Ecclesiastes 3 Turn! Turn! Turn!

Questions: Is there really a purpose in everything that happens? Is there really a good time for war, killing, and hate? Does it really matter what we do? Are we any better off than the beasts?

Click “Read More” to pursue answers from Ecclesiastes.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22

To every [thing there is] a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

As with many verses in Ecclesiastes, I wonder: is this hopeless resignation or hopeful acceptance?

* A time to be born, and a time to die;

* a time to plant, and a time to pluck up [that which 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 get, and a time to lose;

* a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

* A time to rend, 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 of war, and a time of peace.

I get the feeling he isn’t merely providing a laundry list to prove that “stuff happens”. Rather, he is asserting that there is a reason as well as a rhyme to life. What goes up must come down — but what goes down will come up again.

Now, I’m not sure he’s altogether happy with this state of affairs:

What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.

But, he is still able to admire them, up to a point:

He hath made every [thing] beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

In the end, he seems willing to settle for peaceful contentment:

I know that [there is] no good in them, but for [a man] to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it [is] the gift of God.

Which, if not exactly rejoicing in God, at least is at peace with Him:

I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth [it], that [men] should fear before him. That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.

So, is that all there is? Apparently not (especially since we have another nine chapters :-). Even just minding your own business — and letting God mind His — doesn’t let you escape from the thorny question of worldly injustice:

And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, [that] wickedness [was] there; and the place of righteousness, [that] iniquity [was] there.

Sure, it is easy to say God will take care of the bad guys:

I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for [there is] a time there for every purpose and for every work.

But, in some ways that merely reinforces how messed up we are:

I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.

Long before Darwin, the Preacher realized that we are akin to the animals, much as we might like to pretend otherwise:

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all [is] vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

In fact, he seems to be using this fact to argue that we should just live in the present — like animals do:

Wherefore I perceive that [there is] nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that [is] his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

I now wonder whether or not I’ve caught the right narrative current in this chapter. Perhaps his main point is that — from God’s perspective — we are merely fish in a river, or cattle on a ranch. We have no idea where we are going or what will happen next. All our pretensions to grandeur and achievement fall afoul of the natural order of things, to the endless cycle of life & death, peace & war, joy & sorrow. The best we can hope for — the most we should hope for — is to live each moment to the fullest.

Not a bad philosophy. But is it the right one? A true one? Does he paint a fair picture of life? Of God? Or is there in face something more?

I believe there is, though whether or not we’ll find it in Ecclesiastes remains to be seen…


God, I do want to embrace all the wisdom in Ecclesiastes, as uncomfortable (or incomplete) as it may be. Help me remember that there is a time and purpose for all things, even those I may despise. Remind me that I am but dust, and that like the animals I need to find joy in the daily rituals of earthly existence. Yet, don’t let me forget that you have placed eternity in my heart. May I discover whatever “more” there is. In Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is from the folk song based on this chapter.