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Go to Bible: Ecclesiastes 3
“season.” There is a season, or proper time, for everything. Knowing that can help us act in a proper and godly manner in life. For example, while there is usually wisdom and value to thinking things through and considering options, there are also times to act quickly; times when indecision or procrastination can be harmful or even deadly. Furthermore, some things in life, such as killing, can be very difficult in some circumstances, but there are times for that too (Ecc. 3:3). Life has times of great happiness and times of difficulty and sadness, but God has enabled us to go through all life has to offer and live in a godly manner.
The Hebrew could be translated “appointed time” (NAB, NASB, NET), but in English the word “season” can have that implication. God does do some things at His appointed time, but there are also times when things happen due to cause and effect and people’s freewill action and God’s reaction. For example, when king Saul sinned and ignored God’s warnings, God took the kingdom from him. God’s move was not due to His predestining Saul to fail, but He did decide when and how to take the kingdom from Saul because Saul kept sinning.
Translating Ecclesiastes 3:1 with the phrase “appointed time” opens the door to the huge misunderstanding that everything happens “when it is supposed to happen.” That is not accurate. Lots of things that occur on earth were never God’s will or intention. For example, God does not want anyone to reject Him and die unsaved, but that happens all the time.
“under heaven.” The list that follows is not prescriptive, but descriptive. It speaks of the things that go on under heaven, in the realm of humankind.(top)
“a time.” This is repeated at the beginning of each phrase, which is the figure of speech anaphora, (“Like sentence beginnings”). Anaphora brings emphasis to the section by catching our attention, and also by emphasizing each individual piece in the very long sentence. No one point is more or less important than any other. The whole of life and its parts are important.(top)
|Ecc 3:3||- (top)|
“a time to laugh.” Many verses in Ecclesiastes encourage people to rejoice and have fun in life (cp. Ecc. 2:24-25; 3:4, 12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-9; 10:19; 11:7-8). See commentary on Ecclesiastes 2:24.(top)
“cast away stones.” The farmer would want to get the stones out of his field, so he would cast them away to an area where he could not otherwise plow.
“gather stones together.” Stones would be gathered together and then used for the construction of houses, walls, boundary markers, such things as that.(top)
|Ecc 3:6||- (top)|
|Ecc 3:7||- (top)|
“hate.” The word “hate” in the Bible does not always have the meaning it has in English, a “deep, enduring, intense emotion expressing animosity, anger, and hostility towards a person, group, or object” (Penguin Dictionary of Psychology definition of “hate”). In Hebrew and Greek, the word “hate” has a large range of meanings from actual “hate” to simply loving something less than something else, neglecting or ignoring something, or being disgusted by something. In fact, often in the Bible the word “hate” has a combination of meanings.
For example, when God tells us to “hate” evil and love good (Amos 5:15), He wants us to have nothing to do with evil, be disgusted and repulsed by it, and actively work to eradicate it. Ecclesiastes 3:8 lumps many different meanings of “hate” together. It says there is a time to “love” and a time to “hate,” but that can mean everything from there being a proper time to engage in helpful (loving) or hostile (“hateful”) activity toward someone or something; a proper time to be delighted in or disgusted by someone or something; or a proper time to pay attention to or neglect and ignore someone or something.
Ecclesiastes 3:8 is a verse with a great many applications. It seems that far too often we are too accepting of things that are against God (we “love” what we shouldn’t love) and are not hostile to those things against God (we don’t “hate” things that should disgust us). Also, far too often we do not put enough attention into the things we should (we don’t “love” enough), and we do not let go of, neglect, or ignore things that are not really helpful in our lives (thus, we don’t “hate” them, or hate them enough). Surely, there is a time to “love,” and a time to “hate.” [For more on the large semantic range of “hate” and its use in the Bible, see commentary on Prov. 1:22, “hate”].(top)
|Ecc 3:9||- (top)|
“children of men.” The Hebrew has the idiom: “sons of men.” The idiom refers to humans.(top)
“he has set eternity in their hearts.” People have an awareness of eternity, and that there are issues beyond our present life. That God has put eternity in people’s hearts in part explains why almost all cultures have a belief in an afterlife of some kind. Yet how God brought the universe into existence, and how he will sustain it, is beyond human knowledge.
“yet not in such a way that.” The Hebrew construction that starts the sentence occurs only here, and is introducing the fact that even though God has put eternity in people’s hearts, He has done so in a way such that they cannot discover all the work that He does from beginning to end. Norbert Lohfink, in his commentary Qoheleth, has, “but not in such a way that.”(top)
“nothing better for them than to rejoice.” Many verses in Ecclesiastes encourage people to rejoice and have fun in life (cp. Ecc. 2:24-25; 3:4, 12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-9; 10:19; 11:7-8). See commentary on Ecclesiastes 2:24.
“to do good.” The literal reading of the Hebrew is “to do good.” But the word “good” sometimes does not have a moral implication, and has more of the implication of “enjoy,” which is why some versions have something such as “be happy and enjoy themselves” (NRSV) instead of “do good.” But it does not seem likely that God would not have some overtones of moral duty in this verse. While it is important to enjoy our lives, we must not forget that God created humankind with a purpose that was more than just having a good time. The conclusion of Ecclesiastes shows us this when it says that the conclusion of the matter is to fear God and keep His commandments, which is the whole duty of humankind (Ecc. 12:13-14). To be sure, there are verses in Ecclesiastes that focus on enjoying life, but when the text includes doing good, it is likely there because doing good is part of what God intends for people.(top)
“this is the gift of God.” Many verses in Ecclesiastes encourage people to rejoice and have fun in life (cp. Ecc. 2:24-25; 3:4, 12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-9; 10:19; 11:7-8). See commentary on Ecclesiastes 2:24.
That being able to enjoy life is the gift of God is also in Ecclesiastes 5:13. It is a gift of God to be able to have the health, financial ability, and freedom to enjoy life. God desires that for all people, but historically few have really had what it takes to enjoy life. Many people fight physical disabilities, or they are under harsh taskmasters that make life a continuous toil. One of the exciting promises about the next life is that it will be one of great joy (Isa. 35:10; 51:3; 61:7; Jer. 31:13). Life in the coming kingdom of Christ on earth will be truly wonderful. [For more on the coming kingdom of Christ on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].(top)
|Ecc 3:14||- (top)|
“God seeks that which is pursued.” The meaning of this phrase is unclear and has given rise to many different interpretations. For example, because “pursued” is sometimes related to “persecuted,” one interpretation is basically that God seeks the persecuted in order to help them and hold their persecutors accountable. This divorces the last phrase of Ecclesiastes 3:15 from the first part of the verse and connects it to Ecclesiastes 3:16 which is about justice (cp. Duane Garrett, The New American Commentary). However, it seems like this is not likely because a phrase about God acting on behalf of the persecuted would more naturally come later, such as at the end of Ecclesiastes 3:16 or even 17.
Another interpretation is that the word “pursued” is related to the concept of pursuing, as in the phrase “pursuing the east wind” (Hos. 12:1, and cp. “herding the wind” in Ecclesiastes, REV) and thus the meaning is that God seeks and watches over the things that are “pursued,” i.e., the things that people have chased in vain but God is in charge of (C. Seow, The Anchor Yale Bible: Ecclesiastes).
A third interpretation is that God seeks that which has been “persecuted,” that is driven away or chased away, in this context meaning the things that are in the past and therefore no longer present—they have gone away. God seeks them with the intention of bringing them back, and this idea has led to translations such as “God will seek to do again what has occurred in the past” (NET; cp. R. Murphy, Word Biblical Commentary). The last two possible interpretations seem more likely than the first.(top)
|Ecc 3:16||- (top)|
“I said in my heart.” An idiomatic way of saying, “I said to myself” (cp. HCSB; NASB; NIV).
“God will judge.” The judgment of God on the Day of Judgment is a theme in Ecclesiastes, concluding in the very last verse in Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 12:14. Furthermore, many verses say that on Judgment Day people will get what they deserve based on how they lived their life (cp. Job. 34:11; Ps. 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Jer. 17:10; 32:19; Ezek. 33:20; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; 1 Cor. 3:8). See commentary on Psalm 62:12.
“for there is a time of judgment for every purpose and for every deed.” The sentence is saying that God will judge both the righteous and the wicked, and although people are many on the earth, and their purposes and deeds are many, there will be time for everyone to be judged. Indeed, there will be a time of judgment for every purpose and deed, as the verse says (cp. James Bollhagan, Concordia Commentary: Ecclesiastes: “for there will be a time of judgment for every matter and upon every deed there”).
This verse is not saying that every purpose and work has a proper time, that is stated in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Ecclesiastes 3:17 is saying that God will judge what people think and do, which is also stated in Ecclesiastes 11:9, and is also the concluding thought in Ecclesiastes: “For God will bring everything we do into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil” (Ecc. 12:14).(top)
“God tests them.” There is much discussion among the scholars about the word “test,” but most commentators agree that “test” is in some sense the basic meaning of the Hebrew text. The context is about humans being an “animal” and dying like all the rest of the animals (Ecc. 3:19-20). That is true. Humans are not different from animals in our flesh and blood, nor in the soul life that animates us. Humans are only different from animals in that in certain ways we were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, but God certainly does not have flesh and bone). At death, both humans and animals are dead in every way and return to dust (Gen. 3:19; Ecc. 3:20).
These things are hard for most Christians to understand due to erroneous orthodox teaching. Orthodox Christianity teaches the humans have a soul but animals do not, which is not accurate: both humans and animals are animated by “soul.” Also, orthodox Christianity teaches that animals are dead when they die but humans live on after their body dies, but this also is inaccurate. As Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 teaches, humans are actually animals (v. 18), they both die the same way and have one “breath,” and in that sense humans have no advantage over any other animal (v. 19). One great advantage that humans do have over animals is that the part of us that is created in God’s image gives us a unique mind with faculties such as insight, wisdom, a sense of purpose, and a conscience. God created humans to fellowship with Him and live forever with Him, and so God will raise humans from the dead.
The “test” that God gives humans, in part at least, is that as we pay attention to the humans and animals in the world we live in, we should see that our lives are short (Ps. 103:15-16; James 4:14) and we cannot control the day we die (Ecc. 8:8). The sense of purpose that God has placed inside us should then nudge us to believe that we are not here on earth just to live a short, difficult life and then die. That awareness should motivate us to want to stay alive longer—actually, forever—and if we continue to press in our search, that will eventually lead us to the existence of a creator God who can grant us everlasting life. Thus, people who pass the test find God and salvation, and will live forever, while those who fail the test will be self-absorbed to the end that they do not seek God, do not get saved, and eventually perish.
[For more on “soul” animating humans and animals, see Appendix 7, “Usages of Soul.” For people being dead in every way when they die and only made alive when raised by God, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.” For more on unsaved humans eventually being like the animals and ceasing to exist in any form, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].(top)
“spirit.” The Hebrew word translated “Spirit” is ruach (#07307 רוּחַ), and it has a very broad range of meanings. In this context, it refers to the life force that animates the body, which the Bible also calls “soul” (nephesh). “Soul” is a type of spirit like “poodle” is a type of dog, and sometimes the Bible uses the broad category of “spirit” to refer to the life that animates us while at other times it uses the specific word “soul.”
Both humans and animals have the same life force, just as this verse says. This fact has been obscured by orthodox Christianity, which teaches that animals do not have a “soul.” God will not judge animals on any Day of Judgment, that is true, but it is not because animals do not have “soul,” it is because they were not created in the image of God like humans were with the elevated mental faculties that humans have, such as self-awareness, sense of purpose, knowledge of good and evil, reason, imagination, etc.
[For more on the uses and meanings of “spirit,” see Appendix 6, “Usages of Spirit.” For more on the uses and meanings of “soul” see Appendix 7, “Usages of Soul”].
“pointless.” See commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:2.(top)
“All go to one place.” That is, into the ground dead and eventually back to dust, as the rest of the verse says. Orthodox Christianity obscures the simple meaning of this verse by teaching that when a human dies their “soul” (or “spirit”) goes immediately to heaven or hell. When a person dies, they go into the ground and are dead in every way, their body turns back to dust and their soul is gone--dead—and stays dead until the resurrection.
[For more on dead people being genuinely dead and not alive in any form, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead”].(top)
|Ecc 3:21||- (top)|
“nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his works.” Many verses in Ecclesiastes encourage people to rejoice and have fun in life (cp. Ecc. 2:24-25; 3:4, 12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-9; 10:19; 11:7-8). See commentary on Ecclesiastes 2:24.(top)