Ecclesiastes 3:1-22 What Is the Point of Life?

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22 What Is the Point of Life?

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22 What Is the Point of Life?

We come to a section of Ecclesiastes that is often quoted. As a matter of fact, the first eight verses were the lyrics to a top charting song by The Byrds in the 1970s. I have the song here to play for you. Just listen to the song – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 set to music. Some say the reason that the word “turn” is so often used in the song is because of the seasons turning. However, I believe that it also means that one must turn to Jesus because that is the point of life. The Teacher opens up with the purpose statement.

There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven:” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, HCSB)

There is a purpose to everything that happens in life. Things happen, even when we don’t know why.

1. Look up – God orders time (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Here in these first eight verses, we have the idea of balance. Each verse lists a set of contrasting couplets. There is an order to things. God has established that order. From before our birth to the moment of our death, God is accomplishing His divine purposes, even though we may not always understand what He is doing.1

Aside from the placement of this first pair, however, there is no discernible purpose to the overall order in which the opposites are placed; they simply represent various aspects of human life between the two poles of birth and death, although they are often clustered together in groups in suggestive ways.2

Time matters. God gives us enough time to do what He wants us to do. We have time for all kinds of experiences – good and bad. God gives us time to make memories. He gave us time to enjoy life. 

Some say time is the fire in which we burn (as if it were an enemy.) Others say that time is a friend that goes along with you on the journey. I say that time is the currency of life. Once it is spent, it can’t be bought again. How should I use my time? Should I waste it on idle pursuits? God wants me to use my time wisely for Him. Because time matters to God, it should matter to me. Because time matters to God, I should use it for His glory and use it wisely.3 This brings me to the next section. The point of life is that time is precious and God (Who is outside of time) controls my life.

2. Look within: eternity is in your heart (Ecclesiastes 3:9-14)

THREE WAYS GOD ENRICHES MY LIFE

These verses show three different ways God enriches my life:

1. God gives me work

When one walks through life, one may think that life is pointless. Solomon asks this question and then answers it Ecclesiastes 3:9-10:

What does the worker gain from his struggles? I have seen the task that God has given people to keep them occupied.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9–10, HCSB)

One may say that I do my own work. But ultimately it is God who provides you work. He did it for Adam and He does it for you and me.

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” (Genesis 2:15, HCSB)

Why did God place Adam in the garden to work it and watch over it? Because God values work. It is part of the process of time. To borrow an analogy from Charles Dicken’s novel A Christmas Carol, work is about the present. So God gives us time to work today.

2. God gives me a desire to know the future

God also gives me time to have a desire to know the future.

He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but man cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, HCSB)

God has put eternity in our hearts, to remind us that there will be a time in the future. We can’t know it all. We won’t know it all because we are time-bound. But God has given us a spark in our souls to recognize that there is more than just this life.

Every great story has a beginning. Whether it begins with “Once upon a time,” or “a long time ago” – we see that great stories start somewhere, somehow, and with someone. Your great story started with God. God has been working in your life before you were born. Because before you were born, God knew you.

Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.” (Psalm 139:16, HCSB)

God prepared the pages of your life long before you were born. For God to take the time to prepare you for your life before you were born says lots about His love for you. Because God has loved you from the beginning. And He continues to show you His love when each day begins.

Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!” (Lamentations 3:22–23, HCSB)

Today, you are going to do good things, and you are going to mess up. But you know what? When you go to sleep, God is there for you. He is waiting and ready for you when you wake up to begin your new day. He is faithful with His love. Even though He has put eternity into our hearts, you and I are not going to know every loving thing that God will do for us. But we can be certain that He will be faithful with His love. He will make everything beautiful in its time. Why? Because He loved us from the very beginning.4

God gives us just a glimpse of what that future can be. He doesn’t tell us everything. He just gives us a hint – to remind us that God us the gift of life.

3. God gives me the gift of life to enjoy today.

I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts. I know that all God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of Him.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12–14, HCSB)

Enjoy life

There are two parts to the gift of life. The first is to enjoy God’s gifts today. This satisfaction with life is the gift of God to those who make virtue a priority.5 Focusing our attention on doing good and enjoying the good things around us can help us to see the bitter realities of life in more balanced ways that make it easier to enjoy life.6

Respect God

God intervenes in our time to remind us that we need to respect Him. This word “fear” means to be in awe of him. The awe of God should balance the enjoyment of life. Just as the earlier verses gave two different couplets to describe the immensity of time, these verses show the entirety of life. Enjoy life and respect God. Some Christians have called this hedonism – the idea that life is all about enjoyment. The problem is that life is not all that enjoyable. Edward Curtis shares the following thought:

“Solomon is encouraging not pagan hedonism, but rather the practice of enjoying God’s gifts as the fruit of one’s labor, no matter how difficult life may be. Life appears to be transitory, but whatever God does is forever, so when we live for Him and let Him have His way, life is meaningful and manageable. Instead of complaining about what we don’t have, let’s enjoy what we do have and thank God for it.”7

3. Look ahead: death is coming to all (Ecclesiastes 3:15–22)

Whatever is, has already been, and whatever will be, already is. God repeats what has passed.” (Ecclesiastes 3:15, HCSB)

This seems like a summary of the previous verses. However, it is a summary of later verses. Solomon is saying that the present will be like the past and the future. There is repetition and what repeats is death. This is not about reincarnation. Solomon is transitioning his thoughts about time to the future.

I also observed under the sun: there is wickedness at the place of judgment and there is wickedness at the place of righteousness.” (Ecclesiastes 3:16, HCSB)

This is the John 3:16 of Ecclesiastes. You see here that when Solomon observes with his natural senses, even he realizes that there is going to a judgment.

God lets things repeat for me to learn from Him.

I said to myself, “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, since there is a time for every activity and every work.” I said to myself, “This happens concerning people, so that God may test them and they may see for themselves that they are like animals.”” (Ecclesiastes 3:17–18, HCSB)

God uses unfairness in life to test me (Ecclesiastes 3:18). Life is a test. The ultimate grade I make is not just in the good works I do. The ultimate grade is whether I know Jesus. Here, we see that God is going to judge the world. We know from the New Testament that the works of the wicked will count against them. In Ecclesiastes, we see that we are no different than the animal kingdom.

COMPARISON BETWEEN HUMANITY AND THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

Ecclesiastes 3:9-22 have been a commentary of the first eight verses. In this last section, we see an expansion of the phrase “time to die.”

a time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot;” (Ecclesiastes 3:2, HCSB)

I said to myself, “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, since there is a time for every activity and every work.” I said to myself, “This happens concerning people, so that God may test them and they may see for themselves that they are like animals.”” (Ecclesiastes 3:17–18, HCSB)

Ecclesiastes 2:12-26 describes a summary of comparing the wise and the fool. In Ecclesiastes 3:18-22, the comparison and contrast is between human and animal. Here in 3:18–22, however, the emphasis falls on the apparent lack of distinction between humans and animals, rather than between the wise and the foolish, in death. God enables human beings to see that, in respect of their ultimate fate, “they are like the animals” (3:18).8

How are we like the animals?

For the fate of people and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath. People have no advantage over animals since everything is futile. All are going to the same place; all come from dust, and all return to dust.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19–20, HCSB)

The physical fate for humans and animals in the same. We have the same fate as the animals. Our bodies die. Death comes to everyone. Our bodies will die and go to dust.

Who knows if the spirit of people rises upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21, HCSB)

Here, we have a distinction between the spirit of people and the spirit of animals. The point of this verse is that there is an eternity.

Their bodies return to the dust of the earth in the same manner. Insofar as the body is concerned, man has little or no advantage over the beasts of the field. A dog has a keener sense of smell, a leopard can run faster, a turtle lives longer, and an eagle has better eyesight. It is in the realm of the mind and the spirit that man has superiority. Only man is made in the image of God.9

One who has “eternity” in his heart cannot ignore the higher purpose of life and still find satisfaction in this world. The spirit of the beast does not survive death nor escape the earth. It is, as it were, absorbed back into the earth. The spirit of the beast is merely a life force. It is then qualitatively inferior to that of man. The verse is not intended to be a definitive statement of personal eschatology, but it does set forth the ultimate hope of eternal life with the creator.10

Summary

I have seen that there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities because that is his reward. For who can enable him to see what will happen after he dies?” (Ecclesiastes 3:22, HCSB)

A well-known slogan associated with this way of looking at the world is carpe diem, a Latin phrase translated as “seize the day.” Although it is an ancient saying, it has been given wider currency than it perhaps would otherwise have had in modern times by the movie Dead Poets Society, in which the comedian and actor Robin Williams plays the role of a new teacher at a traditional private school.

In an important scene early in the movie, he gathers his pupils around a cabinet in the school hallway that displays photographs of sporting heroes and trophies from the past, many of them now dead. Inviting his students to imagine what these ancient heroes, whose moment of glory has passed, would have to say to them, he moves among them whispering carpe diem. The scene is thus set for the remainder of the movie, in which the boys set out to squeeze all the life out of their schooldays that they can, with humorous and ultimately tragic consequences.11

 

1 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 44–45.

2 Iain Provan, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 87.

3 Jim Erwin, “Time Matters,” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 25 December 2014, Year B (Christmas), Lectionary Reflections Year B (2014-2015), Logos Bible Software, Internet, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2014/12/25/time-matters/, accessed on 18 February 2017.

4 Jim Erwin, “God Has Loved Me From the Beginning,” Thought for Thursday, Facebook Live, Ecclesiastes 3:11, 26 January 2017. Internet, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/jim.erwin/videos/vb.1350387159/10211963572428572/?type=2&theater, accessed on 18 February 2017.

5 James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), Ec 3:12–13.

6 Edward M. Curtis, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 28.

7 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 48.

8 Iain Provan, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 92.

9 Conrad R. Willard, “Ecclesiastes,” in The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, ed. H. Franklin Paschall and Herschel H. Hobbs (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1972), 379.

10 James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), Ec 3:21.

11 Iain Provan, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 98–99.

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