Word of truth (Ecclesiastes 12:8-11)

The Word of God in Ecclesiastes now moves to the conclusion of the book. But first it sets before us the objective theme and the inspiration of the book. That theme is:

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity (Eccl. 12:8).

The transitory character of life under the sun has been the object of contemplation. We labor and toil under the sun. The world presents itself as rich and beautiful, for God made it and His handiwork is revealed by the things that are made. But that world also lies under the curse and judgment of God upon sin, which has subjected the whole creation to vanity. “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope” (Rom. 8:20). The result is that all things under the sun wear away, decay, and decline in corruption. The works of man crumble and fall. Man himself ages and decays unto death and the grave.

The fool in Ecclesiastes, the unbeliever, as we have seen, strives with that reality of vanity, seeking to find his treasure and joy in this life. The result is the folly of sin, the heaping and gathering of the wicked to his own hurt. The preacher, Solomon, has sought to set before us the truth of the matter for the spiritual instruction of God’s believing people, that we might see with the eye of faith the world and its vanity, and thus understand what is good and profitable for a child of God under the sun. This purpose he now sets before us as the book draws to a close.

And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs (Eccl. 12:9).

The course of the book has been one of a serious, discerning study of things under the sun, to know their meaning, purpose, and value. He “gave good heed and sought out” wisdom. The book of Proverbs, with its gathering of observations of the world and resulting wisdom, was the same endeavor. Ecclesiastes, forming as it were an appendix to Proverbs, builds on the wisdom found there. Solomon, laying hold of the wisdom God gave him, sets in order many proverbs, not only in the book of Proverbs but in this book as well. The design of a proverb, as well as this material in Ecclesiastes, is that we take up that Word of God in our minds, reflecting upon it as we live our day-to-day lives, contemplating what it means for us in every situation of life. That Word is like a search light shining upon the world around us to give spiritual understanding of the various states of life and their meaning. It is intended to warn and guard us from the way of sin and its folly.

With that purpose in view, the preacher calls to mind the gift of wisdom given him. Wisdom is both the gift of discernment and the ability or skill to put that knowl­edge to use. Having that wisdom, Solomon walked in the calling to teach knowledge and wisdom to the people. That the text is in the third person, as speaking about the preacher rather than as the preacher directly, does not necessarily mean we have a different writer though that is not impossible. God used Solomon to write. He also used other men by His Spirit to collect and set in order that which was written by divine inspiration. Thus we read in Proverbs 25: “These are also the proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out” (v. 1). Solomon’s purpose is rather to call to mind God’s work in him and the grace of wisdom that he received. We have been dealing with a work of God and His word by Solomon. The wisdom in Ecclesiastes and Proverbs is not the natural fruit of a gifted human mind but a work of divine inspiration in Solomon.

Inspiration of the Scriptures is an organic work of God in which the prophet or preacher, in this case, is who he is, with the gifts given him and led by the Spirit of God to speak and teach not his own human wisdom but the Word of God. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Spirit” (II Pet. 2:21). The result is that Scripture is of “no private interpretation” or opin­ion (II Pet. 2:20). The Bible is not a human document of human philosophy or of worldly discernment and wisdom. Ecclesiastes is here laying a claim to divine inspiration for it and for the book of Proverbs to which it is joined. This is necessary. There was then and still are many books of wisdom written by men, with advice, common sense, and human thought. Divinely inspired wisdom, God’s wisdom ministered to us by the Preach­er, is in a wholly different category. Hence the argu­ment continues:

The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth (Eccl. 12:10).

Under that inspiration and by means of the gift of wisdom, the work of God in inspiration extended even to the words chosen and used. That holy men spake as they were moved by the Spirit of God means more than just that the concepts and observations were of God. The work of God extends to the very words chosen and set down in the Scriptures. The Word of God, also in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, is verbally inspired. Therefore, “that which was written was upright, even words of truth.” What is given, therefore, is upright as to its moral character, it is the holy Word of God. As Jesus said of the Scriptures, “Thy word is truth,” (John 17:17). This is the same declaration given here; what is written are “even words of truth.” In this and in the other Scriptures is God’s own counsel and instruction. Receiving it by faith, we may rely upon it as truth, a light in a world darkened by sin and unbelief.

The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd (Eccl. 12:11).

The text broadens its scope further in its consideration of the Scriptures and their divine inspiration. “The words of the wise” and the “masters of assemblies” belong together as parallel thoughts. The word “assemblies” can have the idea of that which assembled or collected together. The reference would then be to “the words of the wise,” the men by whom God gave His Word, such as Solomon and the authoritative gathering of that Word, the collection under the leading of the Spirit by the church. The men of Hezekiah’s kingdom gathering the proverbs of Solomon into the book of inspired Scripture would be an example of this. The gathering, collection, and preservation of the Word was also a work of God by men. One finds a similar process when Baruch must transcribe the Word of God revealed to Jeremiah and set it down in writing. (Jer. 36:27-28, 32; Jer. 45). The New Testament epistles were likewise spoken by Paul but written and set down by others as scribes.

The point is that that Word, spoken and set down in writing, has only one source: God as the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. It is from one Shepherd, the Lord. While the process of revelation involves the activ­ity of men, its organic character both of writing and of gathering it together is of the Lord. The Bible is God’s divinely inspired and infallibly written Word, the Word of God in every part.

That word is described as coming to us as goads and nails fastened. A goad is a pointed stick or pole used to prod cattle. Its function is to rouse a sluggish ox and keep it moving. It also serves to direct and keep in the way one who wanders out of the path. The Word of God has the same spiritual function for a believer, to keep him in the way, and to lead and move us along in the way we should go.

At the same time the figure of a fixed nail, fastened, which does not move, sets before us the reliability and certainty of the Word of God. It is truth, not of man’s speculations but of God’s own Word to us. Truth is not relative, a matter of my opinion and your opinion, which is how the world views it. We are given to know truth, possess it, and rest upon it in our life. The authority and trustworthiness of the Scriptures are thereby underscored including its assessment of life set forth in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is “even the words of truth.”