Lesson for Oct. 16, 2011: Growing Old with Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 11:7–12:14)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for October 16) is written by Daniel Schantz, professor emeritus at Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri.


Growing Old with Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 11:7–12:14)

By Daniel Schantz

Poets present October as the melancholy season, marking the death of summer. Yet, to many of us, October is the best season of all—spangled with color, rich in harvests, invigorating in weather.

Old age is like October. It does indeed signal the end of life, but it is also filled with a harvest of good things: grandchildren, retirement, honors. A number of polls in recent years show that seniors regard themselves as the happiest of all the age groups—and the Christians among us should be the happiest seniors of all.


Aging Begins Early

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

This passage is addressed not to the old but to the young, and with good reason. To young people, old age is just a distant rumor, something that only happens to other people, and not for a long, long time. They have no idea how quickly it will arrive and how real it will be.

Bible background. Pronunciation guide. Real-life commentary. Discussion questions. Find it all in Standard Lesson Commentary

 Young people need to think about aging because the quality of their latter years largely depends upon how they behave right now. Some youth age their bodies prematurely with sexual sin or drunkenness. Others are just careless, spending too much time in the sun, staying up too late, and eating rich and fatty foods. By the time they are 45, they are already “old.” Their old age is likely to be a litany of regrets.


Aging Is a Blend

In the last two chapters of Ecclesiastes, the author portrays the aging experience almost entirely in negative terms. Evil, difficult, dark, and vanity are some of the words he uses to describe it. Most likely he is referring to just the very last days, say, the last year of a person’s life.

Modern medicine, which is an outgrowth of Christianity, has mitigated many of the miseries of old age. Not only has medicine lengthened our life spans, it has also increased the quality of our lives until the very end. Things like dentures, contact lenses, artificial joints, hearing aids, and plastic surgery make it hard to tell if someone is old, or just middle-aged. Pharmaceuticals readily treat depression and anxiety. Computers and cell phones reduce loneliness. Some seniors are doing so well that they are starting second careers, and second marriages.

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 Yet with all these helps, aging is still a trial. Nothing can spare us the grief of losing a mate or a grandchild. Dentures may help at meals, but don’t try to eat a caramel apple in public. Artificial joints won’t let you slam-dunk a basketball. Maybe a few seniors can water-ski on one leg, but many others can barely make it to the mailbox and back. Being brilliant and energetic won’t keep you from getting fired, just when you are doing your best work. For these trials, we need grace from God.


Aging Is Poetic

The author of Ecclesiastes puts the aging process in poetic form, perhaps to soften the realities of it. These phrases are difficult to interpret, but the overall message is clear: the body is deteriorating. A few examples:

“Before the sun and the light of the moon and stars grow dark” (12:2). This may be a reference to cataracts, but it could also refer to dark moods or hard financial times.

“The grinders cease because they are few” (12:3). This probably refers to missing teeth, but some say it’s a reference to unemployment—no workers at the mill.

“People rise up at the sound of birds” (12:4). This probably refers to insomnia, actually a mild form of depression that causes early waking.

“When people are afraid of heights” (12:5). Thiscould refer to the challenge of steep stairs, or to problems of balance because of inner ear troubles.

“Desire is no longer stirred” (12:5). This could be a description of low sex drive, but more likely refers to a loss of all drive and enthusiasm.

The last part of chapter 12 is a metaphor, comparing the dying person to a worn-out wishing well, with its frayed “silver cord” (rope), “broken bowl” (bucket), and “squeaky wheel” (pulley).


The Best Is Yet to Come

Although the author of Ecclesiastes dwells on the vanity and misery of life, he does clearly acknowledge the resurrection. “The spirit returns to God who gave it” (12:7).

For the Christian, death is the beginning of everything we have ever longed for, everlasting life in a body that does not wear out.

The aging of our bodies does two things: it forces us to develop inward qualities of character, personality, and wisdom, rather than depend on outward looks and sheer brute strength. And the aging process loosens our grip on this life, so that we will gladly go to God when he calls us to Heaven.


*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©1984.

October 10: Psalm 71:1-12
October 11: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
October 12: Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
October 13: Ecclesiastes 5:10-20
October 14: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
October 15: Ecclesiastes 11:1-8
October 16: Ecclesiastes 11:9–-12:7, 13



Daniel Schantz, professor emeritus of Christian education at Central Christian College, in Moberly, Missouri, resigned in May 2011, so that he might spend more time writing, speaking, and gardening.

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