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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 3

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

To every thing ... a season - Heb., zªmaan (H2165)2165 determined time. Man has his appointed cycle of seasons and vicissitudes, as the sun, wind, and water (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7).

A time to every purpose - as there is a fixed "season" in God's 'purposes' (e.g., He has fixed the "time" when man is "to be born," and "to die," Ecclesiastes 3:2), so there is a lawful "time" for man to carry out his 'purposes' and inclinations (Hebrew, cheepets (H2656); literally, desire). God does not condemn, but approves of the 'use' of earthly blessings (Ecclesiastes 3:12): it is the 'abuse' that He condemns-the making them the chief end (1 Corinthians 7:31). The earth, without human desires, love, taste, joy, sorrow, would be a dreary waste, without water; but, on the other hand, the misplacing and excess of them, as of a flood, need control. Reason and revelation are given to control them. The season to everything is not one fixed by blind fate, but by the gracious God, who cares for His people. If they be in sorrow, let them patiently and confidently wait His time, which is the best time for succouring them (cf. Psalms 75:2, margin, and note; Psalms 102:13, "the time to favour Zion ... the set time is come;" Isaiah 10:12). Believers have the "desire" that the kingdom of God should come at once, but God has His own "time:" their part is to wait patiently for it (Acts 1:6-7).

Verse 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;

A time to be born - rather, as Hebrew, laledeth, to bear. So the Septuagint, The time to bear is the time of the Church's and Israel's gladness (Isaiah 54:1; Isaiah 66:7-8). Jesus refers to this in John 16:21. Dying is opposed to bearing.

A time to die - (Psalms 31:15.) Jesus alludes to this, John 7:8; John 7:30. God, who permits Israel to die at one time, will revive her again (Deuteronomy 32:39; Psalms 68:20; Psalms 71:20; Psalms 80:18; Psalms 85:6; Ezekiel 37:1; Hosea 6:2; Habakkuk 1:12; Habakkuk 3:2).

To plant ... a time to pluck up. A man can no more reverse the times and order of 'planting' and of 'digging up,' and transplanting, than he can alter the times fixed for his 'birth' and 'death.' To try to "plant" out of season is vanity, however good in season; so to make earthly things the chief end is vanity, however good they be in order and season. So God has His time for planting and for plucking up nations, especially Israel, and professing churches (Psalms 44:2; Psalms 80:8; Psalms 80:12-13; Jeremiah 18:7; Jeremiah 18:9; Amos 9:15; Matthew 15:13; Revelation 2:5, end).

Verse 3

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to kill - namely, judicially, criminals; or, in wars of self-defense; not in malice. Out of this time and order, killing is murder. God had His times for slaying Israel (Psalms 78:31; Psalms 78:34; Jeremiah 12:3). The evil of the people must have been desperate when God had to resort to such a terrible mode of treatment.

To heal. God has His times for "healing" (literally, Isaiah 38:5; Isaiah 38:5; Isaiah 38:21: figuratively, Deuteronomy 32:39; Hosea 6:1: spiritually, Psalms 147:3; Isaiah 57:19). To heal spiritually before the sinner feels his wound would be out of time, and so injurious. The Lord declares Himself to be the Physician that heals Israel (Exodus 15:26; Isaiah 6:10).

A time to break down - cities, as Jerusalem, by Nebuchadnezzar.

To build up - as Jerusalem, in the time of Zerubbabel; spiritually, Amos 9:11; "the set time" (Psalms 102:13-16). God has His time for breaking down the protecting walls of professing churches, and for building them up (Psalms 80:12; Isaiah 5:5; Jeremiah 24:6; Jeremiah 31:4; Jeremiah 42:10; Psalms 51:18, in David's time, when the walls of Jerusalem were standing, can be best explained in a spiritual sense; Jeremiah 1:10; Jeremiah 18:7-9).

Verse 4

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to mourn - namely, for the dead (Genesis 23:2).

Dance - as David before the ark (2 Samuel 6:12-14; Psalms 30:11; spiritually, Matthew 9:15; Luke 6:21; Luke 15:25). The Pharisees, by requiring sadness out of time, erred seriously. The Church's temporary sorrow shall be ultimately turned into joy (John 16:20). Meanwhile, let us not force ourselves to laughter unseasonably, forestalling God's time, like the world, that gilds over its misery, and then falls a victim to despair (Matthew 9:15).

Verse 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;

A time to cast away stones - as out of a garden or vineyard (Isaiah 5:2): as not one stone was left upon another of the great buildings of the temple, when it had ceased to be the true house of God.

A time to gather then followed-for building; figuratively, the Gentiles, once cast-away stones, were in due time made parts of the spiritual building (Ephesians 2:19-20), and children of Abraham (Matthew 3:9); so the restored Jews hereafter (Psalms 102:13-14; Zechariah 9:16).

A time to embrace, and ... to refrain from embracing - (Joel 2:16; 1 Corinthians 7:5-6.) God has His time for embracing His people, and for rejecting them (Song of Solomon 2:6; Song of Solomon 8:3). Contrast Proverbs 5:20. Habakkuk means hearty embrace. Compare the image of a girdle round the loins, to express how God "caused the whole house of Israel to cleave unto Him" (Jeremiah 13:11).

Verse 6

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to get - e.g., to gain honestly a livelihood (Ephesians 4:28); Hebrew, seek.

Lose - when God wills losses to us, then is our time to be content.

Keep - not to give to the idle beggar (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

A time to cut away - in charity (Proverbs 11:24), or to part with the dearest object rather than the soul (Mark 9:43). To be careful is right in its place, but not when it comes between us and Jesus Christ (Luke 10:40-42). Hengstenberg explains "seek" of God's retributive righteousness in seeking His persecuted people (Ecclesiastes 3:15), and "cast away," His casting His sinning people from His presence (2 Kings 13:23; 2 Kings 17:18-20; Psalms 71:9; Deuteronomy 29:28; the general context).

Verse 7

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to rend - garments, in mourning (Joel 2:13). Figurative, nations, as Israel from Judah, already foretold in Solomon's time (1 Kings 11:30-31), to be 'sewed' together hereafter (Ezekiel 37:15; Ezekiel 37:22). Jacob is the type of the people of God in all ages, who need, like him, to be afflicted temporarily for sin, that self may be mortified, and that so, in God's good time, their rent may be repaired everlastingly (Genesis 37:34; Genesis 45:27-28). The very time when God rent the temple-veil was that wherein he was preparing to destroy "the veil that is spread over all nations" (Isaiah 25:7).

A time to keep silence (Amos 5:13) - in a national calamity, or that of a friend (Job 2:13); also not to complain under God's visitation (Leviticus 10:3; Psalms 39:1-2; Psalms 39:9).

A time to speak - when God opens the door of utterance to His people (Acts 18:9; 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12).

Verse 8

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

A time to hate - e.g., sin, lusts, any person or thing that comes between us and God (Luke 14:26); i:e., to love God so much more, as to seem in comparison to hate 'father and mother,' when coming between us and God. There is a time when God inclines the world to love His people (Genesis 45:16-20), and a time when the world is permitted to hate them (Exodus 1:8, and Psalms 105:25). God again restores His people to love (Exodus 11:3; Psalms 106:46; 1 Kings 8:50; 2 Kings 25:27; especially Daniel 1:9). So hereafter (Isaiah 49:23; Isaiah 60:15-16). Time of war ... peace - (Luke 14:31.) "Peace," for which the Church and the groaning creation cry and sigh, forms the grand conclusion. The Lord will give it fully in His time (Isaiah 54:10; Isaiah 54:13; Isaiah 55:12; Isaiah 57:19; Isaiah 66:12; Ezekiel 37:26; Zechariah 9:10).

Verse 9

What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?

What profit hath he that worketh? But these earthly pursuits, while lawful in their season, are 'unprofitable' when made by man, what God never intended them to be, the chief good. Solomon had tried to create an artificial, forced joy, at times when he ought rather to have been serious: the result, therefore of his labour to be happy out of God's order was disappointment. "A time to plant" (Ecclesiastes 3:2) refers to his planting (Ecclesiastes 2:5); "laugh" (Ecclesiastes 3:4), to Ecclesiastes 2:1-2; his "mirth," "laughter," "build up," "gather stones (Ecclesiastes 3:3; Ecclesiastes 3:5), to his "building" (Ecclesiastes 2:4); "embrace," "love," to his "princesses" (noteEcclesiastes 2:8; Ecclesiastes 2:8); "get" (perhaps also "gather," Ecclesiastes 3:5-6), to his "gathering" (Ecclesiastes 2:8). All these were of no "profit," because not in God's time and order of bestowing happiness. All our wearying labours, apart from God, are fruitless. Until His hour comes, our labour attains not its consummation. We must be unwearied in doing good (Ecclesiastes 3:12), and sowing good seed (Ecclesiastes 11:1; Ecclesiastes 11:6), and watering the seed with our prayers.

Verse 10

I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.

I have seen the travail ... given to the sons of men. Needless anxieties and toils, which men might avoid, if they would but trust in God, and leave the disposal of events and the time in His hands, waiting on Him in patience, and with believing prayer.

Verse 11

He hath made every thing 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.

He hath made every thing beautiful in his time - i:e., in its proper season (Psalms 1:3); opposed to worldings, putting earthly pursuits out of their proper time and place (note, Ecclesiastes 3:9). Or the train of thought is, God does everything on a deliberate plan, not at random, as our ignorance of the relation of each successive event to the whole plan might tempt us to think. Many things in Ecclesiastes 2:1-26; Ecclesiastes 3:1-22; Ecclesiastes 4:1-16; Ecclesiastes 5:1-20; Ecclesiastes 6:1-12; Ecclesiastes 7:1-29; Ecclesiastes 8:1-17 seem to our finite view evil which are really good and beautiful, inasmuch as they form indispensable links in the vast chain, and occur exactly at the right time.

Set the world in their heart - given them capacities to understand the world of nature as reflecting God's wisdom in its beautiful order and times (Romans 1:19-20). "Everything" answers to "world" in the parallelism.

So that - i:e., (Hebrew, mibªliy (H1097), 'ªsher (H834)) except that-but in such a manner that man only sees a portion, not the whole 'from beginning to end' (Ecclesiastes 8:17; Job 26:14; Romans 11:33; Revelation 15:4). Hengstenberg translates the Hebrew [ `owlaam (H5769)], 'eternity' for "world:" God makes everything beautiful in His time; but man is unable to see it, notwithstanding that God hath set eternity in man's heart. Psalms 90:1-5 represents man, in consciousness of his frailty, taking refuge in God's eternity. Romans 1:20 shows that God hath set in man's intellect the intuition of God's eternal power as manifested in His works of creation. It is man's privilege to discern something eternal behind the fleeting present world, and to cling to it. The Vulgate and Syriac support the English version. Eternity is the usual sense in Ecclesiastes 1:4; Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 3:14, in this very Ecclesiastes 9:6. The root ( haalam (H1986)) 'to hide,' implies the duration of time as hidden from man. This incapacity for "finding out" (comprehending) God's work is chiefly the fruit of the fall, The worldling ever since, not knowing God's time and order, labours in vain, because out of time and place. Since no man knoweth beforehand the time ordained by God, our wisdom is to cast our cares and ourselves on the Lord, and to cease from profitless toils.

Verse 12

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

I know that (there is) no good in them. Man can get no good in God's works except by rejoicing in his share of them, allotted by God, and doing good therewith. Hengstenberg explains, 'There is no good in (i:e., for [bª-]) the sons of men' (Ecclesiastes 3:10), etc. So the Hebrew particle is translated in Ecclesiastes 2:24. Joy is the antidote to worrying care (Matthew 6:34); to dare to trust joyfully in the Lord is His gift (Galatians 5:22). To "do good" is to go side by side with enjoying God's gifts, for thus a good conscience and the favour of God are retained, upon which true joy depends. Man cannot fully comprehend God's works (Ecclesiastes 3:11), but he ought joyfully to receive ("rejoice in") God's gifts, and "do good" with them to himself and to others. This is never out of season (Galatians 6:9-10). Not sensual joy and self-indulgence (Philippians 4:4; James 4:16-17).

Verse 13

And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.

And also that every man should eat - literally, 'and also as to every man who eats,' etc., 'this is the gift of God' (Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 5:18). When received as God's gifts, and to God's glory, the good things of life are enjoyed in their due time and order (Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Timothy 4:3-4). The "also" implies, not only is it God's gift that any man's sufferings are removed or averted, but also that in suffering, present or feared, he should be cheerful. The heart to enjoy God's gifts aright, is not natural to man, but it also is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 2:26).

Verse 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.

I know - concerning God's part: answering to "I know" (Ecclesiastes 3:12) as regards man's part.

Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever (Psalms 46:10; Psalms 33:11; 1 Samuel 3:12; 2 Samuel 23:5; Psalms 89:34; Matthew 24:35; James 1:17) - as opposed to man's perishing labours (Ecclesiastes 2:15-18). God's plans cannot be altered by any creature's opposition; but God is a Sovereign, and not the slave of fate, and He takes into account His people's prayers; but our anxious workings are useless in respect to them. Anything taken from it-opposed to man's 'crooked and wanting' works (Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 7:13). The event of man's labours depends wholly on God's immutable purpose. Man's part, therefore, is to do and enjoy every earthly thing in its proper season (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13), not setting aside God's order; and not to undertake anything depending on his own anxious efforts for its accomplishment, but to commit all his ways to God, who has appointed the time and end (Psalms 127:1-2; Psalms 123:1-2; Romans 9:16; Ephesians 1:11, end). The mysteriousness and unchangeableness of God's purposes are designed to lead man to "fear before Him." Man knows not the event of each act, otherwise he would think himself independent of God.

Verse 15

That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.

That which hath been is now. That which bath been in the mind of God from eternity is now realized in time. The constancy of God's government is a consideration calculated to inspire equanimity.

That which is to be hath already been - in the divine counsels. Resumption of Ecclesiastes 1:9. Whatever changes there be, the succession of events is ordered by God's "everlasting" laws (Ecclesiastes 3:14), and returns in a fixed cycle.

God requireth that which is past. After many changes, God's law requires the return of the same cycle of events as in the past; literally, that which is driven on. The Septuagint and Syriac translate, 'God requireth (i:e., avengeth) the persecuted [Hebrew, nirdaap (H7291)] man;' cf. "get," or "seek" (Ecclesiastes 3:6). But the Vulgate, and the parallel clauses, here support the English version. Lamentations 5:5 used the Hebrew as the Septuagint take it. So Hengstenberg. Matthew 5:10 corresponds. The transition to Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 is thus easy, which it is not in the English version.

Verse 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.

The place of judgment ... wickedness was there. Here a difficulty is suggested. If God foreorders the succession of events, why are the wicked allowed to deal unrighteously in the place where injustice ought least of all to be?-namely, "the place of judgment;" where judges give sentence as representatives of God (2 Chronicles 19:6-7; Deuteronomy 11:17; Psalms 94:20; Psalms 125:3).

Verse 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.


God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for (there is) a time. There is a looming judgment in which God will vindicate His righteous ways. The sinner's "time" of his unrighteous "work" is short. God also has His "time" and "work" of judgment; and, meanwhile, is overruling, for good at last, what seems now dark. Man cannot now "find out" the plan of God's ways (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Psalms 97:2). If judgment instantly followed every sin, there would be no scope for free will, faith, and the perseverance of saints in spite of difficulties. The previous darkness will make the light at last the more glorious.

There (Job 3:17-19) - in eternity, in the presence of the Divine Judge, opposed to the "there," in the human place of judgment (Ecclesiastes 3:16); so "from thence" (Genesis 49:24). The Preacher points away from earth to heaven. The judgment on the wicked in behalf of the just may be looked for with the more confidence when the wicked are in authority. For the seat of judicial authority is God's; He cannot leave unpunished its abuse. The greater persecution as saints we endure from the ungodly in power, the surer is our coming deliverance (Psalms 58:11; Psalms 82:1-8); the persecution is 'a manifest token' of it, because God's justice binds Him to it (2 Thessalonians 1:5).

Verse 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. I said in mine heart. The use of the same formula here as in Ecclesiastes 3:17 shows that this is a second solution of the difficulty in Ecclesiastes 3:16, that wickedness is permitted to be in the place of judgment.

Concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them. The estate of fallen man is so ordered (these wrongs are permitted) that God might "manifest" - i:e., thereby prove them. Or else 'purify them;' Hebrew, baaram-literally, to separate; so to purge (Ezekiel 20:38; Daniel 11:35; Daniel 12:10). 'That God might purge away their pride.' Hengstenberg, in accordance with the Hebrew accents, which separate "I said in mine heart" from what follows, translates '(these injustices are permitted) for the sake of [ `al (H5921) dibrat (H1700)] the sons of men.'

Sons of men - rather, sons of Adam, a phrase used for fallen men. The toleration of injustice until the judgment is designed to "manifest" men's characters in their fallen state, to see whether the oppressed will bear themselves aright amidst their wrongs, knowing that the time is short, and there is a coming judgment.

And that they might see that they themselves are beasts. That they might see that their nature is frail and mortal as that of the beasts (Job 36:8-9). Through the fall man became beastlike. To cure him of pride, he is subjected to the fate of the beast, death. The oppressed righteous snare in death; but the comparison to "beasts" applies especially to the ungodly oppressors (Psalms 44:12; Psalms 44:20); they, too, need to be "manifested" (proved), whether, considering that they must soon die as the beasts," and fearing the judgment to come, they will repent (Daniel 4:27).

Verse 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.

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts - literally, 'For the sons of men' ( 'aadaam (H120)) are haphazard, as also the beast is haphazard. As regards liability to death, excluding the future judgment, as the sceptic oppressors do, man is on a level with the beast. Life is "vanity" if regarded independently of religion. Man is as powerless as the beast to ward off any haphazard casualty. Apart from the bond which unites him to God, who breathed into him His Spirit, raising him infinitely above the beast (Genesis 2:7), godless man is no better than the beast; his lot irresistibly fixed from without, he has no free self-determination. The flood, as a type of all judgments, illustrates this: the mighty men of renown died the same common death as the meanest brute.

They have all one breath - one vitality.

So that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast - in the point of view in which he is here regarded-namely, as to liability to accident and death. But Ecclesiastes 3:21 points out the vast difference between them in respect to the future destiny; also (Ecclesiastes 3:17), beasts have no "judgment" to come. Compare note, Ecclesiastes 3:11, 'He hath set eternity in their heart.'

Verse 20

All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 21

Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

Who knoweth. Not doubt of the destination of man's spirit (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The question expresses 'how few, by reason of the outward mortality to which man is as liable as the beast, comprehend the wide difference between man and the beast' (Isaiah 53:1). Since man's spirit is the breath of God, it cannot perish with the body, but must at death return to Him who gave it. That which belongs to the earth is given back to the earth: so that which belongs to heaven returns to heaven. The creation of man in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 2:7) involves the necessity of an immortality of blessedness or misery. The Hebrew expresses the difference strongly, 'The spirit of man that ascends, it belongeth to lª- on high; but the spirit of the beast that descends, it belongeth to below, even to the earth.' Their destination and proper element differ utterly (Weiss). Man's superiority does not lie on the surface, and is hence not easily discerned; the resemblance of man to the beast in mortality forces itself on our notice. The fact that man's pre-eminence is thus hidden ought in itself to be sufficient to lead man to humility, and to extinguish pride in him.

Verse 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?

A man should rejoice in his own works. Compare Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 5:18. Inculcating a thankful enjoyment of God's gifts, and a cheerful discharge of man's duties, founded on fear of God; not as the sensualist (Ecclesiastes 11:9); not as the anxious money-seeker (Ecclesiastes 2:23; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 5:10-17; 1 Timothy 6:17).

For that is his portion - in the present life. If it were made his main portion, it would be "vanity" (Ecclesiastes 2:1; Luke 16:25).

For who shall bring him to see what shall be after him? - (Ecclesiastes 6:12.) Not after his death, but after his present condition, what event of decisive influence on his fate shall happen-our ignorance as to the future, which is God's "time" (Ecclesiastes 3:11), should lead us to use the present time in the best sense, and instead of distressing ourselves with wearisome cares, to leave the future to His infinite wisdom (Matthew 6:20; Matthew 6:25; Matthew 6:31-34).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 3". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/ecclesiastes-3.html. 1871-8.
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