International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:7, 13Lesson Title: Wisdom for Aging
Irish playwright and Nobel Prize winner George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) once said, “Youth is a wonderful thing; it’s a shame to waste it on young people.” Part of what he meant is that life gets more complicated the longer you live and the older you get. Life is serious and the words of Solomon in today’s text remind us to enjoy the wonderful things God has given us and live your life based on the truth of God’s Word. Wisdom should be a part of our lives from youth to old age.
Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:7 is an exhortation to the young to enjoy the days of their youth. Youth is a most suitable time for enjoyment and should be a time where the foundation for life is laid. Men ought to begin to fear God in their youth, for the maturity of this virtue requires time. Every day of life should be invested in gaining wisdom and learning to love and serve the Lord. Should one, however, have wasted youth in a life of sin, Christ can give new life and although you may be old in age, you can become a brand new creation today and start a new life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20).
At the sunset of Solomon’s life, he recorded his regrets and gave good advice to young and old alike. He lived so much of his life without any regard for spiritual things which had left him empty and frustrated. He had tried everything the world had to offer and found no satisfaction. He challenges us to form our future, make wise investments, and make the most of everyday and everything God gives us.
Wisdom and Rejoicing (Ecclesiastes 11:9)
This is the second time in two verses that the word “rejoice” is used. In Ecclesiastes 11:8 Solomon makes a statement that employs men to “rejoice.” In verse 8 he is teaching man to take joy in normal activities of life. He encourages men to “rejoice in them all” which is a reference to the “many years” God gives us to live. He wants us to remember that there will come “days of darkness” (Ecclesiastes 11:8) which is a reference to old age. When those days arrive, man may not have the strength or the physical ability to enjoy life.
In verse 9 Solomon broadens out the point he is making as he bids man to cultivate the spirit of true cheerfulness. This verse begins with the word “rejoice” and ends with the word “judgment.” “Rejoice” and “judgment” seem to contradict each other. What Solomon is saying is that you can “rejoice” or, you can enjoy life, but keep in mind that you will be judged for everything you do. In other words, keep things in perspective. Live a balanced life. Do all your enjoying of life in such a way that you consider and keep in your thoughts the day of judgment that is ahead.
The “young man” in this verse is probably not any specific individual but rather any young person hearing and reading Solomon’s words. Certainly everyone who reads the verse should heed his warning. “Let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth…” are words encouraging young men to cultivate a life of joy and rejoicing in the “heart.” “In the days of thy youth” means “during your young years.” Solomon is not wanting young people to rejoice that they are young but rather to begin cultivating the virtue of joy and rejoicing while they are young.
Note: So much of our rejoicing and joy is from a spirit of optimism instead of a deep seated joy in the heart. We should “rejoice” or be glad in all the good things of life that gives the heart legitimate cheerfulness.
To “walk in the ways of thine heart” is to do what your heart desires. Now Solomon is not advocating or approving doing whatever you want to do or fulfilling sinful and lustful desires. What he is saying is that young people should enjoy the special pleasures that belong to young people. There are some normal and acceptable “ways” in the life of young people that will soon be gone and cannot be enjoyed when you get older. In other words, if you are young, act like a young person. It is so sad to see young people attempt to act like old people and old people trying to act like young people.
Note: Sometimes our biblical teaching and preacher only focuses on the negatives, the stuff young people shouldn’t do or the things that are sinful. God has provided broad areas of joy and enjoyment in life, especially for young people. Could it be possible that our young people don’t know how to enjoy life because older and “wiser” adults have not taught them?
“…And in the sight of thine eyes” expands Solomon’s thought concerning rejoicing and enjoying life as a young person. Whatever the young man sees that brings him pleasure, he is to rejoice in. Again, it must be stressed that Solomon is not advocating lustful vision or fulfilling sinful desires. Solomon wants us to enjoy life but he then says, “but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee unto judgment.” “But know thou” is more than just being aware that a day of judgment is ahead. The words mean that we are to be so aware that it controls our choices and decisions. All the things in our heart and all the things our eyes see and everything we rejoice in and enjoy in life will require accountability before God (Romans 14:10-12).
Note: Remember, it’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to be young and enjoy life. But there is a day of reckoning coming. We will give account of ourselves to the Lord and the choices we made in life.
Wisdom and Removal (Ecclesiastes 11:10)
“Therefore” or, because of our accountability to God, “remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.” “Remove” means “free yourself.” Solomon’s point is to get away from anything that will take you down a path or destiny away from joy and gladness. Free yourself early in life from people, principles, and pathways that will be injurious to you.
The word translated “sorrow” means “vexation, inner pain, anxiety, fretfulness.” Get the stuff out of your heart, the inner man, which results in “sorrow.” The “heart” refers to the inner part of man, the real you. The “flesh” is the outward manifestation of the “heart” or what is really going on inside of you. The privilege of being a young person and the freedoms and enjoyable experiences it brings must be balanced with mature responsibility. Youth can be a time of restlessness. Young people want their freedom but they quickly discover that the freedom they want can become their bondage. In the case of the prodigal son in Luke 15, he wanted his freedom from home and his father but soon wanted to be back in the house of his father and he was “willing to be a servant” in the father’s house.
The phrase “childhood and youth are vanity” does not mean that these stages in life are unimportant and a waste of time. Quite the opposite is true! The best way to have a happy adult life and a contented old age is to get a good start early in life and avoid the things that will bring trouble later on. Young people who take care of their minds and bodies, avoid the destructive sins of the flesh, and build good habits of health and holiness, have a better chance for happy adult years than those who “sow their wild oats” and pray for a crop failure. (The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament © 2001-2004 by Warren W. Wiersbe. All rights reserved.)
Wisdom and Remembrance (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7)
“Remember” doesn’t mean “look back in time,” because Solomon said to “remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” Instead, “remember” means to recognize a truth, to see it clearly, and to meditate and live with it constantly in mind. It means to think about God. When you “remember” something it means you are serious about it. This is a needed instruction for every generation, especially today. Who thinks about God anymore? Our generation needs to get serious about God!
The implication is that “remembering” or “thinking” about God will make our lives more meaningful, valuable, and pleasurable. If we do so while we’re young, we’ll build a good foundation, as opposed to realizing the truth when we’re older and time has been wasted. When we are young our heart is less calloused to holy things and important things. Part of remembering our “Creator” is remembering and focusing on His creation. Everything God created is good (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25). To “remember” our “Creator” is to think upon the fact that He is the Author of our being and the purpose for our existence.
“While the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh…” is a reminder to the young and all of us that life swiftly changes and swiftly passes by (James 4:14). “Evil days” in this context does not refer to days of immorality or sin, but rather to difficult days. As we age things become more difficult. Solomon is instructing the young to “remember” and think about God while they have the mind to do it! “…When thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them” is speaking of a coming time when men, because of their suffering and numerous infirmities, will be so burdened with this life of heartaches that they will not be able to remember their Creator. He will have too much to do with his own weaknesses.
Illus. The great preacher, Bro. Edgar Thomas, who is now with the Lord, said to me on one occasion, “Preacher boy, pray while you have the mind and physical strength to pray. The day will come when you want to pray but your mind won’t let you and your body can’t handle it.” That is wisdom for aging!
At this point in Solomon’s final admonition of the Book of Ecclesiastes, he presents an imagery of aging in verses 2-7. Solomon uses a series of word pictures to describe the aging process. Young people are to remember their Creator, “while the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened.” Solomon is describing a typical day to depict the going down of the sun which is speaking of the end of a person’s life. The phrase, “nor the clouds return after the rain” suggests circumstances in which one storm follows another; that is, old age is often characterized by increasing afflictions and challenges that can make even the sunniest day and the good days seem difficult to survive. And all the “aged people” said, “Amen!” As one man told me a few weeks ago, “The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of dying!!”
Doctor Warren W. Wiersbe beautifully categorizes the words of Solomon and parallels them to our physical bodies. He writes: Verses 3-7 give us one of the most imaginative descriptions of old age and death found anywhere in literature. Students don't agree on all the details of interpretation, but most of them do see here a picture of a house that is falling apart and finally turns to dust. A dwelling place is one biblical metaphor for the human body (Job 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:1-2; 2 Peter 1:13), and taking down a house or tent is a picture of death. The meaning may be:
keepers of the house (v.3) Your arms and hands tremble.strong men (v.3) Your legs, knees, and shoulders weaken and you walk bent over.grinders (v.3) You start to lose your teeth.windows (v.3) Your vision begins to deteriorate.doors (v.4) Either your hearing starts to fail, or you close your mouth because you've lost your teeth.grinding (v.4) You can't chew your food, or your ears can't pick up the sounds outdoors.rise up (v.4) You wake up with the birds early each morning, and wish you could sleep longer.music (v.4) Your voice starts to quaver and weaken.afraid (v.5) You are terrified of heights and afraid of falling while you walk down the street.almond tree (v.5) If you have any hair left, it turns white, like almond blossoms.grasshopper (v.5)You just drag yourself along, like a grasshopper at the close of the summer season.desire (v.5) You lose your appetite, or perhaps your sexual desire.long home (v.5) You go to your eternal [long] home and people mourn your death.(from The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament © 2001-2004 by Warren W. Wiersbe. All rights reserved.)
“Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel be broken at the cistern” speaks of the breakdown of man. “Or ever” connects this verse and verse 7 with verse 1. Remember your Creator before all this happens. The “silver cord” maybe referring to the spinal cord. The “golden bowl” may mean the brain. The “pitcher at the fountain” is a possible reference to the heart. And the “wheel broken at the cistern” could be speaking about the arteries or the veins in our body.
“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” God said, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). Because of sin man must physically die. And when he dies, “…the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” We are His creation and subject to His call. God’s sovereignty is strongly emphasized in the words, “…and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”
Wisdom and the Result (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter…” is obviously a summary statement by Solomon. “Let us hear” means “all has been heard” and this is the result of life. In other words, through it all and after he had tried it all, Solomon says, “…Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
Ecclesiastes ends where Proverbs begins “fear God” (Proverbs 1:7). Our duty and responsibility on this earth is to reverentially respect the Lord and obey His commandments. The prophet Isaiah said, “Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13). This is the all important conclusion to be carried away from this book. How do we know if we are “fearing the Lord?” The answer is obviously found in whether or not we are “obeying His commandments.”
“…For this is the whole duty of man” means more than this is man’s total responsibility. It means “it is the duty of every man.” This is not a practical suggestion for man to consider. This is what God requires of every man.
Solomon, in spite of all his failures and questions about life leaves us some valuable words of wisdom. God recorded his words in the Bible as a teaching tool and as a powerful warning about the coming of old age and what lies ahead for each of us. We would all be wise to hear and heed the words of the wise king, Solomon. And while we are thinking about what Solomon said, we should also remember what Jesus said, “…behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). The Apostle Paul said about Jesus, “In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
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