Category Archives: Topical

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 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.

Ecclesiastes 8:2-9:6 – Where is our hope?

Discussion question:

What powers do you have in this world?

Read Ecclesiastes 8:2-9:6


Ecclesiastes 1-4 investigated the scope of life under the sun. Chapters 5-11 explore the details of these claims. We saw that there are advantages to being wise but it is hard for people to live wisely. Sin is always around to pull us away from wisdom. But knowing the end of things, our mortality and the fear of God is our benchmark for wisdom.



  • 8:2-6 You are not the king
  • 8:7-13 You are not God
  • 8:14-17 Live with humility
  • 9:1-6 Without hope?

8:2-6 You are not the king

“Obey the king’s command, I say…” The Teacher speaks to Israel who have a king. It is ironic that the king of Israel is instructing Israel, the assembly, to obey the king of Israel. But the reason for obedience is not conditional on the quality of the king but on the quality of the promise…

“…because you took an oath before God.” This is the structure of leadership and governance in Israel. Likewise, we shall listen to this wisdom in our own setting. The scriptures allow for a variety of government shapes like kingdoms or democracy but it does not support anarchy.

“Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence.” There could be a daily reverence implied here but the context of Verses 1-6 is about mutiny. Be slow to react and be careful how you proceed. You may be wiser than the king but he is the king (or she the queen).

“…a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?” There is always One who is supreme over any earthly king. The King of kings can say, ‘what are you doing?’ See Luke 23:1-12.

“…there is a proper time and procedure for every matter.” Everything can be done in decency and in order with patience and honour. See Romans 13:1-7.

Conclusion: you are not the king, but there is a King who’s word IS supreme – even the kings will need to answer to Him.

8:7-13 You are not God

“Since no one knows the future, who can tell…” The Teacher reveals the limits of his understanding here. He cannot know the future and doesn’t know anyone who can. And yet, God has been sending prophets to Israel since before Moses. Noah most famously was aware of the imminent flood and built the boat and told all what was to come. Daniel was given visions of the future. Isaiah and the other prophets spoke of the day of the Lord. The Teacher wants to highlight the prison of time that is upon us – that we are NOT all knowing and foreseeing creatures – but God is and he has made known the future to us – a future which centres around the Messiah and judgment.

“As no one has power over the wind to contain it so no one has power over the time of their death.” This is a proverb of comparison. Just like you can’t hold wind in your hands, you can’t hold onto the day of your death like it’s under your control. It’s beautiful to know that Jesus sits outside of both of these constraints. He calmed the storm (Mark 4:35-41) and he laid down his own life only to take it up again (John 10:18).

“As no one is discharged in time of war….” The final proverb in Verse 8 compares a soldier compelled to fight with a sinner compelled to sin. Once again, the Teacher does not teach us that one day the Messiah will release us from the captivity of sin (Romans 6:17-23).

“All this I saw…a man lords it over others…” Verses 9-10 cover two situations: a person with power who lords it over others but their end will not go well for them – they will die and presumably face the music. Then there are those who parade around like they are lovely but the Teacher implies they are really wicked and they will go to the grave too. The power and the praise do not get humans anywhere with God.

“When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out…it will not go well with them…” Verses 11-13 describe injustice on this earth. When a crime is not punished quickly, it fuels reason for others to also be lawless. Where is the swift and sure justice? A criminal may do well on this earth but beware the judgment to follow. It will be better for those who fear God and are reverent before him.

Conclusion: We are limited in knowledge, power over death and sin. The wicked may look to be winning but none of us are in God’s position. We are not God.

8:14-17 Live with humility

“…the righteous who get what the wicked deserve…” Life ‘under the sun’ seems unjust. Why is it like this? Is God not watching? The conclusion is not to be wicked but to be careful…

“…then joy will accompany them…” With all that has been said before, our lot is to submit to rulers and to honour God and to enjoy the limits of this life as best we can. Live with humility. This level of joy is incomplete though – how can we enjoy the injustice of this world? We need more than what the Teacher is offering!

“…then I saw all that God has done.” Verses 16-17 salute the difference between mankind and God. We are not God! We are limited but look at all that God has done! We may try to understand and claim to know but we cannot comprehend it. We need God to help us see the future, to find joy that comes with understanding and hope. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9.

Conclusion: we admit our limits of understanding but look to God to show us the way!

9:1-6 Without hope?

“All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad…” The Teacher is giving no credit to the promises of God. There is a prosperity gospel that the Teacher is disproving here. If honouring God comes with blessings and not cursings, then where are those blessings (See Deuteronomy 28-29)? What’s the difference whether you sacrifice or not? What difference does it make if you are good or bad, righteous or wicked? ‘Under the sun’, all we can say is that the wicked may gain wealth and then die – the righteous (God fearing) may live poorly and then die. What gives?

“…afraid to take [oaths]” This is a fun description of people who don’t trust God. They are not brave enough to make a promise and keep it. The ‘good’ will take oaths and work to keep them whether it hurts or not – the sinful will be too afraid to take them in case it backfires and doesn’t work out for them. There is a lack of faith to honour God.

“The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts…” This is a true thing. There is nobody righteous, not even one, says Romans 3:10 (citing Psalm 14 and 53).

“Anyone who is among the living has hope…” Taken out of context, this sounds right, but the words that follow limit this hope. The only hope described here is the hope of today but not tomorrow. This is not Christian hope.

“…the dead know nothing…their name is forgotten…long since vanished…never again will they have a part in anything…” This is not hope – it is hopelessness. The Teacher has told us that if you are alive, then good but when you’re dead, you’re dead. Does this mean that there is no teaching of the resurrection in the Old Testament? No, it means that the Teacher is not teaching it. “The LORD brings to death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.” (1 Samuel 2:6) This could be read as a metaphore for prosperity but the New Testament takes that ambiguity and puts the final nail in the coffin! The dead do rise and there is great hope for those who trust in God! BUT, this is not universal and many will miss God’s grace and their names will not be included in the book of life.

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. What is the Teacher’s wisdom about kings in Verses 2-6? How does the New Testament reflect this? See Romans 13:1-7 or Titus 3:1 or 1 Peter 2:13-14. (warning, this could amount to a complete study if some see controversy).

Q2. What are the limitations on humans described in Verses 7 and 8? Do we know of any escape from these ‘prisons’?

Q3. What is the Teacher’s advice in Verses 14-17? Is it sound advice? How is his advice any different to the wisdom of this world?

Q4. What is the best that the Teacher can hope for according to 9:1-6? Notice the destiny he describes. What type of hope does he teach? Do we have the same hope?

Q5.  Read 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 to critique the Teacher (and ruler of this age).


We ought to take stock of our position in the universe. We will be subject to rulers, whether they be wise or foolish. But even the kings of this world need to concede that there is a King over them who can hold onto the wind, and directs the future and has laid down his life in order to set the captive free! We have hope that goes beyond the schemes of this world. The Lord is King and He’s going to take care of everything!


Challenge#1 Trusting God by honouring the government

Christians across the ages have lived under governments who are selfish and short-sighted and foolish. The LORD himself demonstrated great restraint and humility as he stood before Pilate and Herod. Honouring governments is not conditional on whether they are righteous or not. We live for the Kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:32) but we live under the authority of earthly powers. Our challenge is to proceed with wisdom in this world, unafraid because we have confidence in the sovereignty of God. You might read Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14. This world is passing by. The justice of this world falls short of what we long for under God. But that doesn’t make our governments unworthy of respect and inconsequential.

Challenge#2 Know the King

Along this study we have read of the limitations we are under and the limited vision of the Teacher. But we have reflected on how amazing God is and how Jesus is the ultimate king. He teaches us about the future which includes us in it. He warns us of the danger of falling away and despairing. He has gone to prepare a room for us and he has freed us from the tyranny of sin. Knowing Jesus fills our life with meaning!

Challenge#3 The future for haters

Verses 5 and 6 describe a bleak future for those who do not know or trust God. Their future is not oblivion but the second death. This is no prize. Life under the sun as we know it enjoys the general mercy and grace of God upon all humans regardless of how they treat him. But beyond this life comes a judgment and the unrighteous will not receive peace with God. The only hope is for people to meet Jesus. ‘Good’ people will go to the grave. But only those who have loved and honoured King Jesus will be saved. That is sobering. The first thing to do about this is to pray for those who we suspect have not met Jesus yet.