The Conclusion of the Matter

8"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Everything is meaningless!"

9Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. 11The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd. 12Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

13Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man. 14For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Solomon here concludes the book of Ecclesiastes. Most of this book contained Solomon’s observations as he devoted himself "to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven" (Eccl. 1:13). Solomon sums up what he found: "‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless!’" (vs. 8). "He took an inventory of the world, and all the best things in it. He cast up the account; and the sum total is vanity." [Bridges, 299]. Through human wisdom, Solomon could find no meaning in life, no rhyme nor reason to life.

Given this, Solomon now goes outside of human wisdom to offer up some words of advice on how one should live. But first, he gives a review of his qualifications: "Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true" (vss. 9–10). Solomon’s writings were the result of hard work and research. Since he was the king of a very wealthy nation, Solomon’s experience and resources were vast. Moreover, Solomon not only researched well his subject, he also worked hard to communicate well his conclusions, as he "searched to find just the right words." In summary, Solomon’s work was well researched, and well stated.

In preparation for his concluding statements, the summing up of his wisdom, Solomon reminds us of the merits of the words of a wise man: "The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd" (vs. 11). First, they are like "goads." Just as the driver of the oxen "goads" the stubborn oxen onto the correct path, so does the words of the wise steer us onto the right path in life. Second, they are "like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd" (vs. 11). At face value, this is saying that the words of wisdom are sure, strong and true, just like "firmly embedded nails." But here I see a bit of prophetic symbolism. Does not the juxtaposition of the "nails" and the "Shepherd" remind you of the cross of Christ? And when pondering wisdom, one would always do well to be reminded of the cross of Christ. The value of any human wisdom must be ascertained taking into consideration of the cross of Christ, and all that it means. With this standard, much human wisdom becomes frivolous.

Solomon warns us to beware of frivolous, superfluous wisdom: "Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body" (vs. 12). For wisdom, for meaning, for guidance, turn to the Bible first. "Be warned" of worldly wisdom. "Be warned" of any advice that does not come from God. Be careful that the things of the world do not distract you from the truth of God. "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." Do not be wearied by the study of worldly wisdom. Keep your mind sharp for the study of God’s Word.

To conclude, Solomon gives concise guidance on how we all, without exception, should live our lives: "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man" (vs. 13). As Solomon discovered, human wisdom leads us nowhere but to "meaninglessness". Many people ask, "How can I find happiness?" or "How can I find satisfaction in life?" or "How can I find meaning in life?" The answer is given succinctly here, by Solomon: "Fear God and keep His commandments." As Solomon notes: "This is the whole [duty] of man." Actually, he says, "This is the whole of man" (the word "duty" was added by translators). I believe the literal translation sums up the advice better: To fear God, and keep His commandments, is the "whole of man." Human wisdom leads to meaninglessness and emptiness; fearing God leads to wholeness.

To fear God means to realize that God is the Creator of all, and that He is in control of everything that occurs in this life, as well as the life to come. "The remarkable thing about fearing God is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else" [Chambers, in Wiersbe, 135]. If one fears God, he will naturally seek to "keep His commandments." Now, we have a loving Creator, and so the commands He gives us are for our own good. "God created life and He alone knows how it should be managed. He wrote a ‘manual of instructions’ and wise is the person who reads and obeys. ‘When all else fails, read the instructions!’" [Wiersbe, 135]. As John told us: "This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome" (I John 5:3).

Solomon concludes the book with an overriding reason for following his last piece of advice: "For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil" (vs. 14). After we die, we will be judged. There is no way around this. Man is "destined to die once", and "after that, to face judgment" (Heb. 9:27). We will be judged by God, through Jesus Christ. Knowing this, it makes sense to "Fear God, and keep His commandments."

(This concludes our study in the book of Ecclesiastes.

In the next issue, we will resume our study in Psalms)

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