Ecclesiastes 12 – The Sum of Wisdom

Discussion question:

What difference does knowing Jesus make?

Read Ecclesiastes 12


We are in the final Chapter of Ecclesiastes. The book opened with the Teacher introduced (nameless) and then his resolve to test everything under the sun and come to a conclusion. His endeavour has been to find comprehension of everything. He hoped to find meaning. His conclusion is: meaningless! Everything is utterly meaningless. The book has explored the corners of knowledge that he went to in order to see that his conclusion is logical.

But we’ve seen along the way, as receivers of the full book of God that he does not have the whole picture. We see Jesus and Jesus has shown us the hope for the future – a life beyond this life under the sun.

The Teacher has talked about the toil of labour and the certainty of death and how we cannot know what goes on after us. But we have more knowledge of the future than he does. We know the resurrection and the promise of eternity without toil. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes has taken us so far, but the Ultimate Teacher has taken us to the end and beyond.

Chapter 11 ended with the advice to enjoy life while it lasts but ‘know that God will bring you into judgement’.



  • 1-7 Remember your Creator
    • In your youth (1)
    • Before old age (2-5)
    • Before death (6)
  • 8 End of the Teacher’s message
  • 9-14 Regarding the Teacher

1-7 Remember your Creator

Verses 1-7 bring the Teachers teachings to an end with a poem about the fear of the Lord. In all of the meaningless toil under the sun, do whatever you want (see Chapter 11) but be mindful that God will bring everything to account. This is the motive behind these Verses in Chapter 12 now.

In your youth (1)

“…in the days of your youth…” When you are young and full of vigor (11:10). These are days classed by the Teacher as able to enjoy the good things of this life.

“…before the days of trouble come…” He speaks of aging. The inevitable process of diminishing enjoyment !? Rather than the trouble being about enemies or world disasters, it is the universal experience of aging. The final phrase in Verse 1 gives us this insight. ‘When you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”. The ‘before’ in this Verse is echoed again in Verse 2 and 6 thus the breakdown of the poem.

Before old age (2-5)

“Before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark…” Verse 2 picture everything gloomy like a persistent overcast day/evening. Not bright lights and beauty but veiled by cloud and perhaps even sight. The sun, moon and stars appear a number of times together in the bible to demonstrate the glory and power of God. When they are darkened in Revelation 8:12 they coincide with the trials of humanity (ie, life on earth under the curse). I am not intending to draw a direct line to Ecclesiastes 12 but it is worth listening out in the bible for familiar phrases. The poetry of Ecc 12 is pointing us to the end of life that is, according to the Teacher, full of trouble.

“…the keepers of the house tremble…the strong men…” Verses 2-5 provide poetic imagery of old age. It is best to soak in the poetry rather than having each phrase decoded. The grinders is literally a grinding mill where grain is ground into flour but is perhaps a metaphor for the grinding of teeth and the teeth are wearing out. The whole picture is of an aging house and the interaction with the world is becoming scary and faded. The grasshopper no longer has spring in its legs to get to the blossoming tree.

“Then people go to their eternal home…” There is a destiny after death which is final but not described. Life goes on after the dead are buried.

Before death (6-7)

“Remember him before…” It is too late to consider God after the grave. The poetry of Verses 6 and 7 are of things that once shined and worked that are broken.

“…the dust returns to the ground…” A recalling of Genesis 3:19.

“…the spirit returns to God who gave it.” There is a salute to humans being more than just dust or animals. See Ecc 3:21. Does the Teacher know what goes on beyond the grave?

8 End of the Teacher’s message

“Meaningless!” Empty. Futile. Misty. The curtain closes on the life of a person and that’s all folks. The final act is not thrilling. The conclusion is not inspiring. What does the editor of this book, Ecclesiastes, say about the teacher…

9-14 Regarding the Teacher

“Not only was the Teacher wise…” The voice we hear now is not the Teacher but the compiler of this piece. 

“…but he also imparted knowledge to the people.” This analysis of the Teacher was shared with others. He voiced his understanding so that others would benefit. The Teacher would want others to grasp some understanding without the need to do the hard work of investigating.

“…the right words…upright and true.” The statements of Verses 9 and 10 simply state that the Teacher intended to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It was to be considered, prepared and delivered with meaning. This is a good statement about the whole bible. But has he been successful on another front: helpful.

“…like goads…like firmly embedded nails…” The goad is a long stick with a pointy end used to push an animal in the direction you need them to go. The words of the Teacher are intended to push us and are fixed in place. They are not to be trifled with. They are not whimsical words but words of instruction, teaching and warning.

“…given by one shepherd.” It is not conclusive to declare this shepherd as the LORD. The rulers and elders of Israel were referred to as the shepherds of Israel. The book named the Teacher as the king in Jerusalem. This book contains the wisdom of one such king over Israel. But the book begins and ends with ambiguity about the teacher. While he is a king in Israel and a son of David, which one? And while he is described as the one shepherd, is he really speaking the full wisdom of God in this book? Or is the book proclaiming the best an earthly shepherd of Israel can do? The One True Shepherd is Jesus. He does not use a goad to direct us but his words (John 10:27).

“Of making many books there is no end…” The weariness of knowledge is reminiscent of Ecc 1:18.

“…all has been heard; here is the conclusion…” The conclusion from all that has been said is this: “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” This statement certainly comes from all that the Teacher has said. He has shown depression, frustration, limitation, exhaustion, beauty and humility but has consistently remembered the judgment of God and never questioned His authority. Keeping the commandments has not been clear from the Teacher. Fear God, yes, but keeping God’s commandments is a new feature in this book! 

“For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” How does that feel as an end to the book? The Teacher has certainly instructed us to beware of God’s judgment and that He will judge us according to what has been done. This very chapter has been a call to remember the Lord before your life fades away. This final statement is to be applied to all humanity, even the king in Israel. With his mission to explore everything and not withhold from himself anything that his eye desires. There is only one king and wise person under God who will stand up to the benchmark of full righteousness.

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. Chapter 12 begins with a poem (carried over from the last chapter). Take time to soak in the imagery. What is the Teacher describing?

Q2. Verse 8 closes the instructions from the Teacher in a similar way to its beginning in Chapter 1 Verse 2. Do you have a fuller sense of what he means after finishing his observations?

Q3. How is the Teacher described in Verses 9-11? Has he been a good Teacher? Discuss.

Q4. How does the compiler of this book summarise the teaching in Verses 13 to 14? Is it a good summary?

Q5.  Use Ephesians 5:1-20 to critique the conclusion of the book (Ecc 12:13-14) as well as the method the Teacher has used to get us there. You may like to use the Application section to flesh this out.


The Teacher has served us well in highlighting the limits of life under the sun while calling on us to remember the Lord. The brightness of this life will fade for all but the wise person will keep their minds attentive to God. This has been the Teacher’s goal. The life we live is meaningless as it cannot be captured and kept. But the eternal home for us all will be decided by the judgment of God. This conclusion is right and true. No further study will reverse it. But a future king can bring the matter to an assured end. Life in Christ is full of meaning. The shadows of this world will give way to the brighter glory of eternity. Wisdom comes from listening to the words of the True Shepherd who does not direct us with a goad but by his voice.


Challenge#1 The goad of the gospel

Ephesians 5:1-2 talk of following God’s example in Jesus. This Good Shepherd does not poke us with a stick but gave himself up for us. We are directed to walk in love. Fear gives way to joy as we understand the love that God has for us. This takes the ignorance of the Teacher of Ecclesiastes and gives us certainty of forgiveness when we listen to the voice of the One Shepherd.

Challenge#2 Find out what pleases the Lord

Rather than seeing what can be done and finding joy in this life under the sun, Ephesians 5:10 challenges us to find out what pleases the Lord. The answer is not about following the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see! (Ecc 11:9). The fear of the Lord is not merely the keeping of the commandments but it is relational. Wisdom is about comprehending the days that we are in and living accordingly. The sun is setting on this world and so investing in eternity is wisdom.

Challenge#3 Live wisely

Ephesians 5:15-20 challenges us to be single minded in our walk in this world. ‘Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…’ That is a commitment to seeing this world through the lens of God the Father and through Christ. Life is a gift from God. That was taught to us by the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. So living life with a thankful heart but also a thankful mouth. This world has meaning – to live life through Christ and bring glory to God through Him.

Ecclesiastes 10:5-11:10 – Good data – false conclusions

Discussion question:

What have been the challenges of reading Ecclesiastes?

Read Ecclesiastes 10:5-11:10


The Teacher has concluded that all things we receive in life are a gift from God – not a result of our brilliance. We ought to live this life mindful of our end.

Wisdom is better than folly but the fools will live louder and we’ll be tempted to surrender to them.



  • 10:5-19 Fools in charge
  • 10:20-11:6 What little we know
  • 11:7-10 Enjoy it while it lasts

10:5-19 Fools in charge

“There is an evil I have seen under the sun…” This phrase tends to lend itself to a section or thought change by the Teacher. We have used it often in attempting to break the book into sections – although it is difficult to do. This whole section has a theme and purpose to it but is presented as a series of little observations. It is a section full of proverbs.

“Fools are put in many high places…slaves on horseback…” This phrase makes sense when you compare it with Verses 16-17. The Teacher describes it as a type of evil when people of no knowledge are given a kingdom to rule. Proverbs 19:10.

“Whoever digs…breaks through a wall…quarries stones…splits logs…” These are all proactive events presumably done to achieve something but every action comes with risk of failure. It will take a wise and thoughtful person to avoid such things. Could a foolish, uneducated king be successful on the throne?

“If the ax is dull…” Verse 10 helps shape the theme of these proverbs. The dull ax may well be the king on the throne! He can get it all done with brute force but it is much better to have your tool sharpened and get the job done with ease.

“If a snake bites…” It is of little use to know about snake charming. But use this as a contribution in context and we may view the snake as an uneducated fool on the throne – or in some high position. If it doesn’t work out, don’t be surprised. Or we could take it at face value and say, ‘don’t pay the ferryman before he gets you to the other side.’

“Words from the mouth…” Compare the wise gracious words with the escalating words of a madman. Wisdom is slow to speak and quick to listen. Fools multiply their words and feed their own ignorance. They may get wiser and wiser in their own eyes and end up consuming themselves!

“No one knows what is coming…” In context, this may be a reflection on the kind of thing that a fool might say. They may claim to know the future and what you must do right now. But the wise are aware of their field of view. Ecc 9:1.

“The toil of fools…” Verses 15-19 seem to bring to conclusion where the Teacher has been leading us. They do not know what they are doing. Their labour is real, with their blunt ax and their crashing through walls (10:8-10) but the roof is sagging and their focus is on laughing and merriment and money solves everything. Verse 19 is an anti proverb – it is true but foolish.

Verse 20 is put into the next section because the Teacher moves from a description of foolish rulers to how the wise should respond.

10:20-11:6 What little we know

“Do not revile the king…” Exodus 22:28 tells us to respect the king of God no matter if they are a fool or wise.

“…because a bird…may report what you say.” Ever heard, “a little birdie told me!”? A good reminder though that an innocent shrug or sneer that you don’t know others can see or notice may carry a message you didn’t intend.

“Ship your grain…invest in seven ventures…” The Teacher turns his attention to taking action even though we don’t know the future. There is a sense of faith here but the emphasis is on our limitations rather than on good outcomes. “May receive a return…you do not know…” These phrases remind us that we cannot see the future. There is optimism in taking action rather than doing nothing but there is no guarantee of success.

“If clouds…” Recall the language of Chapter One when we noticed the world goes on without us. We can look at the clouds and predict what will come next but we don’t make the clouds nor the rain.

“…the place where it falls, there it will lie.” What happens is what happens.

“Whoever watches…” Procrastination is advised against.

“…you do not know the path…or how the body is formed…you cannot understand the work of God…” There is much outside of our understanding – ignorance. These statements are all familiar with Chapter 1. Verses 1-6 state that we cannot know what is going to happen so be proactive despite our limited knowledge.

11:7-10 Enjoy it while it lasts

“Light is sweet…” This section opens pleasantly but the sun is out of our hands – while it is here, it is wonderful.

“Everything to come is meaningless.” We’re almost at the end of the book and the Teacher is leaving us with a very empty outlook on life. Had we hoped that it would get better? We can’t stop the night and there is a nighttime coming called death which nobody can stop. Enjoy life while it lasts.

“…be happy while you are young…” The same message in Verses 7-8 are given in 9-10. Our life is short and when you can grab joy, grab it.

“Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see…” This is advice straight from the pages of human wisdom. Sin! Enjoy life! Do it all! Do whatever makes you happy!

“…but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” The Teacher trusts that justice to all is coming and we will have to give an account for everything that we’ve done – but his advice is horrible. The Teacher had set out to show us wisdom and understanding but his short vision has led us to this: go down partying.

“So then, banish anxiety from your heart…” One can be excused for thinking of Philippians 4:6 or 1 Peter 5:7 as parallels here but the Teacher is not calling on us to trust in God but to stop worrying – full stop! Akuna Matata – which is better translated as “who cares” rather than “no worries!” Live free! No regrets! Ecclesiastes 2:24 told us to eat and drink and enjoy life.

“…for youth and vigor are meaningless.” You can’t keep your youth – no amount of trying will keep you young. Vigor means the prime of your life.

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. Compare 10:5-7 with 10:16-17. What is the Teacher describing as a wrong in the world (or an evil)?

Q2. How are Verses 8-15 understood in this context?

Q3. Read 11:1-6. Would you consider these words optimistic, pessimistic or simply realistic? Explain why.

Q4. Read 11:7-10. Are these wise words or not?

Q5.  Read James 4:13-5:6. Does James approve of the conclusions of the Teacher? How are we to rightly respond to our ‘mistiness’ (meaninglessness)?


It is frustrating to watch fools in charge – what a wasted position. It would be greater to see someone in charge who has knowledge, wisdom, understanding and training. It is also frustrating to never know what outcome you will get from planting or investing in this life. Everything that we do can be undone by the hand of God. It would be better if we knew of an investment that was a sure thing. And it is frustrating to know that youth does not last. The sun sets on all of us. The Teacher has observed all of these things correctly, but has failed to point us to trusting God and wisdom that points to an eternal future. As we reach the end of this book, we are left to wonder if this Teacher has any wisdom for us that is truly from God.


Challenge#1 Consider the true king

Ecclesiastes 10:5-20 describe a mad world where people in power have no idea what they are doing. Consider this being a word spoken against you (the reader) rather than about ‘them’. James 5:5 attacks the life of luxury and self-indulgence while the true king of the world is put to death. Let’s be sober minded about our state of living. Jesus said these words: ‘I have not come to be served but to serve and to lay down my life to save many. (Mark 10:45). Are we seeking to serve the true king? Or live lives pretending that the world was made for us to rule?

Challenge#2 Procrastination

Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 challenges us to proceed with living even though there are no guarantees of success. The Teacher fails to teach us fully because he concludes that we cannot know what God has in store. But we have the Greater Teacher who has told us what is to come. If we know the future, how should it affect our investments? What does Jesus commend in Matthew 10:37-38 Matthew 6:32-34? (on review the writer is not sure what the original reference was meant to be but Matt10:37-38 has been replaced with Matt6:32-34).

Challenge#3 Mid-life crisis? John 17:3?

Ecclesiastes 11:7-10 describes a bleak future for us all and a commendation to embrace life now while it lasts. This is not the wisdom of the Great Teacher. Read Matthew 16:24-27 on how foolish this is and then read John 17:3 for the secret of eternal youth.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10:4 – The poor man’s wisdom

Discussion question:

Do you know of any wise people who have gone unnoticed in this world?

Read Ecclesiastes 9:7-10:4


The book of Ecclesiastes seems repetitive because it is! The book begins and ends with the slogan: Meaningless! Meaningless! Along the way, the Teacher has given us wisdom to live by according to what he can test ‘under the sun’. He has examined wealth and wisdom. He has lamented that everybody seems to go to the same end. God is to be feared and it is better to live with regard to him than to live like a fool but the vision of the Teacher has its limit. We have noticed each time that Jesus is the better Teacher because he has a bigger vision.

Previously, we saw that our place in the universe is under all who sit above us in this world and even kings must submit to God. This section links closely with the previous. We’ll see the mention of kings again but there is an appreciation for the wise people who do not get noticed.



  • 9:7-10 Live good while it lasts
  • 9:11-12 Death comes despite your plans
  • 9:13-16 Poor man’s wisdom
  • 9:17-10:4 The blunt instrument of folly

9:7-10 Live good while it lasts

“Go, eat…drink…with a joyful heart…” The Teacher has brought us to this conclusion back in 2:24. All things come from God. If we are able to have them, best to enjoy them! Without a long explanation, access to wine is a sign of God’s blessing on the land. Having land, plus peace and rain to grow it are all signs that God is for Israel. See next point.

“…for God has already approved what you do.” The protestant within me stalls at this line. How can he say that God approves what we do when we’ve also recognised that all are unrighteous (Ecc 7:20). But specifically, he has mentioned eating and drinking. He is not making a salvation judgment but inviting us to enjoy life because life itself is a gift from God and the food and the drink is also a gift. So why not enjoy the gift? There are limits and wisdom to this and that is what follows…

“Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.” Being clothed in white is a symbol of purity but also wealth – the same symbol used by Jesus to reward the saints in heaven (Rev 4:4 and 3:5). Anointing your head is similar. It comes with blessings and riches and honour. Psalm 23:5 and Luke 7:46. The Teacher is giving us the language of the blessed people of God. This is our direction rather than the life of the fool.

“Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life…” Enjoy the gift of life that God has brought to you. The Teacher has a very optimistic view of the quality of life before death comes here. It is brought down with the laborious use of ‘meaningless’ and ‘toilsome’ and ‘this is your lot’. But if there is joy in your lot, then embrace it, says the Teacher, because it will end one day.

“…do it with all your might…” We might look to the New Testament and see a vision beyond the Teacher. He says, enjoy it because it’s all you’ve got for now. God has blessed you right now and that’s all there is from him. But Jesus gives us hope for eternal life and he is now our new Master. See Colossians 3:23-24.

“…where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” His vision of the future ends at the grave.

9:11-12 Death comes despite your plans

“…but time and chance happen to them all.” The proverb of Verse 11 is straight forward. The bible teaches us that chance is really not the last word since God is sovereign over everything. But from observing the human race, it seems like pot luck as to where you are born, who gets the wealth, who was in the right spot at the right time. Strategy and skill is no sure means to get where you want to go. The Teacher is frustrated with ambition and instructs us to look at what we have and enjoy that.

“…no one knows when their hour will come…” The imagery in Verse 12 is also simple and clear. No fish aims to be stuck in a net nor a bird in a trap. People are described as trapped in calamity rather than being blamed for it. The evil times that we live in happen despite our ambition to lengthen the days of this earth. But knowledge that the end will come one day ought to shape the way we live today.

9:13-16 Poor man’s wisdom

“…a small city…a powerful king…built huge siege works against it.” The story places a little town with abundant over force used against it. What hope does it have?

“…a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom.” The details are missing but the point is that wisdom can overcome an army. This little man had no obvious hope but he outwitted the king’s army.

“Wisdom is better than strength. But the poor man’s wisdom is despised…” To the Teacher’s story, wisdom wins actually but the glory will still go to the king who probably goes off and wins hundreds of other battles. The abrupt and overpowering king will go down in history but the poor wise man will be forgotten.

“…no longer heeded.” The final words of this story lead us to the final section.

9:17-10:4 The blunt instrument of folly

“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.” This line summarises the story of 9:13-16 perfectly. What follows is the opposing sides of the foolish and the wise.

“…a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” Wisdom seems quiet and a beautiful perfume while folly is loud and stupid like a zombie. People can’t help see the zombie but wisdom can go completely unnoticed.

“If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post, calmness can lay great offenses to rest.” The ruler’s anger bursts out of foolishness, rashness and short sightedness. The wise should stand their ground and wait patiently. There is advice here to choose wisdom with calm and you will find yourself on the right side in the end. But buckle to the anger of the king and folly wins.

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. The Teacher doesn’t simply say, “eat and drink” but to do it with gladness and joy. What is he teaching in Verses 7-10?

Q2. Verses 10-12 consider the permanence and surety of death. How does this knowledge shape the way that we ought to live? How do these Verses direct us?

Q3. How does Verses 13-18 compare wisdom with strength?

Q4. What makes wisdom difficult according to 10:1-4?

Q5.  What is lacking or missing in the Teacher’s instructions?


While wisdom is way better, folly is loud and overruling. The good things in life come from God and ought to be enjoyed as they come. Life and death come to us outside of our power and it is best to live with wisdom than without. While this is the conclusion of the Teacher, the lesson falls short of what good it really does to choose wisdom.


Challenge#1 Blessed are the poor

The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:2-12 give us wisdom from the True Teacher of Israel. Jesus teaches us that it won’t be the strong and the powerful who win in the end but the poor in spirit, the meek and those who hunger for righteousness. He shares the same image as the Teacher in Ecclesiastes does with regard to the poor wise man who went unnoticed, or the wise person who stood calmly against the anger of the king. This world will insult, persecute and say all kinds of evil against Jesus’ followers, but stick with him, being calm and sure that He is the Wisdom of this world. He is the invisible strength who will conquer the foolishness of this world.

Challenge#2 Whatever you do

Colossians 3:23-24 is snapshot of instructions to those who know where their future is: in heaven. The whole chapter directs us to think in light of the hope that we have and then to do everything as though working for the Lord. We are not trying to please people. And we are not trying to conquer this world (since you don’t know when your time will come) but we live for today in the full knowledge that God has purchased our inheritance for eternity. As Colossians says, the Father has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (1:12). What we do today is not in pursuit of success because we already know that something greater than what we can achieve is already prepared for us. Enjoying the days of our life surely come from embracing our eternal life first.

Challenge#3 The wisdom of God

Paul reminded the church in Corinth of the days when he brought the gospel to them. He said that it was not filled with human wisdom but he kept his message to the cross of Christ which is the power of God. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes described a battle between a powerful king and a little town with one poor wise man in it. Paul is like that poor wise man. You can read his account in 1 Corinthians 2:1-9. We can be just like the poor wise man too if we remain calm against the shouting in this world and speak about the cross of Christ.