Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over.
Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends.
The body is put back in the same ground it came from.
The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it.
The words of the wise prod us to live well.
They’re like nails hammered home, holding life together.
They are given by God, the one Shepherd.
But regarding anything beyond this, dear friend, go easy. There’s no end to the publishing of books, and constant study wears you out and you’re no good for anything else.
The last and final word is this:
Do what he tells you.
And that’s it. Eventually God will bring everything that we do out into the open and judge it according to its hidden intent, whether it is good or evil.
Ecclesiastes ends with the somber reality that all of life, everything that gives us significance, is temporary. In light of this temporary existence, the simple encouragement from the Teacher is to respect God and be responsive to how we sense God’s call in our life.
At a visceral level, this is dangerous. We want to have a clear path charted for us that will give us the security in knowing that we have lived our life well and that our efforts will endure. We need to know that in the unknown existence beyond what we experience now, we will have security.
And so, we organize our lives into a neat, orderly existence. We categorize our life into spiritual investments—so much “devotional” times, church attendance, Bible reading, community service—that will pay dividends to us on the other side. The pursuit of the spiritual equation can lock us into a life that is religiously respectable, but does not enliven our spirit or provide the experience of God’s tangible presence.
The Teacher’s words break us out of worshiping our religious constructs by offering the simplest wisdom: Fear God. Do what he tells you. And that’s it. It makes me think of similar summations, such as Micah 6:8 or Matthew 22:36-40.
The encouragement to me from the Teacher is this: We have vast universes of possible faithfulness extending beyond our comprehension. The systems of behavior that we manufacture to feel secure in our relationship with God are also meaningless, not because they were not important, but because from God’s perspective, they are too miniscule. We have freedom in following after God when we understand that his relentless grace is revealed to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and that all possible gain from spiritual exertion begins and ends in what Jesus has done. He is the constant in the equation, the security in the unknown future, and the revelation of the spirit of God, the source of all life.
- Michael Shepherd