People look for meaning in life in an array of worldly pursuits. Solomon concludes the book of Ecclesiastes by reminding us that purpose and direction in life are found in knowing, worshiping, and obeying the Lord. And this, Solomon says, is the “end of the matter.”
As we do so, we need to remember that Solomon spent many years of his life out there in the deep ocean of sin. In fact, he nearly drowned. He came up for air, so to speak, only when he realized he was desperate for meaning and purpose in life.
But by the goodness of God, Solomon was brought to repentance, and he returned to his earlier walk with God—with the wisdom of God on his mind.
As I have mentioned before, Ecclesiastes is a private journal about life—written by Solomon and then, more than likely, given to his son and successor, Rehoboam. Solomon does not want his son—nor does God want any of us—to dive into a deep ocean of sin, where you never touch bottom—you never get anchored—and you simply drift along with the current of your culture, without any direction or satisfaction in life.
Now in these closing verses of chapter 12, Solomon delivers some final thoughts on the true meaning of life. And he begins by reminiscing on his search for truth. We read this in verse 9:
Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care.
You might remember that the word Ecclesiastes means “gathering.” And Solomon refers to himself here as the preacher. He is the one calling this gathering; he has a message he wants to preach.
He writes in verse 10, “The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.” Solomon is saying, “I might be using beautifully arranged words, but I am telling you the truth—and this is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
Then Solomon says in verse 11, “The words of the wise are like goads.” These words are going to goad you—they are going to prod you along. They are “like nails firmly fixed,” he says. Practically speaking, this means that you read a verse and immediately know you need to nail that truth down in your mind and heart.
That is what God’s Word does in our lives, doesn’t it? Sometimes it might hurt; it might sting; it can humble our pride and upset our plans. It will question our behavior and challenge our thinking. God’s Word is intended, as one author wrote, to pierce through the crust of indifference.
And Solomon understands, by the way, that his journal is powerful only because it is not his truth—rather, it is ultimately God’s truth. That is exactly what Solomon says next here in verse 11, when he declares that these wise sayings “are given by one Shepherd.”
That is a reference to the Lord, the “Shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:1). This is the Shepherd Solomon heard his father, David, singing about in that great Twenty-third Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (verse 1).
God is ultimately the source of these words of wisdom. The apostle Peter explains for us that God moved through the biblical authors in such a way that they wrote the truth God wanted recorded. He writes in 2 Peter 1:21, “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Now that doesn’t mean the biblical writers were robots. God used their activities, their experiences, their personalities, and even their vocabularies; but His Spirit supervised the project and moved through them so that, in the end, even Solomon’s private journal here was the very word of God.
In fact, Solomon delivers a warning in verse 12: “My son, beware of anything beyond these [words].” He knew this was God’s Word.
That is a warning for us all today: Don’t stray beyond the green pastures of God’s Word. Beloved, every religion out there goes beyond the Word of God. The Mormons have the Book of Mormon, written by Joseph Smith; the Hindus have their Bhagavad Gita; the Muslims have their Koran; and the Bahai Faith has the writings of Bab. You can go all the way back to the religious Pyramid Texts of ancient Egypt and the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh.
But let me tell you, those writings are all going to lead you to different gods, and not one of them is the true and living God. It might be interesting reading, but it does not have the power to cleanse you and set you free from sin.
With that, Solomon delivers a concise summary on the meaning of life. It is introduced in verse 13 with these words: “The end of the matter; all has been heard.” He is simply saying here, “These are the concluding remarks in my journal—here is the summary of it all.”
As you dig into these final verses, you find three action steps to take. The first action step is worship. Solomon states it very simply in verse 13: “Fear God.”
What does it mean to fear God? Well, let me give you an acrostic using the word fear that might help you in the days ahead.
F stands for favor the Lord’s company. Fearing God means you are interested in being in His company—you favor His company more than that of anybody else on the planet.
E stands for exalt the Lord’s glory. If you fear the Lord, you will want to tell others how great He is. You are going to talk about Him more than you talk about yourself or your latest accomplishment. You exalt His glory.
A stands for acknowledge the Lord’s sovereignty. To fear God is to trust Him, especially when He does not explain Himself. As we have learned in our study through this book, during those times when you can’t trace His hand, you need to keep on trusting His heart. God will always do what is right.
R stands for remember the Lord’s generosity. Listen beloved, the distinguishing mark of unbelievers is that they never thank God for anything (Romans 1:21). Whatever they have in life and whatever they have become in life, they have only themselves to thank, as far as they are concerned.
So, this first action step is to fear the Lord. Favor the Lord’s company; exalt the Lord’s glory; acknowledge the Lord’s sovereignty; and remember the Lord’s generosity. That is how you fear the Lord.
The second action step is obey. Solomon writes in verse 13, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Frankly, you don’t need any acrostic to help you understand what it means to obey the Lord.
Solomon then gives us a final action step, and we will call it prepare. He writes in verse 14, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
Solomon’s journal is like a hand on your shoulder that shakes you and says, “Stay alert! Take a good hard look at your life in light of that future day when you stand before the Lord.”
Live today in light of that day. My ninety-two-year-old father reminded me of that the other day on the telephone when he said to me, “Stephen, you know there are only two days you need to think about—today and that day when you see Christ.”
That sounds like the wise counsel of Solomon as he invites us to invest our lives in anything and everything that would please the Lord—our Shepherd.
So, let’s not just live life down here under the sun—S-U-N; let’s walk through life down here with the Son—S-O-N. And that means walking in wisdom with the Son of God, knowing and following Him as our Savior, our Lord, and our Shepherd.