The Conclusion of the Whole Matter
Many have concluded that the book of Ecclesiastes presents a very dark and pessimistic message. It is understandable that such an opinion may be formed when the wise man Solomon begins his discourse with the declaration, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3).
It does sound rather bleak doesn’t it?
The Vanity of Life
He describes the frustrations of life, the monotony of life, and the disappointments of life. G. Campbell Morgan provides good insight into Solomon’s thinking:
“This man had been living through all these experiences under the sun, concerned with nothing above the sun…until there came a moment in which he had seen the whole of life. And there was something over the sun. It is only as a man takes account of that which is over the sun as well as that which is under the sun that things under the sun are seen in their true light.”
No doubt multitudes today have reached the conclusion that life is empty and meaningless. They have pursued many of the same things that captured Solomon’s attention. They have enjoyed the pleasures of sin for a season only to wake up to the fact there was no lasting satisfaction to be found there and so have become cynical and bitter.
Life is indeed empty with nothing in view but that which pertains to this sin-cursed world and no hope for anything better when the ravages of old age have taken their toll and finally “the silver cord be loosed.”
The Meaning of Life
But the Preacher lifts the sights of his readers above the sun. He says plan early to find that life does have meaning: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” Jay Adams writes:
“To call God one’s Creator is significant. By that term he is saying that God made each person and knows what is best for each. He is also affirming that God owns him and has a right to tell him how to live this life (cf. Psalm 100:3). And by this emphasis on God’s creatorship he is backing up all his statements about the evil effects of sin by referring his words to the One Who knows what is best for human beings.”
No wonder some fight so hard to defend the theory of evolution.
If you can eliminate the Creator there is no true accountability.
Without the Creator there can be no absolute truth. Without the Creator there will be no judgment.
But the writer reminds us there is judgment. “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether is be evil” (12:14). And the Apostle Paul spoke of judgment when preaching at Mars Hill:
“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commendeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath a appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
The Abundant Life
Often an incorrect conclusion is drawn. It is observed, “If I am not my own person, and I belong to the Creator and I am accountable to him, then how can I possibly enjoy life?” But the fact is, when the Creator is remembered and his words are laid to heart that is when real freedom and real joy is experienced.
The young person that remembers his creator and keeps his commandments can avoid many a pitfall that would only bring grief. God is not imposing restrictions that will make people miserable, but will afford them joy.
God would have you enjoy life: “And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God” (3:13).
And again, “Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God” (5:19).
When Paul writes to Timothy he takes up the same theme.
“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:17-20).
The person who focuses on uncertain riches and the fleeting pleasures that the world offers will ultimately realize the vanity of it all. But life with God at the center brings great joy.
“Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). If indeed we find our joy in the Lord we can heed the admonition of Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” As Solomon gained this understanding about life, he desired to teach others. And so under the inspiration of the Spirit, he sought to find acceptable words, words of truth. He was committed to using only words of truth but he wanted them to be gracious words.
That concern is sometimes overlooked by parents in teaching their children. They assume that if they are using truthful words it is not necessary that they also be gracious and easy to understand. So he comes to the end of this unique book by saying, “Let us here the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” He describes his words as goads. A herdsman may use a goad to drive his cattle in the right direction. So Solomon is not timidly saying, “I want to make a suggestion” — he is using strong words to motivate his reader to lay to heart the importance of his message.
It is a simple, basic message but it begins with a crucial issue: Fear God.
We learn that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. To fear the Lord is to stand in awe of his greatness, to reverence him, and to obey him. Warren Wiersbe writes: “An unholy fear makes people run away from God, but a holy fear brings them to their knees in loving submission to God.”
David said, “Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psalm 34:11). David was a great singer, but he did not say, I will teach you to sing. He was a great warrior but he did not say, I will teach you to fight. He said, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Nothing can be of greater importance in the life of a young person, or a person of any age for that matter, than to fear the Lord and consequently obey his commandments.
It is only when we consider life, death, and humanity from the perspective of God’s purpose and providence that we find a reason to live, to study, to work, to live life to its fullest.
Jesus came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly. There is joy in life here and eternal joy hereafter if we have the life given by the Son.