Advice from a Wise, Old Dude
by Pastor George Van Alstine

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; on the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

You may recognize this as one of the most famous passages from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes (chapter 12, verses 1-8). Some phrases from this poem have become commonly used idioms in English literature, such as “the silver cord is snapped”; “ the golden bowl is broken”; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

You may have to read the passage twice to catch onto the clever metaphors for the increasing weakness brought on by old age:

“guards tremble, strong men bent” = reduced muscle-tone, flabbiness

“women who grind cease working” = not enough teeth left to chew food

“those who look through the windows see dimly” = failing eyesight

“doors on the street are shut” = hearing loss

“daughters of song brought low” = life’s pleasures less enjoyable

“grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails” = reduced sexuality

This all seems a bit tongue-in-cheek to me. The old man who wrote this, who calls himself “the Teacher” (in other translations “the Preacher”), is teasing himself about his own physical liabilities, but in the next few sentences he reminds these young, know-it-all whippersnappers of his true strength:

“Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly. The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware.” (verses 9-12)

And what is the final word the Teacher has for young people, out of a lifetime of accumulated experience, thought, and wisdom? “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth!” If you don’t, then you will surely fulfill this common proverb: “Youth is wasted on the young.” Vanity of Vanities.