Search Bible Outlines and commentaries





Our culture: Getting older; living longer, more healthcare and elder care issues

Chuck Swindoll: story of woman with painful arthritis reading a book entitled: I Don’t Want to Live Like This Anymore – cf. helping your parents in the twilight of their years

Common feelings and emotions of the elderly:

  • uselessness – I am in the way, I am over the hill
  • guilt – I have totally fouled up my life ….If only . . .
  • bitterness and resentment
  • fear of the unknown and the future – What’s going to happen to me?

As young people – how do we live right now in anticipation that old age will come sooner than we think?

As older people – how do we graciously accept the challenges of the aging process

How do we live right now in such a way that our life has meaning – that we are not caught up in the futility of life under the sun?

Douglas Miller: From early in the history of interpretation, this poem has been understood as a description of old age (so the Targum, Ecclesiastes Rabbah, and b. abbat 131b-132a, as well as early Christian sources). Although a bit difficult at points, many of the images make apt connections to that time of life (see “Youth and Old Age” in TBC for 11:7 – 12:8). More recently, scholars have taken note of dirge or funeral language in the poem as well as apocalyptic terminology suggestive of the end times. The commentary will offer a discussion of each verse followed by an assessment of proposals for the meaning of the poem as a whole. . .

Thus, from earliest times on into the present, interpreters have understood that old age and the end of human life are concerns of the poem in 12:1-7. It is striking that Qohelet does not describe the older years of life in terms of wisdom, veneration, or honor, assessments typical of the wisdom tradition (Prov 20:29; Job 12:12; 15:9-10; Sir 25:3-6). Instead, it is a time of discomfort, declining faculties, and impending death [Human Beings, p. 232]. The more recent recognition of the apocalyptic language employed by Qohelet alerts us to his interweaving of the difficult days of the elderly, the darkness of death, and looming end of the cosmos. Such a combination serves as a fitting complement to the exhortation to young people in Ecclesiastes 11:7-10.

Daniel Akin: Solomon’s intention in this section is to explain that today is the day to turn to God—don’t delay. He’s exhorted us to enjoy life, and as we have seen, turning to God is the only way to enjoy life rightly. In order to accomplish his purpose, Solomon gives a sobering picture of the curse of death with the hope that it will drive us to God now. Murphy points out that the poem is relentless in its move toward death. This entire section is one long run-on sentence that if read together would literally leave the reader out of breath (Murphy, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, 215). . .

The vocabulary of the poem is apocalyptic. It uses language often used in passages that describe the end of the world, such as the darkening of the sun and moon (cf. Joel 3:15). The point in Ecclesiastes 12 is that your world personally will end in death. In the poem the author gives three “before” statements to depict vividly aging and dying. First, we must turn to God before evil days come (12:1), which refers to impending death. Death is not the way the world should be. It was not part of God’s original design but rather is an enemy intruder in the world. When those evil days come, we will have no pleasure in them (12:1). The depressing reality for many people is that if they live long enough, they will become so sick, experience so much daily pain, or feel the indignity of not being able to do everyday things they used to do with no thought, and they will beg God to let them die. They will ask God why they continue to live, and they will hope for death.

Second, we must turn to God before the astrological lights go out (12:2). We need to understand as we walk through the poem that it contains highly metaphorical language, and we cannot be dogmatic about what it all means. However, we can make some observations that come close, I think.  Solomon says the lights will go out, which may refer to eye failure or the loss of mental powers. The reference to rain and clouds could refer to glaucoma (i.e., cloudy vision) or that our reasoning and memory functions decline in old age—after all, even when young people forget something, they say they had a “senior moment.” Perhaps Solomon is alluding to the heartbreaking effects of dementia. Others think the clouds could refer to troubles that were minor setbacks in youth, but now the aged do not recover as quickly from them, or they never recover from them. Thus, the clouds never go away (Kidner, Ecclesiastes, 102). . .

Third, we must turn to God “before the silver cord is snapped, and the gold bowl is broken, and the jar is shattered at the spring, and the wheel is broken into the well” (12:6). The images of the silver cord, the golden bowl, the shattered jar, and the broken wheel refer to drawing water. The problem is that the system to get life-sustaining water has deteriorated and shattered into the finality of death (Webb, Five Festal Garments, 99). The cord that pulls the water, the bowl that holds the jar, the jar that holds the water, and the wheel for the pulley system are all broken at the bottom of the well. Life has gone out. The outcome is that man returns to dust (12:7), that is, he dies and decays under the curse of sin while the breath of life returns to God. Again, this is not a comment on heaven. It refers to the departure of life. This reality is the sentence God passed on Adam because of his sin and his posterity’s sin (Gen 3; Rom 5). When you sin against God, you shall surely die and return to the dust from which you came. Ecclesiastes has said all along that we live in a cursed world where death is inevitable because of humanity’s sinful choices that led us to this point.


A.  (:1a) It is Never Too Soon to Submit to the Lordship of Your Creator

  1. Remember God by Submitting to His Lordship

Remember also

Definition of “Remember” in this context: much more than keeping God in your memory; deals with how you regard God and how you respond to Him

Chuck Swindoll: used in 1 Samuel for Hannah when she was without a baby.  She really wanted a baby, and she prayed for a baby.  And Scripture says, “The Lord remembered Hannah.”  God acted on her behalf and caused her to conceive.  It’s the same term.  It means “to act decisively on behalf of someone.”

Quotes Derek Kidner: To remember Him is no perfunctory or purely mental act; it is to drop our pretense of self-sufficiency and to commit ourselves to Him.

Ray Stedman: The thought is: recall God’s presence daily; live in a relationship with him; seek to discover the greatness and glories of God while you are still young, before it is too late.

Douglas Miller: The term remember means to engage the truth of the past with one’s present practice or lifestyle; here the point is to live in such a way as to avoid God’s judgment (Eccl 11:9).

  1. Respond to God as your Creator

your Creator

Say “No” to Evolution – does it matter what you believe about Creation?  You bet!

Says a ton about accountability and how you are going to live your life;

Should the pot talk back to the potter?  Relationship of Creator to Creature; yet not animal but privileged human being into whom God has breathed His Spirit so that we are made in his likeness

You are not your own; made for a purpose.

  1. Recognize the Brevity of Life – Youth = Opportunity

in the days of your youth

You are younger today than you will be tomorrow.

Ray Stedman: When you are young, life seems to stretch endlessly before you; it seems that you will never approach old age. But as you live day by day, life seems to speed by rapidly; it is very brief. You suddenly find yourself exhibiting the appearances and experiences of age. As someone has well said, “Just about the time your face clears up, your mind begins to go!” This is how brief life seems to be.

B.  (:1b-7) Graphical Description of the Decay Involved in the Aging Process

We are on a downward path that leads to increasing darkness and pain and hardship

  1. General Description of Old Age

a.  Time of Trouble

before the evil days come

Craig Bartholomew: At a literal level, there is clearly a contrast here between youth and old age—the longer one lives, the more possibilities there are for experiencing the enigmas of life. And “the evil days” and the approaching years in which one finds no delight probably refer to the approach of death, the great enigma for Qohelet.

b.  Time of Distress

and the years draw near when you will say,

‘I have no delight in them’”

c.  Time of Darkness and Gloominess

1)  Prime of Life Extinguished

before the sun and the light,”

2)  Twilight of life Fading

the moon and the stars are darkened,”

Ray Stedman: These mental faculties are described in terms of light. The mind, with its powers of reasoning, of memory and of imagination begins to fade, like the fading of the light of the sun. The reasoning power of the brain, perhaps the greatest gift that God has given to us, begins to lose its ability, and the memory fades. That is one of the first marks of old age. There are three things that indicate the onset of old age: the first is losing the memory, and I can’t remember the other two!

H.C. Leupold: All joys are dimmed very materially in old age.

3)  Depression / Gloominess Persisting

and clouds return after the rain

Ray Stedman: a reference to a kind of second childhood, of senility, which comes on in old age. As a child, one’s life revolves around three simple things: eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. When one gets old that same cycle returns again.

Chuck Swindoll: The cloudy weather represents the aging mind as it begins to get dull.  Senility steals so much of the joy of living.

J. Norman Whybray: The unexpected return of the clouds soon after a storm, once more shutting out the light, is a bad sign and brings gloom, both literally and psychologically.

The mind does funny things to old people as they become confused and disoriented.

  1. Specific Signs of Deterioration and Decay

Douglas Sean O’Donnell: But before death happens, bodily frailties accumulate as we age. Like a once-vibrant but now-unattended estate, our hands, legs, teeth, eyes, ears, vocal cords, and hair slowly decay. Our hands, which once provided a living and protection, now shake (“in the day when the keepers of the house tremble”), our legs can’t support the weight of our bodies for long (“and the strong men are bent”), our remaining molars can’t chew food like they used to (“the grinders cease because they are few”), and our vision declines (“those who look through the windows are dimmed,” Eccl. 12:3).

And if all that were not bad enough, other awful issues accompany old age. When we want our ears to work well, they don’t (we can’t even hear ourselves chew: “and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low”), but when we would be fine with deafness, our ears work too well (“and one rises up at the sound of a bird,” Eccl. 12:4). Moreover, we cannot sing like we used to. Our vocal cords “no longer have the elastic strength to make sweet music” (“and all the daughters of song are brought low,” v. 4b).

Finally, before we die (go to our “eternal home”) and people grieve our passing (“and the mourners go about the streets”), our hair turns gray or white (“the almond tree blossoms”), we lose our mobility and get around painfully (“the grasshopper drags itself along”), our motivation to work, our appetite for food, and our sex drive diminish (“desire fails”), and a fear of falling and of other dangers increases (“they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way,” Eccl. 12:5). And then the moment comes! What was once beautiful, precious, useful, and life-giving is destroyed (“the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern,v. 6). Light crashes to the ground and life spills out like water. “Life is broken beyond repair. Death is final and irreversible.”

a.  Loss of Strength

1)  Trembling Hands

in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble

arms/hands used to provide a strong defense

How steady are your hands?

2)  Crooked Legs – You used to stand tall

and mighty men stoop

Legs are mighty – controlled by the largest muscles in the body

Ps. 147:10-11He does not delight in the strength of the horse; He does not take pleasure in the legs of a man.  The Lord favors those who fear Him, Those who wait for His lovingkindness.”

My older sister just lost her father-in-law – stooped over at almost 90 degree angle

b.  Loss of Essential Functions of the Body

1)  Chewing Capability – only a few Teeth left

the grinding ones stand idle because they are few

Liked Swindoll’s story of the older man buying baby food – strained peas – it was for him, not for his grandkids.

2)  Vision Capability – eyes grow dim

and those who look through windows grow dim

All sorts of eye problems; lens get thicker; can’t read anything up close; cataracts develop.

3)  Hearing Capability – ears have trouble hearing

and the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the

grinding mill is low

Warren Wiersbe: Either your hearing starts to fail, or you close your mouth because you’ve lost your teeth.

H.C. Leupold: Doors are means of communicating with the outside world.  The mouth and its teeth have been referred to (3c).  Therefore the author is at this point referring to the ears.   They are shut to the outer world as is attested by the fact that that common sound of the grinding of grain, which was heard daily about the Oriental home, is scarcely perceived by the unfortunate old man.

4)  Sleep Capability – no more sound sleeping

and one will arise at the sound of the bird

Awakened by the least disturbance; trouble getting back to sleep.

5)  Speech/Lung Capability (Or Hearing Capability again??)

and all the daughters of song will sing softly

Warren Wiersbe: Your voice starts to quaver and weaken.

Derek Kidner: participation in singing . . . or enjoyment of the singing of others ??

Adam Clarke: The VOICE, that wonderful instrument, almost endless in the strength and variety of its tones, becomes feeble and squeaking, and merriment and pleasure are no more. The tones emitted are all of the querulous or mournful kind.

Ray Stedman: One of the signs of old age is that everybody seems to talk in a much lower tone of voice than they used to; people mumble all the time, as “the daughters of song are brought low.”

Start to go deaf; need hearing aid – 2 Sam. 19:34-36 ??

Are we presently Giving God Thanks for these basic functions?

Or do we take these for granted each day?

Is our happiness and contentment dependent on these functioning well?

c.  (:5)  Loss of Virility – Increasing Fears

1)  Loss of Boldness and Courage

a) Fear of Falling

Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place

Need railings installed; every step is a potential disaster; break one hip … break two hips …

Things that used to be easy to accomplish are now difficult or impossible.

b) Fear of Attack

and of terrors on the road

Afraid of driving at night; afraid of driving on the beltway;

2)  Loss of Strength and Vigor

a) Loss of Hair – Or Change to White or Gray Hair

the almond tree blossoms

You can try to use various hair products to mask this inevitable process; you aren’t kidding anybody; like the white blossoms of the almond tree.

b) Loss of Mobility

the grasshopper drags himself along

Go to the assisted living facility and watch as the residents drag themselves along; takes forever to get anywhere; stiffness just gets worse; difficult to move around.

c) Loss of Appetite (maybe sexual reference)

and the caperberry is ineffective.”

Michael Eaton: The caperberry was apparently a stimulant to bodily appetites

  1. (:5b-7)  Ultimate Pictures of Departure and Devastation and Death

a.  Departure from This Life

1)  The One Who Leaves for a New Destination

For man goes to his eternal home

Always liked the imagery of the departed one setting sail for a new destination; mourners grieving on one shore as the ship disappears; but other joyful ones gathered on the other shore to greet the new arrival.

2)  The Ones Who Remain to Mourn the Departed

while mourners go about in the street

b.  Two Pictures of Devastation of the Physical Body

1)  Life is Valuable and Precious – But Broken and Crushed

before the silver cord is broken

and the golden bowl is crushed

Extinguishing of the light of life

2)  Life Seems Endless – But is Shattered and Crushed / Fragile

the pitcher by the well is shattered

and the wheel at the cistern is crushed

No more flow of water of life.

Michael Eaton: The final act of dying is pictured in four expressions, which divide into two pairs.  In the first pair a golden bowl is attached to a silver cord or chain.  When the chain is removed the bowl falls and is irreparable damaged.  The image points to the value of life, and the drama in the end of a life whose pieces cannot be put together again.

The second pair of images visualizes a pitcher lowered into a well by a rope running round a wheel.  Death is the smashing of the jar.

H.C. Leupold: Do not attempt to discover the specific meaning of “silver cord,” “bowl,” etc.  They have no specific meaning; they are only a part of the background of the picture.

c.  Death = Separation of Body and Spirit

1)  Physical Decay – back to dust

then the dust will return to the earth as it was

2)  Spiritual Return – back to God

and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”


’Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘all is vanity!’”

Douglas Miller: The concluding pronouncement again declares, Vapor of vapors! says Qohelet. All is vapor (12:8, AT) [Qohelet, p. 245]. Thus he says that it all is completely and thoroughly vapor. Throughout the commentary, we have been observing the diversity with which the Teacher uses the term vapor (hebel). One metaphorical use of vapor points to its insubstantiality; occasionally he draws upon vapor’s transience; and quite often he signals the foul dimension of vapor. We discerned this through verbal clues provided whenever vapor was used. A few times those clues indicated multivalency: more than one meaning (1:14; 2:15, 17; 8:14; 9:2). And on several occasions quite general statements indicated omnivalency: vapor as a symbol involving all of the various meanings and applications (1:2; 7:15; 9:9; 11:8; 12:8).

In the concluding major section of his work (11:7 – 12:7), Qohelet uses vapor two more times since its last previous mention in 9:9. As in that text, his use of the term in 11:8 draws upon more than one metaphorical meaning. It is worthwhile to list the ways in which the Teacher alludes to all dimensions of vapor’s meanings in 11:7 – 12:7: the unit just prior to the final occurrence of vapor in 12:8.

  1. Transience is developed in 11:7-10. The period of one’s youth does not last long, so one should enjoy it while remembering one’s Creator. Uses of vapor to mean transience are rare, and all occur in the book’s second half (6:12; 8:14; 11:10). In the first half, he alludes to the transience of years (2:3) and days (5:18) without using the term hebel.
  2. Insubstantiality is developed, first, by the layer of the poem that displays the decline of old age, especially the introduction in 12:1 and the references to poor functioning. Second, insubstantiality is emphasized in the statement that the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it (12:7 NRSV). Both the terms dust and breath (rua ) recall Qohelet’s presentation of human frailty in 3:18-22.
  3. Foulness is indicated by the prominent use of evil (ra‘; 11:10; 12:1) that so often accompanies vapor elsewhere. It is also clear that the human situation for the Teacher is disappointing and frustrating (days of darkness is associated with vapor in 11:8). He begins the final poem by describing old age as days of trouble (ra‘, 12:1), just as at other times he mentions coming days in which there will be no delight since they are evil (ra‘; cf. 2:21-23; 5:16-17; 7:14).
  4. Finally, the frequent use of day(s) in this unit (11:8, 9; 12:1 [two times], 3) recalls the two previous occasions in which Qohelet used vapor in an omnivalent way to describe days (7:15; 9:9).

All of these elements anticipate the omnivalent use of vapor three times in 12:8, where the book’s theme is restated. This reprise of 1:2 serves as a reminder to the reader that all the writer has been describing of life under the sun may be appraised as vapor. It is a summons to recall each of the examples and assessments given by the author that are consummated in this statement.


[Note: no need to view this section as an appendix added by later editors – H.C. Leupold defends Solomon as the author]

David Hubbard: There are useful lessons to be learned about the task of garnering and applying wisdom and how good teachers and good students go about their work of understanding the wonders and mysteries of God’s dealings with the human family.

  1. The Teacher’s Discipline    (12:9-11)
  2. The Student’s Duty (12:12-14)

A.  (:9-10) The Expository Role of the Preacher: Communicating God’s Truth Accurately and Effectively

  1. Prerequisite: Preacher Must be a Wise, Godly Man

In addition to being a wise man

  1. Goal of Edification – Systematic, Thorough Teaching

the Preacher also taught the people knowledge

  1. Dedication to His Craft – can be a tedious process involving much discipline

Wrestling with the text and how to unfold it

a.  Insightful Observation / Meditation / Analysis

and he pondered

b.  Diligent Investigation

searched out

c.  Methodical Organization

and arranged many proverbs

Michael Eaton: The Preacher’s skill at his task is set before us in three verbs: pondered, searched out, arranged.  The first (literally “weighed,” a rare word) points to careful evaluation, indicating his honesty, caution and balance; the second to thoroughness and diligence.  The third, arranged, points to the skillful orderliness of his presentation and reminds us that there is an artistic element in his work (as in all preaching and writing).

  1. Choice of the Best Possible Words – for Accuracy and Effectiveness

a.  Make it Interesting — Don’t be Boring

The Preacher sought to find delightful words

Chuck Swindoll: winsome, easy to grasp, readily applied

The most effective communicators are those who can make the complex simple.

b.  Make it Accurate — Don’t be Wrong

and to write words of truth correctly

Rightly dividing the Word of truth –

2 Tim. 2:15  “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

How can people imagine that you just open your mouth and expect the Holy Spirit to fill you with the right words to say … that is presumption and laziness; much of what you hear on TV = repetitive gibberish – who listens to that stuff??

B.  (:11-12) The Productive Impact of the Preacher: Applying God’s Wisdom to Stir People to Action and to Drive Home God’s Truth

  1. 2 Illustrations:

a.  Goads that Prick People Into Action

The words of wise men are like goads

Used on an ox to get the ox going forward; painful;

Prosperity preachers have put away the goad; all sugar and spice and everything nice;

If no one ever gets upset at your preaching, you are not fulfilling your mission; Conviction of sin; need to change behavior; making people feel uncomfortable – all necessary.

b.  Stakes that Drive Home God’s Truth

and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails

Chuck Swindoll: A well-driven stake keeps the tent in place.  It secures it to the ground.

Michael Eaton: establish teaching in the memory

  1. Unity and Authority of God’s Wisdom — Sourced from One Shepherd

they are given by one Shepherd

That is why the word is so powerful and impactful; accomplishing the Master’s purpose.

Distinction between the One Head of the Universal Church and multiple undershepherds in each local church.

  1. Contrasted with Weariness of Book Learning – Accumulating Man’s Wisdom

But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is

endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.”

Thomas Constable: This verse does not say that all study is tiring, though that is true. It means that study of books other than what God has revealed to learn wisdom is an endless, wearisome occupation. This is not to say we should avoid reading books other than the Bible. Nonetheless the main place to look when you want to find true wisdom is God’s Word.

C.  (:13-14) The Main Message of the Preacher: Fear God and Obey His Commandments Since You Will Be Held Accountable

  1. Summary Lesson – The Point of it All

The conclusion, when all has been heard,”

Book has been building to this great climax.

  1. Simple Secrets to Purposeful Living

Two Commands that summarize the Law:

a.  Fear God

is fear God

b.  Obey God

and keep His commandments

  1. Scope of Solomon’s Counsel

because this applies to every person

  1. Supreme and Total Accountability

For God will bring every act to judgment,

everything which is hidden whether it is good or evil.”

Steve Zeisler: Solomon asked all the questions and looked squarely at all of life, its hopes, dreams, joys and sorrows. In the last analysis he declares that we must cease asking questions and worship God. Our most important choice is to bend our knee before God and receive answers from him.