Audio Worship "The End of the Matter" Ecclesiastes 12.9-14

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1579

March 26, 2023

Ecclesiastes 12.9-14         Click here for audio worship.

Dr. Ed Pettus (This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“The End of the Matter”


9Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. 11The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. 13The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.



  • The Wisdom to Teach


It is possible, in this section of Scripture, that someone else has taken over the book of Ecclesiastes to talk about the book of Ecclesiastes. It is also possible that Solomon, whom we belief wrote Ecclesiastes, has simply looked back and taken a new perspective for these final words. Either way, they are words that change our perspectives. Words that challenge our view of life and death and ask us to consider how we might live in light of the wise words that have been given. Words change things. When we are encouraged by someone, it helps us move forward when we are stuck. When we are chastised, we might repent and turn in a new direction. Of course, the Words of God take us on a journey of love, stories of faith, recognition of sin, and the gift of life in Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastes begins with “the words of the Preacher” and ends with phrases like “words of delight, words of truth, and words of the wise”. We now consider them the Word of God, inspired, breathed out, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3.16). The wisdom of Solomon is a part of that Word that seeks to observe life and faith and lead us in the way of God, in the path of God. Here, at the end of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher, out of wisdom, teaches what knowledge he has to give. He has opened up many proverbs to help us see anew and to inspire our hearts toward godliness with two final exhortations, fear God and keep His commandments.

One thing that I find a blessing in these first two verses, 9-10, is that the Preacher does not hold back or hoard the wisdom he has gained in and through his life. He shares it with all who will listen and read and study. His writings and proverbs continue to teach and mentor us thousands of years later. It is something of a testimony to our sharing what knowledge and insight we might have gained over the years. We too have had opportunity to read the Scriptures and spend some time in the past seven Sunday’s in Ecclesiastes, but we all have a reservoir of wisdom that we can pass on to the next generation and to our own generation. We have the words of life in Jesus Christ and the gospel message of God sending His only Son that we might believe in Him and have eternal life. We have the knowledge that we are all sinners in need of reconciliation to God and that by God’s grace, by God’s gift of grace, we are saved.

We all also have experiences and the words available to us to pass on this news, to arrange our story for others to hear. This is how the world comes to know the good news of Christ, by His followers telling the world, even if that is simply to one person at a time. None of us have to have a microphone or a YouTube channel so that we can reach the masses. But our call is to speak the words of truth one by one, to friends, to family, to colleagues, to any who will listen. Besides being wise, the Preacher taught. Besides being wise, we also teach and share and give witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Ecclesiastes has taught us that life under the sun is vanity, emptiness, that is to say that there is nothing this world can give us that leads to life, only God gives life. We could work our fingers to the bone all our life and it will come to nothing but vanity if God is not glorified in that work. At the basic level, Ecclesiastes teaches us that life is short and we should make the best of what God has given us. Eat, drink, and be merry. Know the joy of the Lord. Utilize the wisdom God has given while on the earth. The promise of Ecclesiastes and the Bible is that life under the sun is not all there is. With God, there is more to come, more to know, more to love, and wisdom to discern how to live in that knowledge and wisdom to teach that knowledge.

The wisdom we have received, in New Testament terms, is that apart from Jesus we can do nothing (John 15.5), apart from faith there is only sin (Romans 14.23). Ecclesiastes is teaching us that we must live in, toward, with, for, the Lord alone. In the end it comes down to two things, fear God and keep His commandments. As Jesus says it,


23Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me (John 14.23-24).



  • Goads and Nails


The Words of Jesus, the Word of God is clear and deeply connected to loving God in obedience and faith. Ecclesiastes says about the words of the wise, “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.” In the English Standard Version of the Bible, the title Shepherd is capitalized. These wise words are understood to come from God, the Shepherd, as in “the Lord is my Shepherd”, as in Jesus Christ the great Shepherd. Two terms used here are goad and nails. A goad is a stick with a sharp end used to poke livestock in order to lead them while herding. If the animal went in any direction other than the direction the shepherd desires, there was pain and that pain put the animal back on the right path. The Word is like a nail at the end of a stick, prodding us along to go in the direction of the Lord’s choosing. This is not to inflict pain, but to lead us, to shepherd in the direction of life.

The Word of God does this to people, to us. In Acts 2 it is said that the Word cut to the heart. Peter had just preached the gospel, the story of Jesus…

37Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2.37-39).

In essence the Word was like a goad to them, cutting to the heart, poking and prodding the heart until the Word was received. But the Word does not stop just in cutting the heart, for it also brings the good news of the forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is a promise!

Hebrews 4.12 also speaks of the “cutting” prodding Word, For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” And the passage I have already mentioned from 2 Timothy 3.16 where the Word corrects and trains for righteousness. God’s Word corrects our path like a shepherd goading an animal who gets off the path.

I see the nail as more than the prodding point of the goad, but also a metaphor of the permanent nature of God’s Word. Psalm 119.89, “Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” God’s Word is secure, cannot be undone. I think about Jesus giving us the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor and teaching us that on these two hang all the Law and Prophets (Matthew 22.40 NKJV). Now, what we want to do is get the Word firmly fixed in our hearts and minds. I say hearts and minds for the sake of love and thought, that we understand the connection between loving God and keeping His Commandments. The Word is fixed in heaven and firmly secure in the commandment to love God and neighbor and one of the goals for living out this Word is to have it fixed in our hearts. Psalm 119 is a great treasure all about God’s Word. Verse 11 teaches us to fix or to hide or to treasure the Word in our hearts, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” We can store up the Word in our hearts so that we will be less likely to disobey. Goads and nails remind the animal which way to go as the Word of God prods us along His path of righteousness and love.

Verse 12 reminds us that we need not go any further than the Scriptures. God’s Word is our final authority. It is not that we cannot and should not read what others say about God’s Word, or that we need not have clarity on what the Church has said interpreting God’s Word, but that those are secondary to the Scriptures. Our confessions are not the Word, only God’s Word has the final say in all things of life and faith.



  • The End of the Matter


The end of the matter. When all is said and done. After we have seen the vanity, the shortness of life on earth, the emptiness of striving after the wind. When we have seen enough to know that there is no other place or thing or ideology or earthly wisdom that can give life, we come to the final conclusion. All is summed up in two things.

Number one: fear God – let me share a list of what I think entails a deep understanding of what it means to fear God. Revere God. Show reverence, honor, respect, standing in awe of who God is and what God has done. It is awareness that God has oversight over our soul and not just our bodies (Matthew 10.28). But it is much more than fear as in being afraid, for in fear of God is great love, honor, glorifying, trust, praise, worship, following, and obedience. To fear God is to love God and loving God is known through keeping His Commandments. When we keep commandment and obey God, we show our fear, our reverence for God.

Number two: keep Commandment. This is why I harp on being engaged in the Word. One of my favorite terms is to integrate the Word into our hearts and minds. Let it marinade in our thinking and transform our attitudes and actions. Let the Word reform our thought process. Let it prod us along by reproof and correction. Allow the Word to work in us to complete the work God has begun in us. It is more than just applying the Word like a band-aid, on the outside, to stop the bleeding, but to be infused into our being at a deeper level. I think this is at least part of what Paul understands in Philippians 1.6, And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” That work in us is partly accomplished in the Word.

This is said to be the whole duty of man. Fear God and keep His commandments. Everything we need is summed up here. It is expressed in other ways throughout Scripture, but all boils down to “the end of the matter” Micah says it one way, doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. Jesus says it in loving God and neighbor. God commanded all of this in the Ten Commandments. We sometimes make the Bible more complex than necessary. Just remember and do a couple of things, fear God and keep His commandments. Whether we focus solely on Jesus or Micah or Ecclesiastes or other places, they all come down to setting our lives down in reference to God alone. Giving our life over to God in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Ecclesiastes indirectly asks us that question, where have we placed our life? Is it in the ways of the fleeting world under the sun with all its toil and strive, or under the power of the Word of God and His kingdom where life is truly found? For all who receive Christ, this is an ongoing work, to not become conformed to the world, but to be completely conformed to God’s Word, to God’s point of view, to God’s way of life and truth.

It is really simple to keep this phrase in our hearts and minds, fear God and keep His Commandments. Fear and keep. Fear and keep. Or, if you prefer, love and keep. Those are the words given by Jesus in John 14, same thing! Have those two commands resonate in our hearts and minds today and for the days to come. Fear and keep, for that is the end of the matter. Amen.