Everyone wants personal peace, probably at least since the peace movement in the 1960’s. However, have we lost sight of the Biblical understanding, the strength of a peace that binds us together in community?
In this series, we’ve looked at the authorship of Ecclesiastes CLICK HERE
Then we started with the timeless beauty of the poem in Eccl 3. To read knowing the times | an introduction to Ecclesiastes 3 CLICK HERE
Last week, we looked at the beauty of the poetry in Eccl 3. To read resonating in awe with the presence of God in Ecclesiastes CLICK HERE
This piece focuses on Eccl 3.8-11 CLICK HERE
i. love and hate
From the common human themes that we all share in this passage, Koheleth delves into all-encompassing universal experiences: “A time to love . . . hate . . . of war . . . of peace” (verse 8, KJV). Koheleth is the name Solomon or the author gives himself, his/her pen name.
“Love” is used in the Hebrew Bible for everything from the love of food, to inanimate objects, to carnal desires, to being in love, to God’s love for us, etc. Love is also often translated lover, friend, and beloved.
It is easy to justify finding time to love, but there is also “a time to hate,” the opposite of love, to despise, to detest, etc. Where love draws us together, hate separates and distances. Hate easily leads to war, where enemies collide. There are times in the ancient Near East when God raises up kingdoms for His purposes, to conquer other kingdoms.
Gregory of Nyssa on “a time to hate”
On the other hand, the meaning of hate is a little more personal too, as Gregory of Nyssa states:
“The love of God strengthens the person who loves, whereas a disposition towards evil brings destruction upon anyone who loves it” (Homilies on Ecclesiastes.viii.lxxvii).
Question1 (Q1): Can we just think about what Gregory of Nyssa has to say for a moment?
We understand war and so does he in his writings.
In effect, he says that if we love God and hate sin, then we just get it. We are probably already seeing the beauty and blessings of passages like this. However, he also points out the opposite.
Q2: What if we love sin and hate God, or at least find ourselves hating God indirectly, or by default?
He says sometimes we wrestle with licentiousness, an eagerness for lustful pleasure, a curiosity about sinful things that eventually draws us in, and sets us against God.
In other words, he does not seem to be blaming anyone for hating God intentionally. Like the law of diminishing returns, we are drawn into that position by our own curious eagerness to participate in sin.
I have seen this slippery slope in Pastoral and counseling ministries. All of a sudden, people wake up one day and they hate God. They are criticizing the preacher while he is preaching. They no longer feel the need to be accountable to church groups or extra services, where Christians really get to know each other. They are returning to old ways or experimenting with worldly ways for the first time.
They fail to see their own digression. Then they begin to find themselves more comfortable with a duplicitous lifestyle than with a Christian lifestyle. I am taking the liberty to expound upon some of Gregory of Nyssa thoughts.
ii. a time for peace
As Koheleth draws this poem to a close, he states that there is “a time of peace.” Peace is not the general, personal feeling that we associate with it today.
It is not merely peace from war, or peaceful relationships. However, the word picture of a military commander who can establish peace and prevent war is pretty good.
To the Hebrew mind, peace or shalom is the very basis of the community. Shalom means completeness, soundness, safety, welfare, prosperity. Shalom is the direct result of a covenant relationship with God. Shalom not only signifies a people at peace with God, but also points forward to the hope of a Messiah that will rule the world in peace.
Once again in my pastoral and therapy experience I have found that parishioners and clients simply do not understand. Everyone wants personal peace, probably at least since the peace movement in the 1960’s.
Q3: However, have we lost sight of the Biblical understanding, the strength of a peace that binds us together in community?
Peace, like righteousness, is shared between us as a community of faith – upward to God – outward to each other.
Peace is also of course received by us, becoming the glue of our community, as this particular grace descends among us.
Q4: How important is peace, really?
“Shalom, and its related words shalem, shelem and their derivatives, are among the most important theological words in the OT . . . shalom occurs over 250 times in 213 separate verses” (R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2, Moody Press, p. 931).
iii. an honest question
After showing God’s Providential Sovereignty over all times and seasons, Koheleth asks an honest question.
Q5: What is there to gain in this life? “What profit” or what advantage is there (verse 9)?
We work and labor, words used to describe strenuous toilsome labor.
Koheleth muses that he has “seen the travail” (verse 10). He witnesses and considers the plight of the oppressed. Travail is what “God hath given,” literally paid the worker the wages of oppression.
“The sons of men” are not only the children of Adam. This phrase often signifies God’s elect, His people Israel. God gives the wages of travail to His people to “be exercised,” or to keep them occupied and busy.
Koheleth’s question and reflection seems brash, even sacrilegious, but it is honest.
Q6: How honest are we? Do we bring our difficult questions before God?
Yesterday some Christians celebrated Bartholomew or Nathanael. Many of the Apostles have a couple names like him. He is not known for much, but he is known for an honest question:
Q7: “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1.46).
He was truthful and that is what he is known for.
The answer to his simple, difficult, truthful question changed the course of his life. It led him forward out of his surroundings into a newer, broader, more profound life than anything he had ever experienced. But he had to ask a difficult question, and be uncomfortably honest.
May we be more like him and Solomon as we honestly petition our Lord.
iv. eternal perspective
Koheleth’s question is not a surface question, so the answer is far deeper than what one might expect. “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time” (verse 11).
Beauty here is esthetic beauty, pleasing to the eye, signifying the excellence of everything made by the Creator…
Nothing is wasted…
Everything and everyone, has a proper time to shine.
“Also he hath set the world in their heart.” “World” is rightly translated in other versions as eternity (see NIV, NAS, NLT, etc.).
Although the drudgery of earthly toil is ever before us, despite the fact that seasons change and our roots are turned up, God places the answer within us.
Eternity is not something to strive for, always barely out of reach.
God has placed eternity within.
We will live forever, one way or another.
In our heart, our inner man, our soul, we know this to be true.
“‘Heart’ became the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature. In biblical literature it is the most frequently used term for man’s immaterial personality functions as well as the most inclusive term for them since, in the Bible, virtually every immaterial function of man is attributed to the ‘heart’” (R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 1, Moody Press, p. 466).