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, Solomon uses a single word 29 times, and that word is “time.” He uses the Hebrew word, ’eth. In 257 out of the nearly 300 instances that Hebrew word is found in the King James Bible, it is translated as “time.” And it seems that Solomon is using this particular word to drive home a 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. 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.” 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 of our last breath.
It is important that we keep in mind that Solomon, writing this book sometime near the end of his life, has veered from the course established for him by God. He has surrounded himself with wealth, women, possessions, and pleasures of all kinds. He has set up idols to false gods all over the kingdom, and allowed himself to be distracted from his faithfulness to the one true God. His ability to see things from a godly perspective has been harmed and hindered by his love affair with material things, worldly pleasures, and man-made replacements for God. His world view has become 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 portray life as seen from his limited human perspective. 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 is contrasted with the sadness and seeming finality of death. Planting culminates with harvesting, and you begin the cycle again. Killing is an inevitable reality in life, and starkly at odds with the need for healing. There are times when tearing down follows a season of building up. Why? Because nothing in this life truly lasts. Weeping and laughter, as disparate and dissimilar as they are, share a strange coexistence, equally impacting the lives of men for good or bad. These various actions are relegated to time. They are aspects of human existence that, without a God-focused perspective, create a dissonance in the heart of man that can’t be understand or explained. They present, in just another form, the cyclical, repetitive and meaningless nature of life lived devoid of an eternal perspective.
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 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 by sowing again. He may one day be forced to watch the death of the child whose birth he witnessed. He will experience the pain that comes when love turns to hate and gain turns to loss. And Solomon describes it as “the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (Ecclesiastes 3:10 ESV). So, according to Solomon and based on his secular-based viewpoint, 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). As far as Solomon can tell, the most logical response, in light of the inevitability and futility of life, is that “everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil.” Why? Because “this is God’s gift to man.” 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.
And Solomon reveals the pessimistic nature of his worldview by stating, “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 seems to be saying it with less than a positive point of view. He doesn’t exude a spirit of peace and solace with this statement, but a sort of 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 to the cyclical, 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 and trouble and 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 his loss of trust in God.
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.