For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain has the worker from his toil?
Man is about the business of reinventing his own personal world in order to escape vanity. Solomon attempted this feat in a way that few others could duplicate. He not only concluded that his attempt failed, but that the task in doing so ultimately caused him to “hate life.” The “evil business” (1:13) that God had given to the sons of men became nothing but a “breath” and a chasing of the circuits of the wind. I can only imagine the disappointment and wide-eyed disbelief by Solomon’s audience in the findings of his experiment. Every person dreams to be in his position. It almost takes our breath away to think of being able to have whatever our eyes desired. But Solomon said, “Never mind, don’t go there; it is truly disappointing.”
For Everything There Is a Season
This text has often challenged Bible students. What is the purpose of the fourteen pairs of opposites? The meaning is fairly simple. We all use the phrase, “These are seasons of life.” They are events that happen whether we want them to or not. Our preference is that the “bad side” would not happen. In fact, we often work hard to make it so they do not happen. On occasion we may delay some things, but eventually they all happen. Do you see how this connects with man’s attempt at reinventing his environment? The Preacher is clear. “There is a time…” and as these events take place they will ruin our efforts to reinvent the world around us.
Think about the first contrasting event: a time to be born and a time to die. When we are young, it is the springtime of our lives. We live with great optimism. I’m glad of the optimism. There is a wonderful feel to it. Every experience is new and fresh; every hope and dream is relished and anticipated. But it does not take long for the “shock” to come. The time to dance becomes a time to mourn and the time to laugh becomes a time to weep. It is like being hit with a mighty blow. We reel and stagger. Confused, we repeatedly ask the question of “why?”
Therefore, verse nine is the conclusion of the first eight verses. The Preacher is not talking about toil in general. He is referring back to 1:3, 1:13, and 2:3 where the toil had to do with the endless effort to change one’s environment in order to get “profit” or “gain” under the sun. But with these “seasons of life” being clearly out of man’s control, what profit has a man in such effort?
The song that we sing, “In His Time,” comes from this text. And though the song does not perfectly reflect the meaning, it still has a good lesson – specifically, trusting God and putting our lives in His hands and in His time. But here is where we may misunderstand the meaning of “beautiful.” When you look at the first eight verses there isn’t much to commend itself to beautiful. In fact, from our perspective, it isn’t very pretty at all. A time of hate, time of war, time of mourning, and a time to refrain from embracing are anything but beautiful.
However, from God’s perspective it is absolutely beautiful in the sense that it perfectly accomplishes his goal. These ups and downs of life defeat man’s desire to control his surroundings and become his own god. The wise person is able to see this. Unfortunately, most people are so enamored with their passions and the prospect of finding perfect fulfillment that they never stop to realize that the seasons of life are constantly defeating their purpose. There is only One who is in control. Look up!
There is another phrase here: God has put eternity in their hearts. This is the opposite to the contrasting seasons of life. In life under the sun, man constantly sees what is happening today as going on forever. God places that in us so that we cannot find out what he has done from the beginning to the end. In other words, we never know what is going to happen next. We can’t be our own god!
The Answer to the Seasons of Life
The Preacher gives five answers to the fact that man is subjected to the seasons of life.
- Acquiesce to God’s control, 12-15. Now for the second time the Preacher admonishes us to quit trying to control what we cannot control. Instead, serve God, do good, be content, and enjoy the gifts that God has given. There isn’t anything better, so why are you knocking yourself out trying to obtain that which is vapor? Since God is in control, serve Him and be content with His gifts. Trust God, He will take care of you.
- Do not let injustice overly disturb you (16-17). The skeptic says, “If there is a God, why does He allow all these bad things?” The Preacher’s reply is, “Yes that’s disturbing, but in God’s time He will judge that too.” Again, trust is the key.
- Seasons of life are God’s way of testing, proving, and refining man (18-19). These seasons demonstrate that man is no more in control of his under-the-sun destiny than is an animal. We cannot stop death or any of the other fourteen bad things listed. In this one regard, man has no advantage over the beasts and therefore should turn his eyes to the Creator.
- Man foolishly does not live with the understanding of how he is different from the animals (19-21). “Who knows…?” is the complaint. We know that the Preacher knows the difference because of 12:7. But men who live under the sun act like they will never be accountable and that this life is all there is. The irony is, they try to control life as if they are not like the beast, but live life as if their end is the same as the beast.
- No one will bring man to see what is after him (22). Look back at the “times” in verses 1-8. Which one of those will happen to you tomorrow? You don’t know. Well if you don’t know, how will you prepare for tomorrow’s calamity? You might say, “I’ll save money just in case.” But money won’t solve those calamities. In other words, anything earthly you can think of will not change life under the sun. Only one thing will work: trust the One who is in control.