There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
In the previous verses, 2:24-26, the Teacher has set forth a basic proposition that God is in control and that outside of His will, everything is useless, meaningless, empty, futile; vanity. Yet within His will there is satisfaction and true happiness; in this chapter, he sets forth to prove his point. In this first part, the Teacher reminds us that there is an undeniable pattern to life, a rhythm we might say, which has been established by God.
These vases are so familiar, they were even made into a hit song back in the 1960’s, but do we really grasp their significance?
To ensure that we really “get” this passage, commentators often go into great detail to analyze each of these couplets, to squeeze out every bit of juice from the poem, often engaging in great philosophical dissertations that are quite fascinating to ponder, and you are quite welcome to search these out if you like. If you choose to take this approach, you can join so many other great minds who suddenly find themselves trying to justify killing, tearing things down and hatred into a Biblical context of love and compassion. It sounds like taking a side trip that involves a whole lot of chasing the wind to me…
I say this because these verses are not eight separate points, this passage does not stand on its own in the context of this book; it is one complete thought set up to demonstrate one part of the demonstration of one point in a series of points that make up the complete message of Ecclesiastes, and as richly rewarding as it may be to analyze this line by line, to do so misses the point entirely. I’m sorry that I have to admit this, but to my strange little mind, and with my oddball little sense of humor, charging off on such an errand would be hilarious and supremely ironic while studying Ecclesiastes, of all books.
The Teacher’s thesis is stated in the beginning of my comments above, and verses 1-8 are supporting point 1 in his attempt to back it up; this is evidence, not a philosophical treatise. What is he really trying to tell us? Simple: (go figure)
Thesis: Satisfaction in this life and thus true happiness can only be found when we are within the will of Almighty God.
First supporting point: God, in His infinite wisdom has ordained a season for every purpose of Man.
Mankind lives in the sorry state of rebellion against God. Yes, I’m afraid that is the reality of life under the sun, but that doesn’t mean that God has lost His grip, for He has ordered things in a certain way under the sun; there are seasons that men cannot change, seasons for everything. Within all of this chaos, confusion, rebellion and order, God still has a purpose. Of course, His purpose is significantly clearer in the New Testament than in the Old, but there was Purpose in play even then. In the OT, every person who sprang forth from the seed of Abraham had a choice to make; they could either confine themselves to God’s will (purpose) for them, or they could live in rebellion under the sun. In our day, this choice extends to every single human being.
The Teacher makes this case here in Ecclesiastes 3. In this text, he deals briefly with three aspects of God’s purpose beginning in verses 10-11 where he speaks of our completion of God’s purpose, then in 12-13 he speaks of our enjoyment of God’s blessing and then finally in 14-15, he speaks of our contentment with God’s will. All of this is his answer to the question posed in verse 9:
What do workers gain from their toil?
We are those workers, so what do we get?
I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (10-11)
When we come to understand that we are put here for God’s purposes rather than our own, we begin to see that everything is beautiful in its time. To put this into Christian terms, we might ask ourselves what could be more beautiful than to see our labors result in someone coming into relationship with Jesus Christ. We might see that a man or woman who is able to be set free from bondage to addiction or poverty or hopelessness and enter into the fullness of His grace is a beautiful thing indeed, and more rewarding than all of the treasure of this world. Yes, He has put eternity into our hearts, for unlike the animals, we have the ability to plan and to think ahead, but what will our plans and thinking be: to serve God or to serve ourselves? With the former we will find beauty that others may miss, while with the latter, the only beauty we will find is that which will perish with us.
The Teacher continues:
I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. (12-13)
Those of us who do our toil for God’s purpose have a gift that others do not; real happiness and satisfaction. The Teacher has made great pains, and will continue in this book to take great pains, to document the utter futility of the pursuit of mere human endeavors, but the gift of God for those who labor in His service is a most excellent gift, for it is a gift that will endure and that will satisfy the craving within every man and woman to seek after the eternal things of God.
I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account. (14-15)
The Teacher winds up this thought in these verses in an interesting way as he gives us a contrast of sorts. God’s purposes and accomplishments last forever, we can neither add nor detract from God’s purpose, but where is the contrast? The contrast is the works of men that are “meaningless” under the sun. Verse 15 makes this clear as the Teacher quotes himself (Ecc. 1:9) where he wailed about the futility of our accomplishments. God is n charge, not us; we can do whatever we want, but if we want our accomplishments to count for something, then we must accomplish things that are within God’s will and purpose for us, not our own flights of fancy. God has ordained this so that we might take notice, for everyone will be called to account.
The rest of this chapter, as you might guess, speaks of the justice of God; His most excellent justice. Before we dive headlong into God’s judgment, let’s pause and get our bearings. I’ve never actually come out and said this before, so lucky you; you get to read it first: God’s judgment is really something of a paradox: God is entirely and completely in control of it, but you decide the outcome.
Oh, I can hear the theologians screaming! Hey, not so fast; think about it. You decide whether your life will be used to advance His purpose or yours, and that decision will result in what becomes of you in judgment. Will you pursue all of those meaningless things as you chase the wind in this life under the sun, or will you labor for His purposes and enjoy His gifts of happiness and satisfaction?