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Ecclesiastes 12

Ecc 12:1 . . So appreciate your vigor in the days of your youth, before those days of sorrow come and those years arrive of which you will say: I have no pleasure in them.

Most people cope pretty well with middle age, and old age too— as long as they're in good health, their mind is sound and, they have the right attitude. But nobody does good with advanced age.

Your bowels won't work right, you'll be incontinent and smell bad; diverticulitis causes blood in your stools, your skin will be thin and easily torn, blue veins pop out on your legs and on the backs of your hands, you won't see things unless they're right under your nose, your sense of smell will be weak right along with your sense of taste. Savory foods will taste like cardboard and your stomach can't deal with them anyway.

No more hiking, no more bicycle rides, no more airplane trips, and very little travel. Walking, if you're able to walk at all, will really be little more than a shuffle of slow, flat footed, jerky little short steps rather than a brisk fluid stroll.

Ecc 12:2 . . before sun and light and moon and stars grow dark, and the clouds come back again after the rain:

Often, as people get older and their health begins to fail, friends will ask: Hey, how's ol' so and so doing? And someone will say: Oh, he has his good days and he has his bad days. Well, eventually ol' so and so will have only his bad days and no good days ever again.

Ecc 12:3a . .When the keepers of the house become shaky,

Keeping house requires the use of one's hands for mopping, dusting, and doing laundry and dishes. Aged people's hands tremble. They can't hold anything steady. In fact, they have so little strength and dexterity left in their hands that they can't grasp anything securely; so they drop stuff a lot.

Ecc 12:3b . . And the men of valor are bent,

Those in advanced age, even if they were once proud Olympic athletes, can't stand up straight and keep their shoulders back anymore. Older people get bent and hunched. They shrink too, and some practically curl over like a fish hook.

My mother-in-law really loved birds. But her back was so bent over that she couldn't look up to see them, and unless they were only a few yards away, she couldn't even lift her head high enough to see the ones down low on the ground. I could've gotten her the finest Leica optics money can buy, but it would just be throwing money out with the recycle. She couldn't use them on a birding trip, nor could she even go on one. And if that weren't enough, she lost the use of one eye because of glaucoma.

Ecc 12:3c . . the grinding ones stand idle because they are few,

Before the advent of dentures and professional dental care, people commonly lost their teeth from decay and gum disease. As they got older, people lost more and more teeth until the day came when there finally weren't enough teeth left in their mouth to bite off food and chew it. Foods like grains, meats, and many crispy fresh fruits and vegetables were simply out of the question; so they had to eat mushy foods, foods that were overcooked; or that didn't require a lot of biting and chewing. There's still a lot of that in third world countries.

Ecc 12:3d . . and those that look through the windows grow dim,

Cataracts are a common ailment among the aged. It's a cruel condition because it clouds the eye's lens thus preventing full passage of light to the retina. When I had my own cataracts treated, I was amazed. Not only was the world a whole lot brighter, but colors were more vivid too. But back in Solomon's day, there was no treatment for cataracts; so people's eyesight just waxed worse and worse as time went on to the point where they could no longer even get around on their own or even so much as recognize familiar friends.

Ecc 12:4a . . And the doors to the street are shut—

The doors are shut because aged people get chilled easily by drafts. Riding on a city transit bus once, in the dead of summer in San Diego, some senior citizens shut my window because the air blowing in was making them cold even though the rest of us on board were broiling in the heat.

Ecc 12:4b . . with the noise of the hand mill growing fainter, and the song of the bird growing feebler, and all the strains of music dying down;

I've lost some of my hearing in the higher and lower ranges. It's natural and to be expected, even at my age which, to date, is 75. Hearing aids help a lot so we don't have to yell so loud at aged folks in order for them to hear us. Just imagine not being able to enjoy your favorite music; or straining to hear ordinary conversation.

Ecc 12:5a . .When one is afraid of heights

We can fall aplenty when we're young and get away with it. Our joints are tight and strong, our ligaments are taught and springy, our bones are solid and tough, and we can handle all the bumps and bruises life throws at us. But not so when we reach advanced age. Falls, even little falls, are extremely hazardous; and can even be fatal.

Every now and then the news runs a story of an aged person who stumbled and fell at home and broke a hip; and couldn't even reach the telephone to call for help; sometimes laying there for days until the landlord or relatives checked in on them. I knew an aged lady who's broken hip actually caused her death. Her body was so weak already from fighting cancer that the broken hip put it over the edge.

Ecc 12:5b . . And there is fear on the road.

Back in Solomon's day, people didn't move about cocooned in the safety and comfort of a shell of metal and glass like many of us do today in modern motorized vehicles. Well; they didn't have inoculations for pneumonia back then so the aged were always in danger of literally catching their death outdoors due to exposure to wind, rain, cold, and dampness.

Back in 1966, I drove up to Oregon from San Diego all alone in a VW and slept in the car at night rather than pay for a motel. I was only 22 years old then and totally unconcerned for my safety. Today, at 78, I would not even think of such a venture; too risky, any number of things could go wrong which, back then, I wouldn't have given a second thought.

Ecc 12:5c . . The almond tree may blossom, the grasshopper be [gravid], and the caper bush may bud again; but man sets out for his eternal abode, with mourners all around in the street.

Nature isn't dismayed by the passing of a human being. Flowers continue to bloom, bugs continue to multiply, and fruit continues to appear on vines, bushes, and trees; and birds continue to migrate. When people drop dead, the world doesn't drop dead with them. Trees and flowers go right on budding and blooming, fish go on swimming, birds go on flying, bees go on buzzing, the Earth goes right on turning, and the Moon goes right on shining as usual just like nothing ever happened.

The world was doing just fine before any one of us came along, and it will go on doing just fine after we're all gone. When those 2,829 people died in the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and another 200,000+ were killed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and another 169,752 were killed in the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, and yet another 25,000 killed and/or went missing in Japan's tsunami in 2011 —nature felt neither pity nor remorse; and the stars in their courses didn't dim even the slightest.

Standard funerals here in the USA are actually harmful because they're anti green. The figures below represent chemicals and construction materials consumed on account of, and/or buried with, America's dead in just one calendar year.

» 30,000,000+ board feet of hardwoods

» 100,000+ tons of bronze, steel, and copper

» 1,000,000+ tons of concrete.

» 1,000,000+ gallons of formaldehyde

Not to mention the 2,000,000+ acres of land devoted to existing cemeteries maintained with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and petro-chemical fertilizers which all eventually leach into the soil and into our water sources.

We are literally killing the planet to honor our dead. And the irony of it all— the sublime irony —is that the reason half of us go to funerals is to pay our respects to people we couldn't be bothered with when they were alive.

Ecc 12:6 . . Yes, remember your creator now, before the silver cord snaps and the golden bowl crashes, the jar is shattered at the spring, and the jug is smashed at the cistern.

Well; you know what they say about Humpty Dumpty: All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty back together again.

People with money, like king Solomon, had fancy lighting in their homes. Chandeliers made of ornate bowls overlaid with gold, containing oil or candles, were suspended from the ceiling by metal contraptions made of silver. Ancient bowls, and jars, and jugs were fragile. Once broken, they weren't repaired, but discarded and replaced with a new unit. Man is like that— just an expendable vessel; and death destroys him beyond repair like one of Solomon's terracotta dishes.

Ecc 12:7a . . And the dust returns to the ground as it was,

Man's body is composed of mother nature's physical elements. She wants them back. But the power that makes things alive doesn't consist of mother nature's elements. The power of life is divine; and God (or the gods, whatever) wants it back after you're done with it.

Ecc 12:7b . . and the life-breath returns to God [or the gods; whatever] who bestowed it.

In other words; man's life is a short-term loan.

Ecc 12:8 . . Utter futility— said Koheleth —all is meaningless!

Well, there you have it— an objective evaluation of the human experience. It's fragile, brief, subject to termination without the benefit of even so much as a moment's notice, and punctuated with misery. Is it any wonder then that from the perspective of a man under the sun; the human experience is completely pointless?

When people reach what is commonly called the age of reasoning; some of their very first questions are: Why am I here? Where did I come from? What is the meaning of life, and is there a purpose for mine?

I think it's very normal (or at least very common) for people to seek a justification for their existence; and without it, they can only conclude that the human experience is futile; which can be roughly defined as serving no useful purpose; for example:

Nobel Prize winner, author of several best-selling books, and recipient of at least a dozen honorary degrees, physicist Steven Weinberg (who views religion as an enemy of science), in his book "The First Three Minutes" wrote: The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless. But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself . . . the effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of a farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.

What a dismal appraisal. In Mr. Weinberg's opinion, the human experience scarce escapes the categories of farce and tragedy; its quest for knowledge seems the only thing that gives humanity any justification to exist at all. The universe? It's just a meaningless void decorated with fascinating objects --a carnival side show of cosmic curiosities, so to speak.

Wouldn't it be sad if we only lived and died like insects and fungi? I mean, what would be the point of it all? They say a mind is a terrible thing to waste. What real advantage is it to have something so useful as a human mind if it's only going to die and stop working after many years of learning and experience? And what real advantage is it for the mind of the present to make the world a better place for the next generation of minds if the mind of the present doesn't live to see it? That's really no more significant an existence than that of the individuals in a bee hive or a termite colony.

Ecc 12:9-10 . . A further word: Because Koheleth was a sage, he continued to instruct the people. He listened to and tested the soundness of many maxims. Koheleth sought to discover useful sayings and recorded genuinely truthful sayings.

Solomon's argument smacks of circular reasoning in that he regards his own personal philosophy as "genuinely truthful sayings" while any and all second opinions are misinformation solely because he honestly believes himself incapable of error. That's hardly a novel attitude. Many bright people are deeply offended when those of lesser IQ reject their (sage) opinions. However, we're inclined to give Solomon the benefit of the doubt and go along with his self-evaluation because we are, after all, Bible students who, for the most part, don't know any better anyway.

Ecc 12:11a . .The words of wise men are like goads,

Goads were used by mule skinners and such who drive oxen and/or horses to pull plows and wagons. The device is a bit like the pointed tool that workers use to pick up trash along roadways: a long stick whittled to a sharp point at one end. A fancy goad might include an ornate metal prod at one end. When the skinners want an ox to get moving, they just poke its rump.

Anyway; wise people are difficult to oppose without coming across as obtuse because everything they say makes sense to those of us with a lesser IQ. Even when the wise are wrong they sound right so there's nothing to gain by matching wits with them. they'll just keep sticking it to you.

Ecc 12:11b . . and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails;

The word for "nails" is from masmerah (mas-mer-aw') which actually isn't a nail but a peg. Ecclesiastes is the only place in the entire Old Testament where masmerah is located. Small pegs can be used to build furniture. Large ones can be used as fence posts; and other sizes can be used to hold a tent in place. A husky peg on a tug boat can be used as a tow bit. So peg has lots of meanings and one that we can easily apply in this passage is that the person who takes the words of the wise seriously, supposedly becomes a solid, stable individual.

Ecc 12:11c . .they are given by one shepherd.

If you asked twenty people to draw a crooked line; you would get twenty dissimilar lines. Wisdom is like a straight line. If you asked those same twenty people to draw a straight line, all twenty lines would look the same. They might have different lengths, and they might be of different thickness, but they would all conform to the well known geometric axiom that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points.

Straight lines don't zig nor zag nor kink nor sag nor bow nor bend like a crooked line. All straight lines look the same because straight lines go in only one direction; viz: the words of the wise must be consistent if they're to be taken seriously. A wishy-washy philosopher is just a blow-hard.

Ecc 12:12 . . But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.

Back then I'd imagine that prolific authors wore themselves out what with no machines like typewriters to work with. In our day, writing is a snap with computerized word processing.

"My son" doesn't necessarily refer to Koheleth's kin; but can also refer to his students. The teacher then, is the student's father, in an academic sort of way. There's a number of incidents in the Old Testament where Bible students are called sons of the prophets. Compare 2Kings 2:12 where Elijah's apprentice Elisha, called his master "my father".

Ecc 12:13a . .The sum of the matter, when all is said and done:

Solomon has discussed how life is out of balance; viz: its unjust and unfair; cruel and punctuated with misery— youth is temporary, happiness is fragile, joy is fleeting, and entertainment provides only momentary relief.

Life traps us in circumstances beyond our control and we're often dominated by unscrupulous people. Life is pointless, much too brief, and everyone, both the good, the bad, and the ugly, are faced with old age and the inevitability of death. So . . since that is our situation; what is the use of life anyway? If life is such a dead-end, a pointless pursuit, then why should we take it seriously; if at all?

Ecc 12:13b-14 . . Revere God and observe His commandments! For this applies to all mankind: that God will call every creature to account for everything unknown, be it good or bad.

Wouldn't it be sad if we only lived and died like insects and fungi? I mean, what would be the point of it all? What real advantage is it to have a beautiful mind if it's only going to die and stop working after many years of learning and experience? And what real value is it to the minds of the present to make the world a better place for the next generation of minds if the minds of the present don't live to see it?

By believing in a supreme being, your life means something after all. It counts in some way when there is a God; and it gives people a hope for the future after they're destroyed by old age and death. Wouldn't it be far better to perceive yourself part of a grand scheme instead of walking across the stage of your all too brief life as an insignificant speck in a pointless cosmos?

The Bible's God has another Genesis in the works for mankind. Yes, a whole new earth and a whole new universe minus all the negative aspects of the current one.

"For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind." (Isa 65:17-25)

"According to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." (2 Pet 3:13)

"I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away" (Rev 21:1-6)

As my wife and I decline and wax older and older, we feel sadness for the loss of our youth. There was a time when we were both bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and could get by with very little rest. The skin on our face, and under our chin, was tight, and our middles were lean and defined. Today we're sag-bottomed and flaccid.

The great cowboy artist Charles Russell once commented that time traded him wrinkles for teeth. Me too. I've lost teeth, some are capped, and my gums have receded. The teeth that remain have become so brittle that I have to be careful when eating my favorite hard candies.

Believing that there is a supreme being, and a future world, lifts our spirits and strengthens us to cope with aging and the onset of death. We have promise of a great, eternal future out ahead in a world where youth is the norm, and no one dies or gets sick.

 Even if we are totally wrong in our belief, my wife and I are far better off than "the man under the sun" who has resigned himself to futility; to live out his pointless existence with no more importance than an alley cat or a feral dog; to die and be recycled back into the matrix from whence he came; the meanwhile suppressing a gnawing anxiety in the back of his mind that there just might be an afterlife after all.

— The End —


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