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The Whole Duty of Man

Eccl 11:9–12:14

The despondent man of Ecclesiastes finally came to an understanding concerning what life was about. He saw what he considered to be prosperous days that were filled with pleasure and then he saw the futility of what he had come to rely upon. This realization left him without hope. He no longer trusted his fellow human beings, he despaired of the future, he languished in the present. But finally he began to see something of sense in it all. The essence of his discover was this: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” The whole duty of man is to fear and to keep. What do those words mean?

The Hebrew word for fear is yare. It is used in five different ways. It can refer to an emotion, the intellectual anticipation of evil, reverence or awe, righteous behavior, or formal religious worship. When referring to God the emphasis is more often placed on awe rather than terror. When seen together the nuances of meaning seem to form a whole. The person who fears God has an emotional response toward him that involves the strong concern that he might not displease God, the intellectual anticipation that evil could cause him to fall short of his goal, and the reverence and love toward God which naturally lead to righteous behavior and a desire to worship the One he loves. A few times this word is used it actually refers to people who are in the process of worshiping God. For example, “those who fear God” in Psalm 22 is referring to the worshiping congregation.

Shamar means to keep, to guard, to observe or to give heed. The basic idea of the root word is “to exercise great care over.” It is most often used when speaking of obeying the Word of God. So significant is the meaning of the word that it is also used to speak of the sacred occupation of the priests in Numbers 18:7. It cares the idea not only of watchfulness and carefulness but also of maintenance. It refers to personal discipline.

The whole duty of mankind involves Fearing and keeping. The songwriter had it write when he penned the words to “Trust and Obey” for “there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but the Trust and Obey.” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament)

Dr. Gayle Woods

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