Turn! Turn! Turn! Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 MV
A poem about time – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
v1 Everything has its proper time.
There is a right time for everything in the world.
v2 There is a time to be born,
and there is a time to die.
There is a time to plant,
and there is a time to pull things up.
v3 There is a time to kill,
and there is a time to cure.
There is a time to pull down,
and there is a time to build up.
v4 There is a time to weep,
and there is a time to laugh.
There is a time to be sad,
and there is a time to dance.
v5 There is a time to scatter stones,
and there is a time to gather stones together.
There is a time to hug,
and there is a time not to hug.
v6 There is a time to search for something,
and there is a time to lose something.
There is a time to keep things,
and there is a time to throw things away.
v7 There is a time to tear things,
and there is a time to mend things.
There is a time to be silent,
and there is a time to speak.
v8 There is a time to love
and there is a time to hate.
There is a time for war,
and there is a time for peace.
Verses 1-2 The 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 Three pairs of words about time describe people’s activities here. Some activities create things and other activities destroy things.
1) There is a right time for a farmer to plant his seed. There is a right time for him to harvest his crop. The words ‘to plant’ and ‘to pull up’ may also refer to God’s actions. He had ‘planted’ *Israel in their country like a farmer plants his seed. But *Israel’s people did not obey God, so God had to punish them. He allowed their enemies to destroy their nation. The enemies were stealing the ‘crop’.
2) ‘To kill’ may mean ‘to suffer’ (or ‘to have difficulties’) as well. *Israel’s people had difficulties because they had not obeyed God. Only God could ‘cure’ the nation. He would rescue the nation if the people began to obey him. God said this in Deuteronomy 32:39: ‘I cause death and I make people alive.’
3) ‘To pull down’ and ‘to build up’ describe people’s actions. They could be either bad actions or good actions. To gossip about someone can ‘pull down’ (ruin) that person’s character. There is never a right time to speak cruel words about people. Words that encourage will ‘build up’ a person. Those words help him to become a more confident person. God told Jeremiah ‘to tear down’. God told him also ‘to build up’. Jeremiah must remove wrong beliefs and actions. He must warn nations that God would be their judge. He also gave a message that spoke about hope (Jeremiah 1:10). The *Jews were living in a distant country called Babylon. But Jeremiah caused them to hope. At the right time, God would take them back to their own country. He would ‘build them up and he would not tear them down’ (Jeremiah 24:6).
Verse 4 People should show emotion at the proper time. It is sometimes right to weep. And it is sometimes right to laugh. It is right to be sad about a death. There is a right time to be unhappy about people’s wrong actions. But on a special day or at a special event people can be very happy. King David was very pleased that God’s special box was going into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14-15). So it was good that he danced. He wanted to praise God.
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’.
Verse 5 There is a suitable time to hug someone. That shows friendship or love. But there is a time when you should not hug them. It is not always proper to hold people in that way.
Verse 6 You may 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.
Verse 7 When people were sad they would tear their clothes. They did it on purpose. For example, Jacob tore his clothes when he was very sad. He thought that Joseph, his son, was dead (Genesis 37:34). Also Joel wrote about people who tore their clothes. He said that the *Jews should be more sad about their *sins than about other things (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 share secret information with other people (Proverbs 20:19). But there is also a right time to speak. It might be the right time to correct someone. Perhaps they did not understand what someone had said. Perhaps other people had not understood them. Perhaps it is an opportunity to encourage other people. God is sometimes silent as he waits for people. He wants them to obey him. So he gives them time while they decide to obey.
Verse 8 ‘To love’ means really to care about other people. ‘To hate’ does not mean to feel a bad emotion towards another person. It means to hate *sin. We should hate all bad things and hate all bad actions. And we should try to improve bad situations. ‘Hate what is evil. Love what is good.’ (That is Amos 5:15.)
People go to war at certain times. But when the war ends, then people can have peace. They can feel safe and happy. In the *Old Testament we read that God sometimes used war to punish bad people.
The Teacher thinks about time – Ecclesiastes 3:9-15
v9 I would like to know what advantage anyone gets from all his or her hard work. v10 I have noticed the kinds of difficult work that God demands from people. v11 God makes everything happen at the right time. He has given people a desire to know the future. But we can never understand completely what God has done from the beginning to the end of time. v12 People should be happy all the time that they live on the earth. And they should do good things. I am sure that this is the best thing for people. v13 We should satisfy ourselves with our food and with our work. We should enjoy our life as we work. And we can eat and drink with joy. This pleasure is God’s gift to us. v14 I know that God’s work lasts for always. Nobody can add to what God does. Nobody can take away from what God does. It is perfect in every way. God has done this so that people will be afraid to make him angry.
v15 Everything that happens has happened before.
Whatever will happen in the future has already happened in the past.
God makes the same things happen again and again.
Verses 9-11 The Teacher begins to speak about how God controls history. Also, God gives us a desire to understand our future beyond time. Time does not control God. His name is ‘I am’ (Exodus 3:14). God has made us similar to him (Genesis 1:26). So it is part of our nature to think about the future. We want to understand what happens after our life in this world. But people can never understand God’s plans completely.
Verses 12-13 God wants people to be content as they live. People can enjoy their food, because God gave it to them. They should enjoy their work too. We should not think that it has no real purpose. We know when we want to please God. And then our work is valuable (1 Corinthians 15:58). Verse 14 God’s actions are permanent. We can trust God. What he does gives the best results.
Verse 15 The first part of this verse is like Ecclesiastes 1:9-11. It might seem that our situation on earth is without hope. But the similar words here suggest hope. God controls history. God cares about people who have suffered in the past. But ‘God makes the same things happen again and again.’ So God controls both events and people.
The Teacher thinks about what is not fair in the world – Ecclesiastes 3:16-22
v16 And I discovered something else in the world.
In the place where judges make judgments, they make wicked decisions.
In that place where we expect fair decisions, the judges are not fair.
v17 ‘God is the judge of everything.
And he will declare his judgment about everyone.
He sees those people who do right things.
And he sees those people who do wrong and wicked things.
He has arranged a time and a place for every activity’, I told myself.
v18 God is testing people. He is showing us that we are like animals. v19 The same thing happens to people and to animals. Animals and people all die. We all live and breathe like animals. So people have no advantage over animals. All this is very hard to understand. v20 We all go to the same place. God made people and animals out of dust and we will all return to dust. v21 Nobody can know whether a man’s *spirit will go up to heaven. And nobody can know whether an animal’s *spirit will go down into the earth.
v22 So I realized what is the best thing for a person. He must enjoy his work, because to enjoy his life is God’s gift. Nobody can know what will happen in the future.
Verse 16 The Teacher had noticed the way that the judges worked. They did not act as they should act. They expected that people would give money to them. Then the judges would say that a rich person was innocent. But they would not say that a poor man was innocent. If the poor man had no money, he could not give it to the judges. So their decision would be against the poor man. King Jehoshaphat warned his judges to think carefully about their work. They must remember that they were the people’s servants. They were God’s servants too (2 Chronicles 19:5-7). In the *New Testament, Jesus told a story about a judge who was not fair. 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 The man who wrote Psalm 73 could not understand the world. He did not know why wicked people seemed to have a very good life in the world. But he went to *worship God. Then he realized that there is an answer to the problem. In the end, God will punish those wicked people. The Teacher also realized that God’s judgment will come. God will be the judge of everyone after their death. The judge of all the earth will do what is right (Genesis 18:25). All the good people and all the bad people will have to stand in front of God. He will be the judge of everyone. He will be the judge of our actions and of our decisions. Perhaps we neglect what we should do. But our judge will see what we have neglected. The *New Testament teaches this clearly. Jesus taught it in his story about the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).
Verses 18-22 In verse 19, the word ‘breathe’ is almost the same as the word ‘*spirit’, which is in verse 21. The Teacher thinks about how people and animals are alike. They both breathe because they are both alive. They both die in the end. They came from the earth or from ‘dust’ (Genesis 2:7, 19). And they will return to the dust when they die (Genesis 3:19). Their graves will be in the earth and their bodies will become dust again. So the bodies of people have no advantage over the bodies of animals. The *spirit of an animal just refers to their breath, which is just physical. But the Teacher thinks about whether any part of a human being goes up to heaven. Nobody can be sure about what happens to people after their death. Therefore, the Teacher thought in the end that it is best for a person to enjoy their life here on the earth. But Christians can be sure about a future that is in heaven. The *New Testament shows this (John 10:25; 11:25). Three times the Teacher has given the advice that people should enjoy their lives. (See also Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12). ‘Work’ may include all the activities that people can enjoy. This type of ‘work’ is God’s gift. ‘Nobody can know what will happen in the future.’ The Teacher also may be referring to people who have died. Perhaps they will know nothing more about events in this world.
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