Ecclesiastes | Life Under the Sun (Part 12) 7.29.18
Ecclesiastes 11:7 – 12:8
We’re almost done with our study of this great book, only two sermons to go, and then, on September 9, we’ll begin our next sermon series on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which I expect will take us through 2019 and into 2020.
Following this morning’s sermon, all that will be left is the conclusion of the book. The main text of Solomon’s book ends today, and it ends in 12:8 with the same phrase it started with in 1:2 – “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all is vanity.”
All of life under the sun is vanity, which literally means mist. All of life under the sun is mist. Life cannot be grasped. Life cannot be controlled. Life cannot be predicted. Life cannot be counted on as a reliable source of satisfaction or contentment or happiness. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
Now, when Solomon first made that sweeping statement about all of life, it sounded like ungrounded hyperbole. But here at the end, thousands of words later, after honest examination, his judgment has been justified. Life is vanity.
It’s true. That is a dose of reality. If you’re looking for happiness and rest in this life, apart from God, you won’t find it. You may find something superficial and temporal, but it will be a house of cards, and it’s only a matter of time before the happiness and peace turn to despair and restlessness – and that has been Solomon’s commentary on the nature of this life.
But that’s not all this book is. This book is not just a description, it’s also a prescription, and the prescription is this – Enjoy your life as a gift from God. Let me put all that together; here is the main message of Ecclesiastes:
Life is vanity, but God is sovereign over all things, and in this vain life he gives his children gifts and the power to enjoy them. Most recently, in 8:16-11:6, Solomon has helped us to identify the gifts God has given us in this vain life, like food and wine and children and spouse and work.
This morning, in these final verses, Solomon puts our charge this way – rejoice and remember. Rejoice and remember.
But before I preach this sermon, we should pray together. Please bow your heads with me.
Open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 11. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, (which you’re free to take with you if you don’t own a Bible), you will find today’s text on page 359.
Ecclesiastes, chapter 11, let’s begin with vv7-8: 7 Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. 8 So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all;
“Rejoice in them all.” Enjoy each day God has given you. That is what Solomon is saying here. Every day you have is a gift from God. You wouldn’t have yesterday, you wouldn’t have today, you wouldn’t have tomorrow – if it wasn’t given to you by God.
Ecclesiastes 5:18 – Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.
Ecclesiastes 8:15 – And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.
So every day you have is a gift from God. Enjoy it. “If a person lives many years, Solomon says, let him rejoice in them all.”
Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Seize every moment. Master Oogway said “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift… that’s why they call it present.” For those of you who are task and goal oriented, this will mean the difficult task of slowing down and soaking in every moment of every day. It will mean engaging with the people and events that are right in front of you. You’ve heard the expression – wherever you are, be there.
For those of you who are discontent, you will be tempted to spend all your time looking forward to something rather than enjoying now. You look forward to end of work, to the end of school, to the weekend, to the vacation, to the retirement. And all that looking forward can actually be a form of ingratitude. “Rejoice in them all” the Professor says. Enjoy each day God has given you.
Okay, here’s the second half of v8: but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.
So there it is – rejoice and remember. “Rejoice in them all,” BUT “… remember that the days of darkness will be many.” This word “remember” means consider, or keep in mind. So rejoice, Solomon tells us, but while we rejoice we must keep in mind that “the days of darkness will be many.”
We’ll have to keep reading to find out what these days of darkness are, but for now, the author would have us know that there will be many of them ahead, and we ought to remember that, to keep that in mind, while we enjoy each day as a gift from God. Okay, let’s finish chapter 11…
Verse 9: 9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.
“Rejoice,” Solomon says again, but he is zeroing in on specific people. Be joyful “O young man, in your youth.” So while these words are good for everyone, this section of Ecclesiastes is primarily aimed at young people (just like the entire book of Proverbs, which Solomon also wrote).
We have lots of young people here. We have young people and we have old people. Who are the young people? Raise your hand. I’m thinking 41 and under.
When Solomon says “young man, in your youth, rejoice and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth,” here is what he means, (and this is going to become very clear in chapter 12) – Enjoy the days when everything is working the way it should. (This is also a clue about what the “days of darkness” are.)
Enjoy the days when everything is working the way it should. Older people understand this. Young people often don’t. There will come a day when you won’t be as strong, when you won’t have as much energy, when you won’t be as fast. There will come a day when things that come easy now will be very difficult, like getting out of bed. There are mornings where my first thought is “okay how’m I going to do this?”
In our family, we have two Suburbans. We have a young Suburban and we have an old Suburban. When I get into the young Suburban, (my wife’s Suburban), I don’t check to make sure there are jumper cables, oil, coolant, and zip ties in the back. If we’re taking a trip into the mountains, we take the young Suburban.
When you are young, your mind and your body is all working the way it should, and there comes a point when there are so many miles on the engine that parts start going out. Solomon’s practical advice here is “Enjoy the days before the parts start going out.”
In v10 he says the same kind of thing: 10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. He’s saying “youth is fleeting, so enjoy it.”
I skipped over the last half of v9 – 9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But…
Another “but,” second half of verse 9: But know [which is another word for remember, so he’s saying rejoice and remember again] But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.
In other words, as you enjoy the days God has given you, enjoy them in a way that honors God, because you will be (and this is true for everyone) brought into judgment for everything you’ve done. There is a way to enjoy life that honors God and there is a way to enjoy life that dishonors God.
Let me summarize this so far – Here is what The Professor has said in the end of chapter 11 – Rejoice and Remember. Rejoice, but remember 1) the days of darkness are coming, and 2) the days of judgment are coming.
Now, let’s take that call to rejoice and remember into chapter 12. There is one more thing Solomon would like us to remember…
Verse 1: 12 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth,
Remember your creator. Remember God. His title Creator brings to mind that He is the source of all life. He is where you came from. He is where every gift you have came from.
“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before (verse 1) the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” And what follows, in vv2-7 is a description of the evil days that are coming and the years that are drawing near. And the evil days coming, and the years drawing near of 12v1 are the same as the days of darkness in 11v8.
So we’ll read the description, but let me tell you up front what they are describing, and you may already be ahead of me – old age and death. The days of darkness, and the evil days coming, and the years drawing near are the days of old age and death. Here is what Solomon is saying in 12v1 – “Remember your creator before old age and death overtake you.”
Young people – Enjoy each day. Rejoice and remember your creator before old age (the days of darkness) and death (the day of judgment) overtake you.
Let’s take a brief detour – I want to take you to a few Scriptures that show us how important it is for us to remember who God is and what he has done.
First of all, ever since the fall of Adam, it hasn’t come naturally for us to remember God. Instead, we are prone to forget. We need reminders. We need regular devotions. We need public and private worship. We need fellowship with other believers. We need the Lord’s Supper.
We don’t need to be like John Donne (1572-1631), who kept a coffin in his bedroom and slept in it occasionally to remind him of his mortality? But you do need anchor points in your life. Times and places and traditions that keep you from forgetting your creator.
God came to his people Israel after rescuing them from Egypt and instituted a Passover Feast, and it was to be a yearly feast, a yearly reminder of what God had done. A memorial.
Exodus 12:14 – “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
Then, after he had brought his people into the land he had promised them he warned them not to forget Him.
And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3 ….17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.
Later, God told Joshua to set aside 12 large stones to be a reminder of God’s faithfulness.
5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
Later, Samuel did the same thing.
1 Samuel 7:12
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
And in the New Testament, the night before his crucifixion, Jesus himself urged his followers to remember Him.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Okay, back to our text. Listen to these verses. They are a poetic description of old age and death, told in the form of an allegory where an aging and deteriorating body is pictured as an aging and deteriorating house.
Let me read verses vv1-7, and I’ll pause throughout and connect the house pictures to the bodily realities.
12 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before [before old age overtakes you] the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; 2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, [for the old man, there comes a season when life is one physical setback after another] 3 in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, [the old man’s arms and hands tremble] and the strong men are bent [the old man is hunched over], and the grinders [teeth] cease because they are few, [the old man has lost his teeth] and those who look through the windows are dimmed, [the old man’s eyes begin to lose sight] 4 and the doors on the street are shut [the old man’s lips fall into the mouth for lack of teeth; Job 41:14]—when the sound of the grinding is low, [only soft foods can be eaten] and one rises up at the sound of a bird, [the old man sleeps lightly] and all the daughters of song are brought low [for the old man, it is difficult to sing or enjoy music]— 5 they are afraid also of what is high [the old man fears heights], and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, [the old man’s hair has turned white] the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets – 6 before [before death overtakes you] the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
As you grow up, you get to a point where you can do everything an earthly body is able to do, and then you lose all those abilities, and then you die, and then you receive a new heavenly body with new and great capacities and abilities. And that results in gratitude which results in glory.
What happens when you have something, and you lose it, and you get it back better? Ask Job. Ask the bound up who were once broken. Gratitude and glory.
In conclusion, Young people – Enjoy each day. Rejoice and remember your creator before old age (the days of darkness) and death (the day of judgment) overtake you.
Old people – What if you’re here today and old age has already overtaken you? The days of Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 are upon you.
If you’re here, and you’re old, and you lived this way when you were younger, then you’re probably today, a certain kind of old person – the kind of old person Solomon was. You’re kind, you’re gracious, you’re patient, and you’re a model to the rest of us. Thank you.
If you’re here, and old age has already overtaken you, and you didn’t live this way, it may not be too late to remember your creator before death overtakes you. Don’t let the silver cord snap or the pitcher shatter before you confess with your mouth and believe with your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord.