Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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;
1. As Ec 11:9, 10 showed what youths are to shun, so this verse shows what they are to follow.
Creator—"Remember" that thou art not thine own, but God's property; for He has created thee (Ps 100:3). Therefore serve Him with thy "all" (Mr 12:30), and with thy best days, not with the dregs of them (Pr 8:17; 22:6; Jer 3:4; La 3:27). The Hebrew is "Creators," plural, implying the plurality of persons, as in Ge 1:26; so Hebrew, "Makers" (Isa 54:5).
while … not—that is, before that (Pr 8:26) the evil days come; namely, calamity and old age, when one can no longer serve God, as in youth (Ec 11:2, 8).
no pleasure—of a sensual kind (2Sa 19:35; Ps 90:10). Pleasure in God continues to the godly old (Isa 46:4).
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
2. Illustrating "the evil days" (Jer 13:16). "Light," "sun," &c., express prosperity; "darkness," pain and calamity (Isa 13:10; 30:26).
clouds … after … rain—After rain sunshine (comfort) might be looked for, but only a brief glimpse of it is given, and the gloomy clouds (pains) return.
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
3. keepers of the house—namely, the hands and arms which protected the body, as guards do a palace (Ge 49:24; Job 4:19; 2Co 5:1), are now palsied.
strong men … bow—(Jud 16:25, 30). Like supporting pillars, the feet and knees (So 5:15); the strongest members (Ps 147:10).
grinders—the molar teeth.
those that look out of the windows—the eyes; the powers of vision, looking out from beneath the eyelids, which open and shut like the casement of a window.
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
4. doors—the lips, which are closely shut together as doors, by old men in eating, for, if they did not do so, the food would drop out (Job 41:14; Ps 141:3; Mic 7:5).
in the streets—that is, toward the street, "the outer doors" [Maurer and Weiss].
sound of … grinding—The teeth being almost gone, and the lips "shut" in eating, the sound of mastication is scarcely heard.
the bird—the cock. In the East all mostly rise with the dawn. But the old are glad to rise from their sleepless couch, or painful slumbers still earlier, namely, when the cock crows, before dawn (Job 7:4) [Holden]. The least noise awakens them [Weiss].
daughters of music—the organs that produce and that enjoy music; the voice and ear.
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
5. that which is high—The old are afraid of ascending a hill.
fears … in the way—Even on the level highway they are full of fears of falling, &c.
almond … flourish—In the East the hair is mostly dark. The white head of the old among the dark-haired is like an almond tree, with its white blossoms, among the dark trees around [Holden]. The almond tree flowers on a leafless stock in winter (answering to old age, in which all the powers are dormant), while the other trees are flowerless. Gesenius takes the Hebrew for flourishes from a different root, casts off; when the old man loses his gray hairs, as the almond tree casts its white flowers.
grasshoppers—the dry, shrivelled, old man, his backbone sticking out, his knees projecting forwards, his arms backwards, his head down, and the apophyses enlarged, is like that insect. Hence arose the fable, that Tithonus in very old age was changed into a grasshopper [Parkhurst]. "The locust raises itself to fly"; the old man about to leave the body is like a locust when it is assuming its winged form, and is about to fly [Maurer].
a burden—namely, to himself.
desire shall fail—satisfaction shall be abolished. For "desire," Vulgate has "the caper tree," provocative of lust; not so well.
long home—(Job 16:22; 17:13).
mourners—(Jer 9:17-20), hired for the occasion (Mt 9:23).
Or ever the 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.
6. A double image to represent death, as in Ec 12:1-5, old age: (1) A lamp of frail material, but gilded over, often in the East hung from roofs by a cord of silk and silver interwoven; as the lamp is dashed down and broken, when the cord breaks, so man at death; the golden bowl of the lamp answers to the skull, which, from the vital preciousness of its contents, may be called "golden"; "the silver cord" is the spinal marrow, which is white and precious as silver, and is attached to the brain. (2) A fountain, from which water is drawn by a pitcher let down by a rope wound round a wheel; as, when the pitcher and wheel are broken, water can no more be drawn, so life ceases when the vital energies are gone. The "fountain" may mean the right ventricle of the heart; the "cistern," the left; the pitcher, the veins; the wheel, the aorta, or great artery [Smith]. The circulation of the blood, whether known or not to Solomon, seems to be implied in the language put by the Holy Ghost into his mouth. This gloomy picture of old age applies to those who have not "remembered their Creator in youth." They have none of the consolations of God, which they might have obtained in youth; it is now too late to seek them. A good old age is a blessing to the godly (Ge 15:15; Job 5:26; Pr 16:31; 20:29).
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
7. dust—the dust-formed body.
spirit—surviving the body; implying its immortality (Ec 3:11).
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.
8-12. A summary of the first part.
Vanity, &c.—Resumption of the sentiment with which the book began (Ec 1:2; 1Jo 2:17).
And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.
9. gave good heed—literally, "he weighed." The "teaching the people" seems to have been oral; the "proverbs," in writing. There must then have been auditories assembled to hear the inspired wisdom of the Preacher. See the explanation of Koheleth in the Introduction, and chapter 1 (1Ki 4:34).
that which is written, &c.—rather, (he sought) "to write down uprightly (or, 'aright') words of truth" [Holden and Weiss]. "Acceptable" means an agreeable style; "uprightly … truth," correct sentiment.
The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.
The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.
11. goads—piercing deeply into the mind (Ac 2:37; 9:5; Heb 4:12); evidently inspired words, as the end of the verse proves.
fastened—rather, on account of the Hebrew genders, (The words) "are fastened (in the memory) like nails" [Holden].
masters of assemblies—rather, "the masters of collections (that is, collectors of inspired sayings, Pr 25:1), are given ('have published them as proceeding' [Holden]) from one Shepherd," namely, the Spirit of Jesus Christ [Weiss], (Eze 37:24). However, the mention of "goads" favors the English Version, "masters of assemblies," namely, under-shepherds, inspired by the Chief Shepherd (1Pe 5:2-4). Schmidt translates, "The masters of assemblies are fastened (made sure) as nails," so Isa 22:23.
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
12. (See on Ec 1:18).
many books—of mere human composition, opposed to "by these"; these inspired writings are the only sure source of "admonition."
(over much) study—in mere human books, wearies the body, without solidly profiting the soul.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
13. The grand inference of the whole book.
Fear God—The antidote to following creature idols, and "vanities," whether self-righteousness (Ec 7:16, 18), or wicked oppression and other evils (Ec 8:12, 13), or mad mirth (Ec 2:2; 7:2-5), or self-mortifying avarice (Ec 8:13, 17), or youth spent without God (Ec 11:9; 12:1).
this is the whole duty of man—literally, "this is the whole man," the full ideal of man, as originally contemplated, realized wholly by Jesus Christ alone; and, through Him, by saints now in part, hereafter perfectly (1Jo 3:22-24; Re 22:14).
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
14. For God shall bring every work into judgment—The future judgment is the test of what is "vanity," what solid, as regards the chief good, the grand subject of the book.