1There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
2A time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
6a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9What does the worker gain from his toil? 10I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 11He has made everything beautiful in its time.
Having concluded that "everything is meaningless" from the standpoint of human wisdom (see Eccl. 2:23), Solomon began to consider that God has a direct and active role in man's existence and subsistence. Solomon observed: "A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment?" (Eccl. 2:24-25). Here in chapter 3, Solomon continues to explore God's role in man's journey through life. Solomon notes that God has ordained things such that: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven" (vs. 1). Solomon then goes on to list specifically the "activities" for which there is a "time" and "season" (see vss. 2-8). The word "time" used in verse 1 denotes a "fixed" or "appointed" time (see Ezra 10:14 and Esth. 9:27,31 for other uses of the same word). Thus, Solomon is implying that God has ordained that each of us experience these things at their fixed and appointed time. We are not muddling about through the experiences of life at the mercy of blind chance, but rather according to the purposeful plan of a loving, caring God. "Solomon boldly argues the thesis that every action of man can be traced to its ultimate source, an all-embracing plan that is administered by God."
As stated, Solomon goes on to list specifically the "activities" for which there is a "time" and "season". These are the things of life. This is all of life summarized. He gives fourteen pairs of contrasts, grouped into seven pairs of pairs. In the Bible, the number seven often symbolizes completeness, and so here, we have, in these 7 pairs of pairs of activities, all of life summarized completely. Look at your life. Are you not in the midst of two, three, four of these activities right now?
In his list, Solomon begins appropriately with life and death, which are the overriding activities of our existence: "A time to be born and a time to die" (vs. 2). "The very minute of every one's entry into this world, whether it be timely or [premature]; and likewise of their departure out of it by death, whether natural or violent, is from eternity fixed, and cannot fall out sooner or later than God hath appointed." David says, speaking to God: "All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be" (Ps. 139:16). And Job: "Man's days are determined; You have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed" (Job 14:5-6). And so, indeed, our times are in God's hands (see Ps. 31:15).
Now, we all are very conscious of the fact that we experienced "a time to be born". In fact, every year we celebrate our birthdays. But we should all be equally conscious of the fact that for each and every one of us, there will come "a time to die". The reason we should be conscious of this is that the most important decision in life has to do with our "time to die". We must all be careful of how we prepare for the afterlife, for the implications of how we prepare for the afterlife have eternal consequences. We are taught that "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Heb. 9:27). Thus, each and every one of us should make sure he is prepared for that judgment. Now, if a man were sinless, if he always perfectly and unerringly lived his life in a way that pleased his Creator, he would not have to worry about the judgment that occurs after our "time to die". But for the rest of us, for we who have not always lived up to God's standards, we who have not always lived in a way that pleases God, we must worry about the judgment. For we who have not always pleased God in this life will, in justice, stand condemned in the judgment. But wait! God in His great mercy has provided a way for us to escape condemnation in the judgment, through a decision we make in this life. God sent His Son into this world. His Son lived a perfect life, unerringly pleasing to God, so His Son was not Himself under condemnation. God in His mercy to us allowed His Son to accept the condemnation that we deserve. God's Son died for us, so that, if we accept this gift of a sacrificial death, we may escape condemnation when we face the judgment. For this reason, we all must be conscious of our "time to die", in order that we may be prepared to face it without condemnation. We must accept from God the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. We must believe that "God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Solomon continues: "...a time to plant and a time to uproot" (vs. 2). Since Solomon in these verses is speaking of all of life, I believe that this statement speaks of more than planting crops for harvesting, but rather speaks of the great movements of our lives, of the times we decide to "plant" ourselves and settle to live someplace. The times of "planting" are very important, for they determine the environment in which we and our families will live. Thus, the decisions concerning when and where we will "plant" ourselves, and for that matter, when we will "uproot", must be made with fervent appeals to God's guidance, for such decisions greatly affect the course of our lives.
There is also "a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build" (vs. 3). The word "kill" does not denote "murder", but rather justified killing. Yes, God has ordained that there is "a time to kill". There are times of war that are ordained by God. Then also, there are times when a society must put to death as a punishment those who have murdered. There is also "a time to heal". Of course, we should all do what we can to "heal" those who are sick around us. But since this statement is in opposition to "a time to kill", I believe that Solomon is in effect saying, "There is a time when we should seek to heal, even when we would be justified to kill." In other words, there are times when, instead of going to war (though we may be justfied to do so), we should seek to heal the relationship between countries so as to avoid war. Then also, there are times when, though a murderer deserves to die, we should show mercy. Such decisions, of course, require great wisdom and discernment. Again, appeals to God's guidance in such matters are greatly needful.
Just as there is a time to kill and heal, so also there is "a time to tear down and a time to build" (vs. 3). This can speak of projects that are built and torn down. It can also speak of tearing down and building as applying to relationships. In context, I believe that the latter is what Solomon is referring to. He has just said there is a time to kill (as in a war), but there is a time when we should render a punishment short of killing ("to tear down"). Then also, there is a time to "build" a cooperative relationship.
Speaking more personally, Solomon notes that there is "a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance" (vs. 4). We all, in this fallen world, endure times of sadness; we all (thankfully) enjoy times of gladness. Solomon notes that these times of sadness and happiness come in degrees. At times we "weep", but in times of great sadness we "mourn". At times we "laugh", but in times of great joy, we "dance".
There is also "a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain" (vs. 5). The first pair here seems to refer to different sorts of toil. When it was time to prepare for planting crops, stones in the soil would be scattered, thrown away from the area where the crops were to be planted. Then, when it was time to construct a building, stones would be gathered as building materials. The second pair refers to acts of love: "...a time to embrace and a time to refrain." There is a time to express love, and there is a time when physical expressions of love are inappropriate. These days, there is a real need for many people to have self-control and realize that there is "a time to refrain" from embracing.
Concerning material possessions, Solomon notes that there is "a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away" (vs. 6). It seems we have more problems knowing when to "give up" and "throw away", than when to "search" and "keep". We always seem to be "searching" after some material desire. And when we gain these desires, we are very loathe to depart with them (just look in your garage and closets). We must also cultivate the ability to know when to "give up" seeking the things of this world, and to know what things are not worth "searching" for in the first place. We must also know when to "throw away" things that are spiritually, as well as physically harmful to us. Many times our material wants and possessions interfere with our relationship with God. When this happens, it is time to "give up" and "throw away".
Next, Solomon seems to speak of interpersonal relationships: "...a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak" (vs. 7). Volumes could be written on the second pair of this set. "Great wisdom is required to know when, as well as what to speak." Most of us, it seems, have problems knowing when to "be silent". Then again, we must also take care that we are not silent when we should speak. There are times that "all the Lord's people ought to observe, and make use of, wherein they cannot without sin be silent, as when they are called to give a testimony to known truth (see I Pet. 3:15), when they see their brother sin and have opportunity to rebuke him (see Lev. 19:17), when they see him in affliction and standing in need of a word of comfort from them (see I Thess. 4:18), and when those that have a call to speak publicly to the Lord's people are born down (see Mal. 3:16), and especially there are times of speaking to and instructing of those under their charge (Deut. 6:7). The Lord is to be depended upon for light to discern these particular seasons, and for the matter and manner of speaking in them (see Prov. 16:1)."
Finally, there is a "time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace" (vs. 8). The first pair concerns the deepest individual feelings, the second pair, the most extreme public actions. Note, as there is a "time to love", there is also "a time to hate". For the Christian, this hatred should not be a hatred felt towards individuals, as it is a hatred expressed for sinful actions. We, as God's people, should hate sin. The Psalmist exhorts: "Let those who love the Lord hate evil" (Ps. 97:10). Then also, there are times when "we will be called to carry ourselves, even toward those of our nearest relations as if we did hate them; to wit, by forsaking them for Christ when we cannot enjoy Him and them both." For Jesus spoke of the cost of being a disciple: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).
Having summarized the events of men's lives, Solomon next compares the human point of view with the heavenly point of view. First, when speaking from the human point of view, Solomon recalls words he wrote earlier in the book, when he was looking at all of life from the point of view of human wisdom: "What does the worker gain from his toil?" (vs. 9, recall also Eccl. 1:3), "I have seen the burden God has laid on men" (vs. 10, recall also Eccl. 1:13). And he is right. From a strictly human point of view, as men strive to find meaning in the things of the world, the contrasts and cycles of life that men endure are frustrating. But Solomon realizes that there is more than this world, and a deeper wisdom than human wisdom. When Solomon by inspiration of the Holy Spirit steps outside the human realm and reflects on the big picture, he realizes that "[God] has made everything beautiful in its time" (vs. 11). The "meaninglessness" of life from the human point of view has become "beauty" when God's plans and purposes are considered. Oh Lord, may we have the discernment to see life from Your point of view, and may we have the wisdom to recognize the beauty of Your plans and purposes as You work through our lives.