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Sunrise and Sunset: Allegory of Life and Death

MsDora, a former teacher and Christian counselor, presents practical Scriptural principles for joyful everyday living.

Nature reminds us in the daily cycle of day and night, that life begins and ends.

Nature reminds us in the daily cycle of day and night, that life begins and ends.

The Daily Rehearsal

In the prime of our lives when we are making strides toward our goals, we would rather not think about death. Yet, Nature aims to remind us daily, in the cycle of day and night, that life has a beginning and an end.

When the sun rises, healthy-and-wise people rise with it and perform their daily tasks with energy, diligence and joy. They take on life's challenges, serve in their assigned roles and gather assets to make their lives comfortable. As the day progresses, they make rest stops, take meal breaks, refresh themselves and continue their activities. They anticipate the lull which comes with the evening, and the darkness which the night brings. Daily, they rehearse the process of life and death.

No wonder, some funeral tributes label the life span from sunrise (date of birth) to sunset (date of passing). It is an attempt to relate the final event to an everyday, unavoidable occurrence. It reminds us that attached to the exciting opportunity of life is the natural result of having lived. Comparing life and death to the colorful phenomenon of sunrise and sunset suggests that both the beginning and ending of life deserve our embrace.

Wise Counsel From an Aged Writer

The writer of Ecclesiastes, an Old Testament book, describes in beautiful poetry, his own journey from the light of day to the darkness of night. Most scholars identify him, with good reason (1:1,12-16), as the wise King Solomon. He makes it clear that life mixes the happy with the sad and he suggests that since many of life's outcomes are beyond our control, we can choose to focus on the things we enjoy.

His wise counsel (11:7, 8) benefits both the young and the old:

“Light is sweet,
and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
However many years anyone may live,
let them enjoy them all.
But . . . “

Too many people spend way too much time exploring the “but” and miss the primary message of his counsel: enjoy life to the full.

No matter how many days we experience the light of the sunrise, we have the opportunity to enjoy every one of them. Some days, it takes effort, but listen to an old man who, in his sunset years, reviewed his lists of good and not-good situations, and concluded:

“I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live” (3:12).

King Solomon's conclusion after reviewing his good days and bad days.

King Solomon's conclusion after reviewing his good days and bad days.

Positive Perspectives

He offers some perspectives which are likely to boost our sense of joy and purpose in the midst of the frustrations which threaten our outlook:

“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (2:24)

“Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.” (5:19)

“When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.” (7:14)

He seems to suggest that God is the source of all outcomes, that we can trust His wisdom to balance the good with the bad.

Enjoy Life But . . .

After the counsel to enjoy life, the writer continues (7:8)

“But let them remember the days of darkness:
for there will be many.”

The many “days of darkness” make their approach with life's setting sun. They bring physical decline, loss of loved ones, loss of control over some situations we no longer manage well. However, none of these negatives guarantee cynicism and despair to lives filled with joy. Joy remains in the spirit, even as the body ages.

In a life full of joy, joy remains through the sunset years.

In a life full of joy, joy remains through the sunset years.

Days of Darkness

If the reader finds it difficult to accept the occurrences of the days of darkness, he may still enjoy the poet's description. It is difficult to read the lines without some literary appreciation and an occasional smile.

Following are selected portions of poetry, italicized here to help the reader identify them, followed by the literal explanation, line by line.

Ecclesiastes 12:3

“When the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim.”

Line 1 – The hands and arms guard the body, but later in life they shake.
Line 2 – The legs, the strongest limbs, find it difficult to stand straight.
Line 3 – The teeth fall out and are no longer a continuous row.
Line 4 – Sight diminishes.

Ecclesiastes 12:4

“When the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;”

Line 1 – The mouth falls over the toothless gums like closed doors.
Line 2 - The teeth can no longer grind the food.
Line 3 – The aged become light sleepers or suffer from insomnia.
Line 4 – Their speech and their singing lose passion.

Ecclesiastes 12:5

"When the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred."

Line 1 – The white hairs spring up like the white almond blossoms.
Line 2 – The sexual organ gets sluggish.
Line 3 – Desire is not strong enough to excite it.

Who wants to imagine himself in a perpetual state of decline? The natural end of life may well be received as rest and relief to the weary.

The Conclusion

The beautiful gifts of sunrise and sunset provide an allegory for life. We live through life's day with the understanding that we will encounter periods of extreme happiness, as well as periods of extreme sadness, and innumerable situations in between. The advice from our wise writer is to find and enjoy the good. The attitude of gratitude will help. Meanwhile, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom."(9:10) He also writes:

"Here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind." (12:13)

When the sun sets, the satisfaction of having enjoyed a life, lived according to God's principles will extinguish the sadness of earthly goodbyes. And joy continues when we greet the morning in the heavenly realm (Psalm 30:5). Say, what beautiful thought will you reflect on when you watch the next sunrise or sunset?

All Bible quotes are from the New International Version.


Pulpit Commentary, Ecclesiastes 12, Copyright Bible Hub (2004-2022)

© 2022 Dora Weithers