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Certainties in an Uncertain Life

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Ecclesiastes 11:9–12:1 ESV
Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;

FCF: The uncertainties of life can paralyze us.

FCF: The uncertainties of life can paralyze us.

Proposition: Looming certainties should motivate you to live your life to the fullest.

I. Looming certainties should motivate you to enjoy life (11:9).

A. Rejoice in the circumstances of life (v. 9a).

B. Follow the desires of your heart (v. 9b).

C. Consider your future accountability (v. 9c).

II. Looming certainties should motivate you to dismiss anxiety (11:10).

A. Cease your needless toil (v. 10a).

B. Consider the brevity of life (v. 10b).

III. Looming certainties should motivate you to remember your Creator (12:1)

A. Fear God in the prime of life (v. 1a).

B. Consider your approaching death (v. 1b).


Uncertainty paralyzes. When terrorists flew American planes into buildings on the morning of September 11th, the nation entered a period of uncertainty. In fact, the uncertainty was so great that all US airlines completely stopped operations for two days. Every airline, every plane, every passenger was grounded…America was paralyzed in uncertainty. Uncertainty affects every part of life. Uncertainty in the financial market causes recessions. Uncertainty in the housing market can cause a housing crisis. Even uncertainty about your child’s health or your future plans or your job can completely paralyze you. In those situations, you have no idea what to do. Often, when we face uncertainties, rather than making bold decisions or enjoying life, we become anxious and fearful. [FCF] The uncertainties of life can paralyze us.
That reality is actually addressed in the book of Ecclesiastes in chapter 11. Here Solomon recognizes that life is full of uncertainties, and he continues to remind us that there are things that we just don’t know. In verse 2 he says, “you know not.” Then again twice in verse 5: “you do not know…you do not know.” Then finally in verse 6: “you do not know.” Solomon admits it: life is full of uncertainties. But being paralyzed with fear is not an option for Solomon. In fact, he commands us to do the very opposite, to take action, to make choices, to live life. So, what would motivate a person to do that in such an uncertain world? Well, Solomon makes a shift in chapter 11 from discussing the uncertainties of life to discussing some things that are certain in life, certainties which God has ordained. And each of these certainties in some way involves approaching death. Solomon tell us that [Proposition] those looming certainties, though they may seem difficult, should actually motivate you to live your life to the fullest.
It is helpful to view Ecclesiastes as a commentary on life after , after the fall. Solomon wants to remind his readers what life is like outside the garden of Eden—it is fallen, unsatisfying, and futile. But the futility of life actually has a purpose, to point our attention to our Creator and to offer meaning in Him. So, when we arrive at , we see that the looming certainties that surround death have the same purpose, to point us to God and to give us reason to rejoice. We are faced, then, with the question: “How should you respond to those looming certainties?” Solomon gives three responses: the first is stated positively, the second negatively, and the third presents a concluding, all-encompassing response.

I. Looming certainties should motivate you to enjoy life (11:9).

Our modern translations introduce “know that for all these things God will bring you in judgment” with the word “but.” This command, however, is not a restriction on how much we can rejoice. It provides motivation for joy! The certainty of God’s judgment should bring joy to fleeting lives.
Each section of this passage is formed similarly: a command followed by the certainty that motivates that command.

A. Rejoice in the circumstances of life (9a).

Joy is not optional. Solomon commands us to rejoice.
“In” answers the question when? We are to find joy during the days of our youth. However, this command is not restricted to people under a certain age, for the passage continues to contrast “youth” with “old age” or those who are on the brink of death. In other words, we are to rejoice before we reach the brink of death.
The second word for “youth” means “choice young man.” This is referring to a young man in the prime of life or one who has the capacity to enjoy life. This applies to a lot of people, not just youth.

B. Follow the desires of your heart (9b).

We are now commanded to assess our desires and follow them! Similar to the meaning of , everyone has a passion or life calling. Solomon urges us to follow that life calling while we can.
This pursuit, however, cannot transgress God’s law. As we will see later, we must weigh both our desires and the commands of God.

C. Consider your future accountability (9c).

What is the certainty that motivates our joy? Future accountability. This command is also non- optional. As we enjoy life, we are commanded to “know” this.
“Judgment” could be translated “The Judgment” since it probably refers to one event. All of the uncertainties of life are moving toward one great certainty, the judgment seat of Christ where He will bring everything into account. Though the Son is not mentioned here, Jesus Christ is the key figure of this judgment day. Every moment of life finds its climax on this day.
“Judgment” also reveals God’s justice or righteousness. God always does what is right, like Abraham tells us in . Every circumstance of life is ultimately subservient to God’s just plan.
Our future accountability prompts joy! “This, like the exhortation to receive joy as God-given, is to enhance its value, not to diminish it. Under the appraising eye it will have reason to be pure, not corrupt; and it will know something more than triviality and ‘the laughter of fools’” (Kidner, 101).
We will give account for how much we rejoiced. God wants you to rejoice (9:7).
In C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, two children, a prince, and a Marshwiggle named Puddleglum find themselves trapped in an underground fortress controlled by a witch. After they have been down there for some time, they began to wonder whether what they’ve always known above is actually true. The real world above starts to feel like a dream. But at once, Puddleglum tightens his grip on the real world. In the midst of all of the uncertainty, he clings to the world above as the realest thing he can think of. In the same way, though there are many uncertainties here on earth, we do know that God is going to bring everything to its proper climax at Christ’s judgment day. He will bring everything and everyone into perfect judgment.
Application: Paul discusses this same topic in . Throughout our lives here on earth, there are many things which we don’t know. We don’t even know how to pray sometimes! But there is one thing that we can know for sure, that all things are working together for good, for the glory of Jesus Christ. And how is God doing this? Through His merciful plan of redemption through the cross. Because of the redemption that Christ offers, God has a perfect plan for your good days and for your bad. Therefore, you can rejoice and you can enjoy life! In the good things—in sports, friendships, mental and physical vigor—you must rejoice knowing that God has a plan for even those things. He will bring your good days to a just conclusion. But in the difficult things—in sickness, financial trouble, or relationship issues—you can also rejoice knowing that God is bringing every circumstance to a perfect conclusion. Every circumstance of your life, whether good or bad, will work together for your good and for God’s glory.
Transition: Living life to the fullest involves choosing to rejoice in the midst of your life circumstances. The certainty which motivates this response is the coming judgment. Often, however, our joy is hindered by our anxiety about life. Solomon knows this, and so he restates the appropriate response to looming certainties; only, this time, he presents the negative application.

II. Looming certainties should motivate you to dismiss anxiety (11:10).

A. Cease your needless toil (10a).

“Remove” has the idea of “putting away” or “dismissing.” It’s a purposeful expulsion of these kinds of heart attitudes.
“Vexation” signifies irritation, and it starts in the heart.
What is the vexation about? The answer is found in the second line: “put away pain from your body.” We are commanded to resist anxiety concerning the results of the fall and to rejoice instead. Life is supposed to be difficult, and we are not called to remedy the fall.
The picture here is of someone who is toiling with great effort to do that which only God can do.

B. Consider the brevity of life (10b).

What is the certainty that prompts this joy? The brevity of life. We are to dismiss anxiety because life is so short.
The “dawn of life” could be translated “black hair.” This translation makes more sense in light of the gray hair described in 12:5.
“Vanity” should probably be translated “fleeting.” Life is not just empty; it is here today and gone tomorrow.
One of the most humbling things that anyone can do is sleep. When you’re sleeping, you can’t get any work done; you can’t fix problems; you can’t even think through your future plans. Famous CEOs and world leaders must sleep just like anyone else. And yet many resist sleep. I recently heard of a high-level executive who would work over 100 hours a week and hold meetings at odd hours of the night in order to get everything accomplished. Yet, there came a time that even that executive had to sleep…and, during that time, he couldn’t accomplish anything.
Application: picks up on this idea when it states in verse 2, “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” We all tend to toil and stress over the activities of our lives. And we labor as if it all depended on us! Perhaps you have a stressful situation that has come up at work or you are faced with an ever-growing to-do list at home, and so you have just worked harder and tried to find a way to make life work. Solomon would challenge you instead to remove anxiety and to rest in God’s care of your life. Your life is short, and your labor is meaningless without God. So, rest in God’s faithful care. Yes, you must obey Him, and oftentimes you must work hard, but you must also trust that He is in control. Your life is brief. He is eternal. You must sleep. He never sleeps. You are limited. He is infinite. Entrust your labor to His all-powerful care.
Transition: Finally, Solomon leads us to the overarching task of one living life to the fullest. If you want to enjoy your life, you must remember your Creator.

III. Looming certainties should motivate you to remember your Creator (12:1)

Ecclesiastes helps to bridge the gap between the Fall in and the end of time described in the book of Revelation. We have already seen the end referenced in 11:9; now, Solomon reminds us where we came from and Whose we are.
Kidner calls this “the end of the search” (102).

A. Fear God in the prime of life (1a).

“Creator” is plural. He is a majestic Creator!
This reminder is not antithetical to the previous commands. It is parallel to the commands to rejoice.
· This reminder is not antithetical to the previous commands. It is parallel to the commands to rejoice.
The command follows the teaching of , to remember the God who brought Israel out of Egypt. God’s gracious salvation is at the heart of this command.
Once again, the “days of your youth” could refer to anything prior to the brink of death described in the following verses.

B. Consider your approaching death (1b).

What is the looming certainty that prompts remembrance of our Creator? Approaching death. The word “evil” here has the idea of “calamitous” as in . It refers to the days that are a prelude to death. These days are described in the verses that follow.
· Eventually the pleasure that life brings will wane. Only pleasure in God will last ().
Eventually the pleasure that life brings will wane. Only pleasure in God will last ().
There is no ability to remember your Creator beyond the grave. Now is the time to fear God! Now is the time to accept the meaning that only a relationship with Him can offer.
This truth reminds me of one of my good friends from high school named Mark. When Mark reached late high school, he began to get very serious about his walk with God. Though many around him were falling away from the Lord, he remained faithful, and he made a big impact on the lives of others. About four years ago, Mark was driving to work one morning when his truck veered into the opposing lane. A school bus was approaching right at that moment and slammed into Mark’s truck head on, killing him instantly. To be honest, Mark’s death is still difficult to grasp, and I certainly don’t know God’s reasoning for taking him. But I do know that Mark wisely chose to remember His Creator before it was too late.
Application: And you might be thinking, “I’m hoping to get serious about my walk with God very soon.” Maybe you’re waiting until you get married or start a family. Maybe you’re hoping that a good job will provide the stability to help you remember God. The time to fear God is now! Though you may be young today, we are all in the process of dying. In fact, God has purposefully subjected this earth to the results of the Fall so that we will turn to Him. Maybe you’re older today and can see and feel your body deteriorating. If so, God is gently reminding you that you will not live forever, and that now is the time to seek meaning beyond this life, to seek meaning in Him. You may be here today and may not know the Lord as your Savior. To you, death is actually the greatest uncertainty, because you are not sure what is beyond. Solomon’s call is to you as well! You will not have a chance to remember your Creator on the other side of death. Now is the time to trust in Jesus and His work on the cross. He is using the looming certainties of your life to call you to Himself.


So, how can you live life to the fullest? Contrary to what the world will tell you, the only way to live life to the fullest is to recognize the looming certainties of life: judgment is coming, your life is brief, and death is approaching. But instead of causing us to despair, these realities should bring joy! God is at work, and He using these looming certainties to draw us to Him and to bring the uncertainties of this world to a certain conclusion.
How then should you respond? Take time this week to rejoice in even the mundane aspects of life. When things go well for you, rejoice! When life is difficult, rejoice! You can rejoice in every circumstance of life. But how is that even possible? That should lead you to the truths presented in . Because of God’s perfect plan of salvation, all things, even the difficult aspects of life, are working for your good and God’s glory. And then you must resist the temptation to be anxious and to toil needlessly. I would encourage you to meditate on the truths of : God is at work and wants you to rest in Him. Finally, you must remember your Creator by spending time with Him and by living life recognizing His presence. Only those who remember their Creator will be able to live their lives to the fullest.


Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.
Eaton, Michael A. Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 18. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983.
Garrett, Duane A. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Vol. 14. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993.
Jaeggli, Randy. Embrace Life Under the Sun: God’s Wisdom for Today from Ecclesiastes. Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2015.
Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
Keil, Carl Friedrich, and Franz Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996.
Kidner, Derek. The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes: An Introduction to Wisdom Literature. Downers Grove, IL: InverVarsity Press, 1985.
Wright, J. Stafford. “Ecclesiastes.” Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Edited by Frank E. Gæbelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991.
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