“Remember your creator in the days of your youthfulness — before the days of evil come and the years drawn near in which you will say, ‘There is nothing of pleasure in them’ — before the sun and the light of the moon and stars are darkened — and the clouds return after the rain — in the days when the guardians of the house tremble and the men of strength are bent over — when the women who grind cease to do so because they are few and the ones who look through the lattice are dimmed — when the doors in the street are shut — when the sound of the mill is low — when one rises to the sound of the bird and all the daughters of song are bowed down — also, they fear what is high and the terrors in the way — the almond blossoms and the grasshopper bears a load — the caper fails because man is going to his eternal home. Around the street are mourners.”
There is a lot going on in these verses, but they contain a single train of thought, contrasting the days of our youth, when everything seemed bright and exciting, with the days of our waning years, when things seem dark and foreboding. Isn’t it interesting that almost every generation looks back to the “good old days”… but if we are honest, those days weren’t always all very good. To the young who are enjoying life, Solomon says, “do not neglect your creator.” Why is this so important? Simple. Spiritual maturity grows slowly and it is only spiritual maturity that prepares you for the dark days and for those days leading up to your death. So, in other words, the earlier you begin to develop that spiritual maturity, the better off you will be when the times of trial enter into your life.
The Rabbi Akabia ben Mahalalel (late first and early second century) wrote that there are three things you need to know in life: from whence you came, to where you are going, and before whom you must stand in judgment. In some ways, these words address at least the final two questions and allude to the first. We are born into this world in an ordinary way, but do not think that the God of creation does not have a hand in our individual creation — he is not just a creator in general senses, but he is a creator who functions as a potter, forming each of us in our mother’s wombs and placing within each one of us a soul designed after his plan and for his purposes. Further, unless our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, returns within our lifetimes, we will all go to the grave, our bodies being held in-trust within the ground for that day of resurrection. And finally, it is before God that we will be made to give an account of all we have and have not done when the books are opened before his great white throne.
The Hebrews often treated some of this language figuratively (the strong man bent over reminding us of how age and a deteriorating spine bend down with age, the almond blossoms as one’s hair goes from dark to grey, and the caper (used for the vitality of the libido) is not doing its job. And, certainly, the the context of a poetic passage, that reading is not unfair, though it is a little further than I am comfortable going. Such as it is, this is filled with idioms and figures of speech that do not lend themselves to a word-for word translation. Again, such should be no surprise within a poetic passage such as this.