The beginning of this chapter is probably one of the most widely recognized in the book of Ecclesiastes, but today I’m going to show you there’s so much more to it, and how the feelings I’ve experienced really aren’t too far from how the author must have felt so long ago when these words were penned.
References to Bible Verses:
Ecclesiastes 1:1; Ecclesiastes 1:12; Ecclesiastes 1:16; Ecclesiastes 12:9; Ecclesiastes 1:2; Ecclesiastes 3:1-22; Philippians 4:12-13; Genesis 1:27; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Deuteronomy 4:2; Psalms 14:1; Psalms 9:20; Psalms 49:14-15; 2 Timothy 1:10
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Jason: Welcome to the My Ministry Mission podcast. My name is Jason and I am your host. So here we are. Dinners are done, presents are open, and Christmas has come to a close. Now I know, I know, it's been a few weeks, but I always feel this sense of profound sadness when Christmas ends and we're in that gap between Christmas and the new year.
I usually put off taking down my lights and Christmas decorations for a while, and I'll kind of wander around the house looking at all the twinkling lights and my Christmas tree and nativity scene. But eventually it all has to come down, but not in that moment. Then New Year's Eve is upon me, and I've given up and boxed everything up. Now I'm setting off fireworks with my neighbor, spending time with the kiddo, counting down from ten to one before blowing horns and shouting Happy New Year! Then the clock strikes 12:01, and then what? It's 2024 and everything starts again. It all seems so mundane, right?
And it is, unless we invite God into our lives, unless we submit to his timing and his will. And a while back, a friend of mine suggested I do an episode on Ecclesiastes chapter 3, which explores God's timing, so that's what I'm doing now. And you should know who you are, I think you do. The beginning of this chapter probably is one of the most widely recognized in the book of Ecclesiastes, but today I'm going to show you that there's more to it than that, and how these feelings I've experienced really aren't that far from maybe how the author felt so long ago when these words were penned.
So stick with me, and I'll give you the rundown, and hopefully you'll gain a greater appreciation for the Book of Ecclesiastes. Well, at least Chapter 3.
Jason: The word Ecclesiastes is derived from the Greek word Ekklesia, which translates into "assembly" or "congregation." Now Ecclesiastes indicates a person who calls an assembly, and this is further derived down to the Hebrew word Qoheleth, which means preacher or teacher.
Now this word is used in Ecclesiastes 1:1. "The words of the teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem." Now, this verse also tells us who the author is by calling himself son of David, king in Jerusalem. This points to Solomon, who is the only one who followed David on the throne in Jerusalem. Now, the author also writes in verse 1:12, "I, the teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem."
Since Solomon was the only Davidic son to rule over all of Israel, this points to him. But there are other pointers that confirm this as well. Ecclesiastes 1:6, the author writes, "I said to myself, look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me. I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge."
Then later in 12:9 he writes, "Not only was the teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs." And this all tracks because Solomon was the wisest man in the world during his time, maybe any time, and he wrote most of the book of Proverbs. So it seems very reasonable. to suggest that Solomon was a Qoheleth, or preacher, who wrote Ecclesiastes.
Now, this book is one of the more unusual in the Bible, and it's considered to be one of the harder books to understand. It has this spirit of hopeless despair, it doesn't offer praise or peace, and it really does seem to promote some questionable conduct at times.
Now, an example of this is Ecclesiastes 1:2 which starts out with this feeling of hopelessness. It says, "Meaningless, meaningless, the teacher says, utterly meaningless, everything is meaningless." Now, throughout this book, ultimately, the preacher shows us the futility and foolishness of living a life without the eternal perspective, meaning God.
Now, what's being questioned in this book isn't whether God exists, understand that the author doesn't dispute this, but the question here is whether or not God matters. And this preacher searches the depths of the human experience and thoroughly examines how empty our lives will be, without eternity, without God, before finally coming to the conclusion that He is necessary. In other words, the author is looking through human eyes and viewing the world solely from that perspective to ultimately acknowledge the importance God has in this world.
Now, that being said, taking this approach offers some interesting and profound wisdom within these pages. And today I would like to focus on, as I said before, What is probably one of the most, if not the most recognized chapters in Ecclesiastes, chapter 3. At least the beginning of it seems to be well known.
So this chapter starts out with this interesting poem about the paradoxes of life, which highlights both God's timing and God's sovereignty in, I mean, basically everything. It starts out with something of a faith statement, and then invites us to peer into this perspective of complete trust in the Lord and His ability to balance all things. But there's more to it than just that.
So I'm gonna get started by reading this poem in Ecclesiastes 3 verses 1 through 8, which is really the main passage of the chapter. But I want to start out with just verse 3:1, because it really sets the stage for this poem. "There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens."
This verse establishes the context of Solomon's perspective. Every activity under the heavens puts everything in the framework of what's happening here on earth. Now, this poem will remind us that we live in a world of changes, and these events, these seasons, are just a part of our human life. But the rest of this poem, verses 2 through 8, go like this.
"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 down, 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."
This poem is both beautiful and tragic at the same time. At first pass, we really see that there is a season for every facet in life. And this is bittersweet. We have this hope and encouragement that there are these wonderful seasons to experience, with births, planting, healing, laughter, and dancing. But there's this sadness in knowing that we can't avoid the ugly parts of life. The evil, trouble, war, hate. And as I read this poem, I got tired of saying the words, a time, a time, a time, over and over again. I'm sure you got sick of hearing it. But this was done intentionally to remind us that in life, we experience this oppressive monotony. And this really reminds me of how I felt in my introduction. Good seasons come and go, and are exchanged for bad seasons. But we are constantly going through these cycles.
Now this poem started with "a time to be born and a time to die," and this was not done by chance. It establishes the entire boundary of our lives right up front. Everything that happens in this world will happen in between that simple verse. And as this poem goes on, you might notice that every good thing that happens has a bad thing to answer it.
Some scholars have observed that Solomon doesn't tell us that there's actually a time to live. Suggesting that, since life is so short, maybe it's not worth mentioning. I mean, as soon as we're born, we begin to die, right? I'm not saying I agree with this, I just wanted to point that out.
Now, I'm not going to go through this entire list. I'm afraid if I did, you would turn off my podcast. But I do want to touch on a few of these that my commentaries called out, which seem like they might be significant.
So Solomon tells us that there is a time to kill and a time to heal. But he never said there was a time to murder. Now, we know this because the Hebrew word "hāraḡ" is used to represent "to kill" in Ecclesiastes, whereas the word "rāṣaḥ" is used in Exodus 20:13 with the sixth commandment, "You shall not kill." The difference between these two words boils down to premeditation. If you're planning to kill someone, it falls under murder.
Now, another verse I'd like to highlight is "a time to mourn and a time to dance." Obviously, when bad things happen, we have a duty to mourn, and I think it's important to remember that it is okay to mourn in these situations. But on the flip side, we are also called to times of laughter and joy, and more importantly to serve God with joy and gladness in our heart. And one of my commentaries says that sometimes we have to first sow in tears, then reap in joy.
Now, the last one I want to touch on is "a time to love and a time to hate," but understand that this doesn't encourage meaningless hate, such as we see with bigotry and racism. This is more than likely related to breaking friendships or family bonds that are not good for us. Now, I highlight some of this in episode 38 of my podcast entitled, "Navigating Relationships After Coming to Christ." but again, it does help if we go to the Hebrew word, which is "śānē'", which does translate into hate, but it also translates into enemy. And I kind of feel like that fits better. Now understand, I don't have a commentary that supports that or specifically says that so that's just my opinion. But in Matthew Henry's commentary, it does focus on breaking ties, and according to Jameson, Fausset , and Brown, it's about loving God so much more that it seems like hate in comparison when someone comes between us and God. The bottom line is this though, if there is someone in your life constantly getting between you and God trying to get in your way, they have to go.
So, as I've mentioned before, one of the common themes in Ecclesiastes seems to be surrounding this idea of meaningful versus meaningless. And these next three verses are looking at this in regards to our work. Starting out with Ecclesiastes 3:9 which reads, "What do workers gain from their toil?"
I mean, it's a simple question, right? What do we get out of working? Again, this is looking at the inevitability of all things. If we build something for a living, like construction or manufacturing, eventually one day that thing is going to break down. If we accomplish a task at work, eventually that task will become obsolete, and we'll have to either do it again or do something else. And this reminds me of my own job. I work in technology, and over time, companies have to invest money into infrastructure updates, security changes, application updates, or migrations, and so on. Only to do it again at some point further down the road.
Now this draws a distinction between things of this world that are going to change compared to the unchanging nature of God, which we get into in a moment as the preacher goes on in Ecclesiastes 3:10, "I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race."
I mean, do we have a burden of work with little to no reward? Why do we work so hard? Now this verse is more complicated than it seems. In order to understand it better, we should probably look at Philippians 4:12, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." so what secret did Apostle Paul understand? Well, he answers that in the next verse, Philippians 4:13, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
So back to this distinction between things of this world versus the unchanging nature of God. We often try to create happiness by the success of our labors. Maybe we measure our happiness by the size of our paycheck or the fancy job title we have, but understand this. We don't create happiness by working. Happiness is a gift we get through work from God. We weren't created to sit around and do nothing. We were all given a purpose, and when we apply that purpose for the glory of God, He will pour happiness into us. But we don't create it on our own.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 starts to flip the script a little bit, though. "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."
Now, this does seem to be putting a positive spin on this poetic list from earlier. God makes everything beautiful in his time. Things change all the time in this world, and we can take comfort that the hand of God is working in those changes, whether those changes are good or bad. You and I need to learn how to make the best of what is right now, and take comfort in knowing that God will make everything beautiful when the time is right.
The preacher is also telling us that God has placed this longing for eternity in our hearts. Genesis 1:27 taught us that we are created in the image of God, an image of eternity. Every person has biblical truth planted in his or her heart. We all have a yearning to be closer to God. Now, sometimes we feel that yearning with worldly desires or our work, but nothing in this world can satisfy that appetite. It just can't. We need God in our lives. I mean, take it from me, someone who has tried to fill that emptiness with work and achievements and accolades for most of his life.
But moving on. The last part of verse 11 reminds us that though we have this longing for and awareness of God, well, God has not revealed everything about His eternal work. This keeps that yearning within us alive. We want to know more, so we go seek His counsel.
Moving on to Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, "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."
Now understand, it's not the outcome of working that brings us joy. It's the process of working. So what do I mean by that? Well, when we do our job. Inevitably, there is some kind of outcome, a report, a widget, serving food, whatever it is. You're doing work to achieve some objective. And that is not where the joy comes from. The joy will be found in doing the work, not completing the work. The very act of working and working to glorify God will bring us tremendous joy. 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."
So this idea of doing good for the glory of God goes way beyond work. It should be in every part of our lives, whether we're out with family, hanging out with the neighbors, serving the poor, spending time in our faith communities, reading a book, whatever it is. We were not created for our own benefit. We were created by God with unique abilities and attributes that are intended to help others. And our real business is to do good in this world, and again, to glorify God. It says so in verse 11 when the preacher wrote, "and to do good while they live." It's right there in the verse. And it's okay for us to enjoy the good in our labors. It's okay for us to make merry and be joyful, to eat and drink and celebrate so long as we are doing so to serve the Lord.
But from there, this chapter moves into appreciating divine providence. That we can't know what God knows, that we need to submit to his wisdom. Ecclesiastes 3:14 reads, "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."
So this use of the word fear comes from the Hebrew word yārē', which represents reverence, awe, honor, and respect. Now, this verse is teaching us to find wisdom in submitting to God's timing and to God's will, and this relates back to Deuteronomy 4:2, "Do not add to what I command you to do, do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you." look, God's counsel was, not meant to be altered or amended. Doing so defies his will.
Moving on to Ecclesiastes 3:15, "Whatever is has already been, and whatever will be has been before, and God will call the past to account." So this feels a bit like word salad, but this verse is telling us simply that things in this world are subject to change without notice, and that's how it's always been and probably how it will always be. In other words, the only thing that stays the same is change. Solomon is also telling us that God will recall the past troubles, if we step out of his divine plan for us, as a way to humble us. Likewise, God may recall the good things from our past when we submit to His will as a reward for a job well done. This seems to be a way of letting us know that when we step into a new season of life, maybe we should judge ourselves, our sins, and our success based on previous seasons and their outcomes.
Solomon goes on to describe a problem of injustice in the world in Ecclesiastes 3:16, "And I saw something else under the sun, in the place of judgment, wickedness was there. In the place of justice, wickedness was there." Well, that seems a little grim. I want to touch on something really quick. When Solomon says, under the sun, it's the same as under the heavens. It's referring to this world, which means he's talking about worldly justice. And as Solomon looked around at the world, he saw wickedness, where he thought judgment and justice should be.
So Solomon is telling us this, if we take God out of the equation, then this life is all that remains. Take away our faith and there is nothing of value left in this world. Now in this life, there are evil, wicked people who will win over good and righteous people. In other words, maybe karma doesn't work quite like how we hoped, at least not here. Now, we are arrogant to think that this world is all that matters and all that is. And Psalms 14:1 reminds us, "The fool says in his heart, there is no God."
But then our preacher pivots back to God in Ecclesiastes 3:17, "God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed."
So after Solomon saw how man was perverting justice and judgment, he looked back to God, the ultimate judge. Wicked men , they may have their time here on earth, but God's day is coming and he will absolutely render judgment on the wickedness. But he will also render judgment on the righteous, a reminder that nobody is exempt from his rule.
And then Solomon goes back to everything is meaningless in Ecclesiastes 3:18-20, "I also said to myself, as for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals. The same fate awaits them both. As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath. Humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place. All come from dust, and to dust all return." So now he's looking at comparing humans to animals, reminding us that the same fate that awaits animals also awaits humans. The inevitable end or death.
Now this passage helps remind us that we are mortal much like Psalms 9:20, "Strike them with terror, Lord. Let the nations know that they are only mortal." And we find another reference comparing man and animals at the beginning of Psalms 49:14, "They are like sheep and are destined to die."
So from an outward appearance, this all seems true. In worldly views, man and beast share the same outcome.
We each have a time to be born and a time to die. We are very similar to many beasts in terms of anatomy too. Hearts, lungs, stomachs, brains, and so on. Sometimes we even share similar maladies like cancer, epilepsy, diabetes. And once we die, both man and animal, our bodies are decomposed and given back to the earth.
But then our preacher reminds us that, I don't know, maybe we have a spirit in Ecclesiastes 3:21, "Who knows if the human spirit rises upwards and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth." So there seems to be a tone of hope there, in my humble opinion. It's like Solomon is hoping that what differentiates man and animal is where the spirit goes after death. But he seems to have this who knows attitude towards it.
Going back to Psalms 49, we can continue on to verse 15, which gives us some hope that puts our sights back on God. "But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead. He will surely take me to himself."
And now we'll round this out with Ecclesiastes chapter 3, which finishes in verse 22. "So, I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work because that is their lot for who can bring them to see what will happen after them?"
I love to say that this chapter ends on a happy note, but Solomon seems to settle on this idea that we should accomplish our work to the best that we can and maybe not trouble ourselves with what comes after. I don't know. Maybe Ecclesiastes was written while Solomon was in a funk. I mean, we all have our low points in life, right?
However, have hope, dear listener, because you and I have the knowledge of Jesus that Solomon didn't have. We have the knowledge and hope of eternity that he struggled to find. I mean, look at 2 Timothy 1:10, "But it has now been revealed through the appearance of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."
I reckon Solomon knows better now. So if you are to take anything away from this chapter, just remember that all seasons are temporary. I mean, I dare say I'd prefer to put a positive spin on it and suggest that during joyful seasons take time to rest in that joy, savor it, store up those good memories and praise Jesus so that when the troublesome seasons arrive we have fuel in our tanks and a relationship with Christ that we can call upon for support and resIlience.
Jason: Okay, so perhaps this wasn't quite the episode that you thought it might be. I certainly didn't expect it to turn out the way it did. However, I am reminded that we all suffer seasons of doubt and hardship, so it's comforting for me to know that even the wisest man in the Old Testament may have had some of the same doubts. It's also comforting to recognize that no season sticks around forever. So if you are struggling, just know that it will end, and the seasons will change.
But before I finish up this episode, I do want to share one resource with you. If you are in a funk, or you're depressed, or stressed, or feeling anxiety, or whatever is troubling you, there is a place you can go to chat with someone who will listen. Someone who knows Christ and it doesn't cost you anything, they're just there to help. Go to https://jesuscares.com and click the chat now button. There are a lot of great people there. There's no judgment, just a compassionate soul who will listen and pray for you.
So until next time, may the Lord bless you and keep you. God bless everyone.