Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today we will continue reading the philosophical work of King Solomon, from the book of Ecclesiastes. In this chapter we find much wisdom regarding seasons and times, and how it is that a man shall toil until he dies.
Reading: Ecclesiastes 3
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
The casual reading of this block provides a good and right lesson: There is a time and a place for everything, and everything should be done in its time and place. The Chinese call this the Dao – the way of things.
However, there are deeper meanings to be gleaned, here. There are good and bad things on this list, yin and yang, push and pull. Not only is there a time to heal, but there is also a time to kill. Not only is there a time to keep, but also there is a time to cast away. Not only is there a time to speak, but also there is a time to keep silent.
Nothing lasts forever, and no one should expect a thing to last beyond its appointed time on this earth. When the time comes to make war, it is not good to avoid making war (for you will be destroyed by evil men); and when it is time to make peace, it is not good to continue war (because you will become the evil men).
This is a lost piece of wisdom in the Church today.
9 What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?
Of course, there is a simple answer here. When I cook a delicious meal, I profit by having produced a thing that is desirable and nutritious. But tomorrow, I will hunger again.
This is what Solomon means: because nothing lasts, and no man lives forever, all our labors ultimately profit us nothing.
10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.
11 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.
This sort of teaching is found in the work of Paul, as well. Recall that he wrote, “The requirements of the law are written on their hearts, so that they are without excuse.” In the same way, we are gifted with a power to project into the future, both for good and for ill. We can see that the day will come when we will die, and we will gain nothing from our labors, but we are also able to imagine how our labors will benefit our children, our disciples, or anyone else who might come after us.
This is a characteristic that distinguishes us from the lesser beasts. The deer will breed until they all starve; the wolves will hunt the deer until they are extinct; the sheep will wander into nothingness. But mankind has the ability to make plans with the future and the world in mind.
12 I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.
Things are just things. It is often said that technology is neither good nor evil, but those traits are given it by how we use them. In the same way, all things can be good or ill depending on how we view and employ them.
For me, social media is a simple thing that can allow me to talk with friends without my phone. That is the full extent of my use of sites like Facebook. However, I know hundreds of people for whom social media is a vice. It brings them no joy, and they do no good with it, but they are addicted to it as surely as a man can be addicted to a drug. Because of this, for them social media should be seen as an evil.
13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.
It is good to enjoy life, because it is the only life we know. God would not put pleasing things on this earth purely for his own benefit; indeed, he has given us such things that we might enjoy life.
But guard yourselves, lest pleasure give way to vice.
14 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.
God is. We know him as “I AM THAT I AM” – always being, never having been or going to be. He is not transient, as we are, and so his works need not be transient.
Whatever God wills, that comes to pass. Whatever God wills not, does not come to pass. So, his works are far greater than ours.
15 That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.
16 And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.
Man is fallen and full of all kinds of depravity. Nowhere is that more evident than modern America, where the journalists fabricate news to fit a political agenda, politicians craft laws as snares for the unwary, police are found numbered amongst the criminals, and judges rule not based on law but on personal whim.
As it was, so it is. That which hath been is now.
17 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.
An act can be good in one context and evil in another. We have already seen that there is a time to kill and a time to heal. It would not be good to heal a mass-murderer so that he can go on to murder, as it would not be good to kill a righteous man.
God will judge, in his full wisdom and knowledge, all the acts of every man. So it is that we fear his wrath, and strive to do good in His eyes.
18 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.
It has been said that man is both angel and beast. We contain in us both the characteristics of the beasts (instincts, impulses, subconscious, emotions, etc) and characteristics of the spirit (wisdom, intelligence, reason, logic, etc). Ignoring one or the other breeds all kinds of illness and sickness of the spirit.
19 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.
20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
The wise man dies as the fool, and the fool dies as the beast.
21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
We have an assurance from Christ that we will live again. Indeed, we also have his words to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” However, while we are assured of this, we have never seen that we die any differently from the beasts of the earth.
22 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?
Even when we are made alive again on the last day, we will return to a world destroyed by the wicked. We shall not see what happened after we died. So it is that Solomon reasons that we should rejoice in our own works now, while we still can.
Let us Pray
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation! Oh, my soul, praise him, for he is my strength and salvation!
Lord, we are troubled by the teachings we are reading here in the words of Solomon. It is painful to receive wisdom, as the philosophers Socrates and Plato illustrated in their famous cave analogy. Teach us and give us peace. We ask not that you hide wisdom from us, but that you give us the strength to endure and embrace all truth.
Blessed be the name of the Lord, who is worthy to be praised. Praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. And all glory be to the Holy Spirit, the comforter and teacher who remains with us until the Messiah returns in glory.
May the love of Christ dwell in you richly, and may you be blessed with all heavenly gifts. Amen.