July 7 – Ecclesiastes 12:1-14

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Main Focus: In conclusion, Ecclesiastes is meant to goad us towards an unshakeable hope found in Christ.

You made it! This week we’re wrapping up our 8-week journey through Ecclesiastes, and to close it out we’ll turn to the very end of the book, Ecclesiastes 12:1-14; there we’ll see the Teacher’s assessment of life “under the sun” folded into the broader message of the Bible.

I’d encourage you this week to take a long, slow look at 12:1-7. The Teacher’s message concludes with this terrifyingly evocative depiction of aging. He describes old age like a ghost town, a dilapidated house, and a desolate landscape, likely with some analogies thrown in there (ex. “the grinders” could refer both to workers at a grain mill and to teeth). Sit with the passage and I think you’ll find it awfully gripping, which is why the Teacher ends with it—as he’s pointed out over and over throughout the book, the final enemy of death is what makes life meaningless if all we ever have is life “under the sun.”

Picking up in verse 8, the frame narrator summarizes the Teacher’s message the same way he did in 1:2 (glance back through Who wrote Ecclesiastes? if you need a refresher). He then writes a little epilogue for the Teacher’s manifesto and I love how he does it. At this point you’ve wrestled through twelve chapters of Qoheleth’s piercing critique; he’s looked you in the eyes and said over and over that one day you’ll die and be forgotten, there’s little of any true substance in your mortal life, and all the things you look to for satisfaction are empty promises. After slogging through all this, the narrator concludes something we now know from experience: he describes “the words of the wise” as “goads.” A goad was a sharp, pointy stick ancient farmers would use to steer an ox, and that’s exactly what the Teacher’s lecture has been, a sharp, pointy critique meant to steer us the right direction.

And what direction is that? “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” As a reminder, the Scriptures use the phrase “fear God” to describe reverent, awe-filled respect, not cowering or groveling. In discussion we’ll talk about the connection from “all is vanity” to “fear God.” Remember, the Teacher’s project has been to assess life “under the sun” in strictly “under the sun” terms. If you subtract God and the afterlife from your equation and all you’ve got is this mortal life, you come up with a giant zero—it’s simply not meaningful unless there’s a God who can give it meaning and purpose. Thus the only sound biblical conclusion, after wrestling through the various injustices and grievances of life, is to render our mortal lives over to our immortal Creator. We place ourselves in his hands and submit to his ways.

We’ll turn to Romans 8:18-25 to get a picture for what that can look like. “Fear God” might sound at first like cold comfort, but Paul will paint a picture of what this can look like in the Christian life: waiting eagerly with hope. Romans 8:20 is one of only two places in the New Testament that reference Ecclesiastes, and there Paul takes the Teacher’s discussion of the futility of creation and properly contextualizes it within the gospel. Yes, as the Teacher has observed, created life is full of weariness (Ecc 1:8), having been made crooked under the curse of sin (Ecc 7:13; cf. Gen 3:17). However, taking an “over the sun” view on things, Paul contends that this futile creation is not without hope because God has revealed in Jesus a plan for the redemption of all things, a means by which creation, mankind included, will be free from vanity forever.

This hopefulness is the necessary conclusion to Ecclesiastes. Ideally, in being poked and prodded by the Teacher, we’ve been shown the failings of those empty things we tend to hope in so they can be replaced by hope in this future glory. And what does it look like to hope and wait eagerly? It looks like worshiping God with our entire lives (Romans 12:1-2), obeying him because of his remarkable grace towards us, and metabolizing the disappointments and frustrations of life through an unshakeable security in Christ. In short, it looks like fearing God and keeping his commandments in a way that leads to the sort of joy and delight that the Teacher has been hinting at throughout Ecclesiastes (ex. Ecc 9:7).

We’ll conclude discussion by talking about the things we hope to keep with us from our time in Ecclesiastes, and what we think it’ll take to hang onto those things. For many of us, having our false hopes in material things exposed likely ranks high on the list, but think back to all the various topics we’ve looked at over the past seven weeks. The Teacher still has a ton to teach us when it comes to figuring out life “under the sun.”

Discussion questions

– Could someone read Ecclesiastes 12:1-14?

– Up till now Ecclesiastes has said “all is vanity”; why do you think it concludes with “fear God and keep his commandments”?

– Look at verse 11—in what ways have you been “goaded” in our study through Ecclesiastes?

– Could someone read Romans 8:18-25?

– How does this help us understand the futility of life “under the sun”?

– What do you think it looks like to “wait eagerly” for this future glory?

– What’s one thing you hope really sticks with you from Ecclesiastes?

– What do you think it’ll take to make those things stick?

Resources

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