A description of the infirmities of age. (1-7) All is vanity: also a warning of the judgment to come. (8-14)
Verses 1-7 We should remember our sins against our Creator, repent, and seek forgiveness. We should remember our duties, and set about them, looking to him for grace and strength. This should be done early, while the body is strong, and the spirits active. When a man has the pain of reviewing a misspent life, his not having given up sin and worldly vanities till he is forced to say, I have no pleasure in them, renders his sincerity very questionable. Then follows a figurative description of old age and its infirmities, which has some difficulties; but the meaning is plain, to show how uncomfortable, generally, the days of old age are. As the four verses, ( 2-5 ) , are a figurative description of the infirmities that usually accompany old age, ver. ( 6 ) notices the circumstances which take place in the hour of death. If sin had not entered into the world, these infirmities would not have been known. Surely then the aged should reflect on the evil of sin.
Verses 8-14 Solomon repeats his text, VANITY OF VANITIES, ALL IS VANITY. These are the words of one that could speak by dear-bought experience of the vanity of the world, which can do nothing to ease men of the burden of sin. As he considered the worth of souls, he gave good heed to what he spake and wrote; words of truth will always be acceptable words. The truths of God are as goads to such as are dull and draw back, and nails to such as are wandering and draw aside; means to establish the heart, that we may never sit loose to our duty, nor be taken from it. The Shepherd of Israel is the Giver of inspired wisdom. Teachers and guides all receive their communications from him. The title is applied in Scripture to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The prophets sought diligently, what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. To write many books was not suited to the shortness of human life, and would be weariness to the writer, and to the reader; and then was much more so to both than it is now. All things would be vanity and vexation, except they led to this conclusion, That to fear God, and keep his commandments, is the whole of man. The fear of God includes in it all the affections of the soul towards him, which are produced by the Holy Spirit. There may be terror where there is no love, nay, where there is hatred. But this is different from the gracious fear of God, as the feelings of an affectionate child. The fear of God, is often put for the whole of true religion in the heart, and includes its practical results in the life. Let us attend to the one thing needful, and now come to him as a merciful Saviour, who will soon come as an almighty Judge, when he will bring to light the things of darkness, and manifest the counsels of all hearts. Why does God record in his word, that ALL IS VANITY, but to keep us from deceiving ourselves to our ruin? He makes our duty to be our interest. May it be graven in all our hearts. Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is all that concerns man.
Ecclesiastes 12:1-14 .
1. As Ecclesiastes 11:9 Ecclesiastes 11:10 showed what youths are to shun, so this verse shows what they are to follow.
Creator--"Remember" that thou art not thine own, but God's property; for He has created thee ( Psalms 100:3 ). Therefore serve Him with thy "all" ( Mark 12:30 ), and with thy best days, not with the dregs of them ( Proverbs 8:17 , 22:6 , Jeremiah 3:4 , Lamentations 3:27 ). The Hebrew is "Creators," plural, implying the plurality of persons, as in Genesis 1:26; so Hebrew, "Makers" ( Isaiah 54:5 ).
while . . . not--that is, before that ( Proverbs 8:26 ) the evil days come; namely, calamity and old age, when one can no longer serve God, as in youth ( Ecclesiastes 11:2 Ecclesiastes 11:8 ).
no pleasure--of a sensual kind ( 2 Samuel 19:35 , Psalms 90:10 ). Pleasure in God continues to the godly old ( Isaiah 46:4 ).
2. Illustrating "the evil days" ( Jeremiah 13:16 ). "Light," "sun," &c., express prosperity; "darkness," pain and calamity ( Isaiah 13:10 , 30:26 ).
clouds . . . after . . . rain--After rain sunshine (comfort) might be looked for, but only a brief glimpse of it is given, and the gloomy clouds (pains) return.
3. keepers of the house--namely, the hands and arms which protected the body, as guards do a palace ( Genesis 49:24 , Job 4:19 , 2 Corinthians 5:1 ), are now palsied.
strong men . . . bow--( Judges 16:25 Judges 16:30 ). Like supporting pillars, the feet and knees ( Solomon 5:15 ); the strongest members ( Psalms 147:10 ).
grinders--the molar teeth.
those that look out of the windows--the eyes; the powers of vision, looking out from beneath the eyelids, which open and shut like the casement of a window.
4. doors--the lips, which are closely shut together as doors, by old men in eating, for, if they did not do so, the food would drop out ( Job 41:14 , Psalms 141:3 , Micah 7:5 ).
in the streets--that is, toward the street, "the outer doors" [MAURER and WEISS].
sound of . . . grinding--The teeth being almost gone, and the lips "shut" in eating, the sound of mastication is scarcely heard.
the bird--the cock. In the East all mostly rise with the dawn. But the old are glad to rise from their sleepless couch, or painful slumbers still earlier, namely, when the cock crows, before dawn ( Job 7:4 ) [HOLDEN]. The least noise awakens them [WEISS].
daughters of music--the organs that produce and that enjoy music; the voice and ear.
5. that which is high--The old are afraid of ascending a hill.
fears . . . in the way--Even on the level highway they are full of fears of falling, &c.
almond . . . flourish--In the East the hair is mostly dark. The white head of the old among the dark-haired is like an almond tree, with its white blossoms, among the dark trees around [HOLDEN]. The almond tree flowers on a leafless stock in winter (answering to old age, in which all the powers are dormant), while the other trees are flowerless. GESENIUS takes the Hebrew for flourishes from a different root, casts off; when the old man loses his gray hairs, as the almond tree casts its white flowers.
grasshoppers--the dry, shrivelled, old man, his backbone sticking out, his knees projecting forwards, his arms backwards, his head down, and the apophyses enlarged, is like that insect. Hence arose the fable, that Tithonus in very old age was changed into a grasshopper [PARKHURST]. "The locust raises itself to fly"; the old man about to leave the body is like a locust when it is assuming its winged form, and is about to fly [MAURER].
a burden--namely, to himself.
desire shall fail--satisfaction shall be abolished. For "desire," Vulgate has "the caper tree," provocative of lust; not so well.
long home--( Job 16:22 , 17:13 ).
mourners--( Jeremiah 9:17-20 ), hired for the occasion ( Matthew 9:23 ).
6. A double image to represent death, as in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5 , old age: (1) A lamp of frail material, but gilded over, often in the East hung from roofs by a cord of silk and silver interwoven; as the lamp is dashed down and broken, when the cord breaks, so man at death; the golden bowl of the lamp answers to the skull, which, from the vital preciousness of its contents, may be called "golden"; "the silver cord" is the spinal marrow, which is white and precious as silver, and is attached to the brain. (2) A fountain, from which water is drawn by a pitcher let down by a rope wound round a wheel; as, when the pitcher and wheel are broken, water can no more be drawn, so life ceases when the vital energies are gone. The "fountain" may mean the right ventricle of the heart; the "cistern," the left; the pitcher, the veins; the wheel the aorta, or great artery [SMITH]. The circulation of the blood, whether known or not to Solomon, seems to be implied in the language put by the Holy Ghost into his mouth. This gloomy picture of old age applies to those who have not "remembered their Creator in youth." They have none of the consolations of God, which they might have obtained in youth; it is now too late to seek them. A good old age is a blessing to the godly ( Genesis 15:15 , Job 5:26 , Proverbs 16:31 , 20:29 ).
7. dust--the dust--formed body.
spirit--surviving the body; implying its immortality ( Ecclesiastes 3:11 ).
8-12. A summary of the first part.
Vanity, &c.--Resumption of the sentiment with which the book began ( Ecclesiastes 1:2 , 1 John 2:17 ).
9. gave good heed--literally, "he weighed." The "teaching the people" seems to have been oral; the "proverbs," in writing. There must then have been auditories assembled to hear the inspired wisdom of the Preacher. See the explanation of Koheleth in the ( 1 Kings 4:34 ).
that which is written, &c.--rather, (he sought) "to write down uprightly (or, 'aright') words of truth" [HOLDEN and WEISS]. "Acceptable" means an agreeable style; "uprightly . . . truth," correct sentiment.
11. goads--piercing deeply into the mind ( Acts 2:37 , 9:5 , Hebrews 4:12 ); evidently inspired words, as the end of the verse proves. many books
fastened--rather, on account of the Hebrew genders, (The words) "are fastened (in the memory) like nails" [HOLDEN].
masters of assemblies--rather, "the masters of collections (that is, collectors of inspired sayings, Proverbs 25:1 ), are given ('have published them as proceeding' [HOLDEN]) from one Shepherd," namely, the Spirit of Jesus Christ [WEISS], ( Ezekiel 37:24 ). However, the mention of "goads" favors the English Version, "masters of assemblies," namely, under-shepherds, inspired by the Chief Shepherd ( 1 Peter 5:2-4 ). SCHMIDT translates, "The masters of assemblies are fastened (made sure) as nails," so Isaiah 22:23 .
--of mere human
composition, opposed to "by these"; these inspired
writings are the only sure source of "admonition." (over much) study
--in mere human books, wearies the body, without solidly profiting the soul.
13. The grand inference of the whole book.
Fear God--The antidote to following creature idols, and "vanities," whether self-righteousness ( Ecclesiastes 7:16 Ecclesiastes 7:18 ), or wicked oppression and other evils ( Ecclesiastes 8:12 Ecclesiastes 8:13 ), or mad mirth ( Ecclesiastes 2:2 , 7:2-5 ), or self-mortifying avarice ( Ecclesiastes 8:13 Ecclesiastes 8:17 ), or youth spent without God ( Ecclesiastes 11:9 , 12:1 ).
this is the whole duty of man--literally, "this is the whole man," the full ideal of man, as originally contemplated, realized wholly by Jesus Christ alone; and, through Him, by saints now in part, hereafter perfectly ( 1 John 3:22-24 , Revelation 22:14 ).
14. For God shall bring every work into judgment--The future judgment is the test of what is "vanity," what solid, as regards the chief good, the grand subject of the book.