Ecclesiastes 9-12
(Solomon’s Final Conclusion)
July 12th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.

- Ecclesiastes 9:1 (KJV)

Summary of Chapters

This group is the final set of chapters in Ecclesiastes, and is subtitled “Solomon’s Final Conclusion.” In chapter 9, Solomon reminds the people of the brief period of their lives and the common end for all, regardless of whether they are good or evil. Given this outlook, he encourages them to enjoy their food, drink, and spouses that God has given them. In addition, he advises the audience to work diligently, but warns that the outcome of skills and work is never guaranteed:

    Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

    Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them.

    - Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 (NRSV)

Chapter 10 includes some of the points of wisdom raised in earlier chapters, and includes new illustrations introduced by Solomon to make his point. He explains that the wise may be quieter than the fools because they have chosen to show restraint. The fools may end up in power by chance and make a lot of noise but end up falling into the pit they have dug for others. Solomon uses the illustration of a dull axe to emphasize the importance of improving one’s skills: “Remember: The duller the ax the harder the work; Use your head: The more brains, the less muscle (Eccl 10:10 - MSG).”

Solomon presents two themes in chapter 11. The first encourages the audience to carry on with their work without worrying whether or not it will succeed, because they cannot predict future weather or other circumstances. In the second part of the chapter, Solomon advises the young to apply their youth and vigor to God’s work, because if they only follow their desires they will face judgment one day.

Chapter 12 concludes the Book of Ecclesiastes. It begins with a continuation of the last theme from chapter 11, telling the reader to “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth (Eccl 12:1 -KJV).”

In the final set of verses he compares the learning of wisdom to an ox goad, a device with sharp nails that is swung at oxen to “goad them along.” The ox goad stings, but gets the receiver going in the right direction. As with Proverbs, Solomon concludes with a reminder that fear of God is the root of wisdom and eternal happiness:

    Now all has been heard;
        here is the conclusion of the matter:
    Fear God and keep his commandments,
        for this is the duty of all mankind.
    For God will bring every deed into judgment,
        including every hidden thing,
        whether it is good or evil.

    - Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (NIV)

Reflection and Application

All of the various points of view presented by Solomon can be confusing. He says work is meaningless, but we should work hard at it. He says that following all our desires will not satisfy us, but tells us to enjoy our food and drink and spouses. He also says in chapter 9 that the same outcome is expected for all people:

    Everything is the same for everybody: the same lot for the just and the wicked, for the good, for the clean and the unclean, for the one who offers sacrifice and the one who does not. As it is for the good, so it is for the sinner; as it is for the one who takes an oath, so it is for the one who fears an oath.

    - Ecclesiastes 9:2 (NAB)

While it's true that adversity and death affect us all, the commentators in the New American Bible point out to the readers that "these statements (9:1-10) are based on a very imperfect concept of life beyond the grave. With Christian revelation about the future life came the only satisfactory solution of the problem which so perplexed the author (1)."

One statement that is not imperfect is the final verse, which in some translations is called the last word: "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind (Eccl 12:13b - NIV).” If we fear and respect God then we will listen for his guidance regarding the right time to work and the right time to eat, drink, etc. Work should not exceed six days for example. A husband should sacrifice himself for his wife, as Paul points out in the New Testament. Husbands are called to put aside their own needs and serve their spouses.

If we know these truths, do we shout them out or share them quietly? The squeaky fools seem to get all the attention. Perhaps we should be quietly persistent in pursuing and sharing wisdom, but look for moments when we too need to be the squeaky wheel in sharing the wisdom of fearing the LORD.

The sooner we adopt these principles the better off we will be. We are always younger than we will be tomorrow, so the advice from Solomon to “young people” can apply to all of us. Seeking wisdom can be part of the sharpening of our spiritual tools, but is not necessarily the end of it. As we gain wisdom we might want to reflect on what other tools of our personality need to be sharpened.

If you are looking for more insight on this section, then check out this meditation on verse 9:11: "Who Wins The Race?," website

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions

    1. What topics do you like to discuss with your friends?
    2. How can we continue to pursue wisdom?
    3. What are the skills that we need to sharpen today?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know that the path to happiness is described in your words found in the Bible. Help us to enjoy the gifts you have given and obey your word with all our heart, soul, and mind.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Those looking for work


    (1) New American Bible Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970, p 635

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Song of Songs 1-4 (How Should I Describe Thee?)

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