A Time for Everything
3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
This famous, often quoted poem begins with a general statement that there is a right time for everything. It then describes all people’s activities that God rules over. However, the right action depends on the circumstances.
Verses 2-3 give us three pairs of words about time, describing people’s activities here. Some activities create things and other activities destroy things.
Verse 4 deals with the displaying of emotion. There are appropriate times to celebrate and appropriate times to grieve.
In verse 5 There are several possible meanings for ‘to scatter stones’ and ‘to gather stones’.
1) It might refer to when people are preparing a field. Men need to clear the stones away before they can plant a crop (Isaiah 5:2). Then people can gather those stones to build a wall round the field (Matthew 21:33).
2) People sometimes scattered stones on a field because they wanted to ruin an enemy’s crops (2 Kings 3:19, 25). ‘To gather’ perhaps means ‘to show friendship’. Perhaps friends would help someone to clear the stones from his ground.
3) ‘To scatter stones’ may mean ‘to destroy’. Then ‘to gather stones’ would mean ‘to build again’.
4) It might be a special way in Hebrew to talk about sex. It may refer to two people when they have sex. So, there is a time to have sex. And there is a time not to have sex (1 Corinthians 7:1-7).
Also verse 5 There is a suitable time to hug someone or display affection. That shows friendship or love. But there is a time when it’s not appropriate to display affection and warmth.
In verse 6 we come across a scenario where we lose something. There is a time to search for it. But there is also a time to stop searching. There is a time to keep things. And there is a time to throw away things.
In verse 7 we are reminded that when people were grief stricken they would tear their clothes. They did it on purpose. For example, Jacob tore his clothes when he went into mourning for the apparent death of his son Joseph (Genesis 37:34).
Also Joel wrote about people who tore their clothes. He said that the Jews should be grief stricken about their sin rather than some of the other stuff they were concerned about in life. (Joel 2:13).
A foolish person talks too much and he talks at the wrong time. ‘He likes to declare his own opinions’ (Proverbs 18:2). We should be silent when we are listening. We should not disclose information that could be construed as gossip with other people (Proverbs 20:19). A good yardstick is to ask the questions “Does it need to be shared?” “Does it need to be shared now?” and “Does it need to be shared by me?” before sharing anything that may not be yours to share.
In verse 8 we read about love and hate, war and peace. There are times when war is unavoidable. It’s never God’s desire but if the safety of a people is threatened you may be forced into a war. Love involves warning of consequences. Hate is surely about a behaviour rather than a person. For example my wife can somehow find the capacity to love me but not love my infidelity, lies and everything else that came with it .
These are remarkable but very straight forward insights into the seasons of life. The shifting circumstances and situations. The constant is that all is under the watchful gaze of God and that his intervention will come at appropriate times but he is calling us to act in a way that is in keeping with the benefit of those around us, those we serve and are called to love.
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 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. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 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 people will fear him.
15 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.
The heart of these verses can easily be missed in the overall “what’s the point?” tone. I find these verses to be very reassuring and asserting the blessing of “present moment living”. Enjoying the blessing of the moment whilst knowing our security and peace is assured in eternity. There’s nothing new under the sun, things that have gone before will come again. There will be times of peace and times of war. There will be moments to celebrate and moments to grieve. It seems that God wants us to feel the gravity of every situation and grasp the blessing. These verses banish worry and remind me that God has everything taken care of despite humanity’s best efforts to usurp him from his throne.
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.
17 I said to myself,
“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.”
18 I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 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. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
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?
In verse 16, the teacher noticed the corruption amongst the human judges and that they would judge according to the bribes they received, hence the system was weighted against the poor person who could not afford to pay a bribe. King Jehoshaphat warned his judges to think carefully about their work. They were to remember that they were servants of God and servants of the people (2 Chronicles 19:5-7).
In the New Testament, Jesus told a parable of the unjust judge. He would not help a poor widow (Luke 18:1-5). Perhaps that was because she had no money to give to him.
Verse 17 echoes the wrestling of Psalm 73 where the wicked seem to prosper and those who try to do what was right seem to suffer. The teacher wrestles with the question of justice but comes to the same conclusion as the author of Psalm 73. God will ultimately judge everything and in the end everything will be fair.
Verses 18-22 the teacher wrestles with the fact that we go through all this turmoil and stress of life but suffer the same fate as the animals, that we return to dust and end up in the ground. He asks the question, who knows what happens after that? What happens to us when we die? We may as well enjoy whatever we apply our hands to as that is our lot in life! It all sounds quite pessimistic but actually it’s quite freeing to know that God will take care of judgment so I don’t have to get involved, that “the pressure is off”. I need to enjoy life and celebrate the grace of God.