Ecclesiastes 12:13, The Duty of Man

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

//As a child, I managed to memorize two verses in Ecclesiastes. Today’s verse is one of the two, from the very end of the book. The second one I memorized is at the very beginning of the book:

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

I knew nothing in between. Which is a very good thing. Have you ever read the book? It’s twelve chapters about how meaningless life is, and how every moment should therefore be cherished and enjoyed, for it’s all we have. A live dog is better than a dead lion. You only live once. Ecclesiastes is about as secular as the book of Esther.

However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless. Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see. So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless.

Oddly, however, a little phrase has been inserted into the middle of this passage to give us pause: “But know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.” Now, where did that come from? It hardly belongs, so I pulled it out. And who added the verse at the end of the book, telling us the purpose of life? Isn’t that exactly what Ecclesiastes is not about?

Someone, it appears, has taken a secular book of advice about a life well-lived and tried to add religious meaning where none was intended. I guess that’s how Ecclesiastes made it into the Bible.

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