For the Young and the Old: The Conclusion

The Meaning of Life Series
  • What happens when we seek ultimate meaning outside of relationship with the Creator God? What happens when we're desperate for the answers to life but can't seem to find any? What happens when our souls get wearied from the constant pursuit of pleasure and possessions? These are enormous questions of life and meaning that Ecclesiastes grapples with in the timeless complexity and messiness of reality. In the end, the ancient philosopher recalibrates our hearts, minds, and lives to pursue meaning in the Ultimate God because God alone holds the key to the meaning of life.
10. For the Young and the Old (Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:14)
  • Can we find meaning in being alive and vibrant in our old age?
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • Life goes from young to old, and God needs to be in the midst of one’s life from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 11:8 & 9)
  • Old age is inevitable, is part of life, and ends in one’s death; so turn to God early on, in your youth. (Ecclesiastes 12:1 & 2)
  • The truth of life, and the source of wisdom is from God, so in life one should fear God and follow His ways. (Ecclesiastes 12:, 13 & 14)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • Wherever you are on your life’s journey in terms of your age, have you put God into the midst of your life?
  • How are you approaching your life and the fact of your aging? Are you living life fully no matter your age?
  • Do you fear God and keep His commandments?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • What does it mean to say “Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 11:7)
  • Why should one rejoice in his or her youth? What does it mean to rejoice in one’s youth?
  • Describe the reality of on-coming age and aging? What should that inevitability mean for the living of your life now?
  • What does it mean that “God will bring you into judgment?” (Ecclesiastes 11:9b)?
  • What does it mean to “remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body?” (Ecclesiastes 11:10)
  • Why does the Preacher tell us to “remember” our Creator in the days of our youth?
  • Describe the effects of on-coming age. (Ecclesiastes 12:3-5). What is the eventual outcome of old age and what does it mean?
  • What was the Preacher’s objective in writing this book? How did he approach his task, and what is the intended impact of his book on us?
  • What is the Preacher’s conclusion from all he has studied and thought about?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • What is your approach to life, no matter what your age is?
  • How can you enjoy life in a way that honors God’s gift of life to you?
  • Why should you focus on God at the center of your life? Have you done so?
  • What is the source of meaning in your life?
  • How do you remove vexation from your heart and put away pain from your body and why is doing so important?
  • How are you experiencing the process of aging? How can you maintain a life of enjoyment in the midst of growing old? What things might you do to achieve that purpose?
  • What have you learned from this overall study of the book of Ecclesiastes? What words of truth have presented themselves to you in the study?
  • Have the words of truth in Ecclesiastes “goaded” you into action? Into making any changes in your life, in your mindset, and in your attitudes? What are those changes? If you haven’t made any changes, should you, and what should they be?
  • How can you live to fear God and keep His commandments?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
At the end of the last Notes, we saw that the Preacher closed with the admonition, “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand ...” (Ecclesiastes 11:6) In other words, live life every day from start to finish and allow God to work His way. In these Notes, the final ones in this Series, the Preacher, in a way, is going to continue that thought, but from a different angle. Specifically, he’s going to speak of youth and the inevitably of aging and the ultimate outcome of death. How should we live in that life process, with the end in sight? And in his observations on the matter, the Preacher will bring his work to a close with his final conclusion.

In chapter 11, verses 7 and 8a, the Preacher tells us that vitality of life and living should be the norm for all of life, especially when one is young. Life is pleasant and is to be enjoyed, and one’s enjoyment is perfectly acceptable as after all, life is from God and meant to be enjoyed, as the Preacher has already pointed out (Ecclesiastes 3:22). Yet the young need to keep in mind that old age will come, and with it the darkness; just as the sunset and the night follow after the sunrise and the daytime, so death follows at the end of one’s life … so, vanity! But in the context of what the Preacher has already written, the implication of verse 8 is don’t miss out on life while you are young and growing older; just know that the rhythm of life includes the end. So the young especially should live life to the full, remembering to do so with responsibility as God is the judge (Ecclesiastes 11:9) in the sense that He will want an account of how one availed oneself of living with joy the life that God gave. At the same time, the young need to know that life will include its problems and difficulties, its pains and sorrows, its temptations and vexations. So much as possible, these things are to be avoided when they can be avoided by one’s good choices. In other words, enjoying life does not mean irresponsibility and bad choices which lead to difficulties and pain. While such will come as a part of life, “remove vexation” from your heart and “put away pain. (Ecclesiastes 11:10)

The Preacher continues to speak of one’s approach to life while young, saying that a person should find God and even faith in God while young. (Ecclesiastes 12:1) In other words, don’t wait until you are old when it might be too late for you because of your own frustrations with age. The aging process is inevitable and it saps a person and limits us in varying ways, and can rob us of a mind that will find rest in the Creator. So, find God “before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain.” (Ecclesiastes 12:2) The Preacher then proceeds in verses 3 through 8 to catalogue what happens with age. The list is startling in its accuracy even as it is poetic in its presentation. The Preacher says that arms and legs tremble and grow weak (the “keepers of the house tremble” and “the strong men are bent” Ecclesiastes 12:3); the “grinders” (one’s teeth, it seems) don’t work because there are few left (Ecclesiastes 12:3); the eyes grow dim (Ecclesiastes 12:3); the ears don’t hear as well (Ecclesiastes 12:4); it’s harder to speak (“the sound of grinding is low” Ecclesiastes 12:4); though one still wakes up at the sound of the birds singing, one can hardly hear it (Ecclesiastes 12:4b); one becomes afraid of heights and of crowds (“terrors are in the way,” Ecclesiastes 12:5); hair grows white (“the almond tree blossoms” with white blooms in mid-winter in the near east. Ecclesiastes 12:5); movement becomes slow (the “grasshopper drags itself along,” Ecclesiastes 12:5); and sexual desires and potency fade (Ecclesiastes 12:5b). All of the foregoing happen “because man is going to his eternal home and the mourners go about the streets.” (Ecclesiastes 12:5b). So the Preacher calls out again, “Seek God now” before the “silver cord is snapped,” the “golden bowl is broken,” the “pitcher is shattered,” or the “wheel broken at the cistern.” (Ecclesiastes 12:6. Some commentators suggest the foregoing represent parts of the body – cord = spine; bowl = head; pitcher = heart; wheel = inner parts and digestion tract. Such an interpretation might be pushing things, but the point is clear, the pictures point to endings). Life will come to an end, and dust return to dust; the gifts of life are fleeting and we will end at God’s throne, before the One who gave us the life to live in the first place. The end comes, and so … “vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 12:8)

Lest we think that the Preacher has concluded that there is no meaning in life, it seems that instead he has just pointed to the truth that life is fleeting and ends in death, yet it is worth living for God. And the following verses support this interpretation. In verses 9 and 10 of chapter 12, the Preacher (in the third person; or possibly through the comments of a disciple), reminds the reader that he, the wise one, has undertaken his study with great care, to write of the truth, and to do so for the benefit of his reader. Such words are not to puff himself any more than the words of a Prophet of God point to the Prophet. Rather, the Preacher simply states the reality of who he is and what he has done, and then notes that they are from “one Shepherd.” (Ecclesiastes 12:11) By saying thus, the Preacher underscores that his book is the word of God, that wisdom and his own wisdom is from God, and the purpose of the words of God are to goad one to action. And what action? The Preacher will give the answer in verse 13, but before doing so warns the reader that one could do more study but it will get him or her nowhere. The ultimate wisdom is to be found in God and the keeping of His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13) which, as he has written, is to live life with God at the center, knowing that He will judge everything in the end (Ecclesiastes 12:14)

So the Preacher’s search for meaning has taken him to God. The search has shown that man can’t find the answers to life on his own, but that the search will peel back the truth that God knows all, that He has given us life to live and enjoy, and that wisdom is found in Him. The Preacher has already indicated that while we don’t know everything, indeed we know enough to be responsible for what we do in light of what we know, and that God will be the judge of our life and the way we live it. And further, the Preacher has already indicated that everything is in God’s sight and in His control. So his conclusion is, “fear God and keep His commandments.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). And to the Christian who knows now, as the Preacher did not, that Jesus is the Wisdom of God, the lesson of Ecclesiastes is that one should come to Jesus in whom is life and meaning. And we know from God's word that if we come, we can be sure that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38 & 39) Praise the Lord, in Christ we have meaning and purpose! Everything is not vanity after all!