Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
Earthly pursuits are no doubt lawful in their proper time and order (Ec 3:1-8), but unprofitable when out of time and place; as for instance, when pursued as the solid and chief good (Ec 3:9, 10); whereas God makes everything beautiful in its season, which man obscurely comprehends (Ec 3:11). God allows man to enjoy moderately and virtuously His earthly gifts (Ec 3:12, 13). What consoles us amidst the instability of earthly blessings is, God's counsels are immutable (Ec 3:14).
1. Man has his appointed cycle of seasons and vicissitudes, as the sun, wind, and water (Ec 1:5-7).
purpose—as there is a fixed "season" in God's "purposes" (for example, He has fixed the "time" when man is "to be born," and "to die," Ec 3:2), so there is a lawful "time" for man to carry out his "purposes" and inclinations. God does not condemn, but approves of, the use of earthly blessings (Ec 3:12); it is the abuse that He condemns, the making them the chief end (1Co 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.
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
2. time to die—(Ps 31:15; Heb 9:27).
plant—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. Gill takes it, not so well, figuratively (Jer 18:7, 9; Am 9:15; Mt 15:13).
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
3. time to kill—namely, judicially, criminals; or, in wars of self-defense; not in malice. Out of this time and order, killing is murder.
to heal—God has His times for "healing" (literally, Isa 38:5, 21; figuratively, De 32:39; Ho 6:1; spiritually, Ps 147:3; Isa 57:19). To heal spiritually, before the sinner feels his wound, would be "out of time," and so injurious.
time to break down—cities, as Jerusalem, by Nebuchadnezzar.
build up—as Jerusalem, in the time of Zerubbabel; spiritually (Am 9:11), "the set time" (Ps 102:13-16).
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
4. mourn—namely, for the dead (Ge 23:2).
dance—as David before the ark (2Sa 6:12-14; Ps 30:11); spiritually (Mt 9:15; Lu 6:21; 15:25). The Pharisees, by requiring sadness out of time, erred seriously.
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
5. cast away stones—as out of a garden or vineyard (Isa 5:2).
gather—for building; figuratively, the Gentiles, once castaway stones, were in due time made parts of the spiritual building (Eph 2:19, 20), and children of Abraham (Mt 3:9); so the restored Jews hereafter (Ps 102:13, 14; Zec 9:16).
refrain … embracing—(Joe 2:16; 1Co 7:5, 6).
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
6. time to get—for example, to gain honestly a livelihood (Eph 4:23).
lose—When God wills losses to us, then is our time to be content.
keep—not to give to the idle beggar (2Th 3:10).
cast away—in charity (Pr 11:24); or to part with the dearest object, rather than the soul (Mr 9:43). To be careful is right in its place, but not when it comes between us and Jesus Christ (Lu 10:40-42).
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
7. rend—garments, in mourning (Joe 2:13); figuratively, nations, as Israel from Judah, already foretold, in Solomon's time (1Ki 11:30, 31), to be "sewed" together hereafter (Eze 37:15, 22).
silence—(Am 5:13), in a national calamity, or that of a friend (Job 2:13); also not to murmur under God's visitation (Le 10:3; Ps 39:1, 2, 9).
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
8. hate—for example, sin, lusts (Lu 14:26); that is, to love God so much more as to seem in comparison to hate "father or mother," when coming between us and God.
a time of war … peace—(Lu 14:31).
What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?
9. 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 labor to be happy, out of God's order, was disappointment. "A time to plant" (Ec 3:2) refers to his planting (Ec 2:5); "laugh" (Ec 3:4), to Ec 2:1, 2; "his mirth," "laughter"; "build up," "gather stones" (Ec 3:3, 5), to his "building" (Ec 2:4); "embrace," "love," to his "princess" (see on Ec 2:8); "get" (perhaps also "gather," Ec 3:5, 6), to his "gathering" (Ec 2:8). All these were of "no profit," because not in God's time and order of bestowing happiness.
I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.
10. (See on Ec 1:13).
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.
11. his time—that is, in its proper season (Ps 1:3), opposed to worldlings putting earthly pursuits out of their proper time and place (see on Ec 3:9).
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 (Ro 1:19, 20). "Everything" answers to "world," in the parallelism.
so that—that is, but in such a manner that man only sees a portion, not the whole "from beginning to end" (Ec 8:17; Job 26:14; Ro 11:33; Re 15:4). Parkhurst, for "world," translates: "Yet He hath put obscurity in the midst of them," literally, "a secret," so man's mental dimness of sight as to the full mystery of God's works. So Holden and Weiss. 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, labors in vain, because out of time and place.
I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.
12. in them—in God's works (Ec 3:11), as far as relates to man's duty. Man cannot fully comprehend them, 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 (Ga 6:9, 10). Not sensual joy and self-indulgence (Php 4:4; Jas 4:16, 17).
And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.
13. Literally, "And also as to every man who eats … this is the gift of God" (Ec 3:22; 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 (Ac 2:46; 1Co 10:31; 1Ti 4:3, 4).
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.
14. (1Sa 3:12; 2Sa 23:5; Ps 89:34; Mt 24:35; Jas 1:17).
for ever—as opposed to man's perishing labors (Ec 2:15-18).
any thing taken from it—opposed to man's "crooked and wanting" works (Ec 1:15; 7:13). The event of man's labors depends wholly on God's immutable purpose. Man's part, therefore, is to do and enjoy every earthly thing in its proper season (Ec 3:12, 13), not setting aside God's order, but observing deep reverence towards God; for 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.
That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.
15. Resumption of Ec 1:9. Whatever changes there be, the succession of events is ordered by God's "everlasting" laws (Ec 3:14), and returns in a fixed cycle.
requireth that … 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 (that is, avengeth) the persecuted man"; a transition to Ec 3:16, 17. The parallel clauses of the verse support English Version.
And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.
16. Here a difficulty is suggested. If God "requires" events to move in their perpetual cycle, why are the wicked allowed to deal unrighteously in the place where injustice ought least of all to be; namely, "the place of judgment" (Jer 12:1)?
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.
17. Solution of it. There is a coming 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 (Ec 3:11; Ps 97:2). If judgment instantly followed every sin, there would be no scope for free will, faith, and 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 (Ec 3:16): so "from thence" (Ge 49:24).
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.
18. estate—The estate of fallen man is so ordered (these wrongs are permitted), that God might "manifest," that is, thereby prove them, and that they might themselves see their mortal frailty, like that of the beasts.
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. The oppressed share in death, but the comparison to "beasts" applies especially to the ungodly oppressors (Ps 49:12, 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 (Da 4:27).
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.
19. Literally, "For the sons of men (Adam) are a mere chance, as also the beast is a mere chance." These words can only be the sentiments of the skeptical oppressors. God's delay in judgment gives scope for the "manifestation" of their infidelity (Ec 8:11; Ps 55:19; 2Pe 3:3,4). They are "brute beasts," morally (Ec 3:18; Jude 10); and they end by maintaining that man, physically, has no pre-eminence over the beast, both alike being "fortuities." Probably this was the language of Solomon himself in his apostasy. He answers it in Ec 3:21. If Ec 3:19, 20 be his words, they express only that as regards liability to death, excluding the future judgment, as the skeptic oppressors do, man is on a level with the beast. Life is "vanity," if regarded independently of religion. But Ec 3:21 points out the vast difference between them in respect to the future destiny; also (Ec 3:17) beasts have no "judgment" to come.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
21. Who knoweth—Not doubt of the destination of man's spirit (Ec 12:7); but "how few, by reason of the outward mortality to which man is as liable as the beast and which is the ground of the skeptic's argument, comprehend the wide difference between man and the beast" (Isa 53:1). The Hebrew expresses the difference strongly, "The spirit of man that ascends, it belongeth to on high; but the spirit of the beast that descends, it belongeth to below, even to the earth." Their destinations and proper element differ utterly [Weiss].
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?
22. (Compare Ec 3:12; 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 (Ec 11:9); not as the anxious money-seeker (Ec 2:23; 5:10-17).
his portion—in the present life. If it were made his main portion, it would be "vanity" (Ec 2:1; Lu 16:25).
for who, &c.—Our ignorance as to the future, which is God's "time" (Ec 3:11), should lead us to use the present time in the best sense and leave the future to His infinite wisdom (Mt 6:20, 25, 31-34).