(Ecclesiastes 12:9-14) Remember the first time you walked your child to the front door of the school? They seemed so small, excited but scared. You gave them a hug and some final words of wisdom before they disappeared into the hall.
Jump ahead twelve years or so to a different school and a different door. They were older but still seemed so small, excited, and a bit scared. You gave them a hug and again shared with them some final words of wisdom. This time you disappeared; driving away, afraid to look into the rearview mirror.
There are many times in life when last words are shared. Though the occasions may be so different, the intent of the conversation is the same. Our desire is to communicate that which is most important. These are not times for silly, frivolous communication. Rather, these times are serious and call for serious words.
King Solomon understood such. He has brought his readers to the end of his journal. He has taken them on his journey of discovery. What was he looking for? Simply, life worth living, and he looked for it everywhere.
Now his hand grows weary from writing but there is still one more thought that he needs to pass on to those who have stayed with him on his quest for meaning. But unlike the vast majority of what he has plainly, bluntly stated about his discoveries, these last words do not tell of emptiness, meaninglessness, or chasing after wind. Instead, this wise king shares the great truth concerning how any person can find a full and satisfying life.
“And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yes, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find acceptable words, and what was written was upright—words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd. And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh.” (vv.9-12, NKJV)
His words are intended to move us along in our quest. They are like goads used to keep the flock moving in the direction the shepherd desires. The good shepherd wants his flock to eat in the green pastures and drink from the cool, still waters. He wants to move them into the safe place when the enemy was stalking, threatening the security and wellbeing of those in his care.
His final words will bring the same strength into life as a well-placed, well-driven nail adds structural soundness to a building. Just as a sure foundation will hold the house in the midst of a storm, what Solomon is ready to pass on to us is the foundation on which our lives are best built.
And, his final words have a single source or as he put it, “given by one Shepherd.” Surprisingly, he and his life filled with the gamut of experiences is not the source. He is not about to share the collected wisdom of countless sages, nor the expressed opinion of the majority. No, these are not the shepherd of whom he writes.
Who is the shepherd? In general, it is God. In particular, it is Jesus Christ. Ever wonder why Jesus called Himself the Shepherd? Could He have been tying Himself back to themes like that of Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd,” or Ezekiel 34, the good Shepherd who pursues His wandering sheep? Could Jesus have been linking Himself to Solomon’s closing words, so we could know that to live a life of satisfaction we must live our lives in Him?
Read closely, listen carefully as King Solomon shares his final words from his journal. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
The king who tried it all says that the conclusion of it all is to first “fear God.” This is not to be terrified of God but to know Him for Who He is and honor Him. It is more than simply knowing that there is a God or things about God. As Jesus’ half-brother James wrote, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19) To fear is God is to know Him and with that knowledge to allow Him to mold your way of thinking and living. Solomon says the same thing, writing, “keep His commandments.” Jesus said, “If you love me, keep My commands.” (John 14:15).
Why are fearing and obeying God the end of the matter? Solomon writes, “for this is man’s all.” Some translations word it this way: “this is the whole duty of man” (KJV, ESV, NIV). However, in the original language it simply says, “this is the whole of man.” This more clearly catches the intent of what God wants humanity to know. We are not what we are made to be until God is where He needs to be in our lives. We will never live the abundant life until all that is our life is centered in God; not doing things for Him but placing ourselves in Him. That’s why Jesus came. He came to be the path to the Father; to be the truth of Father; to be the source of our life.
I wonder how long it took for Solomon to reach the end of his journey, to discover the conclusion of the matter. Perhaps a lifetime. It would be sad if it took any of us a lifetime. Let’s listen to and learn from a king who had tried it all to find life. Let’s exchange chasing after the wind with following after Christ.