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Ecclesiastes 12 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Chapter 12

[a]Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
    before the evil days come
And the years approach of which you will say,
    “I have no pleasure in them”;
Before the sun is darkened
    and the light and the moon and the stars
    and the clouds return after the rain;
[b]When the guardians of the house tremble,
    and the strong men are bent;
When the women who grind are idle because they are few,
    and those who look through the windows grow blind;
When the doors to the street are shut,
    and the sound of the mill is low;
When one rises at the call of a bird,
    and all the daughters of song are quiet;
When one is afraid of heights,
    and perils in the street;
When the almond tree blooms,
    and the locust grows sluggish
    and the caper berry is without effect,
Because mortals go to their lasting home,
    and mourners go about the streets;
[c]Before the silver cord is snapped
    and the golden bowl is broken,
And the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the pulley is broken at the well,
And the dust returns to the earth as it once was,
    and the life breath returns to God who gave it.[d]
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
    all things are vanity!

Epilogue. [e]Besides being wise, Qoheleth taught the people knowledge, and weighed, scrutinized and arranged many proverbs. 10 Qoheleth sought to find appropriate sayings, and to write down true sayings with precision. 11 The sayings of the wise are like goads; like fixed spikes are the collected sayings given by one shepherd.[f] 12 As to more than these,[g] my son, beware. Of the making of many books there is no end, and in much study there is weariness for the flesh.

13 [h]The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this concerns all humankind; 14 because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.


  1. 12:1–7 The homage to life of 11:7–10 is deliberately balanced by the sombre yet shimmering radiance of this poem on old age and death. The poem’s enigmatic imagery has often been interpreted allegorically, especially in vv. 3–5. Above all it seeks to evoke an atmosphere as well as an attitude toward death and old age.
  2. 12:3–5 An allegorical reading of these verses sees references to the human body—“guardians”: the arms; “strong men”: the legs; “women who grind”: the teeth; “those who look”: the eyes; “the doors”: the lips; “daughters of song”: the voice; “the almond tree blooms”: resembling the white hair of old age; “the locust…sluggish”: the stiffness in movement of the aged; “the caper berry”: a stimulant for appetite.
  3. 12:6 The golden bowl suspended by the silver cord is a symbol of life; the snapping of the cord and the breaking of the bowl, a symbol of death. The pitcher…the pulley: another pair of metaphors for life and its ending.
  4. 12:7 Death is portrayed in terms of the description of creation in Gn 2:7; the body corrupts in the grave, and the life breath (lit., “spirit”), or gift of life, returns to God who had breathed upon what he had formed.
  5. 12:9 A disciple briefly describes and praises the master’s skill and reputation as a sage.
  6. 12:11 One shepherd: perhaps referring to the book’s author, who gathers or “shepherds” together its contents. God could also be “the one shepherd,” the ultimate depository and source of true wisdom.
  7. 12:12 As to more than these: the words seem to refer to the writings of Ecclesiastes and other sages. They are adequate and sufficient; any more involves exhaustive labor.
  8. 12:13–14 These words reaffirm traditional wisdom doctrine such as fear of God and faithful obedience, perhaps lest some of the more extreme statements of the author be misunderstood. Although the epilogue has been interpreted as a criticism of the book’s author, it is really a summary that betrays the unruffled spirit of later sages, who were not shocked by Qoheleth’s statements. They honored him as a hakam or sage (v. 9), even as they preserved his statements about the futility of life (v. 8), and the mystery of divine judgment (8:17; 11:5).
New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Scripture texts, prefaces, introductions, footnotes and cross references used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


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