‘Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity’ (12:8)
The preacher’s words are finished, and the epilogue seems to set them in their proper place.
The sayings of the wise are like goads. (12:11)
I like the image that these sayings are like goads, rather than laws for living. A goad is designed to prod and provoke, and it may be worth remembering that a goad is intended to steer an animal away from the point of the goad! So perhaps these sayings, in their darker moments above all, are given primarily to make us think – and even to disagree with them.
What does my life mean? How will I find lasting fulfilment?
Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh (12:12)
Fair enough. And that’s before we had the internet to cope with…
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. (12:13-14)
In the end, both before and after we have probed the limits of our understanding, we are in the same place – as beloved creatures of God, called to love, worship and serve him faithfully. When we do that, then wisdom may follow – but at least we know that our eternity is secure.