Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them (Eccl. 12:1).
The preceding verses contained an exhortation to those in the days of youth. Our text continues that thought and completes it. The calling is to “remember,” not in the sense of looking at what is past, which belongs to the elderly, but in the sense of holding in mind. Hold in mind, as constantly before your mind, thy Creator. Do so now, in the present, and daily, while you are yet young. In all the youthful activity of life and joy as it unfolds before you, consider Him who made you and in whose creation you walk and whose works your eyes behold. Do so knowing that “for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity” (Eccl. 11:9b, 10).
Childhood and youth are vanity, a fleeting transitory state or phase of life ‘under the sun.’ They do not endure. Days will come that are evil, full of trial, affliction, and chastening from the Lord. Thus Moses prays in Psalm 90: “Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil” (Ps. 90:15).
The days come when the joys of life fade, because of the infirmities of age and its increasing limitations. What follows in the text is the contrast between youth and old age, which further explains, “when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.” The purpose is to underscore the reason for the exhortation given, “Rejoice, O young man in thy youth.” Old age comes with its limitations but also a looking back at that which is past, a remembrance of days gone by. Remembering our Creator in the days of our youth keeps one from sins of youth, which are a burden in old age. The psalmist prays: “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord” (Ps. 25:7).
In harmony with the viewpoint of Ecclesiastes, the text focuses on the physical infirmities of age, when one says of his days, “I have no pleasure in them.” The delights and physical joys of seeing and hearing, the activities of taste and sound fade away.
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain (Eccl. 12:2).
In youth the sight of the eyes is clear and bright; with aging comes a decline in vision. The purpose in this description is not to introduce some hidden symbolic figures, but to describe the infirmities of age in contrast to youth. The time comes when vision is blurred and dimmed. Cataracts, for example, the clouding of vision, dim the light, and in Solomon’s days some surgical relief was not to be found. The decline does not stand still. Clouds return after the rain; so it is to one whose vision is clouded, and to one who goes through successive trials like rain. The point is that these infirmities do not yet touch the young, but they follow in the course of life. The result is old age.
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened (Eccl. 12:3).
The picture, while figurative, is not difficult. The body wears out, arms and legs lose their strength; they tremble and bow. The strength of youth is gone and that which was once strong bows and becomes weak. The grinders, that is, the teeth, cease; they fall out or have to be removed because of decay. The windows, the eyes, become darkened, so that one slowly becomes blind. We have canes, walkers, hip-replacement surgery, dental care, dentures, glasses, eye surgery, and other means to compensate for the decline of old age, though it is only an easing of the decline, not a cure. Solomon had more limited means in his time.
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low (Eccl. 12:4).
The picture in the verse is essentially one of old age hearing loss. The doors of the ears are shut; they cannot any longer hear the sound of the street or from the kitchen the sound of grinding the flour for a meal. Conversation, therefore, becomes difficult. Yet, the higher pitch sound of a bird is still heard and awakens one or, at the same time, causes one to rise early as sleep departs. The pleasure of rest in sleep diminishes as a result. Music and its enjoyment likewise depart because the hearing can no longer distinguish its sound and melody. Solomon had both singers and instruments in his court; it was part of the splendor of his kingdom (Eccl. 2:8). Yet in old age he tells us indirectly, “I have no pleasure in them.” This affects the joy of life and fellowship with others at the same time; it isolates the elderly.
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets (Eccl. 12:5).
With the infirmities of age and a loss of strength come also fears of heights and of walking, unknown when one is young. But one’s grip, balance, strength to stand and walk are not the same. The limbs are stiff, the strength and balance are not there. One totters and needs support.
The almond tree blooms white or a pinkish white. Here, the flourishing of the tree aptly represents the hair turning white with age, the hoary head. The figure of the grasshopper or locust, is probably to be understood of the insect when it crawls along, rather than hops or flies. Its creeping motion represents, then, the burden of movement in old age. The picture is that of the fading of the powers of life and the slow decay of the body that age brings. “And desire shall fail.” The same decline is found internally in wanting and willing, the natural desires for the things of this life fade.
The cause is set before us: this decline is unto death and the grave. The grave and death, the long or eternal home awaits and claims the life of a man or a woman putting to an end his/her place in this world. We die, and the mourners go about in the street; we would say the funeral procession goes by. Such is the lot of all men under the sun.
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it (Eccl. 12: 6, 7).
The pictures or series of them in verse six are intended to present a pattern of death as a sudden separation: the cord is loosed, and the bowl, or possibly that of a lamp, falls to the ground and is broken. The bowl hangs by a silver chain that slips off and the bowl falls, spilling its contents, and perhaps the light it once gave is extinguished. It is broken, damaged. The precious silver and gold are loosed. So also is the life of man, precious in our days ‘under the sun,’ but suddenly cut off by death, and the beauty and glory depart.
The pitcher and the wheel present a similar idea. The pitcher of clay is fragile. It is suddenly shattered to pieces at the fountain and can hold no more water. Its place and use—its life—is done. The wheel that drew water out of the cistern collapses. Worn out and weakened, it falls and is broken; it will draw water no more.
Death comes suddenly, irreversibly, as far as this world is concerned, and takes us from this life. The point is too, remember thy Creator now, especially in thy youth or ever, or before, this comes, this death and separation from the things of this life ‘under the sun.’ For “God will bring thee into judgment” (Eccl. 11:9).
Death itself is the judgment of God upon sin; old age is the expression of the working of God’s curse upon fallen man. “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen 3:19). Man is dust; such is the meaning of the name Adam or man. From the dust he was formed from the earth and at death the dust shall return to the earth as it was (Eccl. 12:7). The word for dust used here is slightly different from the word used in Genesis. It is a synonym that emphasizes the earthy character of that dust as a clod of earth. Man is of the earth, earthy. He has no power over death, nor can he by his activity that is earthly find an answer to it. The spirit or breath of life that God breathed in him also returns to God who gave it. Thus the Word of God returns to the basic observation of the book:
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity (Eccl. 12:8).
Vanity, a transitory thing that does not abide or endure, is empty in itself, a passing moment ‘under the sun.’ Such ‘under the sun’ is the life of man, and man himself dies. Man has no power to retain the spirit. Only in God, the Creator who in Christ is God our Redeemer, is there an answer. That requires the work of grace from above. It cannot arise from man who is of the earth below and returns to his earth.