“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10)
I find it interesting that Solomon the King would mention youth and old age in the same breath (Eccl.12:1). Yes, I do remember the days of my youth, and I do so with joy, but I regret how little time I focused on eternal things. I was careless and I was unmindful of how quickly time would pass. NOW, suddenly, I am an old man, and unprepared for the reality of old age.
NOW, how do I address this subject of Old Age? Where do I start? I will go forward slowly and carefully, because I feel a bit uncomfortable, since I am daring to walk upon ground that I have not walked upon before. Growing “OLD” IS A BIG FRIGHTENING, ISSUE FOR ME; an area of uncertainty; charged with emotions and unknowns. Not like, when, Solomon brought up the subject of old age and dying; he did so knowing that there was a change coming in the wind – unpleasant “evil days.” His thoughts were described as “vanity of vanities…all is vanity – meaning, they were ‘empty’ or void of answers (Eccl. 12:8-9). I believe he was thus emphasizing the futility of understanding life and death without a knowledge of Christ. However, I rejoice that, as a teenager, I put my hope of sins forgiven and a home in Heaven in God’s promise of eternal life through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, “know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Cor. 15:58).”
Stuart Hamblin, a member of Billy Graham’s Gospel Team wrote a popular song, “This Old House.” When I hear it, my mind’s eye, sees a house that is decrepit and falling down – a metaphor for old age and a person in decline; I picture a human body touched by old age.
In Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 we find the fullest and most imaginative descriptions of old age and death found anywhere in the Bible. However, followers of “Higher Criticism” have, for centuries, questioned its meaning and tried to unravel the complexities of Solomon’s wisdom found in the Book of Ecclesiastes. These teachers have, searched both long and hard, to find the meaning of the text before us. Some of these connections go back to the Targums (Jewish interpretive translations into Aramaic dating as early as the first century a.D.). The connections are difficult to substantiate since many of them are not confirmed elsewhere. (Bible Background Commentary – The IVP Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament.) I am, herewith, humbly sharing with you, my own, short opinion and what a few others teachers have supplied:
(1) “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth” = Attention, the clock of life is ticking and is wound but once! Life is short and moves so very fast and then, I Remember I must give an account of myself to God our Creator! This is “plural” in the original Hebrew referring to the Godhead as in Gen. 1:26; Isa. 54:5.
(2) “While the evil days come not” = The days of old age when we cannot serve with the same vigor and stamina as in the “good old day” of our youth. Waiting until tomorrow to get right with God may be one heartbeat too late.
(3) “Remembering too, “The years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them” = The passing years bring BIG changes, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1Cor.13:11). “While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:” = My dad would say, “Make hay while the sun is shining!” Warning! There has already come a time in my life when I am not able to do the things of youth or want to do the things of youth. Many of the things, I so much enjoyed, as a young man, are now but a distant memory.
Again, the words of the gospel songwriter paint an accurate portrait of life lived in old age, “Life’s evening sun is sinking low, a few more days and I must go to meet the deed that I have done, where there will be no setting sun! Remember too, the insightful words of Barzillzi, the King’s aged friend, “I am this day fourscore years old: and can I discern between good and evil? Can thy servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women? Wherefore then should thy servant be yet a burden unto my lord the king (2 Samuel 19:35).
(4) “The keepers of the house will tremble.” = The body is likened to an old house and our hands and arms are responsible for the housework and upkeep of the house. The hands are the guardians of the house and sometimes tremble. I sit now with unfinished project because my hands and feet will miss the target. No one would take me to the turkey shoot completion.
(5) “Strong men bow themselves.” = The legs, knees and shoulders are becoming feeble; causing me to walk bent over. I saw my reflection in the storefront window as I passed by and wandered “Who is that old Man?” Then, I recognized him… it was me! I have to seek help getting out of my seat and getting out of the car.
(6) “Grinders cease because they are few.” = With advancing age, most likely, you may start to lose your teeth as I have– one by one! And now, I must chew my food with great difficulty – meaning that I have to “gum” my food to death!
(7) “Look out of the windows” = My vision is deteriorating. I woke up one morning and realized that my arms are not long enough and I need to seek a physician for a cure for the dreaded “BB and B” Disease – Bifocals. Baldness and Bunions. Things don’t look or feel like they used to. My eye sight has weakened!
(8) “Doors (Plural) shall be shut in the street” = (two=ears) hearing is starting to fail; the ears often cannot pick up the outdoor sounds or words spoken in a crowd. My wife tells our friends and family that I am hard of hearing.” I protest! I am not! However, I do plead guilty, however, to having a problem with “selective” hearing.
(9) “Rise up at the voice of the bird” = Most Seniors are light sleepers and will wake up at the smallest sound; even the song of the birds (the lark or the rooster) early in the morning; but in hopes that they could sleep longer.
(10) “All the daughters of music shall be brought low = The voice weakens and quivers. The aging vocalists complain that they cannot hold their pitch. The good news is that they can still… “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD.” (Ps.100:1).
(11) “They shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way” = A classic fear for the elderly is of heights and of falling or tripping over an obstacle in the way. Their need is to find something close for support; a walking stick or a cane.
(12) “Desire shall fail” = Typically, senior citizens lose their appetite for many of the details of life. The things of this life become less focused and unimportant.
(13) “The almond tree shall flourish” = Perhaps, Solomon looked across the congregation of senior citizens and it reminded him of a grove of almond trees in full bloom – all white; a box of “Q-tips.”
(14) “The grasshopper shall be a burden” = is representative of an old man who is lean, crumpled up and emaciated, troublesome and difficult to move and is a burden. He is not a pleasant looking creature! His memory is like a grasshopper – skipping from thought to thought or memory to memory truly a burden to those afflicted with short-term or loss of memory.
(15) “Man goes to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets” = The hour of death in the community or home. A typical funeral in an ancient the Near Eastern County. The believer is at home with the Lord and the mourners are left behind in the streets. Eternity! Heaven is the long home, a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace…I want to see my Savior’s face
(16) “Silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern” = The end of life! An explanation of the failure of the apparatus for life. “The image is of a primitive apparatus (“The Silver cord, whose appointed function was to get the life giving water from a well to thirsty people (Rev 21:6) and suddenly, the machinery failed and the delivery of the water of life failed.
Again, the songwriter has said it well, “Someday the silver cord shall break and I no more as now shall sing, but, Oh the joy when I shall wake within the Palace of the King!
NOTE: (Some of these connections go back to the Targums (Jewish interpretive translations into Aramaic dating to as early as the first century a.d.), but the connections are difficult to substantiate since many of them are not attested elsewhere. So, for instance, to see the “golden bowl” as a reference to the brain would be unlikely, since in the ancient world they were unaware of the function of the brain. Could the silver cord be the aorta and the golden bowl the heart? The fact that no one can say shows the speculative nature of the whole line of interpretation. The Egyptian Teaching of Ptah-Hotep from the Middle Kingdom (first half of second millennium b.c.) opens with a dozen lines describing the effects of old age (such as eyes dimming, ears going deaf, bones aching, memory and discernment gone), but it speaks in straightforward terms rather than using metaphors.
(17) “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was:”= James 2:26 (KJV)
“For as the body without the spirit is dead; the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” The heart stops pumping, the blood stops circulating, and death comes. The spirit leaves the body (James 2:26; Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59), the body begins to decay, and eventually it turns to dust.
King Solomon, who identifies himself as the Preacher said, “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity.” He is emphasizing the emptiness of life without God, and when you look at life “under the sun,” everything does seem vain; but when you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you are promised “For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worked for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not
seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor.4:16-18).
A personal Note. I trusted Christ when I was 15 and the fact is He had me personally in mind when He went to the cross to satisfy my sin debt through His death, burial and resurrection. He then, gave me the gift of Eternal Life! I have already passed my” Final Exam: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”