Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Growing Old

Ecclesiastes 12:1 ¶ 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;

This last chapter begins with words of wise counsel for young people. It is usually when we are young that one is most full of energy and physically strong and healthy enough to most enjoy God’s wonderful creation. It is in our youth that our gifts and abilities are at their peak and the limitations to our service before the Lord are least. In my experience, age doesn’t diminish the desire to enjoy life to its fullest and give God our best, but the aging process does begin to limit our physical capabilities.

As I continued to look at these verses, the word “remember” stood out to me. In other words, don’t let the enticements of the flesh that are so strong in our younger years interfere with your relationship with your Creator, Almighty God. It also implies that this will take a conscious effort; life is full of distractions.

Ecclesiastes 12:2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:

This verse begins a series of word pictures as to the effects of aging. I remember reading this chapter with a whole new sense of understanding when I first became aware of this connection.

Though not as obvious to me as some of the other word pictures, this verse is understood by many to be referencing the functioning of the mind. In connection with the previous verse, it is a well known fact that our learning capabilities are at their peak when we are young. As we grow older, our mental capacities seem to darken; we become more forgetful. It’s a time that we fear the onset of dementia in some form or other.

Ecclesiastes 12:3 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,

This verse goes on to describe the weakening of our arms and legs (the keepers of the house) and the change in posture that often results from bone loss and lack of exercise. Many begin to lose their teeth (grinders) and our vision (those that look out of the windows) begins to suffer and to be more dependent on light. I can already relate to this observation. My mom used to nag me about reading in better light; that is no longer necessary since I can’t read many things without additional light at this stage of life.

Ecclesiastes 12:4 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;

This verse seems to be referencing the gradual loss of hearing that many experience. It seems we are always asking our children to be a little quieter as parents; by the time we are great-grandparents we often want them to speak a little louder. Also referenced is the tendency to wake up with “the voice of the bird” in the early morning; you don’t seem to be able to sleep as well as you once did.

We are very blessed in this day and age to have the knowledge, medical advances and technology to slow down and/or compensate for many of the natural effects of aging.

Ecclesiastes 12:5-6 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: 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.

As we get older, we tend to become more fearful of heights or situations that pose difficulties due to our weakening physical capabilities. The flourishing of the almond tree is a reference to the budding white blossoms and seems to paint a picture of our hair turning white.

Other translations indicate that “the grasshopper shall be a burden” is referencing the difficulty in mobility that often accompanies weakness and joint afflictions such as arthritis.

The desires of the flesh no longer hold the temptation they once did. The Hebrew makes specific reference to the caper berry, an aphrodisiac, and could therefore be specific reference to waning sexual desire.

The last part of the verse is referencing approaching death. I learned a bit more this time through regarding the silver cord, golden bowl, pitcher, fountain and wheel at the cistern. I had just made the reference to death in general. Some of the commentaries connected the silver cord to the spine, the golden bowl to the brain, the pitcher at the fountain to the heart and bloodflow, and the wheel at the cistern to the digestive system. Death usually results from a breaking down of bodily function in one of these areas.

Ecclesiastes 12:7-8 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

At death the body naturally decays and turns back to dust. Solomon recognized that there is a life force, the spirit, that he pictures as returning to God. I think he is emphasizing that as the Creator who gave that spirit life, God will determine the eternal future of that spirit. Solomon’s conclusion as he observes the natural flow of life is that it is worthless and empty unless one remembers the Creator in the days of his youth (cf v1).

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