Updated: Jul 22, 2020
“The primary purpose of reading the Bible is not to know the Bible but to know God.” James Merritt
Scripture & Devotion: Scriptural focus: Ecclesiastes 12:9-14
Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails – given by one Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man, for God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
The conclusion of the matter
These past few weeks of scripture reflection in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes have been interesting to say the least. Although I have read this part of the Bible several times during my life, it is the first time I have studied it against a background of crisis and upheaval in our nation. In doing so, I have been continually amazed at the timeliness and relevance of King Solomon’s words written so long ago to a people half a world away.
In these verses at the very end of Ecclesiastes, Solomon makes a writer’s statement of sorts. He attests to the sincerity of his intention to communicate faithfully the wisdom of the Teacher. He speaks of the care with which he has chosen his words so as to uphold their uprightness and truth. He warns the reader to be careful about seeking wisdom in texts which attempt to add to the words of the Shepherd. He cautions against the dangers of too much study which can become an end in itself, causing a person to become weary and lessening the effectiveness with which the learner can put those wise sayings into practical application.
After twelve detailed chapters, what is the most important piece of wisdom that Solomon has shared with us? It is this: Fear God and keep his commandments. This he calls “the whole duty of man.” It may be a simple declarative statement in a few words, but they are such words as it takes each of us a lifetime of struggle to pursue, and even then, because of our human nature, achieving perfection is an impossible task.
So how does one go about “fearing” God and keeping his commandments? First, we must believe that God exists; he is a real, authentic being, not some folkloric deity present only on the pages of a few ancient texts in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Nor is he the Creator who set the world in motion but who has since died or disappeared out of the picture, like an actor who has exited the stage. To “fear” God means to esteem him, to have respect for who he is, to recognize his holiness, his sovereignty, his power, his worthiness. To fear God also means recognizing our place in relation to him; we are like sheep who are prone to wander and get into trouble; he is the Shepherd who cares for us and shows us the right paths to take.
As for keeping his commandments, we must first know what they are. This we can discover by reading and meditating on God’s word as contained in the scriptures of the Holy Bible. Ecclesiastes ends with the idea that “God will bring every deed into judgment”, but the standards he will use to do so are not a mystery or a secret that we cannot access; they are the guidelines that he has given us in his Word. The Old and New Testaments work together to present God’s wisdom, to proclaim his love for us and to make clear his intentions for our lives. Although “much study may weary the body,” not enough of it will surely malnourish the soul.
We are incredibly grateful for Your word, because by it we are able to know You, to know of Your love, Your grace, Your compassion to undeserving people like us. We are humbled to receive all that is from Your hand.