The older I get, the more closely death creeps in around me. By that I don’t mean that I am sick and approaching death myself. While that is undoubtedly true, death isn’t near enough to me personally to be an immediate concern. Rather, more and more people near me and around me are dying. Lately, for me, most of those who have passed away have been children of God. This is not true for all of us – for you perhaps. But for me, their passing, although sad, has not been bitter. There has been a relief knowing that their suffering is finished. And there is a joy, knowing they are with the Lord, their Saviour.
Having been asked to participate in more than one funeral, I have been forced to consider the fact of death, the necessity of death and the inevitability of death. No, I didn’t preach from this scripture at Bro. Ken Johnson’s service last Tuesday. My message came from a much more obscure passage – Jeremiah 23. But, generally speaking, for several weeks my thoughts have been pushed toward this solemn subject. And I believe the Lord would have you to consider it as well. If you are as old as I am, you need to consider death, simply because it may be coming up. But even more, if you are still “in the days of thy youth” you should think about your death. Isn’t this what Ecclesiastes tells us?
Solomon uses an interesting phrase in verse 5 to speak about this subject. Eventually “man goeth to his long home.” Death is a move to our “long home.” Is that referring to our bodies or is it spiritual? Perhaps it’s both. If you want to think of the “long home” as a physical grave in a cemetery, you may. But a seven foot coffin in an eight foot grave is not particularly long. It might be better to think of it in the sense of time. We are moving to our last home – one where we shall dwell for a very long time – eternity. U.S. census figures tell us the average American moves 11.5 times during their lives. That is about once every 5 or 6 years – which is not a very long time. But the end of our lives, we will move to a place from which we will never move again. Eventually “man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets.”
Ecclesiastes 12 is one of the most concise and comprehensive studies of death in the Word of God.
Solomon waxes poetical here – poetical and highly metaphorical, while at the same time theological. As he does in Proverbs, he has counsel for young people – perhaps his own children. “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,” because youth is as fleeting as the seasons. When Judy and I left Post Falls last Friday it was autumn, but when we returned 5 days later it was winter. “Remember now thy Creator…” before the time comes when you will be forced to say, “I have no pleasure” left in my life let me die. It would be good if you young people could spend some time visiting one of the local nursing homes. There are people in homes throughout this valley, whose lives hold no joy or pleasure whatsoever. We all need to realize that in not much more than a blink of an eye, we could join them. And it doesn’t have to be some terrible disease falling on us late in life. A car accident this afternoon could put you into an irreversible vegetative state. We are all going to die, unless the Lord returns soon.
With verse 2 some commentators eloquently apply special meanings to each word. They say things like the “sun” refers to man’s spirit; the “moon” to man’s soul, and so on. But let’s be a bit more general than that – “with time comes the deterioration of our bodies.” And in the light of those old-age conditions, it makes caring for our bodies in our youth to be more important than we generally think. Medical science may slow, but it will never stop the deleterious effects of sin.
Consider the various allegories of the Christian life which we find in the Bible. There are things like “running a race,” “wrestling,” and “fighting the good fight” while wearing the Christian armor. As a rule these are activities and responsibilities of youth. The older we get the weaker we become, until we just aren’t quite as effective in such things. Physically speaking, I am not as good at running and wrestling as I once was, and I never was a fighter. I know these are pictures and metaphors, but follow the logic. Solomon is saying, “Let’s be active in such things while there is still opportunity and strength.”
In verses 3 and 4 he speaks poetically about several parts of our bodies. “Keepers of the house” and the “strong men” may be arms and legs. Do we need to describe weakened muscles, stiffened joints and brittle bones which age brings? I have heard that the way to determine if you are getting old is to sit in a rocking chair. If you can’t get it to rock, you’re getting old. Old age is when we find greener pastures, but we can’t climb the fence or open the gate. Solomon’s “grinders” are our teeth which become fewer and weaker as we get older. And “the windows” of our bodies get darker and dirtier as we age, limiting our ability to see.
There is really only one thing which improves with age – secular wisdom. With experience – well learned and received – comes wisdom. But as we get closer and closer to our three score and ten, the body becomes weaker. It is not something to curse, rather it just provides more hurdles and challenges. The Christian race is not a sprint; it is a marathon. But over time it morphs into a steeplechase or a hurdle race, requiring more focus and resolve. We may have more wisdom to spend on our physical lives, but we have less energy to put it to use.
Eventually Solomon comes to the separation of the soul and the body.
He calls it the “loosing of the silver cord.” I wonder if it was late in her life when Miss Crosby took this scripture to mold into her hymn. “Someday the silver cord will break, And I no more as now shall sing; But, oh, the joy when I shall wake; Within the palace of the King ! Someday my earthly house will fall; I cannot tell how soon t’will be; Someday, when fades the golden sun, Beneath the rosy tinted west, My blessed Lord will say, Well done!” And I shall enter into rest. And I shall see Him face to face, And tell the story—Saved by grace.”
Death is the separation of the body and soul. “The silver cord” may have some sort of scientific definition, but as yet the world of medicine hasn’t been able to isolate it. 75% of the time the doctor can tell us why so-and-so died, but sometime he can only generalize with something like – “His heart stopped.” When Bro. Johnson died last week, with his wife and youngest daughter holding his hands, he simply slipped away and his breathing stopped. Why? What was it? Was it like the last button being released and the shirt fell away, enabling the soul to escape? All we can say is that Jehovah ties the body and soul together during our lives – with a silver thread. And then there comes that appointed time when He unties the knot. The body is left for the relatives, but the spiritual part of the person is in the hands of God. “Some day the silver cord will break” – “It is appointed unto men once to die.”
Solomon then refers to the breaking of a pitcher – down by the fountain. The illustration of a pitcher is a good one. Our bodies are vessels, pieces of pottery – some plain, some fancy. And into that body God poured a soul. Christians are supposed to be “vessels unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” And throughout our earthly existence we are constantly being filled and emptied with substances beyond our souls. Joy and peace come and go; we are blessed and we bless others. Pain comes for a time and sometimes it is poured out and departs, but at other times it leaves a residue and stench which last for a long time. And then some of us permit ourselves to be filled with poisons, and we pour out those poisons on others.
A third illustration Solomon uses is that of a broken wheel. The wheel is a means of getting a job done – it is a tool. Our bodies and the lives contained in them are supposed to be God’s tools. A few years ago, after a few small strokes and then with the encroachment of Altzhimers, Brother Ken Johnson’s wheel became broken. It would function for short periods, providing a blessing to visitors or others in the nursing home, but almost immediately it would stop spinning again.
In the course of this chapter, Solomon speaks of people’s last tributes of affection.
For example there in verse 5 he refers to “the mourners.” What does the Lord think about sorrowing after the death of a loved one? As you look at the life of the Saviour, it could be different things. When the Lord Jesus came to the house of Jairus, He drove the mourners out of it. When He met the funeral procession at Nain, He refused to let it proceed. But in these cases it was His immediate purpose to raise the dead to life again. He wanted the world to know and acknowledge that He is the resurrection and life. But when it came to the sorrowing of Mary and Martha, He seemed to temporarily permit their grief. The only thing with disturbed and displeased Him was their lack of faith.
Further on in the New Testament the Apostle Paul seemed to say that mourning was permitted if it was Christian mourning. “Sorrow not as others which have no hope” in Christ or in the resurrection. The reason Christians grieve is not because of the death, but because of our separation. We sorrow for our loss, not for the deceased Christian’s gain. The funeral events last Monday and Tuesday were as much a time of fellowship and joyful remembrance as it was of emptiness and loss. A funeral should be a time when we rejoice in the sovereignty of God.
Ultimately Solomon makes reference to the destination of the two parts of life.
The body returns to the dust from which the Lord first made it. In fact Solomon calls the body “dust.” It is made from materials found all around us. And in that we ought to recognize something incredible – apart from faith. God created the first human body and God oversees the establishment of everyone since then. If man is as almighty as he thinks, he should be able to duplicate in a lab what God originally did. And furthermore, he should be able to maintain that physical life indefinitely. Even further, while the body returns to the dust sometime after death, every molecule of that body has been marked for restoration. Out of the cemetery, the sea, the jungle, the icy slopes of the glacier souls shall rise to be reunited with bodies once again. “It is appointed unto men once to die,” and also it is appointed they rise. That resurrected body shall be reunited to its own respective soul.
Despite the state of the body, every soul that has ever lived is still living. That soul cannot die; it is eternal and will spend eternity in the place of God’s determination. This is the fact which makes the mind of Solomon tick at this point. “Remember NOW thy Creator in the days of thy youth” before the sad day arrives.
Where will you spend eternity? Where will you spend eternity? Solomon says, “I see it now. It is the duty of man to fear God and keep His will. It is the duty of every eternal souls to prepare for eternity by drawing night to God. Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth while the evil days come not. Prepare now before the silver cord is loosed.”
And all I can say to you is – listen to the wise man – listen to the Word of God. You may be young or you may be old, both people need to prepare? Prepared? Prepare? For what should I be prepared? “It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment.” If you are not a disciple of that judge – the Saviour – you shall be of all people most miserable. All of us need the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, ere our silver cord is loosed. Repent before God, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.