When I was in elementary school way back in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, we began each school day with reading the Bible and standing to say the Pledge of Allegiance with our hands over our hearts. Each student took turns in selecting the Bible verses to read. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 was a popular choice and it seemed to be favored by the teachers as well, because when a student forgot to prepare ahead of time, the teachers would often suggest Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
Perhaps because it had a rhyming rhythm that was soothing and calming. Perhaps because the reputation of Solomon being a wise teacher reminded them that he probably had a good idea there. And most of the time, the translation being read was the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.
However, as a pre-teen, I didn’t really understand what it all meant. I can’t tell you how many times I have read and heard those verses in my lifetime without really studying to understand them.
For the purpose of this month’s Webstable Soup, I will use the New International Version for Bible quotations.
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.
In school, we would stop there, ending with the word peace. A good word… peace. Eventually, I learned that there are fourteen more verses in that chapter. Keep in mind that Solomon began this writing in Ecclesiastes 1 with the dirge that everything in life is meaningless!
1:14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
The pointlessness of human activity is the major theme of the book. Solomon, however, like Job, insists that God’s laws must be kept, whether keeping them results in happiness or sorrow.
So let’s look at the rest of Ecclesiastes 3. Pay particular attention to verse 11.
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.
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 Christian Theology
In Biblical Hebrew: Ketuvim is the third and final section of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), after Torah (instruction) and Nevi’im (prophets). In English translations of the Hebrew Bible, this section is usually titled “writings” (a miscellaneous collection of liturgical poetry, secular love poetry, wisdom literature, history, apocalyptic literature, a short story, and a romantic tale).
Ecclesiastes is one of the 24 books of the Tanakh, where it is classified as one of the Ketuvim. Originally written 450–200 BC, it is also among the canonical works of wisdom literature of the Old Testament in most denominations of Christianity.
Times and Seasons
In New Testament Greek, “kairos” means “the appointed time in the purpose of God,” the time when God acts (e.g. Mark 1:15: the time (kairos) is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand).
“Kairos” (used 86 times in the New Testament) refers to an opportune time, a “moment” or a “season” such as “harvest time,” whereas “chronos” (used 54 times) refers to a specific amount of time, such as a day or an hour (e.g. Acts 13:18 and 27:9).
So, what does it mean to read that there is a time for every thing? I believe it means that we cannot do all things at the same time or we can’t do different things at the same time. Everything has its own time. For instance, each of the opposites stated in this scripture, only one can happen in its time and the other will happen in its time, but the fist lesson here is to recognize that each event will happen in God’s time, not ours!
Ecclesiastes 3:11 is specifically and significantly important. It begins with a bold promise: “God makes everything beautiful in its time.”
I believe this means that God has a purpose for every experience and encounter, no matter how good or bad (Romans 8:28), and that every disappointment and trial will have a beautiful consequence. But note that there is no promise that it will necessarily be beautiful to us at the time it is happening, but that in His time, He will reveal its purpose, whether in this life or in a time to come.
Now, what does this phrase mean? He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Think about it…we have eternity in our hearts! The concept that God has no beginning and no end, or that we will live somewhere for eternity when we discard our fleshly bodies, is truly more than the human mind can grasp. Perhaps it suggests that every human being in every part of the world and from every culture throughout time has a deeply rooted curiosity embedded in our DNA about where life began and what happens after death… a God-shaped vacancy in our heart that only God can fill, but at the same time, it also includes the mystery of God who, with our puny understanding, is unknowable, except as he was when he was being human as his son, Jesus. Then he was not God being God, he was God being human.
I believe that religion exists today partly because God has put into the heart of every person He created the hope and need for a perfect, happy, and eternal life after our present body dies. Do you think that God would have first put us in a corrupted, imperfect, mortal body if He didn’t plan on eventually blessing us with a perfect immortal body that will live in a place of never-ending unspeakable joy, and do you think that He would have put the expectation of it in every one’s heart if it didn’t exist?
A New Heaven and a New Earth!
21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (‘the wicked are like the restless sea – Isaiah 57:21) 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:1-7. NIV, Parentheses mine, SM)
A Better Season is Coming
Given the situation in which we find ourselves to be living right now, what kind of people ought we to be? (2 Peter 3:11). What season is it? What is this time asking of us? We are in a season of a pandemic! Lockdowns, isolations, lay-offs, diluted education, political unrest, riots, and destruction of property… all these things are only for a season. They will end and what will we have accomplished during this time? Let’s don’t waste our time! If you are not physically able to do some of these things, just choose the ones you can do to be and feel productive.
- We can let go the things over which we have no control.
- We can pray more.
- We can clean house.
- We can work in our yards and dig in the dirt.
- We can bring out the card games and board games for family-bonding time.
- We can choose to limit our time on smart phones, iPads, and computers.
- We can re-learn what our children’s faces look like.
- We can try to mend broken relationships.
- We can express gratitude for small things.
- We can forgive big hurts.
- We can make peace with regrets.
- We can discover new hobbies.
- We can study the Bible.
- We can go for a ride and enjoy the changing colors of the trees in November.
- We can learn something new from online lessons; how to play chess or how to play the guitar, or learn another language.
- We can reach out and touch those who need us with cards and calls.
- We can be confident that God is right now in control!
- We can be brave, be kind, and be holy.
This is our season of hope! Let us rejoice and be happy!