Category Archives: Sanctification/holiness

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 2 – We gain nothing – God gives everything

Discussion question:

Laughter is the best medicine. Do you know a joke you could share?


The Teacher of the assembly began by stating that everything around us is meaningless. That is, no matter how much you put in, you gain nothing. The world, on the other hand, under God’s rule provides and never ceases to provide. So, what is the point of our life? The Teacher decided to put their wisdom and understanding to use and experiment. Although the conclusion looks grim, the Teacher sets out to explore what to make of this world and this life.

Read Ecclesiastes Chapter 2



  • 1-9 The project of pleasure
  • 10-16 Poetry – The result of pleasure and wisdom
    • 10-11 Nothing to show for pleasure
    • 12-14 Better to be wise than a fool
    • 15-16 No better being wise than a fool
  • 17-23 The great despair of nothing gained
  • 24-27 The gift from God

1-9 The project of pleasure

“I said to myself…” The ESV says, “I said to my heart…” The meaning of the NIV is right but the word ‘heart’ helps us see where the Teacher is going. He wants to know what he longs for and what drives his life. He isn’t referring to a textbook on the matter but asking himself what is it all about. Note later the phrase, “…my mind still guiding me with wisdom.”

“I will test you with pleasure…” The first test will be to go where the heart desires and see what that produces. He will list out laughter and cheer before moving on to projects that are self-rewarding.

“…what is good…” Verse 1 and 3 have this same reference point. But what could he mean? The sense of worthwhile and profitable is probably in mind. Not a question of good verses evil but a judgment on what is useful and worthwhile doing.

“Laughter…is madness.” Again, a word to suggest an action done for no reason or benefit. True enough. A robot might ask that question.

“And what does pleasure accomplish?” He doesn’t seem to answer that question. Are we to assume nothing? As we continue through this chapter, we’ll find that some things can’t be concluded as bad or madness purely because it doesn’t produce anything. The Teacher is asking what progress do we make through pleasure. The answer is, ‘no tangible progress.’ But that doesn’t mean that pleasure is useless. He calls it pleasure and cheering himself. This is beneficial in the moment. But the question still remains, what real gain are we making through this?

“…cheering myself with wine…” We’ll likely cover alcohol later in the book but we will be sensitive for the moment on this topic. In the current context, the cheering through drinking achieves no profit. It is not condemned here but neither is it prescribed for better living. More on this will come.

“My mind still guiding me with wisdom.” Verse 3 and 9 have the same condition. The Teacher is on a project of understanding. The drinking and the folly was kept in check to observe the benefits. He did not cease his project of exploring the meaning of life. While pursuing pleasure, he was mindful of the process.

Verses 1-3a Describe his intention and the starting point was folly. Pleasure through madness. Unprofitable. But desirable. He then turns his attention to a different kind of pleasure: project management!

“I undertook great projects…” Verses 4-9 outline the exploration of putting his hands to work – not out of service to others but for self gain. Houses, vineyards, gardens and parks; servant breeding and stock, silver and gold and personal entertainment. The whole list of things are for himself. This is why this falls into the category of pleasure rather than of work. We certainly work for pleasure when it is achieving our goals and dreams. He was acquiring “…the delights of a man’s heart.”

10-16 Poetry – The result of pleasure and wisdom

After the decision to explore the fruit of pleasure through self indulgent pleasure and project management for wealth and leisure, the Teacher gives us some conclusions through poetry.

10-11 Nothing to show for pleasure

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired…” The boundary of his experiment was wide.

“My heart took delight in all my labour…” I suggest he means that he put his hand to nothing except what he delighted in. As listed already, the outcome of all his work was for self.

“Yet when I surveyed…nothing was gained under the sun.” The conclusion is that he has nothing to show for it all. Remember that in chapter 1 he had concluded that our life comes and goes and you are left with nothing but the sun goes round and round without us. When we are done, our stuff will belong to someone else. He will take us to this point later.

“…this was the reward for all my toil.” Verse 10d is interesting. While life is meaningless and all the projects leave us with nothing, we still have the pleasure in the process. What is the reward? “Delight in all my labour.”

12-14 Better to be wise than a fool

“…to consider wisdom and also madness and folly.” This is an experiment of comparison. Is it better to be wise or foolish? To live life with understanding or without.

“What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?” This is not to be read as a universal question but specific to the outcome of this experiment. The present king has put his hands to everything he can find to do. Houses, vineyards, wealth and prosperity. What could the next king possibly do? I love the arrogance of this statement! Consider for a second, the Christian perspective on this. If the great Teacher and Kind is the one we ought to listen to: what on earth can we do that is greater than what the King of kings has done. Please forgive me. I’m not trying to jump too quickly to a hyper-Christian response. But the word of God here is for you and for me. I certainly can’t do what the Teacher has been able to do in his experiment. But take it even further and ask, what can we do that God has not already done?

“…wisdom is better than folly…” Having eyes to see is obviously better than not. The Teacher doesn’t seem to go further than saying that obviously it is better to be wise. But…

15-16 No better being wise than a fool

“…the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered…like the fool, the wise too must die!” This is the real measuring line. What is profitable? What is worthwhile? What is measurably good? Well, if death is the end for everyone irrespective of wealth or poverty, wisdom or folly, then what’s the point? The Teacher will begin the next section with much depression. The phrase “…the days have already come…” remind us that our days are numbered. Death is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’.

17-23 The great despair of nothing gained

“So I hated my life…” Has the lessons from the Teacher started depressing you? Well, that was his journey too!

“…the work…was grievous to me…” Not pleasurable anymore since the final word is death which resets all gains.

“…I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish?” Even if we think of our lives as a baton race where we help build for the next generation, even that is folly. It strikes me how every generation elements that we have done poorly and hope that we can leave something better for the next generation – when the reality is that they will grow up to lament their efforts also.

“For a person may labour with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it.” A great effort in this life amounts to…? Just note that the Teacher is not saying we should give up on life – bear with it – but what is the profit of life? What’s in it for me really? Depressing?

24-27 The gift from God

“…this too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” Depression is replaced with contentment. The profit of wisdom, knowledge and skill is nothing. We gain nothing from any of it in the end. But the pleasure we receive in the process is God’s gift to us. The very presumption of the experiment is the gift from God. The fact that any pleasure can be received is God’s gift. Our emotional ability is God given. We can’t even produce that from nothing!

“…God gives happiness…” Godliness with contentment is great gain, says Paul in 1 Timothy 6:6. The ‘happiness’ is not simply pleasure or laughter but relief from the pains of gaining nothing. Relief from depression! True contentment is a gift from God. It doesn’t come from gaining through this life but through learning how to please him – to enjoy God and to know him. This is the fruit of the Spirit – to know God in truth and to be sanctified through a growing knowledge of God.

“…but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over…” To the one who strives to gain, they lose everything. But to the one who will pursue God, they gain contentment which is the gift from God. As Jesus once said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it!” Mark 8:35

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. Verses 1-9 describe the Teacher’s plans to test pleasure. What types of pleasure does he describe? What is the difference between the pleasures of Verses 2-3a and the pleasures of 3b-9?

Q2. Verses 4-9 describe the endeavours of a king. How far away is our lifestyle to his? 

Q3. The poetry from Verse 10 is a reflection of his findings. What does he conclude?

Q4. When he contrasts wisdom and folly in Verses 13-16, which ends up the winner? Discuss the despair that results in Verses 17-23.

Q5.  How does the Teacher resolve his depression in Verses 24-27?

Q6. Look up one or more of these New Testament passages to discuss. Matthew 6:25-34; 1 Timothy 6:6-11; Romans 8:5-11.


Pouring our energy into this life for the sake of gain is fruitless. We can certainly try but the end will be the expected result. Both the foolish and the wise will die. Our day is coming. But to the one who turns to God and lives for him, they receive contentment as their gift. In this life, we gain nothing except vapour. But with God, we receive the gift of living.


Challenge#1 Seek first the kingdom of God

Matthew 6:19 onwards illustrates Jesus’ perspective on all of this. Even Solomon, in all of his glory, had nothing more than what God provided for him. We are in a more privileged position than Solomon. We have the benefit of his wisdom as well as Christ’s wisdom. This world will give us thrill if we chase it and we will be left with nothing in the end. But with Christ, seeking His kingdom first, we get wisdom, contentment, and eternity. The bible talks about ‘chasing after’ the things of this world like the pagan does. That is foolish. The wise person looks at the logic: we can add nothing to this life but God can give us everything we need and more. Shall we seek first our kingdom or Gods?

Challenge#2 How much is too much?

Whether that question is about alcohol (v3) or prosperity and ambition (v9), in God’s wisdom we are required to be sober minded about everything. To keep wisdom with us (v3 and 9). The bible does not forbid alcohol (it endorses it at times 1Ti5:23) but it certainly condemns the foolishness of excess (Proverbs 23:20). The bible does not condemn making money (it endorses it at times 1Thess4:11; 2Thes3:10) but it certainly warns of the dangers of wealth (Matt19:24). The question is not, how much is too much, but why are you even asking the question? See Challenge#1

Challenge#3 Preach Ecclesiastes to your neighbour

The book of Ecclesiastes is an excellent text for discussing with our neighbours. All the work and toil that goes into this life and for what? So we can enjoy a long weekend at Bonny Doon? What if life was already handed to us? What if everything our heart desires has been offered to us through Jesus? Could it be possible that all our efforts are in vain? Could it be possible that if we lost our life and surrendered our efforts and attention to Jesus, we would receive much, much more than we could ever give up? Mark 8:35-38 challenges us to leave everything in faith and follow Jesus. Romans 8:30 tells us what we get when we turn to him (Romans 8:28-32).

Mark 6:14-29 – What Herod heard

Discussion question:

Have you ever wondered how different life would be as a king or queen? OR Do you think Queen Elizabeth watches Neighbours?

Read Mark 6:14-29


This story of the death of John the baptist is included in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). It appears in Mark right in the middle of the mission that the disciples are sent on. Jesus sent his Twelve Disciples off on mission in Mark 6:6-13 and Mark records their return from mission in Mark 6:30. While they are spreading the news about the kingdom of God, calling people to repent and believe, healing and casting out demons, we are given this account of John the Baptist. On the ground, the disciples are spreading the news of the kingdom, but in the earthly kingdom of Herod, we see sin with no repentance and a mishearing of who Jesus is.



  • 14-16 What Herod heard and concluded about Jesus
  • 17-20 What Herod heard from John
  • 21-29 What Herod heard from his step-daughter/niece!

14-16 What Herod heard and concluded about Jesus

“King Herod heard about this…” This is referring to the mission that the disciples were on. The commotion in the streets caused by the disciples preaching a message of repentance had reached the ears of Herod. We are brought from the real street-talk of the kingdom of God into the house of an earthly king. See Luke 3:1 for a scope of the rulers of the day. Herod was the tetrarch over Galilee. It lists four men ruling different regions under the higher reign of Tiberius Caesar. One of the four was Herod’s brother Philip.

“Some were saying… John… Elijah… A prophet…” Jesus’ name was not in question but what was his position or identity. His name was well known but what about his calling or importance? Malachie 4:5 will help understand why Elijah is listed and why the disciples repeat this rumour in Chapter 8. Ironically, it is John the Baptist who is the Elijah figure predicted to come as he was one of the prophets like the Old Testament prophets whose primary message was to call Israel to repent and return to the LORD. A prophet like Elijah would come and prepare the way for the LORD. This was John the Baptist (Mark 9:12-13). As readers of this story, we are meant to realise how wrong they all are – that they misunderstood Elijah and rejected his call to repent – how then will they understand who Jesus is?

“But when Herod heard this, he said…” Herod’s conclusion is that Elijah has somehow come back from the dead with even greater powers than he had before.

17-20 What Herod heard from John

“For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested…” We are taken back in time to understand Herod’s experience with John. What follows is a story of lust and sexual immorality; of a call to repent and a man who doesn’t disagree but unwilling to repent.

“…Herod feared John… when Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” This is the profile of someone who is unable to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Many people responded to John’s ministry of repentance and repented. Herod revered John as a holy man but what he spoke about puzzled him.

21-29 What Herod heard from his step-daughter/niece!

“Finally the opportune time came.” This refers to Herodias’ dilemma in Verse 19. She had a grudge against John. He was a nuisance to whatever her ambitions were. The size of this grudge comes out further when we hear how it is released.

“…the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.” You can imagine alcohol and festivities and the passion of the moment and pride and the want to impress the rulers that have been invited to the party. This is not a PG rated party. Herod is swept up in the moment and promises his niece anything up to half the kingdom. Wow!

“She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” Herodias must have had quite the influence over her daughter. The offer has already been suggested: half the kingdom! Why not take that offer?

“The head of John the Baptist.” The grudge is strong. Her hate of John focuses her attention and dismisses all other possibilities. 

“On hearing this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” The story is complete with the outside world hearing what has taken place inside the governor’s house. This earthly ruler behaves so unimpressively. His kingdom offers nothing but selfish ambition. He is more concerned with saving face than with righteousness and justice.

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. Look up Luke 3:1 to hear who is listed as important in Jesus’ day. A tetrarch is a sub-ruler. By telling us the story about Herod and John, what contrast is Mark giving us to consider?

Q2. What had Herod heard about? What conclusions were being made about Jesus from Herod’s palace? What were they getting right and what were they getting wrong?

Q3. What issues did John the Baptist have with Herod and what does the bible teach about these things?

Q4. Given all we know from this story, how would you describe the kingdom of Herod?

Q5. Why do you think Mark (and Matthew and Luke) includes this story in the gospel?


There is a scene change in the gospel of Mark. While the disciples spread the good news of the kingdom of God, we are taken to an earthly ruler who has no backbone or care for righteous living. He hears the talk about Jesus and is filled with fear. We hear the word of what went on inside his home and are filled with disgust. He had the prophet who God sent to point people to Jesus right in his house – imprisoned – but he killed him, letting lust and pride rule. Herod heard about Jesus but did not hear about the kingdom of God. Herod heard from John but did not understand. He heard from his family and submitted to sin.


Challenge#1 Human government and us

Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2 teach us to pray for our governments and have respect for their authority. It does not follow that we are to agree with their conduct or decisions. This can be a complicated area of discussion but isn’t it possible to live as citizens of this world but love the kingdom of God because it is so much better? People in this world will often disappoint us. The greatest people in the kingdom of God are those who live for Christ and give him the highest respect. John the Baptist spoke the truth to the ruler and faced the consequences for it.

Challenge#2 Lust, envy, hate and pride

These things are to be put to death in us. The fruit of the spirit feeds none of these things. Romans 8 teaches us to give energy to the Spirit and not to the desires and passions of the flesh. Sin is destructive and the Spirit gives life. When the outworkings of the flesh appear, turn back to God and repent. 

Challenge#3 The kingdom of God is not in palaces

While we read about the mayhem in the court of Herod, the real kingdom growth was happening in the villages. The news of this world will revolve around what is happening in politics and sport. Very little attention is given to people turning back to God. This emphasis will be turned on its head one day when everyone sees Jesus as King and that everything that we thought was great in this world is nothing compared to him.