Adam Clarke Commentary
Every thing has its time and season, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Men are exercised with labor, Ecclesiastes 3:9, Ecclesiastes 3:10. Every thing is beautiful in its season, Ecclesiastes 3:11. Men should enjoy thankfully the gifts of God, Ecclesiastes 3:12, Ecclesiastes 3:13. What God does is for ever, Ecclesiastes 3:14. There is nothing new, Ecclesiastes 3:15. The corruption of judgment; but the judgments of God are right, Ecclesiastes 3:16, Ecclesiastes 3:17. Man is brutish, and men and brutes die in like manner, Ecclesiastes 3:18-21. Man may enjoy the fruit of his own labors, Ecclesiastes 3:22.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose - Two general remarks may be made on the first eight verses of this chapter.
1.God by his providence governs the world, and has determined particular things and operations to particular times. In those times such things may be done with propriety and success; but if we neglect the appointed seasons, we sin against this providence, and become the authors of our own distresses.
2.God has given to man that portion of duration called Time; the space in which all the operations of nature, of animals, and intellectual beings, are carried on; but while nature is steady in its course, and animals faithful to their instincts, man devotes it to a great variety of purposes; but very frequently to that for which God never made time, space, or opportunity. And all we can say, when an evil deed is done, is, there was a time in which it was done, though God never made it for that purpose.
To say any farther on this subject is needless, as the words themselves give in general their own meaning. The Jews, it is true, see in these times and seasons all the events of their own nation, from the birth of Abraham to the present times; and as to fathers and their followers, they see all the events and states of the Christian Church in them!
A time to be born, and a time to die - plant -
A time to kill, - heal, - break down, - build up -
A time to weep, - laugh, - mourn, - dance -
A time to cast away stones, - to gather stones, - to embrace, - to refrain -
A time to get, - to lose, - to keep, - to cast away -
A time to rend, - sew, - keep silence, - speak - -
A time to love, - hate, - of war, - of peace -
The above paraphrase on the verses cited contains a general view of the principal occurrences of time, in reference to the human being, from his cradle to his grave, through all the operations of life.
What profit hath he - What real good, what solid pleasure, is derived from all the labors of man? Necessity drives him to the principal part of his cares and toils; he labors that he may eat and drink; and he eats and drinks that he may be preserved alive, and kept from sickness and pain. Love of money, the basest of all passions, and restless ambition, drive men to many labors and expedients, which perplex and often destroy them. He, then, who lives without God, travails in pain all his days.
I have seen the travail - Man is a sinner; and, because he is such, he suffers.
Beautiful in his time - God‘s works are well done; there are order, harmony, and beauty in them all. Even the caterpillar is a finished beauty in all the changes through which it passes, when its structure is properly examined, and the ends kept in view in which each change is to issue. Nothing of this kind can be said of the works of man. The most finished works of art are bungling jobs, when compared with the meanest operation of nature.
He hath set the world in their heart - העולם (haolam), that hidden time - the period beyond the present, - Eternity. The proper translation of this clause is the following: “Also that eternity hath he placed in their heart, without which man could not find out the work which God hath made from the commencement to the end.” God has deeply rooted the idea of eternity in every human heart; and every considerate man sees, that all the operations of God refer to that endless duration. See Ecclesiastes 3:14. And it is only in eternity that man will be able to discover what God has designed by the various works he has formed.
I know that there is no good in them, but, etc. - Since God has so disposed the affairs of this world, that the great events of providence cannot be accelerated or retarded by human cares and anxieties, submit to God; make a proper use of what he has given: do thyself no harm, and endeavor as much as possible to do others good.
I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever - לעולם (leolam), for eternity; in reference to that grand consummation of men and things intimated in Ecclesiastes 3:11. God has produced no being that he intends ultimately to destroy. He made every thing in reference to eternity; and, however matter may be changed and refined, animal and intellectual beings shall not be deprived of their existence. The brute creation shall be restored, and all human spirits shall live for ever; the pure in a state of supreme and endless blessedness, the impure in a state of indestructible misery.
Nothing can be put to it - No new order of beings, whether animate or inanimate, can be produced. God will not create more; man cannot add.
Nor any thing taken from it - Nothing can be annihilated; no power but that which can create can destroy. And whatever he has done, he intended to be a means of impressing a just sense of his being, providence, mercy, and judgments, upon the souls of men. A proper consideration of God‘s works has a tendency to make man a religious creature; that is, to impress his mind with a sense of the existence of the Supreme Being, and the reverence that is due to him. In this sense the fear of God is frequently taken in Scripture. The Hebrew of this clause is strongly emphatic: והאלהים עשה שייראו מלפניו (vehaelohim asah sheiyireu millephanaiv);
That which hath been is now - God governs the world now, as he has governed it from the beginning; and the revolutions and operations of nature are the same now, that they have been from the beginning. What we see now, is the same as has been seen by those before us.
And God requireth that which is past - i.e., That it may return again in its proper order. The heavens themselves, taking in their great revolutions, show the same phenomena. Even comets are supposed to have their revolutions, though some of them are hundreds of years in going round their orbits.
The plate of judgment, that wickedness was there - The abuse of power, and the perversion of judgment, have been justly complained of in every age of the world. The following paraphrase is good: -
For there is a time there for every purpose - Man has his time here below, and God shall have his time above. At his throne the judged shall be rejudged, and iniquity for ever close her mouth.
That they might see that they themselves are beasts - The author of Choheleth has given a correct view of this difficult verse, by a proper translation: “I said in my heart, reflecting on the state of the sons of men, O that God would enlighten them, and make them see that even they themselves are like beasts.” These words are to be referred to those in authority who abused their power; particularly to the corrupt magistrates mentioned above.
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts - From the present comparison of great men to beasts, the author takes occasion to enforce the subject by mentioning the state of mankind in general, with respect to the mortality of their bodies; and then, by an easy transition, touches in the next verse on the point which is of such infinite consequence to religion.
As the one dieth, so dieth the other - Animal life is the same both in the man and in the beast.
They have all one breath - They respire in the same way; and when they cease to respire, animal life becomes extinct.
Befalleth beasts - This is wanting in six of Kennicott‘s and De Rossi‘s MSS.
All go unto one place -
Who knoweth the spirit of man - I think the meaning of this important verse is well taken by the above able writer: -
The word רוח (ruach), which is used in this and the nineteenth verse, has two significations, breath and spirit. It signifies spirit, or an incorporeal substance, as distinguished from flesh, or a corporeal one, 1 Kings 22:21, 1 Kings 22:22, and Isaiah 31:3. And it signifies the spirit or soul of man, Psalm 31:6; Isaiah 57:16, and in this book, Ecclesiastes 12:7, and in many other places. In this book it is used also to signify the breath, spirit, or soul of a beast. While it was said in verse 19, they have all one breath, i.e., the man and the beast live the same kind of animal life; in this verse, a proper distinction is made between the רוח (ruach), or soul of man, and the רוח (ruach), or soul of the beast: the one goeth upwards, the other goeth downwards. The literal translation of these important words is this: “Who considereth the רוח (ruach)) immortal spirit of the sons of Adam, which ascendeth? it is from above; (היא למעלה (hi lemalah)); and the spirit or breath of the cattle which descendeth? it is downwards unto the earth,” i.e., it tends to the earth only. This place gives no countenance to the materiality of the soul; and yet it is the strongest hold to which the cold and fruitless materialist can resort.
A man should rejoice in his own works - Do not turn God‘s blessings into sin by perverseness and complaining; make the best of life. God will sweeten its bitters to you, if you be faithful. Remember this is the state to prepare for glory; and the evils of life may be so sanctified to you as to work for your good. Though even wretched without, you may be happy within; for God can make all grace to abound towards you. You may be happy if you please; cry to God, who never rejects the prayer of the humble, and gives his Holy Spirit to all them that ask him.
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