Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

This is the sixth post in my Ecclesiastes series.  Previous Post (2:24-26)

In chapter 3, we see a shift at the beginning to a declaration that life is not meant to be the same at all times.  In verses 1-8, the language of “a time to” and “a time for” is repeated over and over again.  The author could have stated verse 1 and left out 2-8, and the reader could have understood.  However, with the wide range of opposing examples, it helps the reader to visualize and relate to the concept of there being a time and a season for everything.

What I see in this is that there is no formula to life.  Sometimes it’s this, other times it’s that.  The author does not state any timeframes, and therefore the “when” and “how long” for each time or season is unknown.  Thus, we should not expect to know what life ought to look like.

Verses 9 and 10 seem to shift in thought:

What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?  I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.

These two verses seem unrelated to the verses prior in chapter 3.  They look again to the God-given task of labor, and he asks the (rhetorical?) question about the profit of man’s labor.  This seems like it belongs back in chapter 2, but for some reason it is sandwiched here within a section on times and seasons for things.  I do not understand the point of these two verses being here.

Many Bibles have verse 11 starting a new section, but in my opinion, it is a continuation of the verses prior that seems to wrap up the thought and add an extra addition to the sense of mystery in man’s not knowing what might be next.  It also completes the sandwiching of verses 9 and 10.  Verse 11 states:

He has made everything appropriate in its time.  He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.

The use of the word “appropriate” after “everything” is interesting.  Life can often seem hard and messy, yet everything is somehow appropriate in its time by God’s design.  The ESV even replaces “appropriate” with “beautiful”, which is even more interesting.

Let’s say my family had another family over for dinner.  With us and our children, and our guests with theirs, there was a total of eleven mouths to feed.  They have left, and our kitchen and dining room are filled with dirty dishes, cooking pots and pans, leftover food, food on the floor from the young children, etc.  It’s a massive mess and it must be cleaned.  Could this be a micro example of an appropriate time to clean up?  Is it a beautiful thing to be serving our guests by cleaning the kitchen?  Could it be that part of the meaning that can be taken away from these verses is that even boring, tedious, laborious tasks like this are all a part of the design of life and can and should be viewed as a good thing, and never as a waste of time (which is how it can very easily feel)?

Shifting to the next sentence, we see that while God has placed a sense of eternity within us, he did it in such a way that we won’t fully know it.  Though, I’m not sure if the verse is saying that we will not find out anything at all, or if we won’t find it out fully.  Either way, there is an element of not knowing.  And when this is put in the context of there being an appointed time for everything, it adds a comforting factor to the unknowns of life.  We  may not know the when’s and the why’s, but in the proper time we may be able to see how beautiful it was.

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