1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 ESV
In just eight short verses, there are 29 instances of the word “time.” You might conclude that Solomon is trying to make a point about the topic. The Hebrew word he chose to use is ’eth and of the 300 times it appears in the King James Bible, it is most often translated as “time.” And it seems that Solomon is using this particular word to drive home the contrast between life as we know it on this temporal plane, and the timeless dimension of eternity.
Solomon’s dilemma, like every other human being who has ever lived, is that he is restricted in his ability to discern anything beyond what he can see. He makes the very astute observation that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” In other words, we have an innate awareness that there is something beyond this life, but we can’t perceive it. It lies beyond our limited vision.
As Solomon puts it, man “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT). We are temporal creatures, living our temporary lives on this earth, hamstrung by the limitations of our human senses and incapable of seeing what lies beyond the day we take our last breath.
It is important to remember that Solomon wrote this book sometime near the end of his life after he had veered from the course established for him by God. He had surrounded himself with wealth, women, possessions, and pleasures of all kinds. He had set up idols to false gods all over the kingdom and had become distracted from his faithfulness to the one true God. His ability to see things from a godly perspective had been harmed and hindered by his love affair with material things, worldly pleasures, and his man-made replacements for God.
Solomon’s worldview had become heavily influenced by the secular rather than the sacred. So, 29 times in these verses, he speaks of life in terms of time. And he does so by providing 14 stark contrasts that reveal his rather limited perspective. From Solomon’s vantage point, a life lived on this earthly plane and viewed from a human perspective is nothing more than a series of polar extremes.
The hope and joy of birth are contrasted with the sadness and seeming finality of death. Planting produces an eventual harvest, but then the relentless cycle only repeats itself, season after season. Killing is an inevitable reality in life, and starkly at odds with the need for healing. One takes away life while the other attempts to prolong it.
There are times when tearing down follows a season of building up. Why? Because nothing in this life is meant to last forever. Everything has a life cycle and an expiration date. Even the extravagant palace that Solomon built for himself was eventually destroyed and replaced by another.
Even weeping and laughter, as disparate and dissimilar as they may be, share a strange coexistence, equally impacting the lives of men for good or bad. There are times when frivolity is the appropriate reaction, but there are other times when tears are the proper response. They are aspects of human existence that, without a God-focused perspective, create a dissonance in the heart of man that can’t be understood or explained. Without an eternal perspective, we can’t comprehend or appreciate the necessity for times of sorrow. We long for full-time happiness and see sorrow as a setback to our personal agenda. And Solomon uses these two extremes as just another example of the cyclical, repetitive, and meaningless nature of human existence “under the sun” when God’s eternal viewpoint is left out of the equation.
Solomon acknowledges that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” There are those moments in life when we can enjoy the birth of a baby, the joy of laughter and dancing, the blessings of the harvest, the experience of loving and being loved, and the presence of peace in our lives and in the world. But that doesn’t keep him from asking the question: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” In other words, what benefit does a man enjoy from all the effort and energy he puts into his life?
Whether he likes it or not, there will come a time when he has to replace the harvest he reaped. His wheat will run out. His wine vats will run dry. And he will be forced to sow yet again. He may one day be forced to watch the death of the child whose birth he witnessed and rejoiced over. He will experience the pain that comes when love turns to hate and gain turns to loss.
And Solomon summarizes all these things as “the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (Ecclesiastes 3:10 ESV). So, based on his secular-based viewpoint, Solomon concludes that the best outcome human beings can hope for is “to be joyful and to do good as long as they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:12 ESV). In light of the inevitability and futility of life, the most logical response is that of resignation. Since you can’t do anything about it, just give in and do your best to enjoy it.
So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor… – Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 NLT
And while this approach may seem a tad pessimistic, Solomon explains how he reached this conclusion.
…this is God’s gift to man. – Ecclesiastes 3:13 NLT
What Solomon really seems to be saying is that if anyone can experience any semblance of joy and pleasure in the midst of all the meaninglessness of life, they should consider it a gift from God, and enjoy it while they can.
Solomon displays a strong belief in the sovereignty of God. He readily acknowledges that God is in control of all things, but his admission is tinged with a hint of sarcasm and resentment. Look closely at how he describes God’s preeminence and power.
…whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. – Ecclesiastes 3:14 ESV
While this speaks of God’s sovereignty and providential control over all things, Solomon’s tone is far from positive. He doesn’t exude a spirit of peace and solace at the thought of God’s omnipotence and omniscience but instead, he displays a hopeless resignation. He further qualifies his view by saying, “That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away” (Ecclesiastes 3:15 ESV).
Here is yet another reference to the repetitive and futile essence of life lived under the sun. No sense of eternity. No expression of hope in what is to come. It is almost as if Solomon is painting God as some kind of cosmic puppet master in the sky who toys with man, determining his destiny, and relegating him to a hopeless existence featuring equal parts toil, trouble, joy, and pleasure.
But Solomon had a warped perspective. He had lost his ability to see life through the lens of God’s love and faithfulness. His abandonment of the eternal God had left him with nothing but a temporal view of life. He had become blinded to the sovereign will of God that is always accompanied by the loving mercy of God. His sense of purposelessness was the direct byproduct of his lack of faithfulness. God was not the one who had changed. God was not the one who had moved. Solomon’s loss of hope was due to this loss of his trust in God.
The Lord God had become a distant deity to Solomon, but it was not because He had abandoned His servant. No, Solomon had been the one who walked away from the relationship. He had failed to remember and take seriously the promise that God had made to him years earlier.
“…if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 9:4-5 ESV
Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of eternity and had become fixated on the here-and-now. It had become all about him – his kingdom, his pleasure, his reputation, his own life “under the sun.” But God is eternal and His focus is always on the future. He had great things in store for Solomon but His real emphasis was on the One who would come and sit on the throne of David and rule in righteousness “forever.”
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.