In the First Book, or chapter, of his work Ecclesiastes
was wholly occupied with the problems of individual experience in the
sphere of mental and technical activity; the Second Book (3:1-4:8) is
wider in its outlook: The writer approaches the task of surveying the work
||For everything there is a stated time, |
a season for every event under the heavens:
||A season to give birth and a season to die;
A season to plant and a season to chop down
what is planted
||A season to kill and a season to heal;
A season to breach and a season to build;
||A season to weep and a season to make merry;
A season of wailing and a season of dancing
||A season to fling away stones and a season
to collect stones together; |
A season to
embrace and a season to stay far from embracing
||A season to seek and a season to count as
A season to keep and a season to fling
||A season to tear and a season to sew; |
season to hush and a season to speak;
||A season to love and a season to hate;
A season of war and a season of
The times and the seasons as a whole are subjected to
review. They are introduced with the phrase, "To everything there is a
stated time, and a season for every event under the heavens" (3:1). These
important words indicate the special points dealt with in this section.
Two distinct terms are used, referring to stated (or set) times and
appropriate times (or seasons):
The word rendered "stated times" signifies a time
definitely set apart for a special purpose, by royal edict or divine
appointment, as is clear from its occurrences. It is used in Ezra to
denote the time specified by the chief officials for the adjustment of the
mixed marriages among the returned captives (Ezra 10:14). Similarly it is
used concerning the leave of absence granted to Nehemiah by letters of
Artaxerxes (Neh.2:6), the Divine appointments relative to the temple
services (Neh.10:34, 13:31), and the establishment of the feast of Purim
by decree of Esther and Mordecai (Est.9:27,31).
The meaning which inheres the word translated "season" is
clear from its usage in other parts of Ecclesiastes. We will take two of
the most typical occurrences. "The wise heart shall know season
[appropriate time] and judgment" (Ecc.8:5b). Note the setting of the
passage. The whole section deals with subjection to authority, and the
thought is emphasized that within the limits of obedience to the king
there is safety: "He who observes instructions shall know no evil matter"
(8:5a). In what follows, Ecclesiastes seems to have in mind the possible
objection that resistance to evil is as much of an obligation as
submission to right, to which answers Ecclesiastes that the wise know when
each is in proper order. Akin to this is a passage further on, "Happy are
you, O land, whose king is a son of notables, and whose chiefs eat in
season for mastery and not for a drunken bout" (Ecc.10:17). The
idea is doing a thing in the proper manner at the proper time; its meaning
is what we should express by the metaphor of place: "Everything is
good in its proper place."
The connections, therefore, in which the two terms are
used suggest the ideas of divine appointment and appropriateness, so that
the import of 3:1 is that, since for every work there is a time divinely
determined, the events of our lives must be seen in relation to God's
arrangement of things. Hence the idea (developed in Book Four) that events
are neither good nor evil in themselves, but according to their relation
to God's time of approving them. Hence, too, the thought (which forms the
special subject of Book Five) that human happiness does not consist in
carrying out one's every wish, but in fitting them with God's season; so
that while the drift of things is irresistible, the individual can, by
adapting himself to it, achieve satisfaction in his undertakings.
The times and seasons spoken of in Ecclesiastes 3:1,
then, are the predetermined times which pass over Israel and over all the
kingdoms of the countries (1 Chron.29:29), the phases in the experience of
nations which constitute historic epochs, the historic stages which mark
the accomplishment of God's purpose among the nations of the world.
That this is the meaning is abundantly clear, not only
from the scope of the passage, but also from the usage of the same phrases
in other parts of Scripture. Can anyone believe, for example, that there
is a proper time for any individual to kill and to heal? What are we to
make of "a time to heal" according to this interpretation? Can one heal or
restore the life of his fellow man which he has taken away? When all the
passages where the same phrase is used are read together it becomes
evident that the expression "kill and heal" refers to the administration
of justice, the sentencing and pardoning of transgressors against civil
law. In this poetic enumeration of the times and seasons our author
unfolds a procession of history, the great underlying principles of
historic movements. The piecemeal experiences which make up the history of
nations are passed in review, each touched with that marvelous felicity of
descriptive suggestion which is the chief charm of the Assembler's style.
The seasons are twenty-eight in number. They commence
with "birth," (3:2a) i.e., creation, when God gave outwardness,
expression, to the archtypal thoughts of His mind, and they
conclude with "peace" (3:8d). The intervening times are times of
estrangement, marked by confusion, waste, ruin, toil, sweat, pain,
passion, and blood. They are an epitome of the history of mankind: they
begin with "death" (3:2b), pointing back to the sentence pronounced in
Eden, and end with "war" (3:8c), looking forward to the great battle
(later prophesied on the fields of Armageddon) which closes the history of
FITTING IN ITS SEASON
||What advantage does the worker have in what he
||I see the experience that Elohim gives |
To the sons of
humanity to humble them by it.
||He has made everything fitting in its season;
However, He has put obscurity in their heart
So that the man
may not find out His work,
That which the
One, Elohim, does from the beginning to the
||I know that there is no good for them |
But to rejoice
and to achieve good in one's life;
||And, moreover, anyone of humanity, |
That he should eat
and drink and see good from all his toil,
It is a gift of
||I know that whatever the One, Elohim, is doing, |
shall be for the eon;
Onto it there can be
nothing to add,
And from it there can be
nothing to subtract;
The One, Elohim, He does
it that they may fear before Him.
||That which is, it already was, |
And what is to
come already has been;
And the One, Elohim, He shall seek
out what has been pursued away.
Having stated the times in poetic form, Ecclesiastes
proceeds to consider them. First, he draws respecting them certain
deductions which necessarily follow from revealed character of God
(3.9-15); then he considers them from a matter-of-fact view of the actual
condition of things (3:16-4:8). Considering the times which God has
appointed for Adam's sons in the light of the Creator's character,
Ecclesiastes expresses the conviction: "He has made everything fitting in
its season; however, He has put obscurity in their heart, so that the man
may not find out His work, that which the One, Elohim, does from the
beginning to the terminus" (3:11).
No one can find out how God is working His purpose out
through the "seasons." His ways transcend human thought, but He has made
everything fitting in its season and is working from the beginning to the
GOD'S APPOINTED PURPOSE
Ecclesiastes next gives expression to the thought that
God's appointed times were in the very nature of things intended for man's
profit and enjoyment. "I know that there is no good for them but to
rejoice and to achieve good in one's life, and, moreover, any one of
humanity, that he should eat and drink and see good from all his toil, it
is a gift of Elohim" (3:12,13). Whatever is, is for a purpose, and that
purpose is God's thought in creation. This is true, not only of the works
of nature, but also of the events of history.
Another fact which follows from the truth of the
Creator's supremacy is the immutability of the times. God acts on fixed
principles which no effort of the individual will ever influence or alter.
"I know that whatever the One, Elohim is doing, it shall be for the eon;
onto it there can be nothing to add and from it there can be nothing to
subtract" (3:14). The tremendous importance of this truth in its bearing
upon man's conduct Ecclesiastes will develop in a subsequent chapter,
meanwhile he ventures to suggest one of its practical values—to foster
man's dependence on God.
The One, Elohim, He does it that they may fear before
In this statement Ecclesiastes is borne out by Paul, who,
in his sermon to the Athenians, declares that God has determined the
seasons of the nations that they should seek Him (Acts 17:26,27).
Ecclesiastes concludes this side of the survey with
voicing the oft reiterated belief (emphasized at the close as the chief
aim of the book) in a future rectification. "That which is, it already
was, and what is to come already has been; and the One, Elohim, He shall
seek out what has been pursued away" (3:15). Here are two ideas: the law
of "recurrence," in virtue of which the times ever repeat themselves; and
the seeking out or "inquisition" of the times. He has already stated, in
the preceding verse (14), that the times are leading up to the eon:
They contain the seeds which will then yield their fruit. In other words,
we may compare the times to a flight of stairs, leading step by step to
the golden age of peace.
||Yet further, I have seen under the sun, |
place of judgment is, there is wickedness,
where the place of justice is, there is
||I said in my heart: |
As for the righteous and the
wicked, the One,
judge both of them.
For He has set a season for
every event and for every deed.
||I said in my heart: |
It is on account of the sons of
That the One, Elohim, seeks to
And to show them that they themselves are
||For the destiny of the sons of humanity |
the destiny of the beast,
It is one destiny for
As death is for this one,so is death
for that one,
And one spirit is for all;
There is no advantage for the human over the
For the whole is vanity.
||All are going to one place; |
All have come from the
soil, and all return to the soil.
||Who is knowing about the spirit of the sons of
Whether it is ascending above,
the spirit of the beast, whether it
is descending below to the
||So I saw that there is nothing better for a
than that he rejoices in his works
Since that is his portion;
For who can bring
him to see what shall come after him?
||And again I saw all the exploitings that are done under
the sun; |
Behold, the tears of those being
And there is no comforter for them;
is in the hand of their exploiters,
there is no comforter for them.
||So I lauded the dead, those who had already died,
Over the living, those who are still alive;
||Yet better than them both is the one who still has not
come into being, |
Who has not seen the evil work that is
done under the sun.
||And I saw all the toil and all the success of the
work done, |
That it was jealousy of one man
over his associate;
This too is vanity and a
grazing on wind.
||The stupid man folds his hands and eats his own
||Yet better is one palm full with rest
Than both hands full with toil and a grazing
||And again I saw a vanity under the sun:|
||There was one person, but there was no
There even was no son or brother for him;
Also there was no end to all his toil,
Yet his eyes
were not satisfied with his riches.
Then he said,
For whom am I toiling
And making my soul lack good?
This too is vanity, and it is an experience of
In these verses Ecclesiastes proceeds to show that the
previous representation is not borne out by the actual state of things.
"Yet further, I have seen under the sun, where the place of judgment is,
there is wickedness, and where the place of justice is, there is
wickedness" (3:16). In spite of the reasonableness of the earlier
deductions, they are at variance with actual experience. The actual
condition things in the world tells a very different tale. The times are
often seen reversed: wickedness is seen in the place of justice, and while
this fact may be construed to argue for a future rectification, it more
often leads to the view that man is not different in his end from the
beasts (3:16-22); suffering under oppression which makes death preferable
to life (4:1-3); skill attained at the price of baneful rivalry and bitter
competition fostering idleness in some and egotism in others (4:5-6);
tireless effort dismayed by the recognition of its lack of its
satisfaction (4:7-8)—all these realities which cannot be ignored force
totally different conclusions.
The survey has yielded the following result: the
theoretic side, founded on deductions flowing from the character of the
Creator, argues that the "times" are for man's good; the practical side,
resting on stubborn facts which everywhere stare us in the face, argues
that the times and seasons contribute to man's misery and suffering. The
reflective process has established an antagonism between good and evil.
Here for the present the consideration of God's work is allowed to rest.
But the clash between the ideal and the actual—the discrepancy between the
traditional of the works of the Lord, and the growing difficulty of the
recognition of evil in the world—has given rise to a number of perplexing
practical questions. These are dealt with in a string of "notes"
When studying the form of this work we find that the
intervals between some of the "books" are filed with strings of sayings,
which sustain some relation to the preceding matter; in fact, they are in
the nature of "notes" dealing with the practical side of certain points
that have emerged in the course of investigation.
In the group before us we have a series of four maxims
arranged in pairs, each pair being founded upon an antithesis.
1. THE VALUE OF FRIENDSHIP (4:9-12)
||Two are better than one |
Because there is
better reward for them in their toil;
||For if they fall, one can raise up his partner;
But woe to him, the one who falls when
there is no second person
to raise him up.
||Also, if two lie down together it is warm for them,
Yet for one, how can he keep warm?
||And if somebody can overpower him who is single,
Then two can stand firm in front of him
A threefold thread cannot
quickly be pulled apart.
In a previous paragraph our author has been speaking of
competition as fostering idleness in some (The stupid man folds his
hands, 4:5), and isolation in others (Better is one palm full with
rest, 4:6) In this maxim Ecclesiastes seeks to show that both these
attitudes towards rivalry are as harmful as rivalry itself. The word
"toil" is elsewhere rendered by "misery" (e.g. Judges 10:16). The point
is, that the trouble involved in human associations, arising from
differing mental attitudes, interests, temperaments, etc., is amply
rewarded by such advantages as sympathy, help, strength. Two can stand
firm (4:12) here has the sense of holding one's own: two or
three can hold their own where one would be overpowered.
2. THE VANITY OF ADULATION
||Better a boy, provident and wise, |
Than a king,
old and stupid, who does not know
how to take warning
||For from a house of prisoners one came forth to
Even though in his kingdom he was born destitute;
||Yet I saw all the living who were going
about under the sun |
Staying with the second boy
who stood up in his stead.
||There was no end to all the people, to all before whom he
was set, |
Yet those coming later were not rejoicing
Indeed this too is vanity and a grazing
There is no historical allusion here: it is a pictorial
representation of matters of general experience. "Better is a boy,
provident and wise, than a king, old and stupid, who does not know how to
take warning any more. For from a house of prisoners [i.e., the womb] one
[the foolish king] came forth to reign; even though in his kingdom he was
born destitute. I saw all the living who were going about under the sun,
staying with the second boy [i.e., the successor, as in 4:8] who stood up
in his stead. There was no end to all the people, to all before whom he
[the successor of the stupid king] was set, yet those coming later were
not rejoicing in him; indeed this too is vanity and a grazing on wind"
(4:13-16). The thought of the whole is: In essence, apart from the
trappings of royalty, the king is as destitute as any youth born in
obscurity; both were born naked (cf 5:15) and what does this
external finery amount to? When the old king is gone, all the world flocks
to his successor; but that successor will equally be forsaken in his turn.
3. THE VANITY OF FOLLY (5:1-7)
||Guard your feet when you go to the house of Elohim; |
go near to hear is better than that the stupid
should offer sacrifice,
For they know nothing but
to do evil.
||Do not be rash with your mouth, |
And your heart must not
hasten to bring forth
before the One, Elohim;
For the One, Elohim,
is in the heavens,
And you are on the
Therefore, let your words become few.
||For as a dream comes with much responsibility, |
the voice of a stupid person comes with many
||Whenever you vow a vow to Elohim, do not delay to pay it,
For He has no delight in those who are stupid;
That which you vow, pay.
||It is better that you should not vow |
Than that you
should vow and not pay.
||Do not allow your mouth to cause your flesh to sin,
And do not protest before the temple messenger that it
was an error.
Why should the One, Elohim, be
wrathful at your voice
And bring harm to the work of your
||For in many dreams and vanities, there are many words;
Therefore fear the One, Elohim.
This has obviously in mind the materialism produced in
some by the spectacle of wickedness seated in the place of justice. Two
maxims enjoining reverence in things divine are contrasted with the folly
of speaking against God. The drift of thought is best apprehended from the
parallelism of clauses:
Obedience better than sacrifice (5:1)
than neglected light (5:4,5)
Hasty words improper because God is
greater than man (5:2)
Hasty words dangerous because God may requite
Image: Dream (5:3)
Image: Dreams (5:7)
Speaking against God is like the talking in sleep of an
4. THE VALUE OF WISDOM (5:8-9)
||If you should see extortion of the destitute |
pillage of judgment and justice in a province,
Do not be
amazed over the event,
For one lofty official
above another lofty official is observing,
other lofty officials are over them.
||Yet an advantage to the land in all respects
is this: |
A king devoted to the field
that it be served.
The writer has before him the effects of oppression
noticed in the survey. We follow the reading of the Septuagint: "If you
should see extortion of the destitute and of judgment and justice in a
province, do not be amazed over the event, for one lofty official above
another lofty official is observing, and other lofty officials are over
them" (5:8). The object of the passage is to emphasize the fact that,
strange as it may seem, God has a purpose in all that takes place. Verse 9
seems to illustrate the effects of recognizing or ignoring that truth by
rulers: the one looks the province as a thing to be developed, the other
looks upon it as a field of extortion.