For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4


Ecclesiastes 3

A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

3:1.  “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:”


This is generally understood to have reference to the different periods of life, and the things that occupy us through all those stages between infancy and old age.


3:2.  “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;”


In the ordinary course of life there is a time to be born, and a time to die, but it is to be remembered that this is written relative to the natural man, for this is not the expectation of the born again man who lives in the daily anticipation of the Lord’s coming to the air to catch him up to heaven with every other believer prior to the outpouring of the terrible Tribulation judgments.  But the natural man has no part in this glad hope, and so he busies himself with the affairs of this life: planting and harvesting crops, buying and selling; building, and demolishing older smaller buildings to replace them with newer, larger, and grander ones, never giving a thought to the fact that this could be his last day on earth.


3:3.  “A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;”


The “time to kill” is undoubtedly a time of war, while “a time to heal” may relate to the making of peace at the end of a war, and only eternity will reveal how many such times of war and peace- making there have been in the history of this strife-torn earth. 

The killing here may also relate to the judicial taking of life.


“... a time to break down, and a time to build up” may have reference to the destruction which accompanies war; or the destruction of older buildings to make way for newer and better, and it is doubtful if there has ever been such a time of tearing down and building up as in the present, the builders unaware that everything in the world today points to the imminence of the Great Tribulation which will leave the world a virtual ruin.


3:4.  “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”


Well has this world been called synonymously “this vale of tears,” for not one of its countless billions has passed through it without weeping at some time in his life.


Laughter, however, has also its place in life, but there is a vast difference between the laughter of genuine happiness and the strident frenetic hysterical outbursts so frequently witnessed today when a quiet smile would be a far more appropriate and genuine response.


The mourning mentioned here is that which is frequently expressed in tearing the hair, beating the breasts, wailing, etc., as the expression of uncontrollable sorrow occasioned by bereavement or  great calamity.  While such sorrow may not always be so extravagantly expressed, it is nonetheless experienced at some time by virtually every person on earth.


“... a time to dance” is one in which the individual’s pleasure finds expression in dancing or equivalent joyful action, and as with sorrow, there are few lives in which there has never been such joy.  An all wise God so orders men’s lives that every note on the emotional scale is touched at least once, His objective being to turn their hearts to Him.


3:5.  “A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;”


The casting away and the gathering of stones refers to the destruction and erection respectively of buildings; the destruction being the result of war, or the clearing away of old to make room for newer or better.  Some see the casting away of stones as the clearing away of stones out of a field.


Embrace includes the clasping of hands or the placing of the arms around another person lovingly, and may include hugging or kissing.  There are times when such display of affection is appropriate, and times when it is not.


3:6.  “A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”


As there is a time to acquire possessions, so is there also a time to lose them, adverse circumstances, for example, sometimes making retention of them impossible; and as there is a time to keep things, so is there also a time when they are no longer useful, and  are better discarded: moving to a smaller home, for instance, after the children have gone, entails disposal of some of the furniture, etc.  A couple who may have been able to work a farm comfortably, will eventually find that advancing age makes their operation of it impossible.  New technology may render a once useful piece of equipment obsolete, and not worth maintaining.


3:7.  “A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;”


There is a time to tear up an old garment to make dusting or cleaning rags, and there is a time to sew (make) a new garment. 


The reference may be also to the rending of one’s garment in sorrow, while the time to sew may refer to the making of a wedding garment.


The time to speak may have reference to the need to speak out against wrong, or to defend right.


There is also a time when more good is achieved by keeping silent, but there is also a time when the reverse is the case, and it is better to speak.  In a marriage, for example, there are times when more good is achieved by silence on the part of the husband or wife; but there are also times when it is much better to discuss a problem and seek a solution, than to maintain silence and develop a bitter spirit.


3:8.  “A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”


The reference here to love may be to the time, usually in the teen years, when, with a few rare exceptions, people fall in love.  “... a time to hate” may be, for example, when one discovers the addictive power of alcohol, tobacco, gambling ... and he hates the bondage into which his addiction has brought him.  The general teaching of Scripture precludes any possibility of construeing this as being applicable to another person, for we are to love even those who make themselves our enemies, or who regard us as their enemies.


Because of the corruption of fallen human nature, wars seem to be virtually inevitable, but every war must eventually end and be followed by a time of peace however tenuous


3:9.  “What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?”


This might be paraphrased, “What lasting profit is there in any of the things with which men busy themselves?” and the answer is, None.


3:10.  “I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.”


“... travail” is also rendered employments: business: tasks; and “exercised” may also be translated humbled: busy: chastened: afflicted.  The reference is to all the varied ways in which men earn their livings or occupy their leisure time.  And the implied answer is that they are all worthless as far as eternity is concerned, being the equivalent of chasing after the wind.


In this very connection I knew a young man many years ago, whose hobby was landscape painting, and it was not only pleasant but profitable, for he had no trouble selling his pictures.  But according to his own testimony, one night while working on a painting, the question flashed into his mind, “What eternal profit is there standing here every night putting daubs of color on a piece of canvas?”  He was convicted by the thought, and within two weeks he put away the brushes, and began to devote the time to Bible study, with the result that in a few years he was commended by three assemblies to the Lord’s work as a Bible teacher, a work in which he is still very happily engaged as he approaches his eightieth birthday!


3:11.  “He hath made everything 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.”


The first clause of this verse is also rendered He assigned each to its proper time: He has made everything right in its time: He has made everything to suit its time: all that He does is apt for its time.  The explanation seems to be that the flora and fauna unique to each of the geological ages was exactly suited to that age.


His having set the world in men’s hearts, etc., is also translated, He has set eternity in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end; He assigned each to its proper time, but for the mind of man He has appointed mystery, that man may never fathom God’s own purpose from beginning to end; He has made their hearts without knowledge, so that man is unable to see the works of God from the first to the last; He has given men a sense of time past and future, but no comprehension of God’s work from beginning to end; though He has permitted men to consider time in its wholeness, man cannot comprehend the work of God from beginning to end.”  The truth being expressed is that God has withheld from man the full knowledge of what was in the prehistoric ages, the strata of the earth furnishing only such relics as reveal the existence of those past ages, but without affording man an exact knowledge of them.


Nor has He revealed to man what lies in the future, except in the most general terms.


As to why God has withheld this knowledge, the answer seems to be that His concern is to have men occupied with the eternity to which time is speeding them, and His desire is that they fit themselves for heaven by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  A knowledge of past ages will contribute nothing to that objective, save to remind them that the God with Whom they have to deal is Eternal, as is also the heaven or hell in which they will dwell eternally.


3:12.  “I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.”


This verse is enigmatic, “there is no good in them” referring either to past ages, or to the hearts of men, and the truth is that in a sense both are true.  What was in those past ages is of no use to man except to remind him of the eternal existence of God, and to remind him of the need to prepare for that future eternal existence.


If the statement is applied to men’s hearts it is equally true, for there is no good in man apart from his being born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, that new birth enabling him to do good by seeking to point others to the Savior, and to live himself in the enjoyment of his salvation which assures him of eternal bliss in heaven.


“... do good” is also translated “enjoy themselves.”


3:13.  “And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God.”


It is God’s gift or goodness to men that they should live happily, finding pleasure in the work He has given them to do, and in the things which that work procures for them.


3:14.  “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.”


That the reference here is not to the physical creation is clear, since, as discussed already, the present heavens and earth are to be destroyed.  The statement therefore relates to God’s dealings with men’s souls.  The believer’s enjoyment of his salvation in heaven will be eternal, as will be also the unbeliever’s endurance of torment in the dreadful lake of fire.  This knowledge ought to impel a reverential fear of God that will lead men to accept His gracious offer of salvation while it is available.


3:15.  “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.”


In a sense history repeats itself, for in their natural state all men are spiritually the same whether they lived in the Adamic age or in the present, so that the conduct of each generation is the same as that of its predecessors and successors: evil, except for that of those who have been born again, and they are always a small minority.


God’s requiring “that which is past” is variously translated, e.g., God seeks that which has been chased away; God seeks again that which is passed away; God makes search for the things which are past; he [man] is ever repeating the history of the past; God summons each event back in its turn.  It seems, however, better to understand it as meaning that ultimately God will require each man to render an account of his life: believers being given an eternal reward of bliss proportionate to the good they have done on earth, and unbelievers receiving a measure of eternal punishment in proportion to the evil done during their earthly lives.


3:16.  “And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.”


This is generally understood to be Solomon’s account of what he had found in the law courts of his day, what he found there being what he would have found in any law court, in any country, in any age: there was wickedness in the form of corruption or perversion of justice.  The place that should have been synonymous with righteousness was instead characterized by iniquity.


He would find exactly the same conditions in the law courts worldwide today.


3:17.  “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.”


Solomon was convinced that ultimately God would judge both the righteous and the wicked, bestowing an appropriate recompense to each, it being uncertain whether he knew that the judgment of the righteous would be at the Bema (the judgment seat of Christ), and that of the wicked, a thousand years later, at the great white throne.


Relative to the statement that “there is a time for every purpose and for every work,” there is the time here on earth when men may choose to do good or evil, but that freedom of choice exists only on earth: in eternity each work will receive its recompense, the reward of righteousness being eternal bliss in heaven, and that of wickedness, eternal torment in the lake of fire.


3:18.  “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.”


His reflection upon the repetitious round of activities associated with the life of each generation had led him to conclude that that was God’s way of showing men that they were no better than animals, his wrong conclusion deriving from his failure to understand that whereas animals are bipartite, i.e., they consist of body and soul, man is tripartite: he has a spirit as well as a body and soul. 


As for the distinction between body, soul, and spirit, it is to be noted that by means of his body’s five senses man has world consciousness; by his soul he has self consciousness; but by his spirit he has also God consciousness; and it is instructive to consider that no animal has ever evinced consciousness of God, whereas man, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, does display that innate awareness in that he instinctively worships something, even if it be only an idol.  The gap between human and brute is infinite, the theory of evolution being the most purile ever propounded, and being, contrary to popular belief, one that is rejected by the vast majority of competent scientists.


3:19.  “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.”


This continues to demonstrate the flawed reasoning which results from the natural man’s failure to take any account of God.  That man and beast both die must be conceded as long as the phenomenon is recognized as pertaining only to the physical body of each; but there the analogy ends.  The man’s soul and spirit continue to exist in heaven or in hell, those of the believer to await the resurrection of his body at the resurrection of life; and those of the unbeliever to await the resurrection of his body at the resurrection of death or damnation a thousand years later, see Revelation 20:5-15.


The natural man, perceiving death to be the end of existence, concludes that all the activity of life is indeed but vanity, as worthless as chasing the wind.


3:20.  “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”


The “one place” is the grave.  Such is the false reasoning of the infidel, a poet’s clearer grasp of truth being declared in his words relative to the death of the body “... dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not written of the soul.”


3:21.  “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?”


This verse has also been translated, “... who hath seen the breath of the sons of men whether it ascendeth upwards; and the breath of the beast, whether it descendeth downwards into the earth? ... Who knows the spirit of man, whether it goes upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether it goes downward to the earth ... who is certain that the spirit of the sons of men goes up to heaven, or that the spirit of the beasts goes down to the earth ... who can prove that the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward into dust?”


The man who refuses to accept God’s word must always remain in doubt - but only until he breathes his last breath, when he will discover to his unutterable eternal horror the folly of having refused to believe what God has declared in the Bible.


As to the validity of Scripture, it is written in 2 Peter 1:19, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”  The fulfillment of the greater part of prophecy is infallible proof of the Bible’s veracity, his rejection of such testimony declaring the man to be incapable of assessing the value of incontrovertible evidence.


3:22.  “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?”


From the perspective of the natural man there is nothing better for a man than that he should be happy in his work, for since fate has decreed that he must toil in order to live, it is better than he should be happy in that activity which occupies the grater part of his time.  And as for the future, no one is capable of knowing what it holds.

[Ecclesiastes 4]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough