The words of the wise - Doctrines of faith, illustrated by suitable language, are as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, אספות בעלי baaley asuphoth, the masters of collections, those who had made the best collections of this kind, the matter of which was of the most excellent nature; every saying sinking as deeply into the mind, by the force of the truth contained in it, as a nail well pointed does into a board, when impelled by the hammer's force. These masters of collections have been supposed to be public persons appointed by the prince himself, the sole shepherd, to see that nothing was put into the people's hands but what would be profitable for them to read; and that, when any wise man gave public instructions, a good scribe sat by to take down the words; and then the master examined what he had written, to see that it was upright, and that the words were doctrines of truth. These were something like our licensers of the press; but the existence of such is little more than conjecture.
After all, masters of assemblies may mean public teachers; that which was written, the oracles of God, out of which they instructed the people; the one Shepherd, God Almighty, from whom they received their authority and unction to preach the truth; and by the energy of whose Spirit the heavenly teaching was fastened in their hearts, as a well-driven nail in a sound piece of wood.
This passage is properly regarded as the Epilogue of the whole book; a kind of apology for the obscurity of many of its sayings. The passage serves therefore to make the book more intelligible and more acceptable.
Here, as in the beginning of the book Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, the Preacher speaks of himself Ecclesiastes 12:8-10 in the third person. He first repeats Ecclesiastes 12:8 the mournful, perplexing theme with which his musings began Ecclesiastes 1:2; and then states the encouraging practical conclusion Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 to which they have led him. It has been pointed out that the Epilogue assumes the identity of the Preacher with the writer of the Book of Proverbs.
literally, Words of wise men are as goads, and as nails driven in (by) masters of assemblies; they are given from one shepherd: “goads,” because they rouse the hearer and impel him to right actions; “nails” (perhaps tent-spikes), because they remain fixed in the memory: “masters of assemblies” are simply “teachers” or “preachers” (see Ecclesiastes 1:1 note), instructors of such assemblies as Wisdom addresses Proverbs 1:20.
By these - i. e., “By the words of wise men.”
Books - Rather, “Writings.” Probably the proverbs current in the Preacher‘s age, including, though not especially indicating, his own.
The Preacher protests against the folly of protracted, unprofitable, meditation.
literally, “The conclusion of the discourse” (or “word,” = words, Ecclesiastes 1:1), “the whole, let us hear.”
The whole duty of man - Rather, the whole man. To revere God and to obey Him is the whole man, constitutes man‘s whole being; that only is conceded to Man; all other things, as this book teaches again and again, are dependent on a Higher Incomprehensible Being.
Judgment with - Rather, judgment (which shall be held) upon etc.: i. e., an appointed judgment which shall take place in another world, as distinct from that retribution which frequently follows man‘s actions in the course of this world, and which is too imperfect (compare Ecclesiastes 2:15; Ecclesiastes 4:1; Ecclesiastes 7:15; Ecclesiastes 9:2, ) to be described by these expressions. He that is fully convinced that there is no solid happiness to be found in this world, and that there is a world to come wherein God will adjudge people to happiness or misery respectively, as they have made their choice and acted here, must necessarily subscribe to the truth of Solomon‘s conclusion, that true religion is the only way to true happiness.
By the spirit of inspiration the king recorded for after generations the history of his wasted years with their lessons of warning. And thus, although the seed of his sowing was reaped by his people in harvests of evil, his life-work was not wholly lost. With meekness and lowliness Solomon in his later years “taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.” He “sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.” “The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished.” Ecclesiastes 12:9-12. PK 79.1
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter,” he wrote: “Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” Verses 13, 14. PK 80.1
Solomon's later writings reveal that as he realized more and still more the wickedness of his course, he gave special attention to warning the youth against falling into the errors that had led him to squander for nought Heaven's choicest gifts. With sorrow and shame he confessed that in the prime of manhood, when he should have found God his comfort, his support, his life, he turned from the light of Heaven and the wisdom of God, and put idolatry in the place of the worship of Jehovah. And now, having learned through sad experience the folly of such a life, his yearning desire was to save others from entering into the bitter experience through which he had passed. PK 80.2Read in context »