Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 12

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

<< Ecclesiastes 11 | Ecclesiastes 12 | Song of Solomon 1 >>
(Read all of Ecclesiastes 12)

Verse 1

[1] Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;

Now — For now thou art most able to do it; and it will be most acceptable to God, and most comfortable to thyself, as the best evidence of thy sincerity, and the best provision for old age and death.

Evil days — The time of old age, which is evil; burdensome in itself, and far more grievous when it is loaded with the sad remembrance of youthful follies, and with the dreadful prospect of approaching death and judgment.

No pleasure — My life Is now bitter and burdensome to me: which is frequently the condition of old age.

Verse 2

[2] While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:

Which — Heb. While the sun, and the light, and the moon, etc. That clause, and the light, seems to be added to signify that he speaks of the darkening of the sun, and moon, and stars; not in themselves, but only in respect of that light which they afford to men. And therefore the same clause which is expressed after the sun, is to be understood after the moon and stars. And those expressions may be understood of the outward parts of the body, and especially of the face, the beauty of the countenance, the pleasant complexion of the cheeks, the liveliness of the eyes, which are compared to the sun, and moon, and stars, and which are obscured in old age, as the Chaldee paraphrast understands it. Or of external things, of the change of their joy, which they had in their youth, into sorrow, and manifold calamities, which are usually the companions of old age. This interpretation agrees both with the foregoing verse, in which he describes the miseries of old age, and with the following clause, which is added to explain those otherwise ambiguous expressions; and with the scripture use of this phrase; for a state of comfort and happiness is often described by the light of the sun, and a state of trouble is set forth, by the darkening of the light of the sun.

Nor the clouds — This phrase denotes a perpetual succession of rain, and clouds bringing rain, and then rain and clouds again. Whereby he expresses either the rheums or destructions which incessantly flow in old men; or the continual vicissitude of infirmities, diseases, and griefs; one deep calling upon another.

Verse 3

[3] In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,

The house — Of the body: whose keepers are the hands and arms, which are man's best instruments to defend his body; and which in a special manner are subject to his trembling.

The strong men — The thighs and legs, in which the main strength of the body consists.

Grinders — The teeth, those especially which are commonly so called, because they grind the meat.

Cease — To perform their office.

And those, … — The eyes. By windows he understands either the eye-lids, which like windows, are either opened or shut: or, those humours and coats of the eyes, which are the chief instruments by which we see.

Verse 4

[4] And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;

In — Or, towards the streets: which lead into the streets. This may be understood either of the outward senses, which, as doors, let in outward objects to the soul: or rather the mouth, the two lips, here expressed by a word of the dual number, which like a door, open or shut the way that leads into the streets or common passages of the body; which also are principal instruments both of speaking and eating. And these are said to be shut, not absolutely, but comparatively, because men in old age grow dull and listless, having little appetite to eat, and are very frequently indisposed for discourse.

When the sound — When the teeth are loose and few, whereby both his speech is low, and the noise which he makes in eating is but small.

Shall rise — From his bed, being weary with lying, and unable to get sleep.

The bird — As soon as the birds begin to chirp, which is early in the morning, whereas young men, can lie and sleep long.

The daughters — All those senses which are employed in music.

Brought low — Shall be cast down from their former excellency, and become incapable either of making musick, or of delighting in it.

Verse 5

[5] Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

Afraid — The passion of fear is observed to be most incident to old men.

High — When they walk abroad they dread to go up high or steep places.

Fears — Lest as they are walking, they should stumble, or fall.

The almond-tree — Their heads shall be as full of grey hairs, as the almond-tree is of white flowers.

The grasshopper — They cannot endure the least burden, being indeed a burden to themselves.

Desire — Of meats, and drinks, and music, and other delights, which are vehemently desired by men in their youth.

Goeth — is travelling towards it, and every day nearer to it.

Long home — From this place of his pilgrimage into the grave, from whence he must never return into this world, and into the state of the future life, which is unchangeable and everlasting.

Mourners — Accompany the corpse thro' the streets to the grave.

Verse 6

[6] Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

The silver cord — By the silver cord he seems to understand the marrow of the back-bone, which comes from the brain, and goes down to the lowest end of it. And this is aptly compared to a cord, both for its figure, which is long and round, and for its use, which is to draw and move the parts of the body; and to silver, both for its excellency and colour, which is white and bright, in a dead, much more in a living body. This may properly be said to be loosed, or dissolved, because it is relaxed, or otherwise disabled for its proper service. And answerably hereto by the golden bowl we may understand, the membranes of the brain, and especially that inmost membrane which insinuates itself into all the parts of it, following it in its various windings, keeping each parcel of it in its proper place, and dividing one from another, to prevent disorder. This is not unfitly called a bowl, because It is round, and contains in it all the substance of the brain; and a golden bowl, partly for its great preciousness, partly for its ductility, being drawn out into a great thinness or fineness; and partly for its colour, which is some-what yellow, and comes nearer to that of gold than any other part of the body does. And this, upon the approach of death, is commonly shrivelled up, and many times broken. and as these clauses concern the brain, and the animal powers, so the two following respect the spring of the vital powers, and of the blood, the great instrument thereof is the heart. And so Solomon here describes the chief organs appointed for the production, distribution, and circulation of the blood. For tho' the circulation of the blood has been hid for many generations, yet it was well known to Solomon. According to this notion, the fountain is the right ventricle of the heart, which is now acknowledged to be the spring of life; and the pitcher is the veins which convey the blood from it to other parts, and especially that arterious vein by which it is transmitted to the lungs, and thence to the left ventricle, where it is better elaborated, and then thrust out into the great artery, called the Aorta, and by its branches dispersed into all the parts of the body. And the cistern is the left ventricle of the heart, and the wheel seems to be the great artery, which is fitly so called, because it is the great instrument of this circulation. The pitcher may be said to be broken at the fountain, when the veins do not return the blood to the heart, but suffer it to stand still and cool, whence comes that coldness of the outward parts, which is a near fore-runner of death. And the wheel may be said to be broken at the cistern, when the great arteries do not perform their office of conveying the blood into the left ventricle of the heart, and of thrusting it out thence into the lesser arteries, whence comes that ceasing of the pulse, which is a certain sign of approaching death.

Verse 8

[8] Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

Vanity — This sentence, wherewith he began this book, he here repeats in the end of it, as that which he had proved in all the foregoing discourse, and that which naturally followed from both the branches of the assertion laid down, verse 7.

Verse 9

[9] And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.

Taught — As God gave him this wisdom, that he might be a teacher of others. So he used it to that end.

Gave heed — He did not utter whatever came into his mind, but seriously pondered both his matter and words.

Verse 10

[10] The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.

Acceptable — Such as would comfort and profit the readers.

Verse 11

[11] The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

Nails — Piercing into men's dull minds, which make powerful and abiding impressions in them.

Masters — By the teachers of God's church, appointed of God for that work.

Shepherd — From Christ, the great Shepherd of the church in all ages.

Verse 12

[12] And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

By these — By these wise men, and their writings.

Verse 13

[13] Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

The conclusion — The sum of all that hath been said or written by wise men.

Fear God — Which is put here, for all the inward worship of God, reverence, and love, and trust, and a devotedness of heart to serve and please him.

The whole — It is his whole work and business, his whole perfection and happiness; it is the sum of what he need either know, or do, or enjoy.

Verse 14

[14] For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

For — All men must give an account to God of all their works, and this alone will enable them to do that with joy.

Every secret — Not only outward and visible actions, but even inward and secret thoughts.

<< Ecclesiastes 11 | Ecclesiastes 12 | Song of Solomon 1 >>