Ecclesiastes Lesson Six: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 – The Rhythm and Eternity of Time

3 There is an occasion for everything, 

and a time for every activity under heaven: 

a time to give birth and a time to die; 

a time to plant and a time to uproot; 

a time to kill and a time to heal; 

a time to tear down and a time to build; 

a time to weep and a time to laugh; 

a time to mourn and a time to dance; 

a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; 

a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing; 

a time to search and a time to count as lost; 

a time to keep and a time to throw away; 

a time to tear and a time to sew; 

a time to be silent and a time to speak; 

a time to love and a time to hate; 

a time for war and a time for peace. 

What does the worker gain from his struggles? 10 I have seen the task that God has given people to keep them occupied. 11 He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but man cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. 13 It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts. 14 I know that all God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of Him. 15 Whatever is, has already been, and whatever will be, already is. God repeats what has passed. (HCSB)

Chapter three begins a new section in Ecclesiastes, with the first eight verses of chapter three being a masterpiece of wisdom poetry. The remaining verses in this passage are not part of the wisdom poetry but rather a reflection on and an exposition of it.

I’ll be breaking this lesson into two parts:

  • The mystery of time – verses 1-8.
  • Everything has a purpose – verses 9-15.

The Mystery of Time

As we read and reflect on the first eight verses in chapter three, we see that times and seasons are a part of regular, no matter where you live. The verses flow between the desirable and undesirable aspects of life. The teacher is not telling the reader how to obtain the former and avoid the latter. Life is composed of joy and sorrow, building and destroying, living and dying. Each one comes at the proper time. We can never be happy until we come to grips with the fact that life is full of changes and sorrows, as well as continuity and joy. We must accept our mortality and that our life is governed by time.

In these eight verses, the teacher tells us that God is at work in our individual lives, seeking to accomplish His will. Each event comes from God and is good in their time. The point is that if we cooperate with God’s timing, life won’t be meaningless. Everything will be appropriate in its time. Now, let’s take a look at these fourteen statements.

  • The teacher begins with the statement, “every activity under heaven.”
    • This is another way of “under the sun.”
    • These are observations of human life in the human world.
  • Verse two.
    • We may think that man is in control of birth and death, but God is the one who controls it.
      • Genesis 29:31-30:24.
      • Psalm 113:9 He gives the childless woman a household, making her the joyful mother of children. Hallelujah!
      • Ephesians 2:10 For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.
      • Psalm 139:16 Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began
    • Since the Jews were agricultural people, they appreciated the seasons.
      • Their religious calendar was based on the agricultural year. See Leviticus 23.
      • The use of the word “uproot” indicates both harvest and the removal of unproductive plants.
      • The farmer understood that nature works for him only if he works with nature.
      • This is also the secret to a successful life. Learn God’s principles and cooperate with them.
    • Both birth and planting are ways of giving life; one to living beings and the other to plants.
  • Verse three.
    • Destruction and killing are part of life and can’t be avoided.
      • The teacher isn’t making an ethical statement about a just or unjust war.
      • He is making an observation that in a world where death is a fact of life, there will be a time to kill.
    • Plagues and sickness are part of the world.
      • God permits some to die while others are healed.
      • This doesn’t mean we should refuse medical care. God uses both “natural” medicine as well as miracles to heal people.
  • Verse four.
    • There is an increase in the intensity of the emotions described here.
      • Weeping precedes mourning.
      • Laughing precedes dancing. 
    • This concept can be applied to other emotions, too. Emotions tend to intensify as we go through the experience. 
    • The teacher is also encouraging people to enjoy the lighter moments of life, as we’ll all experience times of heartache.
  • Verse five.
    • There are several possible meanings to this verse.
    • One possible meaning relates to the culture of the Middle East during this period of time.
      • The people would openly display their affection for each other.
      • They would kiss and hug when they met and when they parted.
    • A second relates to a sexual union.
      • This is the position the Midrash Rabbah took with this verse.
      • As with all other things “under the sun,” sexual relations between a married couple are also fleeting.
    • A third relates to agriculture.
      • Throwing stones would make the field unsuitable for planting.
      • Gathering stones would make the field ready for planting.
  • Verse six.
    • In the first half of the verse, the teacher is saying there is always a time to search for something. This could be wisdom or something misplaced. But, there’s also a time to stop searching as it becomes a waste of time and effort.
    • In the second half, the teacher is saying there is a time to keep things. They serve a purpose for a season. But, there will come a time when any item will no longer be worth keeping. Once an item no longer serves a purpose or becomes unusable, it should be discarded.
    • The teacher is instructing us to put possessions into their proper context.
  • Verse seven.
    • The teacher is talking about actions taken during times of grief or repentance.
      • 2 Samuel 13:31 In response the king stood up, tore his clothes, and lay down on the ground, and all his servants stood by with their clothes torn.
      • Ezra 9:5 At the evening offering, I got up from my humiliation, with my tunic and robe torn. Then I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to Yahweh my God.
    • However, we shouldn’t experience sorrow following the loss of a loved one in the same way as unbelievers.
      • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. 15 For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still alive 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
      • Once the grieving period is over, the Christian must move on in the knowledge those believers who have died are in the presence of the Lord.
    • In a simpler sense, the teacher is also reminding us there is a time to speak and a time to keep quiet.
      • Colossians 4:6 Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.
      • James 3:3-12 Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. Every sea creature, reptile, bird, or animal is tamed and has been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. We praise our Lord and Father with it, and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. 10 Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way. 11 Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water.
  • Verse eight.
    • Perfect peace doesn’t exist “under the sun.”
    • The contents of this verse are arranged in chiastic order.
      • Love and hate represent personal feelings.
      • War and peace represent sociopolitical conditions.
    • A relevant question is whether or not Christians should “hate.”
      • Psalm 97:10a You who love the Lord, hate evil!
      • Revelation 2:6 Yet you do have this: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate
      • Christians should hate the evil in this world. At the same time, we must remember that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood.
  • As we look back on these eight verses, we should apply the following concepts.
    • Taking each one individually is not what’s important.
    • Instead, they should all be combined as an overall description of human life.
    • The list is not prescriptive in nature. Instead, it is a descriptive account of the things that make up human existence.
    • We generally spend our days in the ways described in these verses and in activities that lie between the opposite extremes.

Everything Has a Purpose

The teacher now shifts his focus from everything “under the sun,” and brings God into the equation, which brings a new perspective to life. The teacher repeats the question he asked in 1:3, although he uses a few different words. Essentially, he’s asking whether all his work and toil was worth it. The teacher’s reflection has produced new evidence, and he gives three answers to the question.

  • Life is a gift from God.
    • Although we may not view life as a gift when we’re going through difficult times, it is still God’s gift.
    • We struggle to explain life’s mysteries, but often we don’t succeed.
    • If we embrace life as a gift from God and then thank Him for it, we’ll have a better attitude as we encounter our struggles.
    • If we accept life as a burden, we’ll miss the gifts that come our way.
    • Our outlook and attitude about life determine whether we view life as a gift or not.
  • Human life is linked to eternity.
    • We were created in the image of God and given control over creation. Genesis 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let Us  make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.
    • Humans are different from the rest of creation.
      • Our spirit is eternal.
      • We can never be satisfied with the accomplishments “under the sun.”
      • We’ll never be able to explain the mysteries of life.
    • God accomplishes His purposes in His time.
    • We won’t be able to understand His plan until we enter into eternity.
  • We can enjoy life now.
    • The teacher implied this idea in 2:24.
    • 1 Timothy 6:17 Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things  to enjoy.
    • The teacher is not implying a life of pagan hedonism. Instead, we should live a life where we enjoy the gifts God has given us from the fruit of our labor, regardless of the difficulty of our life.
    • Life is transitory, but God’s work lasts forever.
    • When we live our life according to His instructions, life is meaningful.
    • Too many complain about what they don’t have instead of being thankful for what they do have.
    • It’s also important to understand the teacher isn’t promoting a “don’t worry, be happy” attitude.
      • He is promoting faith in God.
      • He is not promoting “faith in faith” or “pie in the sky.”
      • Faith is only as good as the object of faith. The greatest object of faith is God.
    • When we live life walking with God, it’s arrogant and disrespectful to say that life is meaningless and monotonous.
      • Humans are not insignificant creatures.
      • When we place our trust in Jesus, we become a child of God and have a future eternal home. John 14:1-6 “Your heart must not be troubled. Believe  in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. You know the way to where I am going.” “Lord,” Thomas  said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
    • Thomas Watson, a pastor from the 1600s, said, “Eternity to the godly is a day that has no sunset; eternity to the wicked is a night that has no sunrise.”
    • A proper attitude towards God is to fear Him. We must not misunderstand the meaning of biblical fear. It isn’t cringing in terror; it’s submitting like an obedient child to a loving parent.
    • If we fear God, we don’t need to fear anything else because He is in control.

The final verse of this passage harks back to 1:9-11, giving us a reassurance that God is in control of the cycle of life. God can, and has, broken into this cycle throughout history, performing miracles. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are examples of breaking the cycle of life and overcoming the “life-death cycle.” Since Jesus broke this cycle, we have become a new creation that overcomes time and death. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things  have come. 18 Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world  to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” 21 He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.


  • Don’t wrestle with the factors of the “under the sun” lifecycle. View life, both its good and bad points, as a gift from God. Every human who has ever lived experienced highs and lows. When you look at the life of Jesus, He certainly experienced both ends of the spectrum. Why should we be any different?
  • Receive your joy from eternal pursuits and pleasures, not from things “under the sun.” Anything pursued or accomplished outside of God’s will ultimately fail to satisfy us. However, when we walk in sync with God’s plan, our life will be one of joy and satisfaction.
  • There’s nothing wrong with enjoying our life “under the sun.” In fact, God’s desire is that we do enjoy it. If we are walking with Him, we can rest in the peace that regardless of what we face, He will sustain us through the experience. At the same time if you don’t have as much “stuff” as others, don’t focus on that. Be thankful for what you do have and not envious of what you don’t. Otherwise, you will live a miserable life. Never forget Jesus’ words in John 10:10b I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.

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