else in their life falls by the wayside. These people may have families that are falling apart, they may be emotionally and mentally torn from stress and overworking, and they may even be spiritually dead, but they continue to do what they are doing because of the thought of a job promotion or salary rise. These people may even try to justify themselves. They may say that they need the extra money to support their families or to give to charity, but God would rather have them give their time to Him than simply their pocketbook.
People in our generation grew up with this mindset that everything in the world revolves around our careers and our education. How many of you can remember being asked when you were a kid what you wanted to be when you grew up? Probably all of us can raise our hand. Since we were kids, we were conditioned to move up the ladder in our jobs, to network with people who could help us get good positions and that we need to be the best in everything.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing our best in life and trying to get good positions and have a good income, but Ecclesiasticus reminds us that if our only aspiration is to show off and win the respect of others then we are chasing after the wind. He says that this is meaningless. There is no point to continue to work for a reward that will one day perish. Instead, it is important for the person to come to know God in a personal way and to build up a relationship with Him so that everything they do will flow out of their love and devotion to Him. It is important to come to know God before the age of one’s retirement, before they lose their drive and ambition. Ambition is a good thing, but it has to be used for the right reasons and to serve God, rather than for monetary or social gain.
Secondly, we are to fear God. What does it mean to fear God? Does it mean to be afraid of Him? No, in this situation the word “fear” actually refers to having a deep respect for someone or something. It means that we honour them and pay homage to them. That we worship them.
And a big part of fearing God is our third point: it is doing what He says. When we really respect someone, we want to please them. We want them to be happy with us. We want their favour.
How do we learn what God wants us to do? [Response time] That’s right, we can learn through Scriptures, through talking to others who are stronger and more mature in their faith, and through going to church. We can also ask God what He expects of us in our prayers and in our daily quiet times with Him. When we really take the time to get to know God and what His Word says, He will never disappoint us. Although it can be hard at first to listen to God’s direction in our lives, the more we get to know His character, the easier it will be to understand the unique calling He has placed on our lives. Soon, we will be able to hear His voice even when we aren’t consciously looking for it.
Throughout his book, Ecclesiasticus keeps the exact same thesis which he constantly comes back to. The thesis is that apart from knowing God and keeping His commandments everything is meaningless. There is no purpose to working hard if one is only working for themselves; sooner or later they will get worn out and want to give up. They are working for a reward that will perish in a fire, but if they start working for God then they are working for an eternal reward.
Ecclesiasticus seems to know this from experience. He seems to be an older man who is teaching a group of younger men all that he has learned from chasing after useless ambitions or unfruitful plans.
In the Asian culture, it is very important to obey and listen to the wisdom of those who are older in our community. We give great respect to our parents and our grandparents and want to please them. But unfortunately the elderly aren’t always respected like this. Ecclesiasticus seemed to feel this tension: he knew that teenagers and young adults might not be that interested in an old man talking about his life. We are in the prime of our life. We are enjoying our careers, our education, and our marriages: at this stage, we aren’t thinking of the fact that we will one day get older and lose many of the capabilities we currently have. We think we will always have strength, vitality, and vigour and do not realize that one day our bodies will break down and we will be weak and helpless. In our pursuit to get more money and greater prestige, we seem to forget that we will one day revert right back to the place we were at when we were infants.
This concept of old age and eventual death is actually seen throughout this passage. Can anyone here locate specifically which verses seem to talk the most about it? [Allow response time] One of the most obvious places he mentions old age is in the first section between verses 1-7.
I’ve given you a handout explaining some of the terms used in these verses. It might be helpful if you look at it now.
But I’d like us to look specifically at verse 5. Here we have two very specific references to old age: the almond tree (a reference to losing our sense of taste), and the grasshopper (referring to the gait of an elderly person).
The Preacher also addresses issues of sexual impotency (associated with age) in this same verse when he references the caperberry. The sex drive is often the highest in teenagers and young adults, so it seems fitting that he makes mention of this in his exhortation. Note that he never says that sex is wrong, on the contrary, he realizes it is a part of life that is even honourable, but he makes mention that if all one is doing is pursuing the desire that they will have with a woman or if all they are doing is working hard to impress someone of the opposite gender so that they will fall in love with them then they are sadly mistaken. He says that there will come a day when one’s sexual desires will wane and even sex will not be as important as it once was. This is an important message for today’s teens and young adults: do not fall in love with someone simply because you are chasing after the wind (simply because they will make you look good, or it will be beneficial for you to be together), but love someone because it is honouring to God and because it will make you stronger in your walk with Christ.
God’s plan is all about relationship with humankind. God gave all that He had for the sake of His sons and daughters and all He wants in return is that we accept Him as a friend and work to get to know Him better. Worldly and fleshly desires rob us of the true desire that God has to give us. The greed and lusts of the world try to convince us that we do not have enough, that we need more, that we need to act or be a certain way, but God says no to all of this. God says that all that is important is that we come to believe in Him and the sooner we become His children the easier our lives will be. Young people might think that they are superhuman and do not need anyone’s help, but the teacher writes that it is better for someone to come to know God at a young age while they are still young enough to make a difference and to enjoy life under His provision and providence, rather than when their life is near its end and they can no longer make a difference in their work force. The idea is that by having God as a companion, even in the hard times He will help His children. It is so much better to believe in God so that when life gets bleak we can be filled with hope rather than to not believe in Him and to find life meaningless or pointless.
This is all summarized in the second last verse – verse 13. Let’s read it together again just to remind ourselves what it says: “The end of the matter after all has been heard is this: fear God and keep His commandments, for that is the whole duty of a person.”
Since God gives us such a hope and security, why would we not want to grab hold of it and believe that He can give us the meaning and purpose that no job, position, or status can ever fill? If we believe in Him and accept Him to be our God and Father we may just find ourselves being more excited and enthusiastic not only about our jobs, but also about daily living and we may find that our hearts are more open and receptive to those we come into contact with daily.
Our teaching is finished for today, but we’d still like to encourage you to stick around and hang out with one another. Grab another coffee or tea and some snacks. Because we concluded our Bible study series today, we will be taking a break next week and doing a fun outing so keep checking your emails for details regarding that. We will begin a new Bible study series soon and we would welcome your suggestions for topics you would like us to cover.
Before we do that, though, I’d love to just take a minute and pray for you guys. Can we all bow our heads and close our eyes as we talk to God about what He showed us in His word today: “Father God, thank you for the opportunity we have to come before You and worship You. We thank You for giving us Your Word which reminds us that above everything else we need to keep You at the centre of our hearts and follow Your will for our lives. We pray that You will help us remember You in everything we do even when we get busy with many other pressures and stresses in life. We pray that You would teach us how to fear, revere, and honour You and that You would show us in Your Word exactly what Your commandments are and how we can please You by keeping them. We pray that You would give us a great week and help us to tell others about You. We pray for courage and strength in those situations, always remembering that even despite our young age that You are still calling each one of us to make things right with You while we still can and before it is too late. Thank You for listening to our prayers today. We pray all of these things in the Name of Your mighty and all powerful Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Imagery Used in Ecclesiastes 12
Almond Tree – it has white blossoms which is characteristic of old age (Estes 376)
- Some think that the correct sequence of words to use is “to despise” rather than what is familiar to English readers “to blossom” (if one says “to despise” it refers to the fact that age has decreased one’s ability to enjoy the wonderful taste of the almond nuts)
- Grasshopper (verb: hagab) – Some scholars suggest this may refer to the pods of the carob tree. If it refers to an insect than it means the stiff walk of an elderly person, if it speaks of a carob tree it refers to sexual impotence.
- Caperberry – “Was likely an aphrodisiac. The fact that it was ineffective showed that sexual pleasures had come to an end.” (Estes 376)
- Nails – They were wrenched into the end of sticks and used as prods (essentially a goad). The images of goads and nails refer to the fact that proverbs provoke others to good conduct. The nail may suggest that wise teaching is stable for those who receive it, but may also imply a sense of pain or discomfort as the learner is goaded along the right path of life to follow.
- Daughters of Song – This refers to songs and melodious notes. This verse (4) suggests that all appreciation for music will cease to exist. (Leupold 280)
- The Silver Cord and the Golden Bowl – Likely have no specific meaning, but rather are part of the background information. The general meaning is one of decay and loss of life. (283)
- Cistern – During this time period, it was not uncommon for a cistern to have a wheel attached above it so that as the rope ran over the wheel more leverage could be obtained making drawing water easier.
Estes, Daniel J. Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005. Print.
Leupold, H.C. Exposition of Ecclesiastes. Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1952. Print.