March 18, 2014.
“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— before 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, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.”
This is one of my favorite passages in Ecclesiastes (I know, shocker, he’s talking about Ecclesiastes again). As Solomon is winding up his discourse, he puts forth this concept of youthful obedience juxtaposed with the aging process. He says be faithful now, for the days are coming in which you will be set in your ways and it will be hard to change. Isn’t that true? What age group is probably the most moldable (besides young children in the home, though this fits as well)? I would say it would be young adults, from around 16 or 17 to 25 or 26. Now, I have no statistics to back up this claim, but it has been my experience to see this in practice. Solomon makes it a point to be grounded in your faith at a young age, so that you will not desert it as you grow older. That is not to say that an older person can’t grow in the faith or become a believer, but I do believe it is somewhat more diffficult.
I think it is beautiful the way Solomon describes the aging process. “[I]n the day when the keepers of the house tremble…” When your hands start to shake. “[A]nd those who look through the windows are dimmed.” When you start to lose your eyesight. “[T]he almond tree blossoms…” Grey hair. Go though and see if you can pick out what he is referring to in each statement. It will make for a deeper understanding of what you are reading instead of just reading through. It is very poetic.
In this his last chapter, Solomon makes some pretty, well what I would call awesome (though others may have a different word for it) observations. He begins with the call to youth, then he writes a very short autobiography. Then he makes this statement:
“The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, especially as a science major. I think Solomon is addressing the problem of getting burned out. We and seek and seek all the time, and eventually it is going to wear us down. Have you met a student who studies 24/7? Do they seem happy? Perhaps they are, but most of my friends who do that are very stressed. And I won’t say I haven’t been there before. But I have learned that there is more to life than just study. I think Solomon had the same problem. He starts out Ecclesiastes with this ambitious goal to seek the meaning of life. He tries everything, and I mean everything. He spent all kinds of time in diligent search of happiness and meaning. And what he found, pertaining to earthly things, was nothing. Nothing held meaning. “Vanity of vanities!” Imagine searching for all that time and finding nothing. I believe I would be in the same state as Solomon.
Why did he find nothing? And why did he write the book if he had found nothing, other than to depress generations to come after him? Well, I think he did find the meaning of life after all. His problem was that he looked for meaning from the physical world. He tried to find meaning in wisdom (and he does say that it is better than folly, but still ultimately meaningless). He tried to find meaning in parties and pleasures. He tried to find meaning in sex (700 wives, 300 concubines). But these were all unsatisfying. So what is the meaning of life?
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
There you have it. The main reason I am in love with this book. It answer the age old question. The meaning of life: Fear God and keep his commandments. It’s that simple. And it’s at the same time all so difficult. I would encourage you to think on these things. We were created for a purpose, and what other purpose could there be that would give any true meaning? If we are the accident of some fateful explosion (of unknown origin), then what meaning would our life, our existence have? Nothing. Solomon learning that lesson. Everything is vanity, a chasing after the wind, if we do not have God. Everything. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. The Hebrew actually doesn’t have the word “duty” in it, so it reads “this is the whole of man.” It is man’s all. And that friends is beautiful.
Suggested Daily Reading: Ecclesiastes 5, 9, 11-12.
May God let you find meaning.