Ecclesiastes - A Time for Everything
Perspective, Priority and Value
Ecclesiastes - Chapter 3
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
Content and Context
You don't have to be a great thinker to know that the "times and seasons" Solomon contemplates in Ecclesiastes are a common part of day in day out life, no matter where you live. And, if it were not for the inevitability of God-driven "natural laws," both science and daily life would be completely chaotic, if not just impossible. Not only are there times and seasons in this world, but there is also an active overarching providence in our lives - the Holy Spirit. From before our birth to the moment of our death, God is establishing His divine purposes, even though we don't quite always understand or are necessarily happy with what He is doing.
In the following fourteen statements (verses 1-8), Solomon affirms the idea that God is at work in our individual lives, seeking to accomplish His will. All of these events are purposed and allowed by God and they all eventually become good in their time. The reasoning of Solomon is plain: if we work to mesh with God's timing, (as we learned last week) life will not be meaningless. In fact, Solomon's experience and wisdom taught him that "everything will be beautiful in His time" (verse 11), even the most difficult and troubling experiences of life. Most of these fourteen statements are profoundly simple, so we will spend time with only the ones that need closer look.
Verse 2 - Birth and Death Things like abortion, birth control, euthanasia (mercy killing), genetic engineering, gene cloning and surrogate parenthood make it look as though mankind has seized control of birth and death, but Solomon said otherwise. Birth and death are not human accidents or incidents; they are divine appointments. God is in control - and that really angers and frustrates many people. In fact, it is why many choose not to believe in God. The uncertainties of life and the possibilities of death without full explanation or permission are more than most people will allow their intellect or heart to go. But Solomon does not agree and said it is foolish to believe otherwise. Here is a wealth of biblical truth to confirm it:
For You formed my inward parts and You knitted me together in my mothers womb; I praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Isaiah 38 says we can recklessly hasten our death, but unless God wills it we cannot prevent it when our time comes.
All the days ordained for me are written in Your book.
Verse 2 - Planting and Plucking The Jews were an agricultural people who learned to appreciate the change and rhythm of the seasons. In fact, their religious calendar was based on the agricultural year (Leviticus 23). Men may plow and sow, but only God can give the increase (Psalm 65). The awkward term "Plucking" may refer either to reaping or to pulling up unproductive plants. A good farmer knows that nature works for him only if he respects and works with nature. Ironically this is also a secret to successful living: learn God's principles and cooperate with them.
Verse 3 - Killing and Healing It doesn't appear this refers to war or self-defense, but to the unseen and unknown epidemics of disease, sickness and plague. It has always been a struggle for the mind and reason of men and women to accept that God permits some to die while others are healed. Our limited reason and understanding of a sovereign God is polarizing and leads us all to a crossroads of faith - we either choose to believe and trust God, or we will refuse to believe and trust Him. Many Christians face a crisis of faith over this very issue - when God does not do what they want God to do, when they want Him to do it. At the end of his life Solomon's wisdom and love for God overcame his foolishness and rebellion - he knew and embraced the sovereignty of God. On a side note, because God is sovereign in life and death, it does not mean that that people who believe in His sovereignty should refuse medical aid or take medicine - God can and does use both natural and supernatural miracles to accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 38).
Verse 5 - Casting Away Stones and Gathering Stones There is an ongoing tour guide humor in Israel that God gave stones to an angel and told him to distribute them across the world — and then he tripped and dropped them all over Palestine. Point being the region is an exceptionally rocky land, and so farmers have always had to clear their fields before they could plow and plant. In ancient Israel if you wanted to hurt an enemy, you filled up his fields with stones (2 Kings 3:19). For thousands of years the Jewish people also gathered stones for building walls, houses and water-ways. Point - stones are neither good nor bad; it all depends on what you do with them. If your enemy fills your land with rocks, don't throw them back. Take each one and build something good with.
Verse 5 - Embracing and Refraining from Embracing People in the Near East openly show their affections, kissing and hugging when they meet and when they part. So, you could paraphrase this, "A time to say hello and a time to say good-bye." This might also refer to relationships, partnerships, acquaintances, and for sure good (moral) and bad (corrupt).
Verse 6 - Getting and Losing “A time to search and a time to give it up for lost" is another translation. On the lighter side... for someone like me who is a little OCD, this phrase stretches biblical authority into possible garage sales and stuff the truck activity: a time to keep and a time to clean house. On the serious side it is easy to see that this carries a strong spiritual message with it as well - repentance and re-direction is the idea here.
Verse 7 - Tearing and Mending This probably refers to the Jewish practice of tearing one's garments during a time of grief or repentance (2 Samuel 13:31; Ezra 9:5). God expects us to grieve and express sorrow during bereavement and loss, but not like unbelievers who do not have hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
There comes a time for moving forward and reaching out again. There is great value in getting out the needle and thread and beginning to sew things up again.
Verse 8 - Loving and Hating Are God's people allowed to hate? The fact that the next phrase mentions "war and peace" suggests that Solomon may have had the nation primarily in mind. However, there are some things that even Christians ought to hate. The bible says to love God and hate sin.
Life is something like a doctor's prescription: taken alone, the ingredients might kill you; but properly blended, they bring healing. God is sovereignly in control and has a time and a purpose for everything (Rom 8:28). This is not fatalism, nor does it rob us of freedom or responsibility. It is the wise providence of a loving Father who does all things with excellence and promises to make everything work together for good - for those who love Him.
Last week I closed the teaching by asking us all the question, "what is valuable to you?" We had some fun with that as well as some really good answers to the question. The consensus response centered itself around the idea that love for God and for one another was most valuable. Good start. As part of his own processing of the profound mysteries of life, Solomon led his readers to ponder that very question in chapter 3, verses 1-8, when he opens with the universally recognized words, "For everything there is a season, and there is a time for every matter under heaven."
As we contemplate that mystery, Reason would lead us to conclude if inevitably there is a time given for everything, then every "thing" is of some importance and value. Without question then, in spite the time given to each and everything some of those things could or should be more important and valuable than others. And, if indeed some of those things were more important and valuable than others, then those important and valuable things would need and deserve more time than the others.
Solomon has already confessed in his introduction that he foolishly did not always value what was most important and as a result did not give those things the time needed and deserved. In reality, because of his compulsively poor choices and impulsively bad behavior eventually Solomon (for a season) did not value the things important to God - therefore did not have the required time or attention for anything of real value. He did not value God's ways, God's words or His expectations - and so he did not have time for everything he was given to direct, protect and love. He foolishly chased the whims, wishes, and wealth of a thousand wives on a thousand days and a thousand nights leaving him no time for those things that were important and of value to his word with God, and his reputation with others. As he processes the times and seasons at the end of his life Solomon certainly regains a righteous perspective, and writes in profound wisdom from a place of deep conviction and personal regret - everything has a value, everything has a time, everything has a season. Time and seasons make their own demands and in spite of our foolish choices and our sinful behavior this ecclesiastical mystery will in time reveal itself to us all.