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Monday, July 18, 2011

"When All Has Been Heard" - (07/17/11)

“When All Has Been Heard”
Ecclesiastes 12 (Message #12 in Series)
July 17, 2011

            Many young people mistakenly think of Christianity as an old person’s religion.  But of course that is not true.  The Bible is replete with the exploits of young people that God used to do amazing things.  In the OT, David, Gideon, Jeremiah, King Josiah, and Samuel come immediately to mind.  And don’t forget, many of the apostles of Jesus were very young men when they started.  The Book of Proverbs was written specifically to young people.  In the NT John Mark was probably still a teenager when he set out with Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey into Asia Minor.  In I Timothy 4:12 Paul wrote to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

The Book of Ecclesiastes is also full of advice for young people, especially here at the end of the book where Solomon hammers on the importance of a person seeking God in his youth while he still has all his years out in front of him, rather than waiting until he is old and his energy is all spent and gone.  God deserves the best we can give Him, not the leftovers of our life after we’ve driven the wheels off of it and we’re about ready for the Rest Home at Shady Pines.

            In verses 1-2 Solomon exhorts us to remember God early in life.
Verses 1-2: 1Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; 2before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened, and clouds return after the rain;
  • You can’t start with God too early in life.  That’s why we believe in things like Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, Child Evangelism Fellowship, and all kinds of other ministries directed at telling kids about Jesus.  If we win children early they have their whole life to dedicate to God and His service.
  • Solomon makes the case that if you evade God early in life you’ll likely have no time for Him in your old age.  That’s just how it works.
  • Verse 2 is the picture of an impending storm, old age, which, once it hits, will obscure the light and the heavenly bodies, so that there is no warmth or brightness, that is, no enjoyment of life.  Solomon speaks of old age as the “coming evil days.”  The NLT puts it this way: 1Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator.  Honor Him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.”  2Remember Him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky.

            He says that we should remember the debilitating effects of old age.  Now when you read these verses in an older version like the KJV it may leave you with more questions than answers, simply because Solomon is speaking in metaphors.  However, if you look at these verses in a modern language version you can really get his drift.  Again let me read from the NLT.
Verses 3-4: 3Remember Him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop.  Remember Him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly.   4Remember Him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades.  Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint.
  • In this allegory, the “house” is the old person’s body.  The trembling watchmen are the wobbly legs.  The mighty men are the stooping shoulders.  The grinders are the teeth, some of which have already fallen out.  Those looking through the windows are the eyes, which have age-related problems.  [NOTICE: verse 4 is better in the NASV or NIV: “…when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when people rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint.” The doors are the ears (dual word) that can’t hear very well anymore.  He doesn’t sleep well anymore so even a bird chirp will wake him up.  He can’t hear music very well either, because he is nearly deaf.

Solomon continues in this vein in verse 5.
Verse 5: 5Remember Him before you become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets; before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire.  Remember Him before you near the grave, your everlasting home, when the mourners will weep at your funeral.
  • Old people avoid high places because it makes them huff and puff and lose their breath.  They also avoid long walks on the road because they aren’t sure if their legs will hold them up or not.  The almond tree blossoms are white and this is about the old person’s white hair on top.  A skinny, crippled up old man looks from a distance like a wounded grasshopper, dragging itself along, using canes and walkers.  Even the caperberry no longer works to stimulate appetite or sexual desire.  (That was the Viagra of Solomon’s day.  It was thought to be an aphrodisiac.)
  • The last part of this verse is especially powerful: “Remember Him before you near the grave.”  Unfortunately it has been my observation that most people give very little thought to God or to the destination of their eternal soul until they get to the front door of the funeral home.

Solomon reemphasizes what he said up in verse 1.
Verses 6-7: 6Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken.  Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well.  7For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
  • Solomon reemphasizes his point; namely, that we need to remember that the debility of age often renders one incapable of spiritual reflection or of turning to God.  With time people tend to grow hardened to the Gospel and after years of saying “NO!” to God, they get so they can no longer even hear the still, small voice anymore.  That’s why very few elderly people accept Christ.  Their hearts have been hardened and their ears deafened.

            Verses 8-14 serve as the epilogue for this book.  In 8-12 Solomon offers us a validation of his words.
Verses 8-10: 8“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “all is vanity!”  9In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs.  10The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.
  • Here Solomon refers to himself in the 3rd person, trying for some objectivity.  He judged his conclusions to be “words of truth.”  I also believe that he had a definite sense as he wrote this that he was being carried along by the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit.  He knew that his wisdom was a gift from God, given to him that he might in turn, transmit it to God’s people. 

Speaking of wisdom from God…
Verses 11-12: 11The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd.  12But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.  
  • I like the way Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message, puts this: The words of the wise prod us to live well.  They’re like nails hammered home, holding life together.  They are given by God, the one Shepherd.  12But regarding anything beyond this, dear friend, go easy.  There’s no end to the publishing of books, and constant study wears you out so you’re no good for anything else.”
  • Ain’t it the truth!  Too many books will break your back and mess up you mind.  And I should know!  Have you seen the size of my library?  Seriously, man’s opinions are too many to count, but these words here are “words of truth.”

            Here in verses 13-14 we have the conclusion of Solomon’s words.
Verses 13-14: 13The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.  14For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
  • Fear God means to revere Him and hold Him in awe recognizing that He alone gives meaning to life.
  • Keep His commandments means to obey Him.
  • Live life with a view to God’s judgment (14).  God will one day settle all the inequities and mysteries of life.

            Verse 13 gives us the Solomonic Formula for a happy, successful life: “Fear God and keep His commandments,” and this against the constant backdrop of the fact that God, the Righteous Judge will one day scrutinize every person and how he or she has lived.  No one will escape His holy gaze and no one will have any self-righteous excuses to offer Him.
            The Formula sounds easy enough, so why is it that we struggle so with it?  Why do so few people take this to heart and put it into practice?  Why is it that people say, “After I retire I’ll have more time to give to God’s work”?  Why do so many Christians wait until they are in their 60s-70s to go on short-term missions trips?  Why do we think our lives are our own to use and spend as we see fit, only give to God what is left over?
            In verse 1 Solomon states the principle: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”  Then he restates it in verse 6: “Remember your Creator now while you are young.”  Yet most Christians do not see this as a priority.

            What insights have you gained from this study of the Book of Ecclesiastes?  Is there one particular spiritual lesson that has stood out to you?  What will you do differently as a result of the life-lessons you have gleaned from these studies?

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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