Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Whole Duty of Man

The Whole Duty of Man

May 13, 2011

By George Paul Wood

Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 is a summary of all that the Preacher has tried to teach us in the previous chapters. His lessons can be summed up simply
enough: ³Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man² (v. 13, ESV).

By what authority does the Preacher sum up our whole duty in this way? It is not by means of prophetic authority, for the Preacher does not claim to be a prophet. It is not by means of priestly interpretation of the Law, for the Preacher is not a priest. Although the Preacher is a king (1:1), he does not use his royal power to promulgate his message.

No, the authority of the Preacher¹s message is the authority of common sense. He is ³wise,² ³weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care² (12:9). His authority is the authority of reason. Many people mistakenly try to oppose faith to facts, revelation to reason. But the Bible teaches us that both can be avenues to truth, if our hearts are pure. Both reason and revelation are ³given by one Shepherd,² that is, God (v. 11).

Wisdom such as the Preacher displays is an inherently good thing. It is a ³goad,² encouraging us through ³words of delight² (v. 10) to live well and truly before God. It is like ³nails firmly fixed² (v. 11), providing an indispensable, unchanging support for the good life. Wisdom both initiates change, in other words, and conserves blessings.

Wisdom also is simple and eternal. The Preacher contrasts wisdom and ³making many books² (v. 12). Making many books refers to man¹s ongoing effort to understand himself and the world he lives in. Such learning is necessary.
Often, as with the realm of the hard sciences, we make many new and exciting discoveries. But while knowledge of our DNA changes (thus requiring new books), knowledge of our moral nature does not. It would be foolish to go to a doctor who studied only 17th-century medical textbooks. It would be even greater folly to ignore a moral writer like the Preacher, though he has been dead for millennia. Scientific knowledge changes; moral wisdom does not.

So, ³Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.² The notion of fearing God frightens us. We like to think of God as the God of love, not fear, and in a certain sense, He is. But God is so great and majestic, so holy and awe-inspiring, that we small creatures would do well to remember our place in the universe and show due respect for Him and for His Word. Why? ³God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil² (v. 14). A wise person always keeps this truth in mind.

The Book of Ecclesiastes begins with a statement about the world that is ³vanity of vanities² (1:2), and ends with a statement about the world to come, the ³judgment.² We live between these worlds and must make choices in the former to prepare us for the latter, so choose well. If you follow the Preacher¹s common-sense advice, you will.