The Conclusion of the Matter
Ecc 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. Ecc 12:14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
Today, we conclude our series of blogs on the book of Ecclesiastes. In verses 1-6, Solomon gives a really insightful metaphor for the aging process and then gives the final outcome: dust (our bodies) returns to the earth, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecc 12:7). Since we are all headed for the same physical outcome then we should take heed to the final words of the Preacher. The only thing that really matters is living a life marked by the fear of God and a mindset to let our works align with His commands.
To really appreciate Solomon's words, we need to take just a moment to reflect on Solomon's life and what it should have been. In these last words, we basically here Solomon telling us "don't do things like I did them!". So where did Solomon go wrong? It wasn't any one thing that he did, but rather a series of bad (sinful) decisions. In Deuteronomy 17, God outlines the requirements of the Israelite king. He (the king) is forbidden from multiplying horses and chariots, amassing huge amounts of gold, and multiplying wives unto himself. And yet I Kings 10 & 11 record that Solomon did exactly what was forbidden. Solomon had many horses and chariots (I Kings 10:26, 28-29), acquired tons of gold (I Kings 10:14-25), and had many wives and concubines (I Kings 11:1-8). He eventually worshiped other gods
Chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes really illustrates Solomon's pursuit of happiness "under the sun". He tried laughter, women, wine, song, accomplishments, achievements, and basically any thing his eyes wanted, he took (Ecclesiastes 2:10)! But none of these things made him happy. Ironically, the wisest man in the world who had everything he could ever want (and then some) came to this conclusion...."I hated life"!!!!!! (Ecc 2:17a emphasis mine). Why did Solomon hate his life? Because he took all of the commands that God had given him....and did exactly the opposite!!! Many of us go through life with such frustration. We feel that "if only... (fill in the blank)" would happen, then we could be happy. But here is a man who got everything he ever wanted and realized that it wasn't enough! And I wonder how many of us get what we wanted and then realize that it really wasn't what we wanted after all? That's one of the great lies of Satan. He has been telling this lie ever since the Garden of Eden. The lie is this- you would be much happier if you just had the thing that God withheld from you. Adam and Eve got what they "wanted". And they quickly realized that it wasn't what they really wanted at all. God gave them the command to save their lives, not to withhold pleasure from them.
Solomon realized at the end, that the only things that matter have to do with living life with God as the focus, not on the periphery. His admonition to "fear God" is one that we should not take lightly. I think we (preachers) have really tried to soften these words by saying "you shouldn't be afraid of God". Well, obviously there is a sense in which we are to come boldly before the throne of grace (Hebrews 4), but there is another dynamic and facet to God's character; holiness. When Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples were more afraid of Him then, than when the seas and winds were raging. When John (the disciple that Jesus loved...the one who leaned on his breast at the Last Supper) saw Jesus on the isle of Patmos- he fell at His feet as a dead man (Rev 1:17a). Any time men had encounters with God in the bible, they were notably and visibly shaken. The point is, that we need to live our lives with a reverential fear of the LORD which is the beginning of wisdom.
Finally, Solomon concludes with a reminder about judgment. There are two notable judgments in scripture: one for the believer in Christ, and one for the unbeliever. The believer will appear before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10-12 & II Corinthians 5:9-10) to receive reward or loss for the things done in the body (good or bad). Those who have rejected Christ and His words will appear at the White Throne judgment, described in Revelation 20:11-15. This will not be a place to make plea bargains or make final appeals to be granted entrance into heaven. This will merely be a sentencing event. Those whose names are not found in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire. These are somber words, but they are intended to be. Ecclesiastes ends without folly or vanity. We are encouraged to enjoy the life that God has given to us. We are admonished to make the most of our youth (while remembering our Creator), to enjoy companionship with the people we love, and we've received quite a bit of good practical advice; everything ranging from financial matters to interpersonal communications. But in the end, we are reminded that life is short, death is certain, and we will all stand before God one day. And in the end, that's all that really matters.