When I mention the book of Ecclesiastes, what goes through your mind?
The folk-pop song hit from The Byrds in 1965?
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”?
Hopeless despair of anything one does “under the sun”?
Look closer…there’s more to this book than the Preacher’s laments.
At the very end of Ecclesiastes, the writer switches his voice from the Preacher to the narrator, and writes these words:
“The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.” Ecclesastes 12:11 ESV
The goads mentioned in this verse are sticks used for poking and prodding sheep. Sheep are notorious for being slow-witted and stubborn. Even faced with danger, they will not obey the shepherd or sheep dogs if they think doing so would be more dangerous. At these times, the shepherd can resort to using his staff as a goad, poking the sheep to the point of pain, if necessary, to get it going to a safe place.
I don’t know about you, but I’m often like the slow-witted sheep, going blindly down the path toward danger. My Shepherd knows there are times when I would fall off a cliff rather than listen to His word, so He will resort to the goad. I know some of the most painful episodes in my life were used by my Shepherd to move me back to the center of His will.
The other term used in this verse is “nails.” This same word is also used in Ezra 9:8 and Isaiah 22:23. It gives the picture of a peg or nail fixed firmly and securely into place, as in Ezra, when the Lord established the remnant of the nation of Israel in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery.” Ezra 9:8 ESV
What does this mean for us as writers?
God’s Word is the goad that keeps us in line with His direction and will. He is the Shepherd who establishes us firmly in our place.
The next verse, Ecclesiastes 12:12, is also appropriate for us: “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
Did you see the instruction? “…beware of anything beyond these…” Beyond what? The “words of the wise,” given by “one Shepherd.”
As Christian writers, our place is putting words on paper – words that point our readers to the One Good Shepherd who seeks the lost and redeems sinners.