Ecclesiastes 3:1–14comment (0)
January 7, 2010
By Kenneth B.E. Roxburgh
Related Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1–14
Bible Studies for Life
Chair and Armstrong Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University
Wrestling With Time
It seems that no matter how many timesaving inventions we purchase, we never seem to have enough time. Time is a precious commodity. When we come to the end of another day, week, month or year, we will never have that time to live over again.
Living in Time (1–8)
Time, like many other features of life that the preacher has discussed in this book, often brings us a sense of frustration at what we have failed to accomplish in the time we have already lived. During times of difficulty, we tend to feel that life is passing us by and we will never be able to enjoy it again. We need to view time in the light of eternity and of His control of all our times and to discern His providence in every moment. This does not lead us to a sense of fatalism or extreme determinism but confident trust in the security of God’s control of every aspect of our lives.
The way these verses contain a variety of different pairs is a common idiom in Hebrew Scripture. Humanity is described as “man and woman” (Ex. 36:6) or the “great and small” (Jer. 6:13). Each pair in verses 2–7 describes a different aspect of human life, to describe the variety of experiences we pass through in time. Thus we are “born” and “die,” “weep” and “laugh,” “keep” and “throw away” and are “silent” and “speak.” The phrases not only remind us of different activities we engage in but also encompass all the pursuits, emotions, dreams and aspirations of human beings, both creative and destructive, the things we do in private as well as in public. If we live our lives “under the sun” without any other perspective than what we have achieved by ourselves, then we are doomed to be depressed and despair. Life becomes empty and futile.
Longing for the Eternal (9–11)
The antidote to such a pessimistic view of time is to see God’s overall control of time and the way in which He works through the events of our lives, initiating the events of each day, giving meaning and purpose to all our activities. It is this theme that lies at the foundation of these verses and brings hope to our hearts.
Verse 10 reminds us that every moment we have is a gift of God to be used and be busy with. We are stewards of time. It should not be wasted or frittered away. Every moment is precious, to be appreciated and lived for God’s honor. Life does not need to be purposeless but can be filled with a sense of His presence every moment of the day.
Verse 11 takes this thought even further when it indicates that a sense of eternity and God has been placed into our hearts. It reminds us that as people who have been created in the image of God, we have a sense of a deeper plan and purpose for our lives. We are living not just for 70 or 80 years of life in this world but for the eternal kingdom of God — we are people of hope, of expectation, who are convinced that the seeds we sow in this life will reap eternal benefits. We set our minds not on things below but on things that are above — where Christ is.
Standing in Awe of God (12–14)
Paradoxically, in verses 13–14, this eternal perspective will enable us to enjoy life here and now. Paul reminded Timothy that God has given us “all things richly to enjoy,” and here the preacher said virtually the same thing: “We should eat and drink and take pleasure in our toil” because we are seeking to use our time well. Our sense of meaning and security, here and now, as well as in the future, is based not upon our human efforts to improve ourselves but in recognizing that God is reliable, that His purposes from eternity will be accomplished and that a sense of security is to be found in trusting in Him. This, once again, leads to fear, not a craven terror but a reverent trust, an affectionate devotion and a giving of ourselves to God. Perhaps this is why, at the beginning of each week, we spend time not on our work or our own projects but in God’s house, reflecting on Scripture, standing in God’s presence, offering Him worship and praise and listening for His voice. In such a context, our faith is renewed, our lives are set on the pathway of pilgrimage and confidence can develop within our hearts.