Day 31: The whole duty of man (12:12-14)
“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. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (12:12-14).
Before we get to our punchline, as a conclusion to the Preacher’s earlier thoughts, a word needs saying about books. The Preacher comes across as a breath of fresh air, insofar he was widely read and books played a vital part in his understanding of the world. But there are limits as he had explained earlier – having studied a lot of what went on in the world, he concluded all was chasing the wind. Now he adds that there is no end to doing such studies, which is a weariness of the flesh.
He ends advising us on what we need to do, and it is straightforward and simple enough for any of us to grasp, if we have the resolve so to do: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. In our earlier study on Proverbs, we reflected upon an important point: the fear of the Lord. Years on, we see Solomon has not changed his mind. We saw from the original language that fear covered a wide spectrum from respect to dread. While YHWH God is portrayed, even in the OT, as a loving father and husband, he is someone to be feared and this is best encapsulated in the notions of awe and reverence. Fear, sadly, at least for things or rather the One that matters, is often missing in today’s culture, including those who profess belief in God. Yet fearing God is mentioned twice as many times as loving and trusting God combined, both OT and NT, and for the Preacher it is the very thing that is needed for living life that to many can only be viewed as under the sun, but to those who believe needs to be lived in the light of what is beyond the sun – in accordance with God’s commands, which we are required to keep. While, as believers in the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have confidence on the Day of Judgement, not in our good works but rather in His finished work, the Preacher’s final words are a sober reminder of why we should fear God: For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. We can easily pass ourselves off as righteous etc., but God is able to judge our motives and actions and can see things about us that no-one else sees. And while these thoughts are sobering, they are also thrilling, because life now has meaning and we have purpose, despite life’s vanity and much chasing after the wind. Even so, we will, as we always have, experience both good and bad in life (we are not immune), but our marching orders are clear, i.e.: Fear God, and keep his commandments!
Prayer: Dear Lord, we thank you for the many amazing lessons we have learned from Ecclesiastes. May we be those who fear you and keep your commandments.
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