Online Bible Commentary
The Difficult Days
Ecclesiastes 12:1 Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, "I have no pleasure in them": 2 While the sun and the light, The moon and the stars, Are not darkened, And the clouds do not return after the rain; 3 In the day when the keepers of the house tremble, And the strong men bow down; When the grinders cease because they are few, And those that look through the windows grow dim; 4 When the doors are shut in the streets, And the sound of grinding is low; When one rises up at the sound of a bird, And all the daughters of music are brought low; 5 Also they are afraid of height, And of terrors in the way; When the almond tree blossoms, The grasshopper is a burden, And desire fails. For man goes to his eternal home, And the mourners go about the streets. 6 Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, Or the golden bowl is broken, Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, Or the wheel broken at the well. 7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it. (NKJV)
King Solomon, son of David, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes late in his life. As a young man of nineteen, he asked God for wisdom and God made him the wisest man in the world.
In the previous passage Solomon counsels us to enjoy life and fear God while we are young because old age will come soon enough. In this passage he expands on this theme by detailing the ravages of old age on the body.
In youth we are to “remember…our creator” (v. 1a). This is a reference to enjoying God’s creation while fearing God’s judgment. The “difficult days” are the days when we must deal with the effects of old age (v. 1b). Old age may bring “years” of “no pleasure” as one is bed ridden or otherwise disabled (v. 1c). Before the difficult days we are still able to enjoy God’s creation: the sun and its sunshine, the moon, the stars, and the clear skies after the rain (v. 2).
But “in the day” that old age comes upon us our hands, the “keepers of the house”, “tremble” (v. 3a). Our once “strong” back is bowed “down”, hunched over (v. 3b). Our teeth, “the grinders”, have ceased to work “because they are few” (v. 3c). Our eyes, “those that look through the windows”, have grown “dim” (v. 3d).
Our hearing is diminished. The sounds of the street are muted as if “the doors are shut in the streets” (v. 4a). The loud sound of the mill “grinding is low” (v. 4b).
Sleep escapes us as we awaken early with “the sound of a bird”, or perhaps a rooster (v. 4c). Our vocal cords become impaired causing our voice to crack and become unsteady, as “all the daughters of music are brought low” (v. 4d).
We are susceptible to falls, causing us to be “afraid of height” (v. 5a). We are afraid also because we are not able to fend off criminals, “terrors in the way” (v. 5b). “The almond tree blossoms” is a reference to our hair turning white and then falling to the ground (v. 5c).
Lifting even the slightest object, such as that of “the grasshopper”, becomes “a burden” due to the weakness of our body (v.5d), which also causes “desire” for the activities of daily living, such as eating, to fail. Finally, “man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets” during his funeral procession (v. 5e).
In conclusion, Solomon returns to the theme of enjoying life and fearing God, remembering “your Creator”, while young because death comes to all (v. 6a). “The silver cord is loosed” meaning the spirit leaves the body (v. 6b). “Or the golden bowl is broken”, meaning the brain in the cranial cavity stops functioning (v. 6c). Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain”, meaning the pumping of the heart stops (v. 6d). “Or the wheel broken at the well”, meaning the water supply is stopped, such as in dehydration (v. 6e). All are causes of death.
“Then the dust will return to the earth as it was”, meaning our bodies will return to the earth (v. 7a). “And the spirit will return to God who gave it”, a reference to the spirit of the believer ascending to be with God in Heaven (v. 7b).
These days of old age are the difficult days. I have seen this first hand when ministering to the aged and the dying as a hospice chaplain. They are difficult days because of the physical challenges that have come upon them.
However, for Christians, the difficult days become a time of looking ahead. They look forward to God releasing them from bodies that no longer function as they should. They look forward to God releasing them from pain and debility. They look forward to their new life with Christ in Heaven. Even during the difficult days they know peace and joy. Their relationship with Jesus Christ sustains them through the difficult days.