Ecclesiastes 12:1 Now remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
I cannot remember when I first thought about God. I know at my birth my mother prayed that I would be a minister or Biblical teacher. I know I first completed a reading of the King James Bible when I was twelve. So my first memory of God is when I was twelve, when I first accepted or received Christ and was baptized in the First Baptist church of Hemet, California.
I am now 62 - 50 years later !!!! - and I have been “remembering” my Creator for most of my life. I know now for a certainty that starting to “remember your Creator” when very young stays with you over the years. When we are young our minds and memories are like great sponges that will absorb either godly or satanic thoughts. So I can see the wisdom in Solomon’s word above. I would not have understood - possibly even denied - the following words, however.
For before you know it destructive days will come upon you,
And the years will hit when you will say, “I do not like this!”
A young person, in the bloom of youth and vigor, has little comprehension of what really lies ahead in the days and years ahead. I believe now that we were created with hard-wiring in Eden to live forever. So we begin - and often remain through our lives - with an in-built conviction that we will live forever and never die. It is something like the way Solomon put it also in Ecclesiastes, “God has put eternity in their hearts.” [Ecclesiastes 2:11]
This kernel of eternity remains with most of humanity despite hearing such maxims as, “There are only two sure things - death and taxes.” While politicians promise not to do the later, the former is one of life’s absolutes. We are going to die! However, before we die something else is going to happen. We are going to grow older and older and older.
It is a wise youth who learns early that “destructive days” are coming and it is best to prepare for these years when most will say, “I do not like this.” Unfortunately western culture, and those who have adopted it, “rage against the night” in a constant state of denial. Few people are willing to discuss death, or for that matter, even growing old.
I know when I was young I thought myself immortal. Accidents and death happened to other people. I was 18 when I actually saw my first dead person. I was asked to conduct the services for an elderly gentlemen I studied the Bible with. I can remember my first look at that waxy face in repose as though in deep slumber. I can remember the smell of flowers, which to do this day nauseate me some. For I was to go on to see dead persons in several contexts, but mainly in conducting a couple hundred funeral services from everything to a still-born baby to a person a hundred years old. No matter what - we die.
Solomon writes that it is the wise person who prepares for old age and death. Indeed, if given the choice of attending a funeral or a banquet, the wise king of Israel said: “It is better to visit the house of mourning than attend a banquet, because this is the end of all humanity, and the person still alive should soberly consider it. … The heart of the wise person is in the house of mourning.” [Ecclesiastes 7:2, 4 NCMM] So rather than deny our ultimate death, it is wise to begin to consider it early in life and then take wise and godly measures to assure that ‘the day of [our] death is better than the day of our birth.’ [Ecclesiastes 7:1] This will become so if we die with a good name with God.
Ecclesiastes 12:2 Do it before sunlight, moonlight, and starlight grow dim,
And things grow cloudy, followed by rain.
I have always had good eye sight. I can remember well the first time I began to wear glasses. I was about fifty years old and a friend asked me: “Mark, you don’t wear glasses, do you?” I told him I had always had good vision. It was not more than a few weeks later than I noticed that I could not read freeway road signs in the distance. Also, it took much longer for my eyes to adjust to darkness. It was no longer after that I had to be begin to wear glasses for driving. With eye strain I noticed the my eyes watered more than they used to. There was no denying it, those “destructive days” were coming upon me. Actually, they had begun much earlier.
Ecclesiastes 12:3 In that day the house-guards will tremble, and valiant men become bent.
I remember very well when I was first aware that I was not “young” anymore. I was about thirty-three and I discovered that I could no longer keep up with nineteen year olds on bicycles or climbing big mountains. Also, I noticed that I did not recover as quickly after great and vigorous exercise. Those sore muscles and aching bones did not go away the next day. They remained a week!
I once could do 600 sit-ups, 50 in one minute. My arms could do 100 pull ups, and pull my body weight up with just two fingers around a small nubbin of rock. Now I cannot do a single pull-up or sit-up. “Miller, you have gone to pot!” I once could throw a baseball or football a very long distance. Now I would never attempt to through anything that was not underhand.
My legs were always powerful. I could run a mile in 4:22, race a bicycle 5 miles in 10 minutes, run 3 miles in 13 minutes, ride a bicycle 100 miles up steep Sierra mountains. I could swim a hundred meters in several strokes all under 55 seconds. Once I leg-pressed 700 pounds. Now? I cannot even swim without pain. I cannot walk 10 feet without pain.
I remember distinctly when my legs began to go. In my early 30s a group of climbers were trying to tackle a huge boulder “problem” but no one could surmount the last move above an over-hanging lip. I reached the lip, swung my left leg high above my head, body horizontal, and did a “heal lock” [almost unknown then] and torqued my whole body up over the lip. I heard something snap, and two days later I was undergoing the first of four surgeries on my left knee. Now the joint needs a complete replacement with an artificial knee.
More and more I noticed I had a harder time standing straight. I was becoming more and more bent over. I also noticed that my hands were not as sure and nimble as they once were. Sometimes, between poor eyesight and shaky fingers, I had to concentrate to put the key in the lock to open the door.
The grinding women will become idle because they are few, and the ladies looking out the window grow dark.
Now, my teeth, that was something else. Between inheriting the weak teeth of my mother, and lacking good sources of calcium as a child during World War Two - as well as military dentists - I lost back molars early. In ancient cultures - and most today - decay and loss of teeth is a natural progression of age. Even today, when visiting and living in countries around the world, I noted that all the older persons lacked some front teeth. It is only in the richer areas of the western world where this problem is delayed by orthodonics and expensive dentistry.
Glasses, and now laser surgery, may keep the “ladies” viewing well into old age, but ultimately the eyes grow dim. I have to be careful how I chew and bite because my “grinding women” have become fewer. I cannot look out the window without glasses and even then my vision is not as sharp as it once was.
Ecclesiastes 12:4, 5 And the doors to the streets are closed, also the sound of the grinding mill becomes low. One is startled at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are silenced. They are frightened of heights, and there are unknown horrors along the path.
Young people can hear noises even outside in the street. My hearing has always been good, though my father had to have hearing aids and my sister also struggles with poor hearing. Though my hearing remains fairly good, I am plagued by constant ringing in my left ear. I try to mask this by music or the TV, but often it still bothers me and I have to learn to concentrate to ignore it.
Other than hearing aids, the ears have not yet succumbed to some miracle of modern medicine available to all. Most will lose some hearing as they grow older. Often one observes how an older person is suddenly startled by someone coming up from behind, even though they make some noise. I expect that in the decade or so that I have left, my hearing will also worsen, until everyone who speaks with me will have to repeat everything.
Whereas I could once leap from one ledge to another a thousand feet above the ground, now I have trouble just getting up on the doctor’s weight scale. I find myself holding on more often going down steps or stairs. What happened to that fearless man?
The almond tree has blossoms, and the locust can only drag himself along,
Spring and summer seem to go so fast now. Each summer I now say, “Make this summer last.” And I have no more said it - and zip - it is gone and here is winter again ticking off the clock. It may be spring but I drag along now like a grasshopper with no spring in my step. My back is in constant pain and I note that most elderly people I observe are bent over and walking with a cane. Almost every person I know over 60 suffers from lower back pain. I used to like to shoot pool or billiards, but last year I thought I would try. After but ten minutes the pain in my back was so severe I had to put up the cue. No more pool or snooker. Of course, ping pong is out too.
And there is no more desire.
I remember waking every day full of desire and passion for the new day and the experiences ahead. I leaped out of bed ready to go. Now I do the log roll to get to the edge of the bed. Then I have to raise myself up just right so I do not “pull” anything. Then I must sit there a bit before standing up. The zest is gone. There is no more desire. I remember my father in his 70s sitting at the edge of his bed cursing over and over until he could get the strength to move to the toilet. This was once a powerful man who could shoulder a two-hundred pound propane tank from a boat and up a bank to a fishing cabin.
When I was young there was not only a lot of desire, there was so much it was a problem to keep under control. I remember distinctly thinking that I could not wait until I was 60 - I have no idea why someone in their 20s would think “60” - when these “desires” were not so profound. Now that I am 62 “desire” has virtually vanished. I could not even dream it up. Why has all of this happen so … so QUICKLY?
Because humankind is moving toward a dwelling of unknown time, when the mourners parade down the street.
The once “immortal” youth now wonders how much time is left. Irreversibly time and age march on toward an Absolute Truth - I am going to die. Just like everyone else. Whether there will be mourners marching down the street I do not know. But I can faintly hear that sound. In the distance - and they are moving toward me.
I am not afraid of death, largely because of my faith. Dying is very easy. I actually have done it once and come extremely close a handful of times. It is getting there that is the hard part. We seem to “begin to die” around middle age - which is 35-45 - not 60. In the last three years my mother, step-mother and father have all gone to that “dwelling of unknown time” - the grave. All my grandfathers and grandmothers and my aunts and uncles are all gone. I am at last an orphan. Most of us will end up as orphans.
It is a sad story because “death is an enemy” and not a friend. [1 Corinthians 15:26] Death takes our family and our friends. However, I also know that the same writer who said death was an enemy also said, “Death is swallowed up forever” and “Death, where is your sting?” [1 Corinthians 15:54, 55] I am so blessed and grateful that I learned these things in my youth. I not only thought about God - I remembered Him! By constant reading of His Word He is in my memory.
Ecclesiastes 12:6 [Do it] before the silver cord is removed,
I have remembered my Creator well in advance of that time when that silver cord of life is removed or broken. I will die with God as the Source of my life now and also in the future. I am so grateful that I have remembered my Creator throughout over 50 years now. I do not have to fret about wasted youth and now only in my later years first begin to remember Him. Really, I do not know how people exist who have not remembered God during their youthful and productive years.
And the golden bowl is crushed,
My brain is not what it used to be. Now the brain that scanned everything important in English history and literature cannot remember whether I took my morning medicines. Faces are familiar, but names are not. I know that my brain will be “crushed” at death and I will enter an unconscious sleep in the dust of the earth. [Ecclesiastes 3:19-21; 9:5, 10]
And at the jar at the well is broken, and the water-wheel at the spring is crushed.
My athletic heart - that marvelous pump that has worked so many years - is now weaker and I must be careful of strain. Medications control blood-pressure to a degree and occasionally I have an irregular heart beat. My grandparents and parents all lived into their 80s and most died quickly of a stroke. It is likely that is how I will die when that trusty jar and water-wheel stops. It can only beat just so many times. It has already beat more than seven million times, accept for one moment when it stopped for almost two minutes.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 At that time the dust returns to the ground as it was,
I have seen men and women die. I have seen well over two-hundred deceased persons in many different contexts. I know from the Bible, like animals and most living things, we will all “return to the ground” from where our first father came. Adam was created from the clay of Eden. [Genesis 2:7] Right here in Ecclesiastes, Solomon compares humans and animals in their deaths: “Eventually the same thing happens to humans and animals. Eventually they all die, because they all have one breath. So a human is not superior to animals because everything is futile. All go to the same place. They have all come from the ground and thus they are all returning to the ground. Who is aware that the human breath ascends and the animal breath descends into the earth.” [Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 NCMM] With this David agreed: “The human breath escapes and they all return to the ground. On that very day all their thoughts must end.” [Psalm 146:4 NCMM]
And the breath returns to the God who gave it.
I know that God is the Source of all life, including His only-begotten Son. [Psalm 36:9; John 5:26] When I die that miracle of the life-force that kept me breathing “returns” to the Creator. Job said as much: “If God determines it regarding any human and He gathers that person’s breath to Himself, then all humanity will breathe their last, and earthlings will return to the ground.” [Job 34:14, 15 NCMM]
I know ultimately this old, tired and painful frame will turn back into dust.
Ecclesiastes 12:8 “Utter futility!” says the Congregator, “All is futile!”
Many think death is a step toward immortality, but wise king Solomon knows better. He calls death, “utter futility.” That is, vanity and worthlessness. If death lead to another life it would not be vain or futile. Though this is the case, there is some Good News resulting from God’s “eternal purpose.” Paul declares this to both Greeks and Jews when he says on two different occasions: “[The God] has fixed a day on which He will judge the inhabited earth in justice, and this by a man whom He has appointed. He has furnished assurance to everyone by resurrection him from the death. … There will be a resurrection of both the law-abiding and the lawless.” [Acts 17:31; 24:15 NCMM] Therefore, I have great conviction I will one day be resurrected, and this to my own judgment before Christ. [2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27; 1 John 2:28; 4:17]
Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14 “After everything is said and done, listen to the end of the whole matter: Fear the God and obey His commandments. For this applies to every human being. Because the God Himself will bring every work forward for the Judgment regarding every secret thing - whether it is good or bad.” [NCMM]
King Solomon says the same thing as though Paul had the Israelite king in mind above. So I know that ultimately I will have to stand before God’s appointed Judge, Lord Messiah, Jesus Christ the Nazarene. Though throughout my life this outer frame of the “old person” has been “wasting away” during this “season of groaning pain” I will have to answer for whatever I did in this human body. [Romans 8:22; 2 Corinthians 4:16] For Paul says: “For it is necessary that all of us appear in front of the judgment-seat of the Christ, so that we might receive what we deserve for those things performed by means of the body, whether these things be good or vile.” [2 Corinthians 5:10 NCMM; Daniel 12:2; 1 John 2:28]
Solomon’s words above are similar to those of Paul at 1 Corinthians 4:5, “So, do not judge anything before the season, until the Lord arrives. He will bring to the Light the hidden things of darkness and manifest the motives of [all] hearts. And, then, each person’s praise will be from The God.” [NCMM] No matter what I think of myself, or how I judge myself, it will be Christ Jesus who will judge every single member of the Christian Church. I am aware that the basis for this judgment will be based on two primary criteria: my demonstration of my conviction, and how I have treated others. [1 John 3:28]
I am fully aware that this judgment will be based on whether I demonstrated empathetic charity to even the most humble of Christ’s brothers and sisters. [Matthew 25:31-46]
What should I say to this current young generation of Christians? First, you are going to die. Second, you are going to grow old. No matter how strong and vigorous and mentally sharp you are now - this will not last. Time will pass so swiftly. I view this passage of time like a train ride. I sit in the train station as a young person, so eager to feel the train finally moving. At first, it moves so slowly I become impatient - let’s get this trip moving. Then the train begins to gain speed. I watch the scenery pass by and I am able to examine everything closely. BUT, the train gains speed. Faster and faster. Pretty soon - quicker than I knew - the train is moving so fast I can only see things clear in the distance. And before I know it, the ride is over and I am at my final destination - death.
Solomon is so wise in exhorting youth to remember their Creator WHILE THEY ARE YOUNG and still have that youthful vigor, energy and razor-sharp memory. Use it now! Become God-centered in your youth and mold your enter life around Him. Old age is no time to FIRST BEGIN to think of God and His approaching judgment.
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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