Ecclesiastes 12

The Word Made Fresh

1Remember your creator when you are young,
before troubles come and you realize the years bring no pleasure;
2remember, before the sunlight and the moon and the stars are darkened,
before the clouds return without rain;
3remember, before the palace guards tremble and the strong men are bent,
when the women who grind cease their work, for they are too few,
and when those who look through the windows only see dimly;
4when all the doors on the street are closed,
and the sounds of grinding are weak,
and one starts at the sound of a bird,
and all the daughters of song are cast off;
5when you are afraid of heights,
and the road is filled with terrors;
when the almond trees blossom,
but the grasshopper drags along without desire
because all must depart to their eternal home;
and when the streets are filled with mourners;
6before the silver cord is broken, and the golden bowl is smashed;
when the golden bowl is broken at the well
and the wheel broken at the cistern;
7when dust returns the earth to what it was
and life returns to God who gave it.
8“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Preacher.
“All is meaningless!”

9Aside from wisdom, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and putting many sayings in order. 10The Preacher searched for pleasing words and wrote many words of truth in a way that could be understood.

11The collections of the sayings of the wise are like prods; like nails firmly driven by one leader. 12Beware of any wisdom beyond this, my child. There is no end to the making of many books, and much studying wearies the mind.

13We come now to the end of the matter. Everything has been heard. Fear God. Keep God’s laws. That is the whole duty of everyone, 14for God will bring every deed under scrutiny, even every secret thing, good or bad.


1-8: I think in these verses we have the crux of the matter. The Preacher is an old man bemoaning the ravages of time and aging. His cynicism can be explained by the fact that he no longer enjoys the things of life that once brought so much pleasure. His eyesight is fading, nothing gratifies him anymore and he knows he is living in his last days. Unfortunately, like many men and women in that condition, he is able to find little to enjoy. That makes me wonder if he truly found the wisdom he claimed to be seeking.

6: All the items listed in this verse are part of the operation of a single well, although I doubt many wells would have had a silver rope by which to lower a golden bowl. On the other hand, a very wealthy person may possess such silly accoutrements. In any case we get a picture of the cord snapping and the bowl tumbling into the well and breaking, the pitcher into which the water is poured from the bowl is shattered and the wheel or pulley that supports the arrangement is also broken. It is a sad image; a life is being disconnected from its source.

8: The sayings of the Preacher which began at 1:2 ends with the same words with which they began. “Meaningless! Meaningless!”

9-10: The book ends with a summary of the Preacher’s life.

11-12: A general comment on wisdom literature.

13-14: The whole work is at the last swept aside with a single injunction; “Fear God. Keep God’s laws.” Whether one is wise or foolish, God is the final judge.


Ecclesiastes is a classic struggle to understand the “meaning of life.” It is a continuous struggle in every generation. We must take from it what is helpful, but never give up the search, which is continuous and, indeed, eternal.