We are to be silent as we’re resonating in awe with the presence of God. However, we are to make our voices known at the wonders of God (His movements, miracles, proclamations, etc.).
First, I have made some corrections from the last 2-3 posts or so, because I sometimes express thoughts from an old school perspective, not realizing that they’re red flags now. Not all terminology that was… is still acceptable. I should have known better. I am releasing this article now to remind my readership that I can write. This was actually published previously by the PCG, but the copyright is shared with me since it is dated material. I’m offering my modifications, both from then and now for your review. It may not all matter because I’ve taken the liberty to include a picture of my wife, not always smart for any husband LOL. So the edits may continue.
Secondly, I am offering select readings not a verse-by-verse treatment of the Scripture.
Thirdly and moving forward, Solomon (Koheleth) paints a picture of contrasting universal experiences that most people in his day would face. These are experiences most of us share in life, that point to Providence. So I mean universal here, more in terms of universal experience, actually as a psychological term instead of a church term.
“A time to be born, and a time to die” (verse 2)
“To be born” points beyond the physical birth from a mother, and includes the idea of becoming a father. It is also used in reference to becoming an ancestor to a lineage, and birthing a city or nation (i.e. Jesus is called the “Son of David” and Jerusalem is called the “City of David”).
In the same way, death is not only physical death, but it can also mean eternal separation from God, the just reward of all who remain in their sin.
It can also mean being in the flesh or living in a carnal way. One example of the flesh is living merely for selfish pleasure seeking and not for the delights of a more ancient kingdom (* see footnote).
“A time to plant, and a time to pluck up” (verse 2)
This is a parallel thought (parallelism) with birth and death. The Lord plants or establishes Israel in the land, and plucks up others.
“Koheleth uses the figure of planting to illustrate the fact there is a time for everything, ‘ a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted’ (Eccl 3:2). This Scripture was read at the funeral of President John F. Kennedy” (R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2, Moody Press, p. 575-576).
In His overarching wisdom, God has hidden the time of birth and death from us (under normal circumstances), but He has given the seasons to us. In our human nature we would be tempted to pre-empt God if we knew the times of birth and death. As Micheal E. Williams says:
“The sages said that the specific information that was hidden from humans in God’s creation was the day that a person would die. This was a blessing, they said, because then we would keep planting our crops and making our plans and if we don’t benefit from the harvest, then someone else will be blessed by our work. If we knew when we would die, we would be too likely to simply stop living and, in a sense, die before our deaths. At the same time we would be depriving others of blessings” (The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible, vol. 5: Old Testament Wisdom, Abingdon Press, p. 115).
“A time to weep . . . laugh . . . mourn . . . dance” (verse 4)
One can “weep” in overwhelming emotion and one can weep in repentance. Weeping has its place, as does playful laughter, including the idea of joyful banter. This type of word play with weeping and joy is popular during the time of David. Mourning is also incorporated into the religious fabric of Israel.
“Mourning for the dead began immediately at death, went on as the body was carried to the tomb, was observed at the tomb and lasted at least seven days after the burial” (R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2, Moody Press, p. 630).
Yet in contrast to the darkest grief, there is the dance. Dancing is a word that means the playful skipping of animals, man, or God, depending on the context.
One ancient church leader says the joy of laughter and the dance becomes a mechanism for storing up hope for the future. We may think it rains on the just and the unjust, but he reminds us God also created the warmth of the spring and sunshine for all of us as well.
In our culture we often set aside time for real weepers and mourners, although I’m sure opinions differ.
However, how much room do we make for true the tuly jovial (the laughers), those who dance, or who are really at play in the fields of the Lord?
It’s not one extreme or the other, but we need to recognize some of these emotions. Some of our human emotions operate as part of the lymbic system, and they change slower than we might expect.
Solomon (or Koheleth) calls upon us to make room.
“A time to cast away stones . . . gather stones . . . embrace . . . refrain from embracing” (verse 5)
Koheleth utilizes figurative language, contrasting those who are near to us and far from us. “To cast away” not only means to throw away, but figuratively to abandon. In a contrasting light, around David’s time, to speak of gathering stones together means to gather the people together.
Is there a time to abandon the past, old influences, and influencers?
Is there a time to gather together under the banner of the king?
Is there a time to embrace, to grasp at what and who God places in front of us?
Is there a time to refrain, or distance ourselves, from people, places, things, and ideas?
“A time to get . . . lose . . . keep . . . cast away” (verse 6)
“To get” means to request, to seek after, as in petitioning the Lord.
Once we receive what we seek, “to keep” means to guard it and take great care of it, like a shepherd watches over his sheep.
Just as there are blessings to be received, there are curses “to lose” and “to cast away.”
“To lose” is literally to perish, destroy. It is the term abad, the root word for abaddon or destruction. Abaddon is transliterated into the name Apollyon in the Greek in Revelation, meaning the destroyer.
“To cast away” is literally to throw away, to abandon.
There is a good life to embrace and keep, and a past life to cast away and destroy. It could also refer to Old Testament laws that the fathers know far better than I, since they are closer to that era. However, the meaning is in some way the same, casting away those things that keep us from walking in the vitality of the Christian life.
“A time to rend . . . sew . . . keep silence . . . speak” (verse 7)
Rending and sewing are literal verbs with greater implications.
Rending is something often seen in the Hebrew Bible as one receives grievous news. The upper garment is rent or torn in front of the chest, baring the chest, signifying great sorrow.
On the other hand, sewing weaves the threads of life together.
Just as there is a time for these great emotions, there is a time for either great words or silence.
“To speak” is often used of revelation, times when God’s mind is made known.
One Early Church leader says in beautiful language, and I wish I could paraphrase the whole quote, that we are to be silent as we resonate in awe with the presence of God. However, we are to make our voices known at the wonders of God (His movements, miracles, proclamations, etc.).
Now, I know I didn’t do justice to that last quote with my paraphrase, but I hope you get the point. I also hope that you are starting to see the great respect that both modern and ancient commentators have for Solomon’s great work Ecclesiastes.
Because there are other commentaries quoted, the Cappadocian Fathers are in the background of this piece. In other words, I am paraphrasing them. I have chosen these specific Early Church leaders in this series, unless you are a Reformed scholar, and then you would say they have chosen me 🙂
At any rate, I am interested in this particular group of leaders because they are among some of the earliest to develop doctrine about the Trinity or Godhead, although there are a few earlier formulations of the Trinity by others.
In defense of the Early Church and in defense of ecumenism: Catholics can freely talk about Martin Luther now. I have heard this directly from Catholic leaders who are in the know.
Furthermore, if anyone has not read the documentation by the Lutherans and the Vatican about the Reformation 500th Anniversary in 2017, I would encourage you to do so. Catholics and Lutherans found a lot of common ground, and they were actually talking about opening the communion table to each other.
If you are still uncomfortable with Primitive Christian historical sources, let me point out that I’ve read quite a bit of Luther’s original documents. He never, ever stopped quoting the Church Fathers. He quoted them like we would quote people in the post-critical commentaries above, or those in good Theological articles.
In this piece, I have referred to Athanasius (who does a lot of preparatory work for the Cappadocian Fathers) and to Gregory of Nyssa. I find some of their commentary to be enough for this particular piece.
Series articles thus far:
regarding Solomon and the authorship of Ecclesiastes CLICK HERE
knowing the times | an introduction to Ecclesiastes 3 CLICK HERE