Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is a text that describes different seasons in the life of a person. Seasons in this context can be used to mean the fitting time of something happening or doing something. It allocates time for twenty eight different things. These things have been listed in fourteen pairs of opposites. This shows the complexity and hurdles of human life. It brings out the effects of the forces that always come into play in every individual’s life. It also speaks to the conscience of the reader that at any given point will expect to have all things going in a particular manner all the time. It is impossible to do all things at once, and so is it to always live an easy life.
Some of the seasons given time outlined in this passage are directly spoken against in the Bible. It may, therefore, seem like a contradiction when the same book that speaks against murder allocates a time to kill, and the same law that demands love allocates time to hate. However, in deep scrutiny of the application of these words, one may claim that they have not been used to mean the actual killing or hating of a human being, but of the things, attitudes and doctrines that are against the law set for man by God.
However, in the first verse, there is the use of the word ‘everything’. This word mostly refers to the actions of man. This does not refer to only the good or that which is acceptable to God. It refers to all things, good or evil, pleasant or not. Therefore in such a case, do these passages permit wrongdoing, provided it is done in its season? Though that is very unlikely, it is hard to tell how to apply that word. This is because of its actual meaning and its context in the passage.
This passage also depicts life as a series of organized cycles. It opposes the idea of life being a case of random events taking place in a haphazard manner. “Everything takes place when the time is right”. This surely must bring the question of what or who controls the seasons. It is hard to believe that a series of organized cycles can take place without a force behind it. If then all things happen in such cycles, is it not needless then for man to try and change it, this is an indication that man is supposed to submit to the controller of these cycles, because they are fixed and set.
If man submits to the will of God, then all things will work well for him. “This is because if there may be a season of mourning, it means that the time for dancing is coming right up”. This may serve as an assurance to man in tough times. This is because, for every harsh season, a better one is coming. It may also act as a warning for one to be prepared because even in the happy times, time for sorrow is coming.
This passage also speaks against being content and passive in any phase of life, because none is permanent. Life is going to be a series of changes. Just when one seems to settle down, something must come up. Most of those things are harsh realities that one finds hard to face or deal with on his own. “Painful events like death cause unexplainable pain and emptiness”. As bad as these events are, they keep man focused. They remind one of their weaknesses and shortcomings. It is in this humility and desperation that the heart of man is drawn to the face of God. These cycles, therefore, keep us dependent on God.
Though life may seem like a series of cycles, the truth is that men look at it as one long stretch, which has a beginning and an end. Reading the Bible gives one a starting point of time. It goes on to be a stretch up to the present day. Looking at it that way, the lifespan of a man is a very short distance on that stretch. In that perspective, it is hard to view life as a cycle. God has placed a time for each and everything under the sun. How this has been done is hidden from the knowledge of man, for the mind of man is too limited to understand the things of God.
It is true that what has been set by God cannot be changed. Therefore, it is in an effort by man to change these times and seasons that belong to God, that conflict arises between God’s will and the desires of the heart of man. In such a conflict, the will of God always prevails, and man suffers. If man keeps pursuing his desires, as opposed to the will of the Almighty God, it is sin. Therefore, God and man fall out. It is this separation of man from God that leads to man being vulnerable.
This can be seen whereby one act can be sin within a certain season, yet it is sacred within another. “Sex before marriage is fornication. Fornication is a sin and distasteful in the eyes of God. However, sex within marriage is not only sacred and but also blessed by God”. Man, man has received a command to fill the earth. This can only happen through procreation. When one commits suicide, it is sin. This is because they have induced the season of death before its time. “God has set the time of death”. When that time comes, one dies. That is not sin. There is no major difference in the act itself, of dying or sex. What changes is the time and season. This is a clear indication that those times are set by God, to be followed by man. When man decides to divert from the times of God and create his own, a natural occurrence set by God becomes sin.
This passage also gives a sense of temporality to all that is done in the life of man. It, therefore, casts doubt to the relevance of everything that is done. What is the use of building up when the time is coming break it all down? Why be born when very soon time to die is coming? The truth is this is a common question in the minds of many. This especially applies to the relevance of life, which will only be short, and after which death is an assurance. It was the will and purpose of God that we are alive. It is needless to question the relevance of life. Furthermore, life in abundance has been promised after death to all those who love the Lord and live in accordance to His purpose. For every question, therefore, that is asked in relation to the times set by God, the answer is constant. It is all about the will of God.
Some of the seasons are friendly to man, yet others are harsh. Life is very fruitful when man is in line with God’s will. In such cases, even the worst of trials bring good tidings to the life of that person. The lesson learnt is taken with humility to gain wisdom to face the oncoming season. Therefore, every stage of life is important and designed by God to help man obtain a life that was worth living. However, when divorced from God, life becomes very unpredictable, with nothing good coming out of the trials of man. This is what brings about the attitude that life is purely irrelevant.
Finally, verses 2-8 show the powers that man has over the earth. Man holds both creative and destructive power. He can plant and to uproot. He has the power to build and to break down. He can gather or scatter. “Adam, being the first man, was placed in Eden to look after God's creation”. He was later commanded to cultivate it. Man is expected to toil for his food. He is, therefore, expected to plant and harvest. This is bringing the earth to submit to him and to provide for him, through the power that has been placed in him. Through it all, he has to submit to He who created him and the earth in the first place.
Moltmann, Jurgen. God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God. New York: Fortress Press, 2006.
Schonborn, Christoph. Man, the Image of God: The Creation of Man as Good News. New York: Ignatius Press, 2011.
Scott, John. Scripture: Christian Basics Bible Study. New York: InterVarsity Press, 2007.
Stott, John. Understanding the Bible. New York: Zondervan, 2011.
Wierenga, Edward. The Nature of God: An Inquiry Into Divine Attributes. New York: Cornell University Press, 2003.