Ecclesiastes 12:1, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;”
This morning, the world praises youth and its vitality, beauty, and perceived innocence. While there are quite a few benefits to youth, there are also drawbacks as well. Wisdom generally comes with age, and energy generally comes from youth. On counts such as these, we can see the pros and cons of both groups. However, what the world praises about beauty stands in stark contrast to Solomon’s declaration and command. To understand Solomon’s command, we must also shun the world’s praise. When the youth revel in the world’s praise of them, they will never come to the proper point of doing what Solomon commands. What does the world say? Live life, have fun, do your thing, and enjoy it while it lasts. Seems that today I meet quite a number of adults that try to live vicariously through the youth of their children. While trying to satisfy their own longing for youthful pleasure, they compound the problem by setting their children up for the same heartache of the aged that they now feel.
When reading books like Ecclesiastes, we must keep in mind what glasses we should read it with. For example, I would not attempt to read the book of Jeremiah expecting to find an account of joyful seasons in serving the Lord. Nor would I read the book of Song of Solomon expecting to find declarations of God’s judgment for disobedience. Likewise, we should not read the book of Ecclesiastes expecting a long discourse about life after death. The reason we should not expect such is because Solomon writes this book with the express purpose of showing the mindset of life “under the sun.” (Chapter 1) Indeed, Solomon had joyful seasons as Song of Solomon shows, but this book shows the heartache of life, his experience with vanity, and the ultimate end of such a thought. Keeping this in mind, we should approach this book’s thoughts on death with the understanding that they are intentionally penned with a short-sighted perspective.
Solomon had not failed to believe in life after death – Ecclesiastes 12:7 shows that – but he shows vividly that man’s “naturalness” despises death and oftentimes thinks of it with myopic vision. The expression(s) “all is vanity,” “vanity of vanities,” “vanity and vexation of spirit” occur repeatedly throughout this short (12 chapter) book. If not mistaken, this book has 33 occurrences of expressions with the word “vanity” contained in it. That is quite a hefty percentage of this book considering its size, but that is the ultimate conclusion of the “under the sun” perspective. However, as the 11th chapter winds down and the 12th opens, we see a major uplook in Solomon.
The for the first 11 chapters Solomon repeats a theme that revolves around death. Death comes to all. Whether just or unjust, young or old, rich or poor, or any other contrast we could find, death comes to everyone. Solomon even gets to the point of saying that the strongest do not always win a battle nor do the swift always win a race. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Death can come prematurely (from a natural perspective) much like fish caught in a net. (Ecclesiastes 9:12) These thoughts build on like thoughts and principles from chapters 5-8. After such a woeful discussion about the certainty of death, the premature nature of it at times, the cutting down of man’s natural might and speed, what is natural man’s answer? If these things are going to come and sometimes come faster than we think, what do we do?
“Under the sun” thinking says, “Well, then do it while you’re young. Enjoy it while you can.” Solomon visits this thought at the close of chapter 11. The last two verses of the chapter describe the vanity of taking pleasure in youth while it is available. Rather, the youth should put away evil, heartache, and sorrow. The worst possible thing a youth can do is enjoy it while it lasts, for his condition when older will be the sad state of many today that bemoan their lack of spirituality when younger in years. Or worse still, they will encourage others to do likewise to enjoy it “through them” by watching them enjoy it.
The answer of life as to what we should do knowing that death is coming, maybe prematurely, and our strength and beauty will fail is to remember God. Solomon commands that He, our Creator, be remembered in the days of our youth. There are many reasons why, but the primary reason is described in detail in the succeeding verses. Verses 2-7 give perhaps one of the most vivid descriptions of the physical sorrows of old age. The keepers of the house shall tremble – nervous system breaks down. Strong men shall bow themselves – hunch over in later years. Grinders shall cease – teeth begin to fall out. Those that look out of the windows shall be darkened – eyesight begins to fail. Doors are shut with the sound of the grinding being low – hearing begins to fail. Rise at the sound of the bird – sleep becomes restless. Be afraid of that which is high with fear being in the way – become nervous and scared of even life’s smallest things. Almond tree shall flourish – hair turns gray. Grasshopper shall be a burden – strength begins to fail. Man goeth to his long sought home and the mourners go about in the street – we die and have a funeral service. Silver cord is loosed, golden bowl broken, pitcher broken at the fountain, and wheel at the cistern – spinal cord weakens, mind fails, loss of bladder and organ control.
While all of that is not a pretty picture or pleasant to consider, what advantage is there of youth? The youth does not have the physical ailments such as these to impede his service to God. By keeping the Creator in mind while young there is a vast well of physical reserve to serve God without impediment. This does not let the aged “off the hook” as it were, but it should certainly be a bold encouragement to the young not to wait on God’s service but actively engage to the best of our abilities and the fulness of talents that He has given.
Another good reason to remember Him while young is that habits in youth follow us when older. Solomon encouraged parents to bring their children up in the right way so that their later years would be marked by this good habit of Godly living. (Proverbs 22:6) It is a wonderful habit to form that church service is not an optional activity. When I was a boy, I never woke up on Sunday morning and said, “I wonder if we’re going to church today.” Many times my Saturdays also included church, but that was never optional, and by habitual practice, my youth was spent in much remembrance of God, which my older years are very thankful for. Nor should our days while not in the house of God wonder if prayer and study are optional. We should not ask, “I wonder if I will pray and study today?” Rather, we should joyfully and diligently make every day a good day for prayer and study.
Another point to youthful remembrance of God besides the physical benefits and foundations of good habits is that remembrance of Him while young can often be the memories that we have the longest. Have you ever talked with an older person that may not even have Alzheimer’s Disease, but had lived long enough that their memory had “holes” in it? They were not senile but had just tacked a lot of mileage on their odometer. What do they remember the most? What recollections have the fondest place in their memories and hearts? They remember the days of their youth, and might forget about last week but can remember 50+ years into the past. If these memories will stay with us the longest, then we should definitely build them with good stones of Godly remembrance. When the evil days of life begin to set upon us when in our twilight years, may we have fond thoughts of God and His mercies to draw from as vivid and fresh benefits for those trying days.
Life “seems” too busy to focus on God and things of him many times. The world can easily shut out the things of God for days by occupying it with the cares and trials of life. May our days dwell upon thoughts of Christ and things Divine – remembering our Creator. One might say, “But I am now old.” Or they might say, “I didn’t do this when I was younger, so what do I think about now?” The wise man Solomon frittered away much time in service to God, and we might even say that “some” of his younger days were spent in idolatry. However, he did not encourage the youth but lay down himself. Quite often, I have seen some older people throw up their hands in defeat saying, “Well, I waited too long. There’s nothing I can do now.”
Notice that Solomon admonished his son later in this chapter to take good heed to what he said. (Verse 12) But, Solomon did not let himself off the hook either. Verse 9 shows that the aged can display wisdom even if they were foolish in their youth. So what happens if our youthful days are spent in the pleasures of life, forsaking the thoughts of our Creator? Do we lay down in defeat or expect our children to follow our same destructive pattern? No, our wisdom comes by setting good proverbs and thoughts in order for those coming after us. May they still fall victim to similar things? Possibly, but we should still not neglect our duty to serve God no matter our age. Youthful abilities have their benefits and aged wisdom is priceless. But whether young or old, we should all fear God and keep His commandments, for that is our whole duty while we live upon this plane under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)