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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 3

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

Verse 1

3:1 “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven”

“appointed time” -a fixed, definite portion of time, esp., a stated time. “This verse is not intended to suggest that all things are pre-determined or that man has no choice in arranging certain times and events. If this were true, the distinction between the 'good man' and the 'sinner' would be inappropriate. In addition, there would be little meaning given to admonition and rebuke-5:1; 12:1” (Kidwell p. 73).

Points to Note:

1 These verses really strike at human independence. We may think that we have control over our lives and what we will do each day, but a closer look makes us realize that often we are doing nothing more than reacting instead of acting. “Obviously, we have little say in the situations which move us to weep or laugh, mourn or dance….'Who would imagined', we sometimes say, 'that the day would come when I should find myself doing such-and-such, and seeing it as my duty! So the peace-loving nation prepares for war; or the shepherd takes the knife to the creature he has earlier nursed back to health. The collector disperses his hoard; friends part in bitter conflict; the need to speak out follows the need to be silent” (Kidner p. 38). 2. The things in this chapter basically happen to every generation. 3. And people may try to laugh, when it is a time to mourn, but they will only experience frustration and failure. 4. While the sinner becomes frustrated at life, realizing that they are not marching to a tune of their own making, the Christian seeks to accept the fact that many unexpected things will happen in life, and that life isn't going to always follow our game plan.

Verse 2

3:2 "A time to give birth, and a time to die;"

And everything else happens between these two events. And we might even do all we can to make sure that we don't have any more children, but surprises do happen. And how many grandparents do we know who have ended up raising their grandchildren? People may boast that they are going to cheat death or refuse to come to their own funeral, but death is something that cannot be avoided (Hebrews 9:27; 1 Cor. 15:22).

3:2 "A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted."

"Uproot" might refer to harvesting, but probably more refers to cutting down trees, clearing land, ripping out the old landscaping, etc…Everything has a beginning and an end--- eventually even the physical universe will be uprooted (Hebrews 1:10-12; 2 Peter 3:9-11). And if man doesn't uproot, the natural forces of this world will, i.e. floods, forest fires, landslides, etc….And this pattern cannot be stopped, something that some environmental groups need to come to terms with.

Verse 3

3:3 "A time to kill, and a time to heal;"

A time to butcher livestock (Genesis 9:2-3); execute criminals (Romans 13:4); protect your family from intruders (Exo. 22:2). Note: In the Bible there is a difference between murder, which is a sin (Exo. 20:13), and killing (Exo. 21:15-16). To time to heal, care for the wounded, nurse a sick animal back to health.

3:3 "A time to tear down, and a time to build up."

Which is often something that we dislike. When old familiar landmarks are torn down in the name of progress. But these are things which cannot be stopped. Eventually, even the most beautiful and meaningful structures will find themselves replaced. This also applies to nations (Jeremiah 18).

Verse 4

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

But at times we want to laugh, when it is a time for weeping. Too often we want to feel good all the time and avoid anything that might bring us sorrow. But whether we like it or not, tragedy, heartache, and suffering will affect all of us. There is a time to stop laughing. There also is a time to mourn for your own sins and the sins of others (1 Cor. 5:2; James 4:9-10; 2 Corinthians 7:8-10; Matthew 26:75). The dancing here isn't lustful dancing. "Men and women never danced together, even on those occasions where both sexes participated in the sacred professional dances, they always danced separately. Dancing for sensual entertainment was unheard of among the Hebrews" (Nelsons Bible Dictionary, p. 276). "it is clear that men and women did not generally dance together, and there is no real evidence that they ever did. Social amusement was hardly a major purpose of dancing, and the modern method of dancing by couples is unknown" (Zond. Ency., p. 12) "Biblical dancing was the unrehearsed, spontaneous exuberance resulting from a great physical victory, or some festive occasion" (Kidwell p. 75). The word "dance" here means to leap or skip about. There are times when we must be joyful! (Luke 15:25)

Verse 5

3:5 "A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones;"

"Perhaps it is best to see them as referring to the gathering and rejecting of building materials" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 984).

3:5 "A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing."

To time to receive people with open arms (Phil. 2:29), and a time to reject (Titus 3:10). Many Christians have experienced the above and please note that the embracing is often determined by the actions of others. Whether we like it or not, there will be times that we can't associate with former friends-because of their unrepentant attitude (1 Corinthians 5; Matthew 18:15-17). It is a very frustrating reality in life that often we can't be friends with all the people that we would really like to be friends with.

Verse 6

3:6 "A time to search, and a time to give up as lost;"

There are things worth searching for (Luke 13:24; 2 Tim. 2:15; Eph. 4:3). And then there are times to give up, to cut your loses and admit failure. Solomon had to admit failure (2:11). There will be wealth, things, friendships, loved ones, and opportunities which will never be seen again.

3:6 "A time to keep, and a time to throw away."

The Bible gives us good advice concerning what qualities and other things in life we need to hold on to and what to get rid of (Colossians 3:5-14). The same is true of various friendships (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Verse 7

3:7 "A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together;"

"This verse may refer to actions associated with mourning (tearing one's clothes and remaining silent; cf. Job 2:12-13)" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 984). This principle also applies to friendships and things. There is a time to realize that something can't be fixed, that we are in effect beating a dead horse.

3:7 "A time to be silent, and time to speak."

There are times and situations in which silence is the best policy (James 1:19), especially when you have nothing of value to say (Prov. 17:28), or when you haven't even heard the question yet (Prov. 18:13). There is a time for thoughtful reflection (Prov. 15:28). And then, there is a time to speak out (Prov. 15:23; 25:11; 27:5; Gal. 2:11-14; Eph. 5:11).

Verse 8

3:8 "A time to love, and a time to hate;"

There are things to love and there are times to hate, especially evil (Psalm 119:104; Prov. 6:16; 8:13; Revelation 2:6,15).

3:8 "A time for war, and a time for peace."

Which also applies in the spiritual realm (Matthew 10:34-38; Luke 11:23). The verse also reminds us that while we might be peace-loving individuals, situations may force us to defend ourselves. We might be drawn into conflict, when we really want peace. It should also remind us that we can't remain passive or neutral in all circumstances. There is a time when peace isn't possible.

Verse 9

3:9 "What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?"

That is, what true or lasting profit? For all the events in 3:1-8 are often momentary or temporary. Once again, we return to the original question of the book (1:3) Since man is subject to many circumstances which he has no real control over, circumstances which can completely erase a whole life's work (such as war and death), that certainly strips man of any security in this life.

Verse 10

3:10 "I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves."

To support the negative conclusion of verse 9, Solomon notes his observations ("I have seen"). "Solomon's personal experience was very comprehensive…he has called attention to the major areas of men's interests, and demonstrated how each generation finds itself engaged in the same activities. He calls it an evil (grievous, sorry) task" (Kidwell p. 82).

Verse 11

3:11 "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."

"Appropriate"-good, excellent, useful. "He has made everything right in its time" (Bas); "He has assigned each to its proper time" (Mof). The beauty consists in that what is done is done at the appropriate, proper or best time. The good news for the believer is that if times of mourning must come, God can providentially assist in seeing that they happen at what would be the "best" time from an eternal perspective. To the believer the perpetual change in this life shouldn't be viewed as unsettling, but as under God's control. Even time and chance are subject to God. This doesn't mean that God determines everything that happens, but rather God remains in control and can providentially monitor or soften circumstances (1 Corinthians 10:13).

"Set eternity in their heart" -"Unlike the animals, immersed in time, we long to see them (events) in their full context, for we know something of eternity: enough at least to compare the fleeting with the 'for ever' (Kidner p. 39). "People have longing or desire to know the extratemporal significance of themselves and their deeds or activities" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 984).

Point To Note:

1 Here is a portion or manifestation of the "image of God" in which every person is created (Genesis1:26). We have a sense of the infinite. Built into each one of us is the ability to look back into the past and forward into the future. Of all creatures on this earth, man is the one who thinks about where he has been and where he is going. 2. Another proof that we were created by God is our ability to grasp the concept of "eternity". 3. But we know just enough to make us realize the vast amount that we don't know. "We see enough to recognize something of its quality, but the grand design escapes us, for we can never stand back far enough to view it as its Creator does, whole and entire" (Kidner p. 39).

"yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end"

2 This may refer the work which God does in relation to one's lifetime. I cannot anticipate or foresee the events that will happen in my life. 2. And apart from Divine revelation, we are completely blind concerning what God has done in the past or will do in the future (Deut. 29:29; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13). 3. Evolution is a classic example of how blind man is apart from Divine revelation. Take a good look at Genesis 1 and the theory of Evolution and ask yourself, have Evolutionists even come close to knowing what really happened? Isn't evolving from monkeys in contrast to being created in the image of God---about as far off as you can get?

Verse 12

3:12 "I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one's lifetime;"

Since the events in 3:1-8 aren't eternal, then we need to appreciate them. So often we are in a hurry to get to the next stage in our lives. Instead, we need to slow down and appreciate each stage. Both the believer and the unbeliever can seek to make the most of this life, but the unbeliever is doing it in vain. "Verse 12 is not as frivolous as may appear from RSV, where enjoy themselves is literally 'do good', i.e., 'do the best he can'; yet even so, the final phrase, as long as they live , casts a shadow over every enterprise. If nothing is permanent, even though much of our work may long survive us, we are only filling in time; and the chill of that thought will seep into us sooner or later" (Kidner p. 39).

Verse 13

3:13 "moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor-it is the gift of God."

This is an expression in the book which takes us "above the sun". For the believer, making the most of each moment isn't an escape from reality or the inevitable. Rather, it is viewed as an assignment from God, a way to handle the temporary nature of this physical life. There is a big difference between selfishly trying to squeeze all the fun out of each moment in life----and appreciating each moment in life. Only the believer can really see that there was 'good' (true and lasting) in what he accomplished (Eph. 2:10; Revelation 14:13; Matthew 6:19-20). This perspective is called the "gift of God" because only those who believe in Him and have accepted His Word are able to think this way. The man that accepts the timing of every event , and receives food, family and work, as gifts from God, will be the person that can truly enjoy this short life (2:25).

Verse 14

3:14 "I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him."

"will remain forever" -in contrast to those things which men do. This also applies to what God says (1 Peter 1:23-25). Isn't it strange that finite, earth-bound and imperfect people seek to argue that the Word of God is no longer relevant? Who are we to talk about what is and what isn't of a lasting nature! If anything is temporary or short-lived-it is us and our human opinions!

"nothing to add to it…." -God's plans, unlike ours need no corrections, updates or last minute changes. And yet, what does man assert? Man says that the Bible is filled with errors, we can't trust it, it has been corrupted, etc….But look at who is constantly changing his theories, contradicting his statements in the past, overturning previous "facts", and so on---it is man! The truth of the Bible hasn't been updated, rather it is the Evolutionist and others who have constantly been changing, amending and correcting their theories.

"that men should fear Him" -On the one hand, the unbeliever is a prisoner in a system that he can't break or bend-and there is no escape. But the believer sees the same events and sees in them the faithfulness, dependability, and power of God. "To him verse 14 describes the divine faithfulness which makes the fear of God a fruitful, filial (affectionate) relationship" (Kidner p. 40). Truly, a Being who is able to accomplish His purposes, protect His people and punish the wicked, even with all the change and variation that happens in this life-is to be held in awe and greatly respected.

Verse 15

3:15 "That which is has been already, and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by."

"for God seeks what has passed by" -"Some events appear to contradict God's sovereign control and completeness of order in His world. However, the statement, 'God seeks what has passed by' assures the reader that any violation of the rules is only temporary, and in due season everything will return to proper order as it has always been" (Kidwell p. 84).

This verse gives hope and encouragement to the believer, for it assures him or her that this life isn't futile or hopelessly unfair. Right will prevail, and God will judge all the wrongs in the past (2 Cor. 5:10).

Man's Inhumanity

"This is not altogether a change of subject, for the thought of set times…is still present in verse 17. But the problem of injustice is too poignant to be left as a mere illustration of that theme. It becomes an issue on its own for a short while…and will return at intervals in later passages (5:8; 8:10-15; 9:13-16; 10:5-7; 10:16)….in the setting of life's reversals and sudden shifts….if anything cries out to be reversed it is injustice. Here at last is some obvious gain from the twists and turns of our affairs. The fact that everything on earth is seasonal promises an end to the long winter of evil and misrule" (Kidner pp. 41-42).

Verse 16

3:16 "Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness, and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness."

"in the place of justice" -in the place where justice is supposed to be administered, i.e. among lawyers, judges, the courts and so on. "crime is where law should be" (Jerus). In the place where godly, righteous and fair-minded men should be, there are liars, thieves and outright criminals. And we see the same thing today! We know that there are judges and legislators who are outright ungodly individuals, who care little for true justice, but rather are only interested in pushing an agenda which agrees with their own selfishness.

Solomon is anticipating an objection to the fact that God rules this world. Solomon isn't ignorant, he knows that plenty of corruption is found, even in his own administration. But he knows something else too:

Verse 17

3:17 "I said to myself, 'God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man', for a time for every matter and for every deed is there."

"God will judge" -This is the ultimate and final season, the time of judgment and nobody is exempt (2 Cor. 5:10). Note, the concept of a final judgment isn't a new concept (11:9; 12:14; Jude 14-15). Note also that periods of mourning and trial do not exempt us from judgment. People who go through wars and periods of upheaval, must still stand before God in judgment. Physical, mental, or emotional suffering doesn't atone for even one of our sins. And neither will such a judgment be superficial or rushed. No deed will be forgotten (Matthew 12:36 "every careless word"). But someone might say if that is true, then why the delay? Why is not the present the proper time for universal justice?

Verse 18

3:18 "I said to myself concerning the sons of men, 'God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.'"

"tested them" -or bring to light, expose. "Time" gives people the chance to manifest their true character. It allows the sinner to repent (2 Peter 3:9) or it gives them more time to store up condemnation for self (Romans 2:1-5), and make it obvious to all that God was just in condemning them to an eternal hell.

"see that they are but beasts" -Solomon isn't saying that there is no difference between man and the animals, but rather: 1. Of his own freewill man often acts worse than the animals. The cruelty that some people exercise and the squalor that some are willing to live in for the sake of "fun", puts us on a level below the animals. 2. We share a common morality with the animals, we also possess a physical body that in time will die

Verse 19

3:19 "For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity."

"the fate" -not the spiritual fate (12:7), but only the physical fate is in view here. The "same breath" refers to the physical side of life and it isn't talking about the spirit in man. On the physical level, man doesn't have a lasting advantage over the animals. For he returns to the dust, just like them. Remove the idea that man is created in the image of God and all distinction between the life of man and the life of an animal disappears. Both animals and man share physical life, here called "breath" (Genesis 6:17).

Verse 20

3:20 "All go to the same place. All came from dust and all return to the dust."

The same place isn't the afterlife (12:7), but rather the grave or the soil. The bodies of animals and man both decay and eventually return to the dust. "showing us man on his journey from dust to dust, as in Genesis 3:19, confronts us with the Fall, and with the irony that we die like cattle because we fancied ourselves as gods" (Kidner p. 42). Once men start moving in the direction of evil, they will become more and more like animals (2 Peter 2:12 "as creatures with reason"). How many people have you encountered who in order to hold on to their sins have abandoned their intellectual honestly? Man, apart from God, in all his pomp, is just like an animal (Psalm 49:12,20)

Verse 21

3:21 "Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?"

Points To Note:

1 Solomon isn't an agnostic, for he knew what happened when people died (12:7), and this book isn't written by a skeptic and neither is it the efforts of a man with a doubt-ridden soul (12:13-14). 2. Verse 21 can be taken as a regretful question, "How many people really know this fact, that the breath of man goes upward and the breath of the beast goes downward, when they die?" 3. While the godly know the answer to the above question, far too many sinners don't. And the line between man and animal seems to be getting even more blurred in our time. 4. Solomon also might be saying: "In observing the behavior of some people (the wicked), one might be tempted to think that the animals had the nobler spirit."

Verse 22

3:22 "And I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?"

"happy in his activities" -Note, we aren't talking about sinful activities which actually deprive us of happiness (3:12; 11:9). Again, the idea is to make the most of the situation in which you are in, to appreciate what you do have.

"for that is his lot" -People complain that they want what's coming to them. Well, they have it! What you presently have is your lot, portion or share. All we have in the present is our allotted portion. Stop worrying about the future or looking to some physical enrichment in the future to bring you happiness. Appreciate what you have today! (Matthew 6:34) I cannot see what the future here holds, but I can trust God and enjoy what I have today.

"what will occur after him" -We know what will happen after we die (12:7), hence this statement refers to what will happen in the future in this life. Note the statement, "for who will bring him to see", obviously, the writer didn't believe that people can predict the future. Now if Solomon didn't believe in psychics, should you? No man can tell you what the future holds. Now, you can either worry about it, fear and prepare for things that might never happen, thus depriving yourself from happiness in the present, or, you can trust God!

Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 3". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dun/ecclesiastes-3.html. 1999-2014.
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