In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia examines Solomon’s final charge to seize the day in Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8. Solomon provides five prodding reminders for why you must fear God and make the most of the best days God has given you.
1. Dark Days Are Coming (11:7-8)
2. God’s Assessment Is Coming (11:9)
3. Your Youth Is Fading (11:10)
4. Old Age Is Coming (12:1-7)
5. Your Life Is Vapor (12:8)
I think I’ve said this before, but wow what a joy it is to sing praise to God together with you all. I’m just so happy to do that. I hope you are too. This is a special gift from God. Of course it is also a gift to hear from the Lord’s Word. So let’s pray and ask God’s blessing on this time of spiritual food.
God, indeed, please feed us with Your Word. We are in need of wisdom, that You are a generous God and You provide wisdom. Open our minds to the wisdom of Your Word. Open my mouth to speak it. Let this be a joyful time, even as it is a sobering time. In Jesus name, amen.
I want to start today’s sermon with another poem from our old friend, William Shakespeare. Remember, he’s the famous english playwright born in the mid-1500s. Shakespeare wrote a number of poems, sonnets specifically. Sonnets are a genre of short poetry that are generally about love, even romance. I studied a few of these sonnets in my english classes in college, and the one that always stuck with me is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73. I want to read that to you now, 14 line poem Sonnet 73.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Now, as always with poetry, there are variety of interpretations as to this sonnet’s meaning. The common interpretation is that the speaker, someone older and approaching death, is urging someone else to love him well before the speaker leave the mortal world. However, a careful reading of the poem, especially of its last two line, argues against this interpretation. This thou perceiv’st, the speaker says. You can see clearly that I, the speaker, am like a year approaching winter, a day approaching night, a fire about to be suffocated by the built-up ashes of consumed fuel. You see this, you perceive this, and this makes thy love more strong. But love for what? Love for whom? Does the speaker say to love me well before I leave? No, rather to love that well which thou must leave, ere or before long. To what is the speaker referring? What must every person love well before they soon leave it? The answer – life. Life. The speaker of this poem is calling others to love life well before it soon passes. Indeed, old age, dying, and death itself ought to be direct motivators to love life well.
Now, as I’ve told you before, it’s likely that Shakespeare was not a Christian. And he doesn’t define in his poem what it means to love life well. Yet this poem does articulate what is actually biblical wisdom, even the wisdom of God through Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. In our next section of the book, which is the final section of instruction before we get to Solomon’s epilogue and conclusion, Solomon will similarly charge us, exhort us in light of old age and death to love our lives well now, especially during the youth and prime days of our lives. Unlike Shakespeare, Solomon will actually tell us how to do this. And he’s not merely giving us some well-intentioned advice, but he speaks with all the divine authority of God.
Please open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes chapter 11. We’ll be looking at verses 4 to chapter 12 verse 8. The title of the sermon today is enjoy your days of light. Enjoy your days of light. Ecclesiastes 11:7 to 12:8, let’s read the passage together. This is the Word of God.
The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything that is to come will be futility.
Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and that your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgement for all these things. So remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years drawing near when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened, and clouds return after the rain; on the days that the watchmen of the house tremble, and mighty men stoop and the grinding ones stand idol because they are few, and those who look through the windows grow dim; and the doors on, the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low, and one will arise at the sound of the bird, and all the daughters of song will sing softly. Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and the caper berry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street. Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. “A vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “all is vanity!”
Here we have another very famous passage in Ecclesiastes and one that, if we’re not careful, we’ll easily misunderstand. Many people think that this final poetic crescendo in the book of Ecclesiastes is just one big wet blanket that Solomon throws over our lives. Hey young man, better enjoy life now because it’s going to get a lot worse later. Look forward to that. What a way to end a book of wisdom on this sour, this depressing low note about the sorrows of old age and death. I think this view neglects a close reading of the passage as well of the rest of Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes, we’ve seen, is only about living life well in a vaporous world, a vapor like world. This life can be lived well even with great joy and gratitude. Solomon has shown us repeatedly that if one lives for the treasures of the world as a means to ultimate gain, if one throws himself into work or pleasure or knowledge, thinking there’s some ultimate profit in those things, one’s only going to find disappointment and ultimately misery. However, if one fears God and accept the limitations that exist in life because of man’s sin because of the fall, then life no longer is a quest for gain but an embrace of the portion given to each of us by God, a gift to enjoy. Truly in a surprising way, and you know you’ve heard me say this many times, when one fears God and lives with Him as the ultimate goal and treasure of life, than life’s too great frustrations, death and uncertainty, rather than functioning as the poisons that drain and destroy all our ability to enjoy life, they become the goads, the prods to press us forward to enjoy every good day as a gift from God.
It is with this contextual understanding of Ecclesiastes that we must approach this new section. Solomon is not really trying to depress us here, but rather to spur us on to wise enjoyment of life. Solomon is realistic with us, but the realities he presents is to move us to joy, not the sorrow. Here’s the main idea of our text. Ecclesiastes 11:7 to 12:8, Solomon provide five prodding reminders for why you must fear God and make the most of the best days God has given you. Five prodding reminders for why you must fear God and make the most of the best days that God has given you. This passage really is the final instance of that implied question that Solomon has been driving home to us starting from chapter 9 in Ecclesiastes – what are you waiting for? Let’s work our way to Solomon’s instruction.
We look at the first prodding reminder toward fearing God and enjoying life in Ecclesiastes 11:7-8. Number one – remember dark days are coming. Dark days are coming. Look at verse 7,
The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun.
If you notice in verses 7 to 8, we have a contrast presented between light and darkness, or to be more specific between days of light and days of darkness. The light is pleasant, Solomon says, or more literally sweet is the light, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. Now if you’re a human being, you can probably testify to the truth of verse seven. We humans tend to love light and hate darkness. When it’s clear, when it’s a sunny day outside, what’s our usual response? Oh what terrible weather we’re having. No, right? We say wow what a beautiful day. We love to watch sunrises and sunsets. We love to live in houses that are well-lit and not dank and dark. We feel secure in light, but we are frightened by the dark. Why? Why do we have these feelings? Because of how God designed light, because of how God designed us to enjoy light. Light is sweet. It is good to see the sun. We recognize that. It’s interesting. God literally made our bodies need light. We need to create the vitamin D that keeps us healthy. We need the sun.
Why is Solomon bringing all this to our attention? Because the beginning of verse eight, he says,
Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all;
The beauty and goodness of sunlight and sunny days, they function as a metaphor here for the good days of life. That’s what ties these verses together. What’s Solomon’s exhortation to us about these good days, even many good years of life? He says let a man rejoice in them all. You should rejoice, thank God, and enjoy the many good days that God has given you. Whenever they appear in your life, do not fail to make the most of them. They are gifts. They are gifts from a good God to you. You should reverently cherish these days of light from God. And why? Because they won’t last forever. Look at the second half of verse eight,
let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many.
Just as there are many good days, there will also be many bad day, difficult days. This phrase days of darkness we understand metaphorically – any difficult day of trial, tragedy, or trouble. Verses that come later in the passage, they remind us when many of these days will occur as we get older and as we get closer to death. Now, dark days will not last forever either, praise God. Notice the last phrase in verse 8.
Everything that is to come will be futility.
The word futility there is that word we seen many times in Ecclesiastes, hevel – vapor. Both good and bad days ultimately will flutter like fleeting vapors until they disappear.
So we must know that we will face both, days of light, days are darkness, but we should recognize difficult days will increase as we age, generally. Is this to fill us with dread, to rob us of the joy during our days of lights? No, rather the opposite. It is to sober us and to move us to make the most of the good days we have while we have them. Accept this is just the way it is. There are days of darkness and days of light, and I don’t want to fail to make the most of these days of light. They are gifts from God. This is the first reminder.
A second prodding reminder to move us to fear God in to make the most of our best days is in verse 9. Number two – remember God’s assessment is coming. God’s assessment is coming. Look at verse nine,
Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.
Perhaps our first inclination with this verse is to think that Solomon is being a little sarcastic. Yeah, young ones, enjoy life. Just do whatever you want. Just know you’re going to pay for it later when God judges you. But I think this view misses Solomon’s meaning. It’s true that the exhortation in the first half of the verse is informed and balanced by what Solomon says in the latter half, but actually God’s judgment is cited as a motivation to enjoy life, not to refrain from joy. It’s an encouragement to enjoy. Here’s the exhortation again here in this verse is to rejoice. It’s actually spoken as an imperative than what it was before – let a man. Now it’s spoken directly. And it’s explicitly applied to a young man during the days of his youth. But then we have this line,
And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes.
What? That sounds a little provocative. Are you sure you mean that, Solomon? Just do whatever I feel like? Just pursue whatever my eyes desire? Surely Solomon’s kidding, which is why he adds that last phrase – yet know that God will bring you to judgement for all these things. If you peek at verse ten for a second, notice the New American Standard actually translates that first word as “so”. As a result of what I’ve just said, God’s judgement. And what does he exhort in verse ten? Total enjoyment of life, though spoken from a negative direction. Moreover, Solomon spent the first seven chapters of Ecclesiastes showing the futility of a pleasure-seeking life irrespective of God.
Because of that context, I don’t think Solomon is employing a gotcha in verse 9. Instead, Solomon is strikingly drawing attention to the fact that there is a way to enjoy life to the full that is mindful of the holy assessment of God. Truly, if one fears God and regards this world rightly, not as a means to gain but as a gift, then in holiness you can enjoy whatever your heart desires and whatever delights your eyes. This is because your heart and eyes will already be desiring characteristically the best and right things. It’s like I said to you before, if anybody is able to enjoy this world to the fullest, it should be Christians, because we actually know God and appreciate the world for what it is. Augustine, the famous 4th century theologian, once remarked that the Christian life comes down to this – love and do what you will. Love and do what you will. If you’re already operating in true love of God and the true love of man as God outlines love in the Scriptures, then you can do what you want because God already approves. You’re already operating the way God has called you to do. Perhaps this reminds you what Solomon said earlier in Ecclesiastes 9:7,
Go, then, eat your bread in happiness, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.
Even though this world is fallen and fundamentally vaporous, you must understand that God wants us to enjoy it. Not sinfully, not idolatrously, but actually in an even better way – in worshipful reverence. That’s how you enjoy life to the full. In fact, this is partly how God will assess us at the end of our lives and at the end of history. I think we suspect that God will simply ask, did you go after that sin? Did you go after that idol instead of Me? But there’s another question that we will face in whatever way God puts it to us. And that is, did you delight your heart and your eyes with all the good that I provided for you? Did you do that? Did you make the most of My gifts? You see, if God gives us good, we are accountable for how we respond to that good. We’ll be assessed on that basis. So we do ourselves and we do God wrong when we deny God’s good gifts as something worthless or unclean. He approves of you enjoying those good things, truly good things. So then, in our best days, especially the healthy and generally unencumbered days of youth, let us rejoice and make the most of them, which is very happy command to obey, is it not?
A third prodding reminder to move us to fear God and enjoy our best days appears in verse 10. Point number 3 – Remember your youth is fading. Your youth is fading. Verse ten,
So remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.
The word for grief and anger here is actually just one word in Hebrew, the word that carries both ideas. We could translate the word vexation. It’s appeared earlier a few times in Ecclesiastes, describing anger or grief. Meanwhile, the Hebrew word translated pain here is literally the word for evil or trouble, which again we’ve seen throughout Ecclesiastes. Now in verse 10, is Solomon advocating a hedonistic, don’t care, ignorant is bliss type lifestyle? Ignores all issues that might bring vexation or trouble? No, that would be impossible and unwise. Solomon’s brought some of those things to our attention in this book. We do live in a fallen world after all.
But Solomon is urging us not to needlessly focus on troubling reality or live in such a way that we bring unnecessary affliction upon ourselves, either through foolishness or through sin. Don’t bring unnecessary affliction upon yourselves, especially in the best days of your life. Don’t waste those days. Don’t be easily angered like the fool, Ecclesiastes 7:9, because you only bring more trouble on yourself. Don’t be eager to sacrifice companionship and daily enjoyment to gain wealth, Ecclesiastes 5:17, because you’re only afflicting yourself. Do not be like the one who considers and frets about all the days of his life, Ecclesiastes 5:20, because you sacrificed the gladness that God meant for you to enjoy. This is doubly foolish to do so in your best days, the days of your youth. And why is that? Because your youth is slipping away fast. Look at the second half of verse 10,
because childhood in the prime of life are fleeting.
The word for childhood could also be translated youth. The words prime of life is very interesting. Prime of life is a good translation of the word, but there’s a little bit of debate as to where the literal meaning comes from. Either the word comes from the Hebrew word for dawn, which would make sense to describe the prime of life or the days of youth. It’s kind of like the new light portion of your life, the dawn. But it’s possible that actually the Hebrew word comes from a word for black hair. What does black hair have to do with your prime of life? Black hair is that hair you have before you have gray hair or white hair or no hair. Black hair is the time in prime of life. So the quickly fading nature of the prime days of our lives are another reason why we are to make the most of them while we can. You’re not always going to be in the dawn period. You’re not always going to have young looking hair. Later on, there will probably be more troubles, more darkness, more pain, whether you want it to be there or not. So how foolish would you be, considering that that necessary pain is coming, how foolish would you be to add unnecessary pain to your life right now, through sin, through folly, through idolatrous living. Don’t ruin your best days. Fear God and make the most of your life now because your youth is fading.
I should also add that the world we know practically worships youth. Young people are almost like gods. And there’s the temptation, I think, to try and claim to youth, try and recapture youth. It’s not bad to live healthily. It’s not bad to enjoy your youth, but you have to recognize it’s going to pass, and you need to accept that. It’s a good portion for a time. It’s not something we have to cling to because it’s not the essence of our lives. It’s a good gift to enjoy. We don’t want to fail to enjoy it, but let’s not worship it like the world does.
So then we have three prodding reminder so far to fear God and to make the most of our best days. But now we get to the big one, the one that spans Ecclesiastes 12 verses 1-7. Number four – remember old age is coming. Old age is coming. Look at verse 1 in chapter 12,
Remember 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”;
Here we get another command from Solomon. But this time, it’s not explicitly a command to rejoice, but rather to remember. Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, Solomon says. And interesting that Solomon uses the title Creator here because he does not use this title for God anywhere else in Ecclesiastes. Clearly here and throughout the next 7 verses, Solomon wants to bring firmly back into our minds the idea of God as Creator. In fact, that’s his command. Solomon says remember also your Creator. Remember God your Creator. And the word remember here as in earlier in chapter 11, it doesn’t carry the idea of thinking necessarily about something in the past, but rather bring an idea back to mind, being mindful. Keep God in mind, Solomon says, during your youth, which is often the opposite of how most foolish people in the world live, right? Youth is for myself and for fun. God and religion are for much later, if ever. Not only is this an unacceptable attitude of a created one toward his Creator. Re member we will be assessed by God. But in context, Solomon shows us that it’s foolish. If you really want to enjoy life and live it well, you must keep God in mind from the beginning, from your youth.
Young men, young women, boys and girls, you should listen because this is specifically for you. If you really want to have a good life and make the most of your lives, you must fear God now while you’re young. God is not against your enjoying life, having fun, having joy, but the greatest enjoyment and stewardship of life belongs to those who know God. God is a generous God. He wants joy for you, but on His terms. Let Him show you how you get that. And if you don’t understand this truth now in your young days, then by the time you get around to God, if you ever do, you’ll be filled with regret. This is the great sorrow of many of us who have come to Christ later in life, is it not? We understand that God is sovereign. We are grateful for a place at the Master’s table no matter when we arrived. But still, we look back at years of sin and folly and idolatry and waste, and we think to ourselves, if only I had come to fear God in Christ when I was young, when I was a child, when I was a youth, when I was a teenager. I wouldn’t have wasted so much of my life. What service I could have done for the Lord. How much joy I could have had living obediently before Him and enjoying His good earth. Now that golden opportunity is gone.
But someone might say, well don’t you have still many opportunities to serve and enjoy God? Well yes, to some extent. However, we must acknowledge that for many of us, the best days, the days of greatest opportunity for enjoyment of God and His creation have passed. There will be opportunities in the future, but they won’t be as many. And they will diminish over time. Or consider, according to Solomon in verse 1, what days come after the days of youth, the days of light, the days of black hair, the days of the prime of your life? Evil days, Solomon says, days of trouble and pain. Days in which you will find yourself saying, I have no delight in them. Well now, no delight? Don’t you mean less delight? No delight, Solomon says. Now before any of us start to panic about old age, let’s remember Psalm 71 that we read earlier. God is still good to His people during old age, during our latter years. There’s still joy in God to be had. There’s still opportunities to lay up eternal reward. That is also your portion to be made the most of. And just if we go back to verse 7 and 8, let a man rejoice in all his years including the days of old age. We can’t ignore that part, but also we can’t ignore what Solomon actually says in verse 1. We need to take his word seriously. There’s something different about our ability to enjoy God and His world once we become old. It’s not too hard to see the difference, right? Because what characterizes old age? The breakdown of our bodies. Our strength diminishes. Our five senses that God gave us to enjoy the world and the creation in it, they begin to fail.
So listen to me again, young people and children. You need to realize something today from the Bible. Not only are you going to pass away someday, you will go into the grave, but also one day should you live so long, you’re going to get old. You’re going to get old and not old like pastor Dave type old, but old like grandma and grandpa type old, or great grandma and grandpa type old. That’s going to be you. And that’s going to be me, should I live so long. And what will it feel like to be old? Well Solomon is going to tell us. What follows in verses 2 to 7 is a poetic description of old age. It is beautifully described but it is also sad. Bible interpreters debate whether and how much the passage is allegorical of the human body. I’d say Solomon’s poetry is more evocative. It evokes certain ideas and images, rather than strictly allegorical. There do seem to be at least some clear allusions, references to the body of an old person. Nevertheless, the descriptions vary, some being more figurative, some being less figurative.
Let’s hear from Solomon what it’s like to be old. I’ll just make brief comments as we work through verses 2 to 7. Verse 2, remember this is with that imperative – remember your Creator.
before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened, and clouds return after the rain;
What’s it like to be old? It’s like all the beautiful lights of life start to go out. The darkness of death encroaches like cloud cover. But these clouds are different than the clouds of youth. Before when clouds came, it rained and then the clouds went away. Now, Solomon says, it rains and the clouds come right back. Old age doesn’t have the same kind of resiliency as youth. Problems in old age increasingly come right after another, more clouds, more clouds. It’s getting dark. Old age, Solomon says, it’s also like a great house falling into ruin and idleness. We see this in verses 3 and 4. Verse 3,
on the day that the watchman of the house tremble,
This is perhaps a picture, an illusion to arms and hands that begin to shake with the weakness of age.
and mighty men stoop,
perhaps an allusion to weakened legs or simply the stooped walk of an old person.
the grinding ones stand idol because they are few,
Normally mill workers, if they were fewer of them, that would mean more activity, but there are so few that the ones who are left have simply quit. It’s probably an illusion here to the lost of chewing capacity in old age, when there are so few teeth.
and those who look for the windows grow dim;
Solomon says. This is a description that doesn’t make much sense unless Solomon is figuratively talking about human eyes. They grow dim with age. Actually you see that all throughout the Bible, right? Somebody’s old, usually their eyes are bad.
and the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low,
The world is quieter, less active. Perhaps there’s an illusion here to diminished hearing or speaking.
and one will arise at the sound of the bird,
which is a curious description, perhaps pointing to an inability to sleep soundly.
and all the daughters of song will sing softly.
which is almost paradoxical to the previous description. Certainly old age brings with it hearing difficulty. Sounds are muffled. You cannot enjoy music like you used to or even simple conversations. I remember my grandfather, as he got old, it was hard to talk with him, even though he has hearing aids. It was still hard for him to hear, so hard for him to converse.
Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road;
The old become more fearful. They do not take the risks that they used to, even just to travel.
the almond tree blossoms,
Probably the white almond flowers of the almond tree, they picture whitened hair.
the grasshopper drags itself along,
It’s the picture of impaired mobility, due to weakness or weight.
and the caper berry is ineffective.
That is aphrodisiacs don’t work to restore sexual desire or ability. Already in verses 2 to 5, we see just how many opportunities to enjoy life are diminished or lost in old age. Diminished hearing, diminished talking, diminished eating, tasting, traveling, sleeping and more. Old age indeed represents days of increasing darkness, even for those who know and love God. Of course, old age is in some ways different today than it was in the ancient world. They didn’t have things like we do, like hearing aids or eyeglasses or geriatricians, doctoral specialists for the old. In some ways it’s different, easier. But in some ways it’s the same. We may live longer. We’re able to forestall certain problems of aging, but eventually they come through. We go through many of the same problems. And also with one that is not mentioned, which is perhaps more unique to our own time. That is not just physical breakdown, but mental breakdown. Our brains don’t operate like they used to.
Why does all this happen? Certainly we don’t like it. We don’t like it in ourselves. We don’t like to see it in those we love. Why does it have to happen? Why must life be like this? Well this is what it means to live in a world that is made vaporous by death. As the rest of verse five makes clear, why is this happening?
For man goes to his eternal home while the mourners go about in the street.
This is just what it looks like to be on that long slow march to the grave, a march amid lamenting voices in mourning. Verses six and seven describe the experience of death itself. Verse six says,
Remember you Creator before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed;
It’s possible here that we have some descriptions alluding to viable body parts lost in death – the heart, the brain. It’s possible, but I think these are more abstract descriptions of the end of human life. The beginning of verse six likely pictures a beautiful and valuable hanging lamp. This golden bowl that holds up a light and it is held aloft by a silver cord. Meanwhile, the second description probably pictures a water drawing system at a well. You have a wheel connected to a pitcher or a jar that is to draw up water. Both light and water are associated with life in the Bible. But death here is pictured as the shattering and the crushing of both these arrangements. The silver cord is cut. The bowl falls and shatters. There’s no more light. Meanwhile, the wheel is also crashed and then the pitcher is broken, no more water. And what’s left? Verse 7,
then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
Here’s another clear reference to the creation account and also the fall account in Genesis 2 and 3. According to Genesis 2, man was formed from the dust and God breathed into man the breath or the spirit of life. The Hebrew word actually can be translated either way. But after the fall, God proclaimed to Adam in Genesis 3:19,
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
That’s why it’s always read at funerals, right? We are dust, which means ultimately we have no right to complain to God about old age or death, as troubling to us as those realities are. We are but humble dust. We are simple clay in the potter’s hands, the Creator’s hands. And we were the ones who rebelled against Him in the garden through Adam. We arrogantly exalted ourselves, who are but dust, before God. So he has the right to do with us as He wills in His perfect goodness and justice, even to turn us back into dust and to recall the life breath that He gave us. This is what God will do for each one of us here, whether you are a child, whether you are teenager, whether you are young person, whether you’re in your prime of life, whether you’re getting old, or whether you are old. This will be what will happen to us. We must face this reality. Unless Christ returns first, or we meet with some sad accident before then, every one of us here is going to grow old and die. We can’t avoid it, even though we’d like to think we can do certain things to make old age better for ourselves. There’s some good and wisdom in that, but you can’t ultimately avoid old age.
You know what we can do. You know what each one of you can do. You can use your life well before it becomes encumbered by old age’s limitations. You can enjoy and make the most of your best years before they come to an end. You can remember your Creator even in your youth and therefore live in joy before Him before it becomes too late. That’s the point of this section from Solomon about old age. It’s to move us to action now. Noticed how Solomon keep using the word before inverses 1 to 7, before the evil days come, before the lights are darkened, before the silver cord is broken. Wisdom doesn’t wait to do this. Wisdom doesn’t wait to remember God. Wisdom doesn’t say, I’ll wait until I’m old to enjoy life. I’ll serve God after I retire. I’ll cultivate my relationships with my friends and family someday in the future. No, that is how foolishness thinks. A fool will waste his best years and then be full of regret later when he’s not able to do what he neglected to do beforehand. But a wise man, even a wise young woman, or a wise young man or a wise boy or a wise girl, they remember their Creator in their youth and they live life ever mindful of God.
Therefore, that person enjoys life to the full, as God meant for us to do. And when he comes to the necessary dark days of old age, he is full of gratitude to God and not regret. You want to have greater contentment in old age, then you need to make the most of your days now. So that when you can’t do what you used to do, you can still say to God thank you. Thank You so much that I got to experience that, that I got to enjoy that good from You, that I got to have that time with those dear friends, with my spouse. They’re not here anymore, but I got to enjoy that time. Thank you God, I didn’t deserve that. I’m dust. Thank you God. Thank you for all the good things You allow me to experience in Your world. That’s the way to have a good old age. Make the most of your time now.
So now we’ve seen four prodding reminders to fear God and make the most of our best days. Number one – dark days are coming. Number two – God’s assessment is coming. Number three – your youth is fading. Number four – old age is coming. But the fifth and final reminder appears in our last verse, Ecclesiastes 12:8. I’m going to break the pattern here, no -ing verb. Rather number five is – your life is vapor. Remember, your life is vapor. Look at verse 8,
“Vanity of vanity,” says the Preacher, “all is vanity!”
This is the book end. One half of the two bookends of Solomon’s main body of instruction. It reflects how Solomon began his teaching in Ecclesiastes 1:2. Of course, again the word vanity is the Hebrew word hevel, which means vapor. I prefer that term. Vapor of vapors, he says, all is vapor. And what Solomon proclaimed at the beginning is of course still true at the end. Life is a vapor of vapors. But noticed how even though the words are nearly the same as what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:2, the emphasis now is different. The significance is different. At the beginning, in the introductory section, vapor of vapors emphasized the frustration of a world that never fundamentally changes and then offers no lasting way to profit or gain for mankind. Here though, at the end of Ecclesiastes, though the vapor of vapors still properly describes life in the world, the emphasis is different because of what Solomon has taught us in the intervening chapters. Increasingly, Solomon has urged us in Ecclesiastes to seize the day, to enjoy and make the most of our lives on earth. And why? Because your life is a vapor, a vapor of vapors. What at the beginning was a harsh dose of reality that crushed are naive and foolish expectations about life is now at the end a wise call to action and enjoyment.
Your life is a vapor of vapors, and so is mine. But that doesn’t mean that our lives can’t be good if lived in the fear of God. The key is, we can’t wait around. We can’t wait around to live our lives. Life is a quickly disappearing breath. It will soon pass like steam on a coffee cup. So what should you do? Live it! Live it well to the glory of God. That’s what He wants you to do. To borrow Shakespeare’s phrase, love that well which thou must leave ere long. No longer is vapor of vapors a reality that is to depressed and sober you. It is your call to action. Enjoy. Use your life now. This is the wise way to live. This is the way that pleases God and responds appropriately to His kind gifts.
So brothers and sisters at Calvary, how will we live? How will we as a church respond to these prodding reminders from Solomon and from God? If you’ve come to Christ through the repentance and faith, of course you and I look with comfort and hope at the expectation of the world to come. You know this is not all there is. Even in Psalm 71, what did that old man say? You’re not going to leave me in the grave. That is a balm to us even in old age. But even though that’s true, we would be unfaithful fools if we fail to use our best days together now for God. So let’s do it. Let’s do it together. Let us seize the day for joy, for our families, for one another, for the church, for the lost, for God. Let us fear God and make the most of these quickly passing days of light. That’s what God meant us to do.
Let’s pray. Lord, thank You for Your word. Thank You for the good that You do give us in life, so much good. Our lives are vapors. That is the reality of the world cursed by sin. And yet, God, You show us such good. You give us such opportunity for good if we will wisely take advantage of it. So help us to do that, God. Whoever Your people are in the stage of life, whatever opportunities they have before them, Lord, let them take advantage of them for Your glory. Not putting hope in youth, not putting hope in anything of the world, but responding rightly to the gifts that you have given us. Lord, we do look forward to a renewed world. You’ve given us enjoyment here, but that is just a picture of the enjoyment to come, when all things are made new and we even get new bodies, bodies not hampered by old age or decay or sin. We look forward to that, God. We thank you Jesus Christ, but help us to steward well the days, the health, the gifts that You’ve given us now. In Jesus name, amen.