The Day when the Keepers Shall Tremble

The Day when the
Keepers shall Tremble

John Phillips

Mr. John Phillips of Marietta, Ga., shares with us his eighth of a continuing series of brief, terse studies in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Scripture Readings: Ecclesiastes 12:3

This whole passage (Eccles. 12:1-7) is one of great poetic imagery. Solomon begins by picturing the body as a noble mansion or castle upon which evil days have come. He is about to describe old age and its attendant ills. “The keepers of the house shall tremble” refers to the arms, one of the chief uses of which is defense. In old age they become weak and feeble. “The strong men shall bow themselves” refers to the legs which bend under the weight of advancing years. “The grinders cease because they are few” speaks of the teeth which cease to function and quickly decay with age. “Those that look out of the windows be darkened” is a poetic reference to the lofty openings in the tower from which a vigilant watch is kept on the country around and suggests the eyes growing dim as the years roll by. “And the doors shall be shut in the streets” probably speaks of the ears and the deafness which frequently marks old age. The thought is expanded by the expression “when the sound of the grinding is low” showing that in old age the most familiar household sounds are but feebly heard.

“And he shall rise up at the voice of the bird” pictures the sleeplessness of old people; and he shall be “afraid of that which is high” hints at the old person’s fears of heights and of his difficulty in climbing the hill. “Fears shall be in the way.” Old people are easily startled and they are oppressed by the fear of approaching death. ‘The almond tree shall flourish.” Almonds blossom in mid-winter and bear blossoms on a leafless stem. These blossoms are red but, when they fall, look like white snow flakes. Dry, bleak old age with its white hair is suggested. “The grasshopper shall be a burden” pictures the old person’s inability to do even the lightest work. “Desire shall fail” speaks of the extinguishing of all appetites and passions by old age.

Solomon then changes the figure and speaks of “the silver cord” being loosed. Life is now a golden lamp hanging by a silver cord, but “the golden bowl” is suddenly broken. “The pitcher is broken at the fountain” is yet another image of the fragility of life. “The wheel is broken at the cistern” represents the constant motion of life, all brought to a standstill by the breakdown of old age. Thus from picture to picture Solomon goes and ends with the wail, so common to the book, “Vanity of vanities.” Old age is the last vanity of a godless life.