Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:2. Further Results of the Search
1. The times of man under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11)
2. When then is the good? (Ecclesiastes 3:12-15)
3. Concerning judgment and the future (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22)
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11. There is a time for everything. Twenty-eight “times” are mentioned, beginning with the time of birth and ending with the time for peace. Everything has a fixed time: Life-death; seeding-harvesting; killing-healing; breaking-down building-up; weeping-laughing; mourning-dancing, etc. These are the times of the entire race; that is what human life is. All moves and changes; all appears unto him profitless. “What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth? What is the gain of it, to be born and to die, to plant and to pull up, to weep and to laugh, to mourn and to dance, to get and to lose, to love and to hate?” But he advanced a step. He recognizeth that all this travail must be of God, who has produced these never ceasing changes, so that men’s hearts might be exercised thereby. “I have seen the travail which God has given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.” Yeah, there is something which is in man. “God hath set the world in their heart,” the correct rendering is, “God hath set eternity in their heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Man has the sense of the infinite in his heart.
All that time offers, all these changes cannot satisfy, nor can man with eternity in his heart find out the truth about it by himself. He may feel but cannot understand.
Ecclesiastes 3:12-15. What then is the good? To what can man in such condition, with such constant changes, and with an unsatisfied feeling of the infinite in his heart resort to? The searcher gives his results. Let man rejoice and do good in his life. Let him eat and drink and enjoy the food of all his labor. But let him also do so fearing God in view of God’s judgment, for “God requireth that which is past.” This is about as far as the natural man can see.
Ecclesiastes 3:16-22. The thought of judgment expressed in verse 15 is now more fully taken up. It seems as if a ray of light now breaks in. There must be from the side of God’s judgment. Under the sun he saw in the place of judgment wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there also. Then he said in his heart, “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked.” He draws the conclusion that the present injustice must be dealt with by God. But here he stops short. He may surmise, but certainly he has not. Instead of advancing in his searchings as a natural man he comes back to his old wail of vanity. “I said in mine heart, it is because of the sons of men that God may prove them, and that they may see they themselves are but as beasts. 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; and man hath no pre-eminence above the beasts: for all is vanity.” It shows that as far as life beyond the present is concerned all is darkness for man. He may have “eternity set in his heart”, but he has no light. Death comes alike to man and beast; they die and are gone, hence the conclusion, “man hath no pre-eminence above the beast.” But man has, as the revelation of God teacheth. But here we do not listen to God’s revelation but to the searchings and observations of man only. The natural man knows, “all” men and beasts “go to one place, all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” Then there is just a faint suggestion of something which might be beyond the grave. The correct rendering of Ecclesiastes 3:21 is, “who knoweth whether the spirit of man goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast goeth downward to the earth?” Man and beast share the same being, draw breath in the same way, spring from the dust, return to the dust, but who can give assurance that the spirit of man really goeth upward? Who knoweth if this is really true. Who has come back and told us the truth about it? Who knoweth? Such is still the cry of the natural man with all his boasted discoveries and research. Finally he reacheth the same goal as Koheleth--all is vanity. Oh! blessed truth as given by revelation and above all in the person of our Lord and His precious gospel! Man indeed has the pre-eminence and is not like the beast that perisheth. Redeemed by Him who became man, to die for our sins, not only the spirit of the redeemed goeth upward but in its time the body will leave the dust and be changed like unto the glorious body of Him, who as glorified man sits at the right hand of God.
Returning to the wise king with his search, in view of all this, which he has brought forth in this chapter he gives his counsel as to what man is to do under these harassing circumstances. “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better than that a man (the natural man) should rejoice in his own works, for that is his portion; for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?” (See also Ecclesiastes 6:12).