To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:Ecclesiastes 3:1. To every thing, &c. — Solomon having mentioned God’s overruling providence in the latter end of the foregoing chapter, proceeds in this to illustrate the imperfection of human wisdom, which is confined to a certain season for all things that it would effect, which if we neglect, or let slip, all our contrivances signify nothing. He then shows that the utmost perfection at which our wisdom can arrive in this world, consists, 1st, In being contented with this order in which God hath placed all things, and not disquieting ourselves about that which it is not in our power to alter. 2d, In observing and taking the fittest opportunity of doing every thing, as the most certain means to tranquillity. 3d, In taking the comfort of what we have at present, and making a seasonable and legitimate use of it; and, lastly, in bearing the vicissitudes which we find in all human things with an equal mind; because they are ordered by a powerful, wise, and gracious Providence. These were the things he had suggested in the conclusion of the former chapter, and this may be considered as having a relation to every one of them. See Bishop Patrick. There is a season — A certain time appointed by God for its being and continuance, which no human wisdom or providence can alter. And by virtue of this appointment of God, all vicissitudes which happen in the world, whether comforts or calamities, come to pass; which is here added to prove the principal proposition, that all things below are vain, and happiness is not to be found in them, because of their great uncertainty, and mutability, and transitoriness, and because they are so much out of the reach and power of men, and wholly in the disposal of God. And a time to every purpose — Not only things natural, but even the voluntary actions of men, are ordered and disposed by God. But it must be considered, that he does not here speak of a time allowed by God, wherein all the following things may lawfully be done, but only of a time fixed by God, in which they are actually done.
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;Ecclesiastes 3:2-8. A time to die — And as there is a time to die, so there is a time to rise again, a set time, when they that lie in the grave shall be remembered. A time to kill — When men die a violent death. A time to heal — When he who seemed to be mortally wounded is healed. A time to weep — When men have just occasion for weeping, as they frequently have in the present life, both for their own sins and for the sins and miseries of mankind. “It is in vain,” says Castalio, here, “to expect our happiness in this world: for this is no more the time and the place for it, than the seed- time is the harvest. But we must stay till the next life for it; which is the proper time for complete happiness: here we must be content with a great many tears.” A time to cast away stones — Which were brought together in order to the building of a wall, or house, but are now castaway, either because the person who gathered them hath changed his mind, and desists from his project, or for other causes. A time to embrace — When persons enter into friendship, and perform all friendly offices one to another; and a time to refrain, &c. — Either through alienation of affection, or grievous calamities. A time to get, and a time to lose — “In our traffic and commerce one with another, there is a time of gaining much; but there are other times, when a man must be content to lose by his commodities.” A time to keep, &c. — “Sometimes also it is fit for a man to keep and lay up what he hath gotten; but at another time it will be as fit for him to spend or to give it away to those that need.” A time to rend — When men rend their garments, as they did in great and sudden griefs. A time to love — When God stirs up love, or gives occasion for the exercise of it.
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
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 get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?Ecclesiastes 3:9. What profit hath he that worketh, &c. — Seeing then all events are out of man’s power, and no man can do or enjoy any thing at his pleasure, but only when God pleaseth, as has been shown in many particulars, and is as true and certain in all others, hence it follows that all men’s labours, without God’s blessing, are unprofitable, and utterly insufficient to make them happy.
I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.Ecclesiastes 3:10. I have seen the travail, &c. — I have diligently observed men’s various employments, and the different successes of them. Which God hath given, &c. — Which God hath imposed upon men as their duty; to which therefore men ought quietly to submit. To be exercised — That hereby they might have constant matter of exercise for their diligence, and patience, and submission to God’s will and providence.
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.Ecclesiastes 3:11. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time — This seems to be added as an apology for God’s providence, notwithstanding all the contrary events and confusions which are in the world. He hath made — Or, doth make, or do, by his providence in the government of the world; every thing — Which he doth, either immediately, or by the ministry of men, or other creatures; beautiful — Convenient, so that, all things considered, it could not have been better; in its time — Or season, when it was most fit to be done. Many events seem to men’s shallow judgments to be very irregular and unbecoming, as when wicked men prosper and good men are oppressed; but when men shall thoroughly understand God’s works, and the whole frame and contexture of them, and see the end of them, they will say, All things were done wisely. He hath set the world, &c. — It is true, God hath put the world into men’s hearts, or made them capable of observing all his dispensations in the world; but this is to be understood with a limitation, because there are some more mysterious works of God which no man can fully understand, because he cannot search them out from the beginning to the end.
I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.Ecclesiastes 3:12-13. I know — By clear reason, and my own long and certain experience; that there is no good in them — No other satisfaction or felicity that a man can enjoy in creatures or worldly things; but for a man to rejoice and to do good — To employ them freely and cheerfully in acts of charity and liberality toward others, or to use them to the glory of God, living in his fear, which is necessary to the happiness of this as well as of the other life. And also that every one should eat, &c. — Use what God hath given him. See the note on Ecclesiastes 2:24.
And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.
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.Ecclesiastes 3:14. Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever — All God’s counsels or decrees are eternal and unchangeable. Nothing can be put to it — Men can neither do any thing against God’s counsel and providence, nor hinder any work or act of it. God doth it, that men should fear before him — That, by the consideration of his power, in the disposal of all persons and things, men should learn to trust in him, to submit to him, to fear to offend him, and more carefully study to please him.
That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.Ecclesiastes 3:15. That which hath been is now — Things past, present, and to come, are all ordered by one constant counsel, in all parts and ages of the world. There is a continual return of the same motions of the heavenly bodies, of the same seasons of the year, and a constant succession of new generations of men and beasts, but all of the same quality. God requireth — Or reneweth, as the Hebrew יבקשׁ, may be rendered; that which is past — That time and those things which are irrecoverably gone in themselves; but are, as it were, recalled, because others of the same kind arise and come in their stead.
And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.Ecclesiastes 3:16. And moreover, &c. — This is another argument of the vanity of worldly things, and a hinderance of that comfort which men expect in this life, because they are oppressed by their rulers. I saw the place of judgment — In the thrones of princes, and tribunals of magistrates, where judgment should be duly executed. Solomon is still showing that every thing in this world, without the fear of God, is vanity. In these verses he shows that power, of which men are so ambitious, and life itself, are nothing worth without it.
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.Ecclesiastes 3:17. I said in my heart — I was sorely grieved at this, but I quieted myself with this consideration. God shall judge, &c. — Absolving the just, and condemning the wicked. For there is a time there — Namely, at the judgment-seat of God; a time fixed by God’s unalterable decree. He implies, that as this life is the sinner’s time, in which he doth whatsoever seemeth good in his own eyes, so God will have his time to reckon with sinners, and rectify all these disorders; for every purpose, and for every work — For examining not only men’s actions, but all their thoughts and purposes. The design of this verse is both to strike a terror into oppressing potentates, and to satisfy the doubts and support the spirits of good men, who are oppressed in this life.
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.Ecclesiastes 3:18. I said in my heart, &c. — And I further considered concerning their condition in this present world. That God might manifest them — God suffers these disorders among men, that he might discover men to themselves, and show what strange creatures they are, and what vile hearts they have. That they are beasts — That although God made them men, yet they have made themselves beasts by their brutish practices, and that, considered only with respect to the present life, they are as vain and miserable creatures as the beasts themselves.
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.Ecclesiastes 3:19. For that which befalleth, &c. — They are subject to the same diseases, pains, and casualties. So dieth the other — As certainly, and no less painfully. They have all one breath — One breath of life, which is in their nostrils; by which the beasts perform the same animal functions. For he speaks not here of man’s rational and immortal spirit, nor of the future life. So that a man hath no pre-eminence, &c. — In respect of the present life.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.Ecclesiastes 3:20-21. All go unto one place — To the earth, as it is expressed Ecclesiastes 3:21, out of which they were both taken. All turn to dust again — All their bodies, as it is explained Ecclesiastes 12:7. Who knoweth the spirit of a man — True it is, there is a difference, which is known by good men, but the generality of mankind never mind it; their hearts are wholly set on present and sensible things, and take no thought for the things of the future and invisible world.
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
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?Ecclesiastes 3:22. I perceive there is nothing better — For a man’s present satisfaction, and the happiness of this life; than that a man should rejoice in his own works — That he should comfortably enjoy what God hath given him, and not disquiet himself with cares about future events. He seems to speak this not in the person of an epicure, but as his own judgment, which also he declares, Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 5:18-19; Ecclesiastes 8:15. For that is his portion — This is the benefit of his labours: he hath no more than he uses, for what he leaves behind him is not his, but another man’s. For who shall bring him to see, &c. — When once he is dead he shall never return to see into whose hands his estate falls, and how it is either used or abused; nor is he at all concerned in those matters.