"Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, 'I have no pleasure in them'" (Eccl. 12:1). Solomon continues to encourage us to remember God as we enjoy our youth (cf. 11:9,10). It is wise to begin seeking God before old age comes (along with its numerous difficulties) and before one is firmly set in ways of immorality. As a youth, strength and optimism are generally at their peak levels. The aging process, which is slow and irreversible, and the trials of life gradually cause them to diminish (12:2).
In 12:3-6, Solomon shares a poetic description of old age (with the purpose of emphasizing the need to start serving the Creator as a youth, otherwise the time will come when it will be too late):
- "The keepers of the house tremble" (the arms and hands of the elderly are often no longer steady);
- "The strong men bow down" (the legs are no longer straight and strong);
- "The grinders cease because they are few" (the teeth have lessened in number, and thus they do not function as well as they once did for chewing food);
- "Those that look through the windows grow dim" (the eyesight is now clouded and dim because of age);
- "The doors are shut in the streets" (the lips are a door to the mouth--Psa. 141:3--and since the teeth are few, the lips often remain shut);
- "The sound of grinding is low" (the sense of hearing has also deteriorated with age);
- "One rises up at the sound of a bird" (the time for long, deep sleeping is no more; such a one is easily awakened);
- "All the daughters of music are brought low" (this may be a reference to the fact that one cannot sing with the same ability as he could as a youth, or it may be an allusion to the loss of appreciation for sounds);
- "Afraid of height and of terrors in the way" (the fear of falling overtakes the elderly; balance is no longer taken for granted as it was in the days of one's youth);
- "The almond tree blossoms" (the almond tree turns to a silver and then white color when it is almost finished with its cycle; this certainly refers to the changing of one's hair color--to gray and then to white);
- "The grasshopper is a burden" (even the lightest of activities is now a challenge);
- "Desire fails" (advanced age and poor health reduce the strong appetites of the flesh);
- "Man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets" (a reference to death and the grief it brings to the living);
- "Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed" (before life slips away);
- Before "the golden bowl is broken" (before the mind becomes dull or slow);
- Before "the pitcher [is] shattered at the fountain" (before the heart is broken or the spirit crushed);
- Before "the wheel [is] broken at the well" (before death overtakes you).
Admittedly, some of these metaphors are difficult to interpret with certainty and are therefore not presented dogmatically. Nevertheless, the picture painted by Solomon is powerful, and the overall message is clear. Old age brings a variety of struggles. The wise will begin seeking God in early life and continue serving Him until death. Those who are foolish put off the pursuit of righteous living until later in life (e.g., Acts 24:25).
After death, the physical body will decompose; it will return to dust. But, the spirit of man--at the appointed time--will return to its Creator for judgment (12:7).
We will conclude our study of Ecclesiastes on Monday.