This closing chapter of Ecclesiastes is a wake-up call, a reality check. As an old man who had “been there and done that”, Solomon puts life in the proper perspective. The phrase, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (v.1) is Solomon’s way of saying, “Don’t forget God; don’t waste your life!” Set your course for wise, godly living early in your life — and when you are old you will be able to look back and be proud of how you lived.
In a clever bit of poetry, Solomon talks about growing older (v.2-5). The sun, moon, and stars becoming dim is a reference to failing eyesight (and the need for those reading glasses you keep losing). “The keepers of the house” trembling could mean the shaky hands of old age; the “strong men” being bent could refer to once-strong legs becoming weak and giving way; and the “grinders” being few is certainly a reference to the teeth falling out (v.3). Verse 4 describes hearing loss. In verse 5 the white blossoms of the almond tree could refer to the hair turning white, and “failing desire” could mean a waning sex drive. These are the realities of old age. Solomon’s point is that when youthful health and energy is gone, unless you have built your life around the Lord, you won’t have anything left to live for.
Solomon uses a series of poetic images to break the news that one day you are going to die. Someday your “mourners will go about the streets” (v.5) — there will be a funeral procession to your gravesite. Someday “the silver cord” — that thin, fragile connector between body and spirit — will snap (v.6). The “golden bowl” that holds your health, the “pitcher” that contains your life force, the pulley that draws vitality from the well of life — they will all be shattered and broken beyond repair, and your life will be over. Life is short and death is certain, so don’t forget to really live while you’re alive!
The only way to live a meaningful and fulfilling life is to live it God’s way, and God’s way can only be learned from God’s Word. That is why Solomon sought out the best words and arranged them in the best order so that he could most effectively convey the truth of Scripture (v.9-10). The principles and precepts of God’s Word are like “goads”, sharpened sticks that were used to poke livestock to keep them in line (v.11). God’s Word keeps us going in the right direction. “Nails” are truths we can hang our values on — well-driven nails that will keep us well-fastened to God’s wisdom. Solomon said (v.11) that it was given by “one Shepherd.” I believe he is talking about God (his father had said, “The Lord is my shepherd”). God inspired Solomon to write Ecclesiastes, just as He inspired the other biblical writers to pen the truth of Scripture. We need to receive that truth every day.
Solomon concludes this book by stating what is required to please God: fearing Him (living with deep respect and grateful love for God) and keeping His commandments (living in obedience to God’s Word). Verse 14 is a closing caution: there is a sovereign God to whom we are accountable, and we can’t hide anything from Him. Someday you will stand before God and He will judge every word you have spoken, everything you have done, every attitude and every motive in your heart. He will judge what you did with every opportunity. Live in such a way that you will hear Him say, “Well done — you were a good and faithful servant.”