Ecclesiastes 3:1 | NIV (1984) | Other Versions | Context
The theme of the book of Ecclesiastes can really be summed up by the idea that everything is meaningless [Ecc 1:2|Article] and that sentiment, repeated several times throughout the book, also sets the general tone of the book. Everything in this world is meaningless, every worldly pursuit and knowledge and desire is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 3 opens us up to Solomon‘s perspective on the concept of time. In this study we will examine 2 kinds of Time – the time we can control, that is given us, that we use to spend on whatever we wish; and the time that we cannot control – the timing of providences, of things that happen to us.
a time for everything – In Ecclesiastes 3:2-8, Solomon lists a series of notable things that there is a time for, summing them up with this – He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end [Ecc 3:11]. Nothing in this world is perpetual, good things will come, bad things will also come. Good things will come to pass, bad things will also come to pass. Have you heard of the story of Solomon’s ring. It’s something like a Jewish folktale, with several versions. Let me tell you the one I first heard.
David issued a mission to his servant. He wanted the servant to procure for him an object that, when he set his eyes on it in times of defeat, he will be cheered up immediately; when he looks at it in victorious times, he will be humbled immediately. The servant was confounded by the mission for some time, until one day, the son of King David, Solomon, happened to pass by and asked what was troubling him. The servant told him about the mission, and Solomon smiled and told him how to solve it – buy a ring and carve the following words on it: This too shall pass. The servant did so, and when David saw it, he was pleased.
Difficult times will pass, good times will pass too. Do note that in most versions of this fable, David was not mentioned. I simply wrote here the one that I first heard. The details of the fable vary from version to version, but Solomon is always either the one who gives those words, or the one who receives it. A ring that cheers you up and humbles you down as well. Almost like a magic ring, isn’t it? When I first heard that fable, I was so inspired that I went and ordered a ring and had that phrase engraved. This too shall pass. Though, I somehow got the size wrong and ordered a size 8 ring. If anybody wants it, let me know, I’ll mail it to you at no charge.
a season for every activity – I’m perhaps more inclined than many others to take this phrase more metaphorically than I usually would, because in my society and culture, there are no seasons. The weather doesn’t differ much all year round, and we don’t use words like summer or winter. We simply don’t, because it makes no difference to us. It’s always hot, humid, with a light shower every other day. There is a long running joke in the country that our news channels do not have (and do not need) a weather forecast man, because he’ll be repeating the same thing everyday anyway. But there are summers and winters in Israel. They know what seasons are, unlike me.
Where does Time come from? God – God has given men time. But we also have the freedom to how we use it. Granted, many times we use our time for ungodly purposes. Meaningless activities. Worldly pursuits that are, at the end of the day, but just meaningless according to Solomon. Let us not be grieved by the things that happen against our desires, for if everything all happens according to our desires, at the same time, then we will not enjoy them as much as we can. Let us not be lost in the comfort of the things that happen according to our desires, and lose sight of what is truly important – the spiritual realm, our spiritual growth, our relationship with God.
The book of Deuteronomy is a historical book, linked by one notable phase after another, especially in the first few chapters. What separates these phases? God‘s time. In Deu 1:6, God said – You have stayed long enough at this mountain – signifying that it’s time to move on to another phase of the Exodus. Deu 2:3 – God said, You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. God is the one who decides it’s long enough. What’s the measure for long enough? We don’t know, seriously. It’s in God‘s time. It’s his divine time. He knows best. He is patient, for a thousand years in his sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night [Psalm 90:4|Article]. He works on an entirely time scale than us.
Let us look to God to decide when exactly is ‘long enough‘. Let us look to God to guide us as we manage our time. Let us learn to rejoice in our work and the works we do [Ecc 3:22], even if it is hard, even if it is sad. When God says it is long enough, we will get our deliverance.
There is a time for everything. Some use this verse to argue for predeterminism. That is a huge theological philosophy that is best left till another day to discuss. As for today, let us just ponder upon the things that we spend our time on daily. Is this the time for that? Is this the season for that? We often deliberately choose not to ask ourselves that question in our self-indulgence. Yet, when we ask ourselves that question, perhaps we will find that we have no time not to study God‘s words. We have no time not to worship the Lord. We have no time not to fellowship with other believers. Even as we manage our time optimally, let us remember that God has his divine timings, and thus let us look to him for guidance. When God says it is long enough, suffering may come. When God says it is long enough, deliverance will come.
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