Ecclesiastes is a book about life. It is first and foremost about Solomon’s life but it is also about yours and mine. Some would claim that times have changed, and in one sense they have. Technology has changed the way we do everything, but some things have not changed. Human nature has not changed. Truth has not changed. The emotions and dilemmas faced by Solomon 3000 years ago mirror ours very, very closely. Ecclesiastes 3 is a very familiar and much loved passage by many people. In 1959 American folk singer, Pete Seeger, set the first eight verses to music and added one additional line. All but the title and the last six words come straight from the King James Version of Ecclesiastes 3 (with some re-ordering). “Turn, Turn, Turn: To Everything There is a Season” has been recorded by many artists including: the Limeliters (the first), Pete Seeger himself, Judy Collins, etc. but the best known version was by the Byrds in 1965. There is a reason why Ecclesiastes 3 speaks to every generation from 1000 BC until the present day. People have not changed. Our tools have changed but we are basically the same. We have the same nature we always had. Our dilemmas remain the same.
Solomon The Teacher wrote,
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NIV
Solomon, whom the Bible describes as the wisest man who had ever lived, was nearing the end of his life and he had seen it all. He declared that every activity had its proper time and place under the sun. He doesn’t speak to the rightness or wrongness of any of the activities. He doesn’t indicate any reasons for any of the activities. He simply declares that they occur. The idea seems to be: don’t be surprised by any of them; don’t fret over any of them; deal with them; do not allow any one of them to overwhelm you with either joy or discouragement.
Praise God that Solomon did not stop with his declarations in Ecclesiastes 1 and 2, that all of life is meaningless and that wisdom was worthless and that he hated all the fruit of his labor. In Ecclesiastes 3, he follows his assertion that there is a time and a place for everything with a beautiful paragraph, which begins with an explicit question which implies a second and related question.
What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him. Ecclesiastes 3:9-14 NIV
Solomon returns briefly to his examination of the nature of work. Surely the curse of Genesis 3 was and is in effect. Work was good before the curse and it is still good today; however, the curse means we will have difficulties in engaging in this good activity. Solomon sees that this is a burden, but declares that even though it is a burden, our merciful God, as a blessing to us, has retained beauty in all of it in the midst of the blessing.
Solomon now moves on to his larger and more important point. Just as God has given us work, which even though it is a burden and we do not understand it, beauty can still be found in it. God has also set eternity in our heart, and even though we do not understand it, there is a grand (oh so grand!) purpose in it. The implied question is this: What good is this setting of eternity in our hearts? Even though there is a “time for everything” there is also an “eternity”. Solomon’s answer is that even though we cannot fathom eternity or God’s eternal actions, we can understand this much: we should will to be happy, to see the good around us, and to do that which is good. Many problems in our modern world would disappear if we would follow that advice. Solomon didn’t stop there. He pointed out that this is indeed a gift of God. God has a reason for all of this. He gives us these gifts for our benefit, for our pleasure, but ultimately so that the creature (you and I) will honor, respect, revere, stand in awe of the Creator.
It is a good, worthwhile, and helpful thing to see your life against the backdrop of the long history of mankind. The same is true for seeing your life in relation to the eternity of God. But do not miss the overarching reality. You too have been created for eternity. Just because you will die one day, and you will, does not mean that is the end. Death is not the end but a passage. Man knows that truth in the depths of his innermost being. God has revealed it to us, “set eternity in our hearts”. God, who is rich in mercy, intends for that awareness of eternity to lead you to seek for Him. You will live eternally somewhere. It could be with Him or it could be separated from Him. It is up to you. The choice is yours. Seek Him while He may be found.
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Romans 10:9-12 NIV