From the third and final lecture in the audio seminar Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living
Let me quickly mention here some of the imagery, which is subject to various interpretations. For example, Ecc. 12, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth... Before the sun and the light and the moon and stars grow dark.” Professor Dalich, in his classic commentary, draws some of the following implications: The sun here is a symbol for your vitality, your physical vitality. The stars refer to your five senses. Before your senses are dimmed and your vitality is diminished, act decisively on behalf of God. When, verse 3, "the keepers of the house tremble." What might that be? “When the strong men stoop,” in other words, when your legs become weak and your knees become bent. It is like the little old lady who only had two teeth but she thanked God that they were opposite each other. “When the grinders cease because they are few and those looking through the windows grow dim…” Your eyesight becomes dim and is less perceptive. He is painting this amazing picture of growing old and he is saying, now is the time to act decisively on behalf of the Creator. Don’t wait until these things begin happening.
It is sad to see old people who are so fearful all the time. “When the almond tree blossoms, it is so beautiful to be in Israel when the almond tree blossoms…” It is an explosion, like popcorn on trees. It’s a symbol of gray, white hair. Beautiful. “When the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along,” indicative of a halting gait, when you walk, you can’t walk smoothly, like a grasshopper. “When desire no longer is stirred when the caper berry fails to bear fruit.” In other words, when your sexual prowess, your sexual energy is gone. Before all of this, verse 6, “Remember him.” Especially before death overtakes you, “when the silver cord is severed and the golden bowl is broken." Perhaps symbolizing the spine and the brain, the pitcher is shattered (some say this refers to the heart bursting or breaking), the wheel broken at the well, and dust returns to the ground from which it came and the spirit returns to God who gave it. In other words, before all of this, will you remember your Creator? Will you act decisively on his behalf? Will you work diligently? Will you apply yourself wholeheartedly to the full joys of life? To the destiny God has given you? Will you affirm it? Will you work industriously on his behalf? Do so now. Don’t hesitate. Don’t wait until you fulfill some of this imagery, when you desire, perhaps to do these things but you are no longer capable or able. Now is the time of action. And finally then, he comes to the conclusion of the whole matter. He reminds us of his credentials.
He says first in verse 8, at the end of this beautiful allegory, "'Meaningless, meaningless,' says the Teacher, 'everything is meaningless.'" I think what he is saying here is how sad it is to see someone who goes through life and comes to this end, when the grinders no longer work, when the windows, the eyes are dimmed, the hearing is diminished, the capacities are few. How futile it is that they have lived a life, but never known the Giver of life, never known the key to abundant living. How meaningless it is. How sad and how meaningless.
But now, he tells us, before I give you the conclusion, I want to again acknowledge my credentials. Not only was the Teacher wise, verse 9, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words. This has not been some haphazard musings of a demented old man. This has been a matter of searching for, literally it says, “words of grace.” He is sharing his wisdom to try to goad you to action. In fact, he says in verse 10, “To find just the right words and what he wrote was upright and true... The words of the wise are like goads, the collected sayings like firmly embedded nails." (What’s a goad, it’s a metallic point, put on the end of a wooden rod used to prod oxen into action.) And the nails are used here to erect tents. That is the way it is with these words. They are goads. Nails. Or we could say, a peg. These are pegs that you can hang your hat on. Here’s where you can hang your coat. You can have confidence in this. But I’m giving it to you to goad you to proper action. “Take these words to heart, because of the making of books there is no end. And much study wearies the body. But now, all has been heard and all has been said. Therefore, let us here the conclusion of the matter." Very simple and I hope to you now, very powerful. “Fear God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole duty of man. God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Fear God. He speaks here of the Shepherd who is behind all of this. That is the Shepherd of Israel, that’s the Lord God. Our highest wisdom is to fear before Him, to make a total, wholesale commitment of our mind, strength, soul and body. To do his will, to submit to his authority, and to be about his work in this world. Because the day is coming when that Shepherd will judge his sheep, some to the right, some to the left.
Therefore, to answer the question that we began our study with, mah yitron? Where’s the gain, where’s the profit? It is simple. It’s found in fearing God and obeying him, because if we fear before Him, then he gives us life, abundant life, because He has brought us into a right relationship with the very source of life. Otherwise, our task is hard; our toiling is endless. It’s much ado about nothing. It’s meaningless. It’s meaningless. We must come before him, be rightly related to Him and then He gives us the joy of life and the enjoyment of life.
You see, from our perspective, from this side of Calvary, we have life in the Son, not under the sun. Jesus has become our chief Shepherd. In Him we live and move. We have our very being and existence. He has become for us, according to Paul, the Wisdom of God, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. And to the extent that we obey His words, we have life. To the extent that we fear before, we make a wholesale commitment of ourselves to Him, He gives us the increase of His ruling, His government and His shalom, His peace. Otherwise, apart from Him, apart from Christ, we have not shalom, but we have fleeting shadows and empty illusions. We chase after emptiness and we finally succeed in achieving it. Surely Solomon was right, Havel, havelim, hachol, havel. Meaningless, meaningless, life is meaningless.
Thank God that he imparts meaning and joy to his people. Amen.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.