One of the longest sections of Scripture that have to do with aging is Ecclesiastes 12:1-8. It has quite a commentary on what happens to us as we age. It is a laudry list of the affects of aging on the human body. It begins with comments about the loss of our ability to see as we age - and does not stop there. Let me quote each verse and let you know what Solomon is telling us as he describes aging. Also understand that all of this is done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In other words, God wants us to know these things about aging. I'll reserve my comments on why for when we are through with this passage.
Verse 2 - ". . . before the sun and moon are darkened . . . " - This refers to our sight getting worse as we age. The sun and moon have not lost light - but we gradually lose the ability to see it as well.
". . . and clouds return after the rain." - This is a Hebraism that refers to trouble and difficulty. The clouds returning after the rain refers to one trouble ending - and as it ends, another begins. I can tell you that as you get older, between your own health problems, the health problems of loved ones - and the beginning of the death of friends and family - it can seem that as soon as one trouble ends - the clouds of another are on the horizon.
". . . in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble, and mighty men stoop, the grinding ones stand idle because they are few, and those who look through the windows grow dim . . ." - This entire section is an amazing, although somewhat depressing picture of our feebling with age as pictured through a house and business starting to crumble. The watchmen should be strong, yet he trembles more as he ages in this task. The mighty men stooping refer to our legs and back giving way to age and weakening over time. Thus they stoop rather than stand tall and erect. The grinding ones being idle and few refer to our teeth which are used to grind food, but which age over time and are not as strong for this task. The sight is again mentioned as the looking out the window is dimmed with age. The truth is that as we age our bodies will break down - and our abilities will be dimmed and diminished.
Verse 4 - ". . . the doors on the street are shut as the sounding of the grinding mill is low . . ." verse 4 - The doors on the street are shut and the ability to hear the grinding refer to our loss of hearing.
". . . and one will arise at the sound of a bird . . . " Our sleep will also be affected with age. We will seem to wake at the sounds of anything in the night.
". . . and all the daughters of song will sing softly." - the reference here is to an ability to sing and speak, which too will be less. It is interesting to hear and great singer in the latter stages of life. They do not usually have the power or the clarity with which they sang when they were younger. This is because the lungs, voice box, throat are all affected by age and that affects the ability we have to speak and sing.
Verse 5 - "Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road . . ." - Here is a verse about a couple of things. First, our feet and our sureness of our step is affected with age. You know the reason old folks walk like they do? It's because they are old - and age affects our joints and our muscles. We don't walk with the confidence and light step we used to have. Our tendons become tight and inflexible - and our muscle mass lessens over time and age. For this reason we are not as sure as we walk - and that is multiplied by high places. We are more concerned walking down steps - or in their case up and down mountain-sides. What they could bound up and down as a young man or woman - is much more fearful as our steps are not as sure. The next statement is that we experience terrors on the road. Journeys are not as carefree - because we know that we are not as nimble in step - nor exact in eyesight. Something common to older people in our day is a nervousness about driving at night. We just don't navigate and drive as well as we used to.
". . . the almond tree blossoms . . ." - When the almond tree does this - the blooms on the flowers are white. The picture is of the white hair of those who age. We color our hair in this generation to hide this. If it were not for these chemicals we put in our hair - we'd notice that as we age - our hair grows grey and white - and - we look like an almond tree in bloom.
". . . the grasshopper drags himself along . . . " - This is a picture of strength and vitality. The grasshopper usually hops along - but now can only drag themselves along the ground. Young men bound to a task when asked to help - but for an older man - the bounce is not in his step and difficult tasks seem to cause us to drag after even a short stint doing them.
". . . and the caperberry is ineffective." - The caperberry was a stimulant of sexual desire. Those desires also wane and begin to go away with age.
Verse 6 - "Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed." - Many believe these to be illustrative of various parts of the body. The silver cord refers to our spine and back - which deteriorates with age. The golden bowl refers to our head or more importantly our brain - which is actually the last thing to go at death. The pitcher by the well refers to our heart - which can no longer draw water and distribute it throughout the body - and the wheel on the cistern, most likely refers to the aorta - which then takes the water and delivers it - thus the heart pushes the blood through this artery - but at death it no longer delivers the blood throughout the body.
Verse 7 - "Then the dust will return to the earth . . . " - This speaks of the body, which came from dust, then returning to dust and decaying in the ground.
". . . and the spirit returns to God who gave it." - This refers to the immaterial part of man - which God breathed into man to make him a living being. That will return to God - to stand before Him. The phrase here, "who gave it," has interesting implications. Since God gave us life - we do not just return to dust. We return to God in our immaterial part - to stand and give account to the One who gave us life.
Verse 8 - "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, "all is vanity!" - The end of this aging process is seeing that those who live only for this life, this world, and this body in which our spirit lives, is living a vain life. The ultimate fact of life is aging and death. Therefore to live for only now - is foolish. It is not a pleasant thought - but definitely an accurate one - that we all will die. When we do, our bodies will age, fall apart, die, and decay. Our spirit, though, returns to God who gave it.
A proper theology of aging recognizes that our physical bodies are aging, becoming more feeble over time, and eventually die. Therefore to live only for them is truly a waste of our lives. Our focus should be that while we live in these physical bodies - we focus on the spiritual realities. We focus on God - His will - His purposes - His intentions - His plans - and His pleasure. Thus, when the process of living in the physical is over - we return to Him having lived this life for what matters.
But you might ask - why the depressing description of the human aging process? What is it God is trying to teach us by walking us through a truly bummer-ific look at the latter years of living? We'll look more at that next time.