The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Ecclesiastes 3

Ecc 3:1

Ecc 3: From the cradle to the grave, man's opportunity is limited by time. There is a beginning and an end to every human pursuit and enterprise. Now Qoheleth sees that life is not an endless, meaningless existence -- but an orderly, purposeful arrangement. God has a plan and a purpose. He understands, even if man does not, where it will all end, and HOW it will all end. Man beats himself in vain against the fitness of things which he cannot alter. He must learn to accept life as he finds it, with the limitations which time and season impose, and to align himself with God's revealed plan. Only then will his life have meaning: "God works in all things for good" (Rom 8:28,31).

THERE IS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING: And not just the particular activities enumerated in the next seven verses -- they are but examples... albeit significant examples.

A TIME: Heb "zeman" -- a fixed period, an appointed hour, with determined limits.

A SEASON FOR EVERY ACTIVITY UNDER HEAVEN: Heb "eth" -- an occurrence, an event. A short, transient moment of time.

"It is interesting to note the application of Scripture to this principle. Individuals are governed by time: Job 7:1-3,16; Psa 89:47; Ecc 9:11,12; Acts 17:26-31; Rom 9:28; 1Co 7:29. The nations are likewise: Acts 17:26; Psa 90:3-10. So is Israel: Num 14:33,34; Psa 102:13; Isa 60:22; Dan 8:13-17; 9:24-27; Luk 19:41-44. In the days of his flesh, Jesus was subject to times and seasons: Psa 31:15; Dan 9:24-27; Joh 7:6-8,30; 12:23,27. The saints are also: Psa 75:2 (cp mg); Dan 12:1-9; 1Co 7:29-31; 1Th 5:1,2; Rev 10:5-7. Because of this, there is a need to make the greatest use of our limited opportunities (Eph 5:16; Col 4:5), lest we be found placing overmuch emphasis on things in which there is no profit (2Ki 5:26,27)" (Krygger).

Ecc 3:2

Vv 2-8: There are 14 pairs of activities (a multiple of seven, which in Hebrew is the number of completeness); each pair lists an activity and its polar opposite -- as though to encompass everything else in between (the totality of existence -- which is also suggested in such passages as Deu 6:6–9 and Psa 139:2,3). The first pair -- birth and death -- are not only opposites, but in themselves mark out the absolute extremes of human activity.

A TIME TO BE BORN: Lit, "a time to bear" (cp AV mg). A woman may conceive only within certain fixed intervals, and when she does then the child is born nine months later. The Son of God was born at exactly the time appointed (Gal 4:4).

A TIME TO DIE: Death was decreed because of sin (Gen 3:19), and is a divine judgment upon that sin (Rom 5:2,6,8; Heb 9:27). But God has provided the remedy for this inescapable decree, through His Son (Joh 11:25-44; 1Co 15; Dan 12:1-3). And the time for the sacrificial death of that Son was exactly marked out, and ordained by the Father (Joh 7:30; 8:20; 13:1).

On the spiritual plane, the believer in Christ first "dies" in the waters of baptism, and then is "born" to a new and wonderful life in Christ (Rom 6).

A TIME TO PLANT: In the laws of nature, God has provided set times in which farmers should plant -- to ignore which would be the height of folly. Try to plant a crop in the middle of winter, when snow is on the ground, and you will find out quickly that it will not grow. Half of the problem of life is that we are constantly trying to reorganize God's schedule for Him... by imposing OUR schedule upon His!

A TIME TO UPROOT: Such might be done to the shriveled or unfruitful crop in a barren field. In a different sphere, God has the power to uproot even well-established nations and kingdoms (Jer 1:10; 18:7-10). In the church, or ecclesia, as well, "plants" can be uprooted judicially (Mat 15:13; Jud 1:12).

"A time to be born and a time to die." These two times are the opposite poles of one great truth -- which in itself is a whole philosophy of life. And what is that philosophy? That life, everything between the birth and the death, is a gift of God -- a sacred and precious gift, one to be received and enjoyed with the greatest thankfulness. Not to be frittered away, nor trifled with, nor gambled on passing whims. But rather a gift to be used thoughtfully and soberly, as well as thankfully -- for it does not last forever! Truly life itself, in all its glorious possibilities, is the one "pound" of Christ's parable -- not to be laid away and kept pristinely wrapped in a piece of cloth, but to be used, for all it is worth, in the service of the Gracious One who bestowed it!

"Planting and uprooting have both a natural and a metaphorical sense. The natural sense is taken up at Ecc 11:6, the metaphorical in Jeremiah's call to break up the fallow ground and uproot the thorns (Jer 4:3) and also in Christ's parable of the wheat and the tares (Mat 13:24-30)" (EBC).

"We know that there is a time to plant, and a time to root up that which is planted. If we are gardeners, we know, too, that in the most obvious application of this thought a neglect of work at the right time brings inevitable retribution, plants failing and weeds flourishing. In a less evident application perhaps the majority of parents fail, often with deplorable results for their children. At a time when the young are most impressionable and growing the fastest, parents fail to plant the right ideas in the infant mind. A little later they fail to pluck up wrong ideas which have been planted. The children are left to learn some of the most important facts of life from the most undesirable companions they ever meet. Truth is given a perverse twist to make it like a poison, and soon the time has passed either for planting or for effectual rooting out" (CEcc).

Ecc 3:3

A TIME TO KILL: The Heb "harogh" sig to smite with deadly intent, as in a judicial execution. When Israel's wickedness and disobedience exceeded the limits of the Almighty's patience, He slew them (Psa 78:30,31; Jer 12:3).

A TIME TO HEAL: The slaying of the wicked and the cleansing of the earth will give way to a time of healing and restoration for its remaining inhabitants: "I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal" (Deu 32:39). Israel will be the first people to experience this to the full: "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence" (Hos 6:1,2). Then will follow the healing of all nations by the work of Christ and the saints during the Millennium (Psa 72; Isa 2:1-4).

A TIME TO TEAR DOWN: Because of their disobedience, this happened to the "vineyard" of God's people Israel: He broke down her walls, and the "wild beasts" from the forests invaded the area and trampled down its vines (Isa 5:1-7; cp also Psa 80:12,13; Jer 45:4; 31:28).

A TIME TO BUILD: Heb "banah" = to repair. As there was a time to tear down the walls of Jerusalem, in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, so there was a time to build up them again, in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah. In the Last Days especially, there is a set time for the restoration of literal Jerusalem and spiritual Israel (Psa 102:13,14; 51:18; Isa 58:12; 61:4; Jer 24:6,7; 33:6,7; Amo 9:11; Eph 2:20-22).

Ecc 3:4

"The funeral and the wedding, the hired mourners and the guests at the marriage-feast, are set against one another. The first clause intimates the spontaneous manifestation of the feelings of the heart; the second, their formal expression in the
performances at funerals and weddings and on other solemn occasions. The contrast is found in the Lord's allusion to the sulky children in the marketplace, who would not join their companions' play: 'We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented' (Mat 11:17)" (Pulpit).

A TIME TO WEEP... A TIME TO MOURN: Abraham wept for his wife Sarah (Gen 23:2). Israel wept when carried into captivity in Babylon (Psa 137:1). Such a time to weep was when the Son of man was taken away from his disciples (Joh 16:20). Cp Mat 5:4; Rom 12:15. There is also spiritual sorrow, brought about by the sin and its effects (Jam 4:9; Acts 2:37; 2Co 7:11). At a time when Judah should have been weeping and mourning because their sins had brought calamity upon the nation, the prophet Isaiah saw instead a false and disgusting rejoicing and feasting: "Let us eat and drink," they said, "for tomorrow we die" (Isa 22:12,13).

A TIME TO LAUGH: Or to rejoice. Cp the "songs of joy" (Psa 126:1,2,6). "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" (Luk 6:21).

A TIME TO MOURN: Heb "shaphad" = to lament, to beat the breast. See Gen 37:34,35; Deu 34:5-8; Luk 18:13; 23:48.

A TIME TO DANCE: David danced before the ark when it was brought into Jerusalem (2Sa 6:16). In the Kingdom God's saints will dance for joy (Psa 149:3). God may turn our times of mourning into times of great joy: "You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy" (Psa 30:11).

May laughing and dancing be legitimate pastimes for the children of God? Of course they may, in measure and in innocence. There are some who find any amusement or recreation to be sinful, and self-indulgent, and thus to be avoided, or at least frowned upon. But this verse suggests otherwise. What healthy adult does not need, and enjoy, a bit of fun, of frolic with small children, of "smelling the flowers", of a carefree game now and then? However, it is the "now and then" that ought to be stressed too; a life that is devoted to such "play" is a sad life indeed, and a tragic adulteration of God's wonderful gift of that life. But a periodic relaxation, of fun and games, of picnic and party, is surely a necessary means of regenerating the mental and spiritual faculties.

Ecc 3:5

A TIME TO SCATTER STONES: The sort of thing an evil man might do to his enemy's field -- so as to hinder plowing and planting and harvesting (2Ki 3:19,25). Or to throw stones with the intent of harming another (Acts 7:58; 14:19).

A TIME TO GATHER (STONES): The clearing of a field in preparation for planting. Or accumulating raw materials for building projects (Ecc 2:4).

A TIME TO EMBRACE: The intimate embrace of a married couple (Pro 5:18-20; Song 2:6; 3:4; 1Co 7:3-5). On a spiritual level, Solomon exhorts the wise to embrace wisdom (Pro 4:7,8).

A TIME TO REFRAIN: Some "embraces" are very, very wrong. "Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife?" (Pro 5:20). "Do not love the world or anything in the world" (1Jo 2:15). "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (Jam 4:4).

Ecc 3:6

A TIME TO SEARCH: Heb "baqash" -- to strive after, to search for. Men seek after glory, honor, preferment, advantage, and power in this present world, but the servant of God will seek Him (Isa 55:6; Mat 6:31-33), striving after future glory (Rom 2:7), and the things that make for peace (1Pe 3:11). Their efforts will be rewarded (Luk 11:9; Heb 11:16).

A TIME TO GIVE UP: Or "a time to lose" (AV). Those who seek the Kingdom are prepared to give up or lose present advantage in this world (Mat 6:31-33; 16:25,26; 19:29; Joh 12:24,25; 2Co 8:9). Elisha struck his servant Gehazi with leprosy because he chose an inappropriate time "to take money [and] to accept clothes" (2Ki 5:26) -- he should have been "giving up"!

A TIME TO KEEP: Heb "shamar" sig to hedge about, to guard, to protect, to keep -- as a shepherd would his flock, and a farmer his field.

A TIME TO THROW AWAY: That which is cast away is refuse, or trash. Sin is to be cast away (Heb 12:1). Or perhaps, to "give" of one's wealth or substance, in charitable or spiritual enterprises (Ecc 5:13; 11:1; Pro 11:24).

"Prudence will make fast what it has won, and will endeavor to preserve it unimpaired. But there are occasions when it is wiser to deprive one's self of some things in order to secure more important ends, as when sailors throw a cargo, etc, overboard in order to save their ship (cp Jon 1:5; Act 27:18,19,38)" (Pulpit).

Ecc 3:7

A TIME TO TEAR: To rend clothing is to the Hebrews a ritual of mourning (Gen 37:29; 44:13; Jdg 11:35; 2Ki 19:1; 2Sa 1:11; Isa 37:1). (The Talmudists laid down careful rules concerning the extent of the ritual tear, and how long it was to remain unmended, both being regulated by the nearness of the relationship of the deceased person.) But the physical action will not be enough unless the heart of the mourner is affected; therefore God tells Israel to "rend your heart and not your garments" (Joe 2:13).

Gill writes: "This the Jews apply to the rending of the ten tribes from Rehoboam, signified by the rending of Jeroboam's garment, 1Ki 11:30,31; the sewing up or uniting of which is foretold, Eze 37:22."

A TIME TO MEND: Logically, after the period of mourning is over, that which has been torn will be mended and made new. And so Psa 30:5 tells us that "weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."

A TIME TO BE SILENT: This suggests meditation, thought, and communion with God. Rather than retaliate, Jesus kept silence before his accusers (Isa 53:7; Mat 26:63; Mar 14:61; Luk 23:9; Joh 19:9; 1Pe 2:23; Act 8:32,33). One day, all flesh will be silent in awe before Yahweh (Hab 2:20; Zec 2:13).

It has been said that there is "a foolish silence, a sullen silence, a cowardly silence, and a despairing silence. None of these is to be recommended. However, there is a prudent, holy, gracious silence to which Scripture enjoins us."

If we do not learn to practice this kind of restraint, we will speak injurious words that stir up anger (Pro 15:1) and use harsh, uncontrolled language (Pro 21:23). Unguarded lips always lead to serious consequences. Someone has listed six mischievous "Misses" that result: Miss Information, Miss Quotation, Miss Representation, Miss Interpretation, Miss Construction, and Miss Understanding. They are the result of talking when we should be quiet.

What power there is in the silence of self-control! John Wesley observed this in a disagreement between two women. One was speaking vehemently and gesturing wildly, while the other stood perfectly still -- tranquil and unperturbed. Finally the first woman stamped her foot and shouted, "Speak! so I can have something more to say to you!" Wesley commented, "That was a lesson to me: Silence is often the best answer."

"A word out of season may mar a whole lifetime" (Greek proverb). "The thoughtless are rarely wordless" (Howard Newton).

A TIME TO SPEAK: There is a solemn responsibility to preach the Truth (2Ti 4:2), to render praises unto God (Psa 30:12), and to pray (Isa 62:6,7; Col 4:2-4).

Ecc 3:8

A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO HATE: We should love righteousness and hate sin; we should also love truth and hate error (see Luk 6:22; Joh 15:18-25; 1Jo 3:12; Heb 1:9; Rom 7:15; Jud 1:23). There is truly a time to love, and to show ourselves friendly, to be free and cheerful, and it is a pleasant time; but there may come a time to "hate", when we shall see cause to break off all familiarity with some that we have been fond of, and to be upon the reserve, as having found good reason to be suspicious and afraid of their company.

A TIME FOR WAR: Even now, the saints are engaged in a sort of spiritual "warfare" (Eph 6:12-18; 2Co 10:3-5; 2Ti 2:3,4).

A TIME FOR PEACE: The poem comes to a climax with "peace" -- "Shalom!" -- ringing like a benediction. And indeed, "peace" IS the final blessing of God. The Heb "shalom" does not merely refer to the cessation of actual warfare, but to the establishing of unity between parties that have been divided from one another -- and specifically fellowship and union between God and man. See Isa 32:17,18; 9:6,7; Mat 5:9; Col 1:20; Heb 7:2; Jam 3:17,18.

And in the affairs of nations, there will come a time -- if God please, may it be soon! -- when all wars will cease (Psa 46:9; Isa 2:1-4; 11:9; 60:18; Mic 4:1-4).

Ecc 3:9

Vv 9-11: "To abruptly exclaim 'What profit has he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?' after such a beautiful poem [vv 1-8] is jarring, to say the least. What is behind this juxtaposition?

"I suggest that here again the Preacher is deliberately undercutting his material. Our natural response to the beautiful poem of vv 1-8 is to admire it and to agree that there is indeed an appropriate time for everything in life. But just as we are nodding in agreement, we are slapped in the face, so to speak, by the material with which the Preacher follows it up. It is, indeed, possible that the poem is an already existing piece which he is citing (rather than a composition which he has written himself), inserted at this point only to undercut it with what follows. What then is the argument in this passage?

"Although the Preacher agrees that there is a time for everything (otherwise he wouldn't have included the poem), he nevertheless counteracts this by saying that there is no profit in these things, even if there is a time for them! Our lives are consumed by these various activities (sowing, reaping, loving, fighting, dying), and yet they all constitute travail with which we are exercised for no ultimate profit. The poem is a clever foil for this more sinister truth" (MV).

Ecc 3:10

I HAVE SEEN THE BURDEN GOD HAS LAID ON MEN: Such labors are of course a burden, but they are not necessarily evil (somewhat in contrast to Ecc 1:3; 2:17,18). The reason is that these matters are now considered from God's point of view. And God intends that man might be provoked, by the very awareness of his own inherent frailty and mortality, and the limitations inherent in time itself, to see beyond this world, and to turn to his Maker. Thus labor and travail and burden-bearing, which we might readily and happily avoid, are part of the design of Yahweh, for the development of our characters (1Pe 1:7; 4:12; Job 23:10; Rom 5:3,4; Jam 1:3,4,12; Rev 2:10).

Ecc 3:11

HE HAS MADE EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IN ITS TIME: Man's work, and indeed his whole life, may be seen reasonably as ineffective and without profit. But not so with God. He is not bounded by time. Rather, He is the Master of time -- He exists outside of time; in the words of Isaiah, He "inhabits eternity" (Isa 57:15). And so all the cycles of life, and all its intricacies -- which may leave man with a sense of frustration or futility as he contemplates them -- nevertheless testify, beautifully, to the harmony of purpose, the faultless design, and the beneficent control which the Almighty manifests in all His works. This verdict pronounced upon all God's works plainly echoes Gen 1:31: "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good."

"There is good reason to believe that the word beautiful is used in a deep sense in the passage under review. The context demands such an interpretation. The preacher has just referred to the sore travail [vv 9,10] which God has given to the sons of men to be exercised thereby. Such exercise, however painful, may produce good results. As the apostle expresses the matter, no chastening for the present is joyous, but rather grievous; nevertheless, afterward it brings the fruits of righteousness to those who are rightly exercised thereby [Heb 12:11]. After contemplating the exercise of this sore travail, the preacher declares that God has made the whole beautiful in its season" (CEcc).

HE HAS ALSO SET ETERNITY IN THE HEARTS OF MEN: The KJV rendering of "world" is obviously wrong. "Eternity" (as in the NIV, RSV, ASV, and others) is the Heb "olahm" -- the age, or the hidden time: in essence, the concept if not the hope of life everlasting. "If a man is not conscious of 'eternity in his heart', he ought to be" (LGS). Although each person has at least the concept of eternity (what Blaise Pascal called "the God-shaped hole") in his heart, only Christ can provide ultimate satisfaction, joy, and wisdom.

"Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be" (William Hazlitt, 1819). This is something of the meaning, surely, of man being created in the "image" of God. Physically, he is nothing more than another beast (Ecc 3:18-21), but mentally and spiritually, he is a special creature, made in the "image" of God, and capable of seeing from the scattered parts to the unified whole -- of understanding and appreciating eternal things!

Those men and women who are believers must live in the "border land" between what is and what will be! Seeing the day-to-day world for what it is -- the place where daily bread must be found, where practical choices must be made, where ordinary life must be lived. But especially seeing the invisible world, the world which is hidden, but right around the corner, or just over the horizon -- the "real" world of all hopes and aspirations, the world of "our better natures", the world of the coming King. "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2Co 4:17,18).

YET THEY CANNOT FATHOM WHAT GOD HAS DONE FROM BEGINNING TO END: Man indeed has the capacity -- he was given it by God, of course -- to understand and appreciate eternal things, and to imagine an Eternal, never-beginning, never-ending Divine Being. Yet we live in time, whilst He exists outside of time. Ultimately, in this life and with these limitations, we cannot really fathom, we cannot really plumb the depths of knowledge and scale the heights of understanding Him. So much remains a mystery to us. "Now we see through a glass darkly"; "now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror" -- and that a very dull, and unpolished metal mirror at that (1Co 13:12). Other men who have not knowledge of God and His ways are indeed and truly in the dark, but even those of us who KNOW... in actual fact we know so very little: "What we will be has not yet been made known" (1Jo 3:2).

"He has made everything beautiful in its time." "The Creator, when He formed the world, had the loveliness of things before Him as an end and object, as well as the usefulness of things. And so, wherever we walk, we see reflected the love of beauty in the Divine mind. And the more minutely we examine the works of God, the more exquisite is their beauty. How unlike the works of man! Take a finely polished needle, and place it under a powerful microscope, and it becomes a huge, rough bar of steel, with miniature caverns and ravines... Take again some common insect, a wasp, for instance; and under the same microscope it grows into a miracle of sheeny scales of semi-transparent gauze of gold, each scale geometrically perfect. Or take that buttercup and look down into its heart, and you will look into an enchanted fairy chamber of flashing lights that shames all the extravagances of the 'Arabian Nights.' God loves to have things beautiful: and it is wise for us to foster in ourselves the love of beauty" (RC Cowell, BI).

Ecc 3:12

I KNOW THAT THERE IS NOTHING BETTER FOR MEN THAN TO BE HAPPY AND DO GOOD WHILE THEY LIVE: "The argument so far runs like this. All creation can be seen to be involved in a cycle of work that seems to bind man and prevent him completing his labour and feeling fulfilled. All creation appears like this because God made it appear like this. God also made man experience the frustration of his fruitless labour. No matter what task man sets for himself, all he does is gather grief and increase sorrow. But God did not intend man to spend his life in wisdom and knowledge alone. God has given him joy as well. As our own poets have said, 'The best things in life are free.' To experience some of the joy, man will need to forgo some of the striving. This is what a lot of people find hard to do. Is God to blame for the life of misery? Stop and smell the flowers... Learn to be content. Working against [the purpose of God] is like changing one of the laws of nature. You know that if you jump off the roof without a rope you will break a leg. Work with gravity and you will win. Expect uninterrupted joy and exciting fulfillment and you will be sadly disappointed. Anticipate difficulty, and develop a strategy to cope, and you will be a happier person. Lower your expectation and there will be no unpleasant surprises" (Bowen).

Ecc 3:13

THAT EVERYONE MAY EAT AND DRINK, AND FIND SATISFACTION IN ALL HIS TOIL -- THIS IS THE GIFT OF GOD: Bowen again: "This is the gift is contentment. You should not be like one who reaches for the stars and falls in a heap when things go wrong. This spirit will result in aggravation for all concerned. It is the question of expectation. Build expectation and you build disappointment. Build contentment and you will weather the storm no matter what happens. It is the gift of God."

Ecc 3:14

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 MEN WILL REVERE HIM: What God does lasts forever; but what man does -- without or apart from God -- is temporary (cp Ecc 2:16). "Thus, what we might have originally thought to be simply a good poem about the fittingness of everything in life [vv 1-8] turns out to be so much more. The Preacher uses the 'time poem' as a springboard for other layers of meaning, undercutting and subverting it to illustrate the great gulf that exists between ourselves and God, between our time-bound existence and His eternity" (MV). He does this so that we might see our respective situations (ours and His!) in the light of divine reason, and thus revere Him.

GOD DOES IT SO THAT MEN WILL REVERE HIM: Until a man recognizes and trusts the superior wisdom of God he has not begun to reverence and fear God (Psa 111:10; Pro 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Job 28:28; Ecc 12:13).

Ecc 3:15

WHATEVER IS HAS ALREADY BEEN: Qoheleth looks at man in time as the Eternal God -- who is outside of time, and who controls time -- must see him: Even in the past, God could already see what now is (cp Rom 4:17)!

AND WHAT WILL BE HAS BEEN BEFORE: And from that same past, He could also see what -- to our sad little limited perspective -- has not happened even yet!

GOD WILL CALL THE PAST TO ACCOUNT: "God requireth that which is past" (AV). More literally, He "seeks that which has been driven away!" Even that which is past -- and dead, borne away by the inexorable river of time -- is still accessible to the God of the last judgment (Ecc 12:13,14). It may be lost to a man -- who cannot retrace his steps and live his life over again, but it remains in the mind of God as a basis for assessing the character and faith of the one who lived it!

Ecc 3:16

IN THE PLACE OF JUDGMENT -- WICKEDNESS WAS THERE: In the world of today, judgment (ie righteousness) and wickedness grow, or exist, together (Mat 13:24-30: parable of tares). It is man's limited perspective (limited by time, certainly) that leads him to question why wickedness is to be found in God's world. But, as v 17 shows, there WILL BE a judgment in which all such apparent inequities will be set right.

Ecc 3:17

GOD WILL BRING TO JUDGMENT BOTH THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED, FOR THERE WILL BE A TIME FOR EVERY ACTIVITY, A TIME FOR EVERY DEED: This section (ie, beginning in v 15) is the first mention of judgment in the book, and it adds more significance to the first part of the chapter about a time for everything. The whole book ends on the thought of judgment. Man is seen to have a responsibility for his actions. The book is about the human search for happiness and good, and the eternal facts of responsibility and judgment have a major bearing on this search.

The Preacher goes further than saying a man must adjust himself to the fact of an all-powerful and unalterable God, if he would seek happiness. He says that a man must also adjust his life to the equally real fact of a God who calls to account and metes out reward or punishment according to a man's actions. This is the thrust of Paul's preaching, when he says: "Now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (Act 17:30,31; 24:15; cp Psa 9:8; 37:12,13).

At that time the righteous will enter into life eternal, while the wicked will be eternally destroyed (Rom 2:6,9-12,16; Joh 5:22-30; 2Co 5:9-11; 1Pe 4:17,18).

Ecc 3:18

I ALSO THOUGHT, "AS FOR MEN, GOD TESTS THEM SO THAT THEY MAY SEE THAT THEY ARE LIKE THE ANIMALS": "God is putting man to the test to help him see his own true nature: which is the nature of the beasts. It is difficult for a man or woman to accept this fact; and yet until they do so there is still the tendency to think and act as though they are inherently good and can earn their own salvation. This tendency in human nature is critical and must be exposed and dealt with, because it challenges Yahweh's vindication in the sentence upon Adam and Eve and their progeny. Therefore the theme is now developed in the following verses..." (O'Grady).

Ecc 3:19

MAN'S FATE IS LIKE THAT OF THE ANIMALS; THE SAME FATE AWAITS THEM BOTH: AS ONE DIES, SO DIES THE OTHER: In spiritual and moral matters, man is of course superior to the beast: he has "eternity" in his heart (v 11)! And he has also been given "dominion" over the beasts of the field (Gen 1:28). But what if he fails to live up to the potential for "divinity" that God has placed in his mind? If in his mind there is no God, if he does not rise above the level of the brute beasts in his affections and desires, and actions, then... sadly, man in fact has no preeminence over the beast -- since, as to nature, the one is a dying creature as well as the other.

ALL HAVE THE SAME BREATH: "Breath" is the Heb "ruach"; translated elsewhere: wind, life, mind, intellect. Sig all aspects of life. Sw v 21.

Ecc 3:20

ALL GO TO THE SAME PLACE; ALL COME FROM DUST, AND TO DUST ALL RETURN: Here is the reverse of Gen 2:7: man was created from the dust of the ground, and given the breath of life so that he might live; when the breath of life is taken away from him, then he becomes what he once was -- mere dust! Cp Ecc 9:4,10: "Anyone who is among the living has hope... [but] Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." Also see Psa 146:3,4: "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing." And Ecc 12:7; Gen 2:7; 3:19; 6:17; Job 10:9; 34:15; Psa 104:29 as well. (For death as an unconscious state, see also Psa 6:5; 88:10-12; 89:48; 104:33; 115:17; Isa 38:18; Ecc 9:5,6,10.)

Ecc 3:21

WHO KNOWS IF THE SPIRIT OF MAN RISES UPWARD AND IF THE SPIRIT OF THE ANIMAL GOES DOWN INTO THE EARTH?: "Yet it is a strange kind of cycle, as can be seen when we compare it with other cycles which we know about. This is exactly the comparison the Preacher now goes on to make. After making the poignant contrast between the coming and going of human generations he abruptly states, 'But the earth abideth for ever.' The steadfastness and eternity of the earth makes the human cycle of birth and death all the more ludicrous. The Preacher emphasizes this by drawing our attention to three of the earth's fundamental cycles: the daily circuit of the sun (Ecc 1:5); the wind blowing round and round the earth (Ecc 1:6) and the water cycle (Ecc 1:7).

"The contrast is exquisite. Century after century, millennium after millennium, the earth's cycles continue. It is the same sun around which our earth orbits; the wind whirls around 'continually'; the rain cycle goes on and on. In contrast to these displays of constancy and timelessness (a lesson about God's constancy and timelessness) a man comes and goes never to return -- so that there will never be another you or another me. This is the harsh reality of death" (MV).

THE SPIRIT OF MAN RISES UPWARD: Heb "ruach", as in v 19. So, alternatively, man's ambitions, intellect, strength, etc are all capable of direction upward, toward God. (This would be practically equivalent to v 11: where man is said to have "eternity" in his heart.)

Ecc 3:22

SO I SAW THAT THERE IS NOTHING BETTER FOR A MAN THAN TO ENJOY HIS WORK, BECAUSE THAT IS HIS LOT. FOR WHO CAN BRING HIM TO SEE WHAT WILL HAPPEN AFTER HIM?: Man should extract all the enjoyment and satisfaction out of his daily labor, and seek not to fret or trouble himself over events which may or may not happen after he is deceased. Such events are hidden from his perception, and are in any event beyond his power to control (Psa 30:9; 88:10-12; Isa 38:18).

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