ALTHOUGH THE TEACHER NEVER arrives at the fullness of perspective that characterizes the writers of the new covenant Scriptures, his skepticism now shrinks as he encourages some fundamental stances that depend absolutely on a just God who knows the end from the beginning, even if we do not. In this vein, he has already told his readers two things: (a) refuse to live just for today; boldly invest in the future, remembering that this world is God’s (Eccl. 11:1-6); (b) live gratefully and joyfully with the good gifts you have received (Eccl. 11:7-10).
In Ecclesiastes 12, Qoheleth offers one final exhortation: be godly, beginning in your youth; for whether or not we find meaning “from below,” we may be certain that God brings everything to judgment. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Eccl. 12:1), the Teacher writes. To “remember” God is not simply to recall the bare fact of his existence, but to abandon all illusions of independence and self-sufficiency as God regains his rightful centrality in our lives. God made everything, he alone sees the entire pattern, he is the One who has put eternity into our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). He is the One who made everything good, and we are the ones who have done so much damage with our schemes (Eccl. 7:29).
So remember him, Qoheleth exhorts us, “before the days of trouble come” (Eccl. 12:1)—and then in graphic terms he spells out what old age looks like. In advanced years we may no longer find pleasure in our days (Eccl. 12:1). We reach the winter of life (Eccl. 12:2); we become like an old, decaying house, falling apart, with only a few relics left (Eccl. 12:3). Our hearing fades (Eccl. 12:4b); instead of robust walking or skipping over rocks, we are afraid of heights and fearful of being jostled in the streets. The almond tree has a dark head in winter and turns white with spring blossoms, just as our hair turns white (Eccl. 12:5). Suffering from arthritis and worn-out joints, we hobble along like an ungainly grasshopper (Eccl. 12:5). The silver cord is probably the spinal cord, the golden bowl the skull; the pitcher is the heart: everything decays, and we return to the dust from which we sprang—as God himself, this side of the curse, has said we would (Gen. 3:19). It is far from clear that by “our eternal home” (Eccl. 12:5) and “the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7) Qoheleth means everything that New Testament writers mean by such expressions, yet even he is now quite certain that “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing” (Eccl. 12:14). So, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13).