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Chapter 12

[a]Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
    before the evil days come
And the years approach of which you will say,
    “I have no pleasure in them”;
Before the sun is darkened
    and the light and the moon and the stars
    and the clouds return after the rain;
[b]When the guardians of the house tremble,
    and the strong men are bent;
When the women who grind are idle because they are few,
    and those who look through the windows grow blind;
When the doors to the street are shut,
    and the sound of the mill is low;
When one rises at the call of a bird,
    and all the daughters of song are quiet;
When one is afraid of heights,
    and perils in the street;
When the almond tree blooms,
    and the locust grows sluggish
    and the caper berry is without effect,
Because mortals go to their lasting home,
    and mourners go about the streets;
[c]Before the silver cord is snapped
    and the golden bowl is broken,
And the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the pulley is broken at the well,
And the dust returns to the earth as it once was,
    and the life breath returns to God who gave it.[d](A)
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
    all things are vanity!(B)

Epilogue. [e]Besides being wise, Qoheleth taught the people knowledge, and weighed, scrutinized and arranged many proverbs. 10 Qoheleth sought to find appropriate sayings, and to write down true sayings with precision. 11 The sayings of the wise are like goads; like fixed spikes are the collected sayings given by one shepherd.[f] 12 (C)As to more than these,[g] my son, beware. Of the making of many books there is no end, and in much study there is weariness for the flesh.

13 [h](D)The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this concerns all humankind; 14 (E)because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.


  1. 12:1–7 The homage to life of 11:7–10 is deliberately balanced by the sombre yet shimmering radiance of this poem on old age and death. The poem’s enigmatic imagery has often been interpreted allegorically, especially in vv. 3–5. Above all it seeks to evoke an atmosphere as well as an attitude toward death and old age.
  2. 12:3–5 An allegorical reading of these verses sees references to the human body—“guardians”: the arms; “strong men”: the legs; “women who grind”: the teeth; “those who look”: the eyes; “the doors”: the lips; “daughters of song”: the voice; “the almond tree blooms”: resembling the white hair of old age; “the locust…sluggish”: the stiffness in movement of the aged; “the caper berry”: a stimulant for appetite.
  3. 12:6 The golden bowl suspended by the silver cord is a symbol of life; the snapping of the cord and the breaking of the bowl, a symbol of death. The pitcher…the pulley: another pair of metaphors for life and its ending.
  4. 12:7 Death is portrayed in terms of the description of creation in Gn 2:7; the body corrupts in the grave, and the life breath (lit., “spirit”), or gift of life, returns to God who had breathed upon what he had formed.
  5. 12:9 A disciple briefly describes and praises the master’s skill and reputation as a sage.
  6. 12:11 One shepherd: perhaps referring to the book’s author, who gathers or “shepherds” together its contents. God could also be “the one shepherd,” the ultimate depository and source of true wisdom.
  7. 12:12 As to more than these: the words seem to refer to the writings of Ecclesiastes and other sages. They are adequate and sufficient; any more involves exhaustive labor.
  8. 12:13–14 These words reaffirm traditional wisdom doctrine such as fear of God and faithful obedience, perhaps lest some of the more extreme statements of the author be misunderstood. Although the epilogue has been interpreted as a criticism of the book’s author, it is really a summary that betrays the unruffled spirit of later sages, who were not shocked by Qoheleth’s statements. They honored him as a hakam or sage (v. 9), even as they preserved his statements about the futility of life (v. 8), and the mystery of divine judgment (8:17; 11:5).

12 Remember(A) your Creator
    in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble(B) come
    and the years approach when you will say,
    “I find no pleasure in them”—
before the sun and the light
    and the moon and the stars grow dark,
    and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
    and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
    and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed
    and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
    but all their songs grow faint;(C)
when people are afraid of heights
    and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
    and the grasshopper drags itself along
    and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home(D)
    and mourners(E) go about the streets.

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns(F) to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God(G) who gave it.(H)

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.[a](I)
    “Everything is meaningless!(J)

The Conclusion of the Matter

Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs.(K) 10 The Teacher(L) searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.(M)

11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails(N)—given by one shepherd.[b] 12 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.(O)

13 Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God(P) and keep his commandments,(Q)
    for this is the duty of all mankind.(R)
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,(S)
    including every hidden thing,(T)
    whether it is good or evil.


  1. Ecclesiastes 12:8 Or the leader of the assembly; also in verses 9 and 10
  2. Ecclesiastes 12:11 Or Shepherd

12 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;

While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:

In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,

And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;

Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.

10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.

11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.