As Solomon nears the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, he begins to summarize what he has been saying the entire book. Much of the content in the last few sentences sounds like it belongs in the book of Proverbs. Solomon’s desire in writing Ecclesiastes is to impart wisdom on the coming generation. He knows that some things can only be learned in the school of hard knocks. Yet, he does his part in ensuring that younger men have an opportunity to learn from his mistakes. Today we would call this practice mentoring, which is still a great need in our own generation. Solomon’s model for imparting wisdom is the model that the Apostle Paul espouses in his letters to Timothy and Titus. To Timothy he writes, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV). In verses 11 and 12 of Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon imparts three truths for growing in wisdom.
Wisdom does not leave a person where it finds them. The purpose of wisdom is to move a person from being unwise to wise. This process is not always gentle. Solomon says, “the words of the wise are like goads” (12:11). A goad is a long wooden, sometimes metal rod with a sharp-pointed instrument on the end. It’s purpose, in ancient times, was to prod an animal into a pen or chute. The goad was not intended to harm the animal, only to get its attention and point it in the direction it needs to go. Similar techniques are used today on modern ranches and farms. When used correctly, wisdom is of the same use as a goad.
All throughout Ecclesiastes, Solomon has written regarding many aspects of life including money, sex, work, and faith, etc. His purpose was to allow these writings to serve as a goad to remind the reader the direction they need to go. When they get off track, these writings will guide them, even when it hurts. Yet, it is better to be prodded by wisdom than to foolishly enter eternity.
The Apostle Paul experienced the same situation during his conversion. For most of his adult life, Paul had persecuted the budding Christian church. Yet, it was on the road to Damascus when he came face to face with the radical grace of Jesus. In his conversion account before Agrippa, Paul recalls, “I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads'” (Acts 26:14, ESV). By persecuting believers in Christ, Paul was walking in rebellion against God. He experienced the goading of wisdom in an extremely personal and costly way. Yet, he listened to the prodding and became a radical follower of Christ as a result.
Wisdom not only prods, but it also secures. Solomon says, “like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings” (12:11). Wisdom is a stronghold, it never moves. It is firmly fixed. These words of wisdom from Solomon would be a source of refuge for the reader, to which they could return again and again. Wisdom is not learned once but is practiced repeatedly lest it be forgotten. Like a nail firmly fixed to the wall, wisdom is a place that a person can securely hang their life. Jesus, likewise, used a similar illustration in the Sermon on the Mount. He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25, ESV). When a person’s life is firmly fixed on wisdom, it will secure them no matter what comes their way.
Wisdom Has One Source
Solomon reminds the reader that wisdom not only prods and secures, it only has one source. In a day, when “truth” has no standard, and each person is taught to live how they see fit, these words from Solomon are a breath of fresh air. He states that the words of wisdom and collected sayings “are given by one Shepherd” (12:11). Solomon had spent his entire life searching for truth and wisdom. He tried everything the world had to offer. Yet, in the end he concludes that true wisdom only comes from One source. That source is the one Shepherd. I find it interesting that in the English translation the word Shepherd is capitalized. Though he did not know the full revelation of God at this point in redemptive history, Solomon is pointing the reader ultimately to Jesus who calls himself the good shepherd (John 10). Jesus is the One who is prodding and securing his people in wisdom.
Solomon goes on to warn the reader, “beware of anything beyond these” (12:12). Today there are countless preachers and teachers who claim to have the wisdom and revelation from God. Many of them write books and host conferences that promise health and wealth in exchange for belief in and support of their ministry. Yet, the reader of Ecclesiastes and the Bible as a whole is to beware of any teaching that goes against or beyond what they have been taught by the one Shepherd. Solomon reminds the reader, “of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (12:12). Study is good, and it is important to study God’s Word. It can be tiresome, however, to seek only after knowledge. It is good to have knowledge, but it is not the same thing as wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge applied in everyday circumstances.
Wisdom is ultimately knowing God and living to bring glory to Him in all of life. The source of godly wisdom is God’s Word, which is the one source through which God has revealed Himself. It is crucial in the Christian life for the believer to study and apply biblical truth into their life. The Bible will prod the believer like a goad to help guide them to truth. It calls to repentance and trust in grace and mercy of Christ. The Bible also secures the believer when they are tossed about in the storms of life. It is the anchor for the soul to which one can cling and be reminded of the truth that Jesus will bring them through. Believer, in these uncertain days, hold fast to Christ through His Word. Let the good Shepherd guide you into all wisdom.