Ecclesiastes Study

Remember Before It's Too Late

Navigating wisdom can be tricky. A lot of practical wisdom comes in simple, terse statements. Ancient wisdom can be challenging because of its time and cultural context. I addressed that a little in the first post of this study in Ecclesiastes.

In the comic movie about midlife crisis, Curly the toughened cowboy says the secret to life is "one thing". This last chapter of Ecclesiastes gives a final thought about life, kind of a one thing regarding the purpose of life.

Scripture

Remember your Creator while you are young, before the days of trouble come and the years when you say, “I find no pleasure in them.” When you get old, the light from the sun, moon, and stars will grow dark; the rain clouds will never seem to go away. At that time your arms will shake and your legs will become weak. Your teeth will fall out so you cannot chew, and your eyes will not see clearly. [vss 1-3]

Your ears will be deaf to the noise in the streets, and you will barely hear the millstone grinding grain. You’ll wake up when a bird starts singing, but you will barely hear singing. You will fear high places and will be afraid to go for a walk. Your hair will become white like the flowers on an almond tree. You will limp along like a grasshopper when you walk. Your appetite will be gone. Then you will go to your everlasting home, and people will go to your funeral.  [vss 4-5]

Soon your life will snap like a silver chain or break like a golden bowl. You will be like a broken pitcher at a spring, or a broken wheel at a well. You will turn back into the dust of the earth again, but your spirit will return to God who gave it. Everything is useless! The Teacher says that everything is useless. [vss 6-8]

The Teacher was very wise and taught the people what he knew. He very carefully thought about, studied, and set in order many wise teachings. The Teacher looked for just the right words to write what is dependable and true. [vss 9-10]

Words from wise people are like sharp sticks used to guide animals. They are like nails that have been driven in firmly. Altogether they are wise teachings that come from one Shepherd. So be careful, my son, about other teachings. People are always writing books, and too much study will make you tired. [vss 11-12]

Now, everything has been heard, so I give my final advice: Honor God and obey his commands, because this is all people must do. God will judge everything, even what is done in secret, the good and the evil. [vss 13-14]

(Ecclesiastes 12:1-14 NCV) [Context– Ecclesiastes 12]

Key phrase—Remember your Creator while you are young

[bctt tweet="Remember your Creator while you are young"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What are we encouraged to remember while we're young? Why?

How is the progression towards old age described? Which of these descriptive phrases stands out to you?

What is said about wise words and teaching? What are we cautioned about?

What is the final advice given, and what final thought underscores why this is important?

Reflection...

When we are very young, time seems to pass slowly. We can hardly wait to get older, to reach a certain stage in life. As we get older, time seems to speed up and we wonder, "where did the time go?"

When we're young we want to be older, and when we're older we often long to be young again. But time waits for no one. It carries us along whether or not we want to go.

This last chapter of Ecclesiastes sums up all of King Solomon's writings and wisdom. Time is short and here's what's important—remember your Creator while you're young, before life passes you by.

Here's another simple way to look at the ending. Don't over think things. Life is much more simple than you think. Honor God and do what is right, because in the end we will all answer to Him for our lives—even those who don't believe.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Does it seem like time is passing you by? Are you concerned about the purpose of your life, or are you content?

Are you able to find ways to simplify your life? Can you see what tends to clutter up your life?

Do you spend time seeking wisdom from God? Are there wise and godly people in your life?

Do you make time each day to connect with God? Do you make room for Him in your life each day?

Investment, Risk and Time

A bit of confusion exists for many about the idea of karma. It's primarily Hindu in origin, and is loosely related to the cause and effect of deeds or work.

But it is not equivalent to the biblical law of sowing and reaping. They are different concepts. Sowing and reaping is an agricultural term that illustrates the idea of sowing seeds to produce a crop or harvest. It's an investment that brings a return.

It also includes a sense of risk. Time and other factors affect this risk. Life is an investment, so invest wisely.

Scripture

Do good wherever you go. After a while, the good you do will come back to you. Invest what you have in several different things. You don’t know what bad things might happen on earth. There are some things you can be sure of. If clouds are full of rain, they will pour water on the earth. If a tree falls—to the south or to the north—then it will stay where it falls. [vss 1-3]

But there are some things that you cannot be sure of. You must take a chance. If you wait for perfect weather, you will never plant your seeds. If you are afraid that every cloud will bring rain, you will never harvest your crops. You don’t know where the wind blows. And you don’t know how a baby grows in its mother’s womb. In the same way, you don’t know what God will do—and he makes everything happen. So begin planting early in the morning, and don’t stop working until evening. You don’t know what might make you rich. Maybe everything you do will be successful. [vss 4-6]

It is good to be alive. It is nice to see the light from the sun. You should enjoy every day of your life, no matter how long you live. But remember that you will die, and you will be dead much longer than you were alive. And after you are dead, you cannot do anything. [vss 7-8]

So young people, enjoy yourselves while you are young. Be happy. Do whatever your heart leads you to do. Do whatever you want, but remember that God will judge you for everything you do. Don’t let your anger control you, and don’t let your body lead you to sin. People do foolish things in the dawn of life while they are young. [vss 9-10]

(Ecclesiastes 11:1-10 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 11]

Key phrase—Do good wherever you go. After a while, the good you do will come back to you.

[bctt tweet="Do good wherever you go. After a while, the good you do will come back to you."]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What are we encouraged to do? What can we count on and what can't we be sure of?

What do we not know, and what advice is given because of that?

What realities are certain, and how should this affect how we live?

What's the advice and caution given to young people? How does the caution relate to the advice given at first?

Reflection...

Some people say they have no regrets in life and wouldn't change how they lived earlier in life. But most of us, if we're honest with ourselves, know some things could have been better.

We can't change the past, but we can learn from it, if we're willing to do so. We can also learn from the example of other's lives, both good and bad.

This life has no guarantees about how much time we have to live, or how much happiness we'll know. But good is better than evil, and God honors what is good.

We can choose to invest in what is good—for our own life and the lives of others. It's worth the risk.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

How often do you allow what you can't control in life to control you?

How has doing good returned to you in some way?

When have you not taken a risk and wished you did? When have you been glad you took a risk?

What have you learned from the foolish things you've done earlier in life? How has it benefitted you?

Dead Flies and Foolishness

Does anyone like flies? I haven't met anyone who does. Perhaps the Lord of the flies (the devil) does, but I'm pretty sure that's a metaphor to describe an evil ruler.

Ever notice how one pesky fly can ruin so much? When a fly lands in your glass or on your food, it's just unappetizing. A fly buzzing around your face is both irritating and distracting.

There's good reason King Solomon likened flies to foolishness. In ancient writings, a fool was a person who lacked good judgment or moral integrity. We have all had those moments in life.

Scripture

A few dead flies will make even the best perfume stink. In the same way, a little foolishness can ruin much wisdom and honor. The thoughts of the wise lead them the right way, but the thoughts of the foolish lead them the wrong way. Fools show how foolish they are, just walking down the road. Their minds are empty, and everyone knows it. Don’t quit your job simply because the boss is angry with you. If you remain calm and helpful, you can correct even great mistakes. [vss 1-4]

Here is something else that I have seen in this life that isn’t fair. It is the kind of mistake that rulers make. Fools are given important positions, while the rich get jobs that are not important. I have seen servants riding on horses, while rulers were walking beside them like slaves.[vss 5-7]

If you dig a hole, you might fall into it. If you break down a wall, you might be bitten by a snake. If you are moving large stones, you might be hurt by them. If you cut down a tree, you are in danger of it falling on you. But wisdom will make any job easier. It is very hard to cut with a dull knife. But if you sharpen the knife, the job is easier. Someone might know how to control snakes. But that skill is useless if a snake bites when that person is not around. [vss 8-11]

Words from the wise bring praise, but words from a fool bring destruction. Fools begin by saying something foolish. But in the end, they speak nonsense. Fools are always talking about what they will do, but you never know what will happen. People cannot tell what will happen in the future. Fools aren’t smart enough to find their way home, so they must work hard all their lives. [vss 12-15]

(Ecclesiastes 10:1-15 ERV) [Context– Ecclesiastes 10]

Key phrase—Words from the wise bring praise, but words from a fool bring destruction.

[bctt tweet="Words from the wise bring praise, but words from a fool bring destruction"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How is foolishness likened to dead flies and contrasted with the wise?

What are some ways that foolishness is given importance that doesn't make sense?

How can wisdom benefit any person with any given job? How do the examples given relate to what's said before them?

What else are we told about fools and foolish talk?

Reflection...

Careless words can undo great accomplishments and a person's good standing in life. This is all the more true with today's near instant media exposure. It can be like one loose thread when pulled that unravels the whole garment.

Much in life is beyond our control. When something is unfair we can choose to react or respond. Reaction requires little thought (if any), is driven by emotion, and tends to make things worse rather than better.

A wise response requires applied wisdom. Instead of an emotional outburst, wisdom can produce a passionate, yet measured counter to what's wrong.

Dead flies stink. So also foolishness. This is where wisdom is needed. Only the wisest of all—God—is able to remove what is foolishness in us, if we're willing to allow Him to do so.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

When have you said or done rash things you've regretted? What prompted these?

How do you handle situations where you're criticized, treated unfairly, or insulted?

Have you learned how to handle criticism and insults in wiser ways than before?

Do you have people in your life who are good examples of wise living? Are you willing to learn from them and their example?

Time, Fairness, and Wisdom

"It's not fair!" How many times have moms and dads heard this from their children? It's the usual preface to a complaint related to some disciplinary restriction or denial of a request.

It can be both comical and annoying when a child says it. But when an adult says it, there's usually another meaning, which boils down to—things should be done my way, or seen from my viewpoint.

Many things in this life are unfair, far beyond petty, childish claims of injustice. Some people claim to be victims and maintain a victimized persona, even when they've brought trouble upon themselves.

Tens of thousands in the world are true victims of injustice, who often go unheard and unnoticed. Sadly, their cries for help may be silenced by those who insist on their own way.

Scripture

I also saw other things in this life that were not fair. The fastest runner does not always win the race; the strongest soldier does not always win the battle; wise people don’t always get the food; smart people don’t always get the wealth; educated people don’t always get the praise they deserve. When the time comes, bad things can happen to anyone! You never know when hard times will come. Like fish in a net or birds in a snare, people are often trapped by some disaster that suddenly falls on them. [vss 11-12]

I also saw a person doing a wise thing in this life, and it seemed very important to me.There was a small town with a few people in it. A great king fought against that town and put his armies all around it. But there was a wise man in that town. He was poor, but he used his wisdom to save his town. After everything was finished, the people forgot about the poor man.But I still say that wisdom is better than strength. They forgot about the poor man’s wisdom, and the people stopped listening to what he said. But I still believe that wisdom is better. [vss 13-16]

Words spoken by the wise are heard more clearly

than those shouted by a leader among fools.

Wisdom is better than weapons of war,

but one fool

can destroy much good.

[vss 17-18]

(Ecclesiastes 9:11-18 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 9]

Key phrase—Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one fool can destroy much good.

[bctt tweet="Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one fool can destroy much good."]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What are some things noted as unfair in these verses?

What are two things than can happen to anybody over time?

What is the injustice done in the story of the wise man and the city?

In the face of injustice, what does King Solomon claim is better? Why?

Reflection...

When injustice exists, someone or some thing is the cause. Inordinate amounts of time and energy are often spent on assigning blame and finding fault.

This blame-game plays out in households and within businesses, but also escalates into national and global scenarios.

By far, more time is spent shouting about injustice than resolving it. Loud-mouthed fools may hold center stage for a time, but wisdom will prevail. The One who is all-wise will see to it.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

When have you seen true injustice? Did you do anything to help resolve it?

How have you handled what appears to be unfairness or an unjust situation in your own life?

Do you seek ways to move beyond what seems unjust or unfair in life?

How do you react when you see injustice? Do you complain about it, or are you moved with compassion to do something about it?

Life Before Death

People have differing views of destiny. Some see it as set in stone. Others challenge what seems to be their fate throughout life. I'm sure there are those who try to ignore it altogether.

It's been said that the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes. I don't know if taxes are that certain, but death claims us all. We just don't know when and how, not that most of us want to know.

Whatever your thoughts about destiny or taxes, death is certain. But, there is life before death.

Scripture

Now, I have carefully thought about all this, and I explain it in this way: Righteous people and wise people, along with their accomplishments, are in God’s hands. No one knows whether there will be love or hatred. Everything turns out the same way for everyone. All people will share the same destiny, whether they are righteous, wicked, or good, clean or unclean, whether they offer sacrifices or don’t offer sacrifices. Good people are treated like sinners. People who take oaths are treated like those who are afraid to take oaths. [vss 1-2]

This is the tragedy of everything that happens under the sun: Everyone shares the same destiny. Moreover, the hearts of mortals are full of evil. Madness is in their hearts while they are still alive. After that, they join the dead. But all who are among the living have hope, because a living dog is better than a dead lion. The living know that they will die, but the dead don’t know anything. There is no more reward for the dead when the memory of them has faded. Their love, their hate, and their passions have already vanished. They will never again take part in anything that happens under the sun. [vss 3-6]

Go, enjoy eating your food, and drink your wine cheerfully, because God has already accepted what you’ve done. Always wear clean clothes, and never go without lotion on your head. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, during all your brief, pointless life. God has given you your pointless life under the sun. This is your lot [in life] and what you get for the hard work that you do under the sun. Whatever presents itself for you to do, do it with [all] your might, because there is no work, planning, knowledge, or skill in the grave where you’re going. [vss 7-10]

(Ecclesiastes 9:1-10 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 9]

Key phrase—A living dog is better than a dead lion

[bctt tweet="A living dog is better than a dead lion"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How is the state of death a great equalizer of people?

Why is it (death) the destiny of all people, whether good or bad?

Since death is certain for all, what are we encouraged to do?

How are we to go about life's work and for what reason?

Reflection...

The book of Ecclesiastes may seem like a discouraging and depressing outlook on life, but it's quite the opposite. King Solomon's purpose is to help people have a more clear perspective on life. Even though life may seem pointless and hard, there are reasons to live life with joy.

Another way to put it is—life is short, so enjoy it while it lasts. Put your heart into your relationships and work, because God is sovereign and He holds our eternal destiny in His hands.

There's no need to obsess with what you can't control—death. Make the best of what you have some control over—life.

Don't forget that there is a season and purpose to everything in life (Eccl 3:1). Life with all it's hardships and mysteries has value and beauty, so enjoy it while you can, while your alive.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

What do you worry about? Does the thought of death paralyze or motivate you?

How do you handle what is beyond your control? Do you obsess over it, or ignore it, or see beyond it?

Are you thankful for the life you do have? Are you able to live above life's difficulties?

In what ways have you learned to make the most of your time each day?