Daily Devotional

June 21, 2020

Daybreak: Ecclesiastes 11:1 through 12:14

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

I spent a number of years in the banking industry, where I had a colleague whose response to any proposed program or initiative was, “What’s the bottom line?” This question, framed in monetary terms, simply meant that when all the positives and negatives of the proposal were added together, would the bank profit? Of course there were non-financial aspects to consider as well, such as customer service, legality, and ethical issues, but the same question could be asked in each of those areas. Often our discussions would move into tangential areas of concern and gradually drift far from the issue at hand. Inevitably, my colleague would pull us back to the point by asking, “But what is the bottom line?” He was careful to keep us zeroed in on what really mattered. 

Our lives can easily become sidetracked and our focus subtly shift from the things of God to things of little value. We are reminded by this text that there is a “bottom line,” and we must pay attention to it if we are to live life as God intended. 

In the final two verses of Ecclesiastes, Solomon gives us the “bottom line” of life. All that he had said in his discourse to the young men of Israel reached a culmination in this passage — a principle he seemed to regard as the key to a fulfilling life. In essence, he was declaring that the entire responsibility of humanity can be condensed to two simple issues: our attitudes (fear God) and actions (keep His commandments). 

Our attitudes should be marked by awe and reverence toward God, the Creator of the universe. It is interesting to note that the writer used the same Hebrew word for God (Elohim) in this passage that is used in the creation account of Genesis, rather than the Jewish national name for God (Yahweh) that is frequently used in other texts. Solomon’s point was that we should stand in awe at the power of the God who spoke the worlds into existence. It should take our breath away to consider that He takes personal interest in each individual on planet earth. Not a day should go by that we do not honor and revere God for His gracious love and care for all of creation and for us as individuals. 

Flowing from our attitude of awe, reverence, and honor should be actions that are obedient to God’s instructions. He spoke through the Old Testament prophet Samuel, declaring that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), and Solomon’s instruction to “keep his commandments” reinforces that principle. Obedience from a pure heart is the highest form of worship we can offer God. Ecclesiastes 11:9-10 warns of the folly of excluding God and His expectations from our lives because someday all will be judged. God will measure every action, so we must be careful to “put away evil.” 

Today, as in Solomon’s time, the “bottom line” for our lives can be simply stated in two questions. Do we fear, reverence, honor, and stand in awe of God? And have we set our hearts to worship Him supremely by following his commandments, instructions, principles, and precepts, making them the basis for our life’s purpose and decisions? Let’s make sure that our lives line up to these principles.

Background

In previous chapters, Solomon explored the meaning and purpose of life from man’s perspective and found that it was often vanity. In today’s text, he exhorted his hearers to make good decisions because the result would determine future joy. 

In chapter 11, he advised benevolence in giving to guard against an uncertain future. He also admonished the youth to enjoy life, but at the same time to remember God’s ultimate judgment. In chapter 12 he advised that the sensible time for turning to God was during one’s youth, before the adversities of life and the aging process would cause one to become disheartened. Solomon’s final assessment was that man’s duty in life is to fear God and keep His commandments.

The Hebrew idiom given in verse 1 of chapter 11 was based on the custom of spreading seeds from boats along the overflowing banks of the river. When the water receded, the grain settled in the soil and grew. The meaning was that whatever one gave to others would eventually be returned. Verse 2 infers that diversity in business assets is advisable since it is not possible to know what the future holds. 

Verses 3-6 imply that it is not wise to wait for ideal circumstances or good weather in order to do one’s work. God is in control of the elements, and man cannot know ahead of time what will happen. Therefore, it is imperative to use one’s time wisely and reap the rewards that hard work brings.

The implication in verses 7-8 is that though a man lives a long life full of sweet and sunny days, death will eventually come with many “days of darkness” in the grave. In verses 9-10, the author encouraged young people to thrive in their youth, while bearing in mind that their every deed would be judged by God. The admonition was that they should live responsibly and maturely. 

In verse 1 of chapter 12, the connotation of the word remember is to “consider and obey.” The author encouraged submission to God in one’s youth, before the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars, and before cloudy days (verse 2). This depiction may have been in reference to the grief and misery that sometimes accompanies old age. 

Verses 3-8 are a descriptive portrayal of the aging process. Although translators differ in their interpretations, the essence is that life can become very difficult and dangerous as one grows older. The eventual end is eternity, and the mourning of one’s death. The visual images in verse 6 symbolize the end of life, offering no hope for restoration. Following one’s death, the body returns to dust, while the soul returns to God. Verse 8 stresses the futility of life without God. 

In verses 9-11, Solomon stated that because he was wise, he endeavored to teach the issues of life through many orderly proverbs. He sought to find gracious words that portrayed uprightness and truth. The author said his words were as the prodding of goads and the piercing of nails.

In verses 12-14, the author signified that the continual study of books would not provide the meaning of life, which is to fear God and keep His commandments; for all man’s deeds, whether good or evil, will eventually be judged by God. 

Amplified Outline

(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
III.    The theme applied 
    B.    Advice concerning wisdom 
        3.    The instruction of wisdom (11:1 — 12:7)
            a.    Exhortation to do good (11:1-6)
            b.    Exhortation to youth (11:7 — 12:7)
                (1)    Avoid evil (11:7-10)
                (2)    Remember God and death (12:1-7)
IV.    The theme concluded (12:8-14)
    A.    The theme rehearsed (12:8)
    B.    The preacher’s activity (12:9-11)
    C.    The preacher’s advice (12:12)
    D.    The preacher’s conclusion (12:13-14)

A Closer Look

  1. What did Solomon say was a pleasant thing for our eyes to behold? What did he mean by that statement?
     
  2. Why do you think Solomon implied that it is easy to forget God when we are young? 
     
  3. What are the benefits of remembering our Creator early in life rather than later?

Conclusion

The only true profit in life is found in fearing God and keeping His commandments. 

Reference Materials