Poetry – Ecclesiastes 3-4

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
Whatever is has already been,
    and what will be has been before;
    and God will call the past to account.
And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
    in the place of justice—wickedness was there.
I said to myself,
“God will bring into judgment
    both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
    a time to judge every deed.”
I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?

  • Ecclesiastes 3:1-22

Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:
I saw the tears of the oppressed—
    and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
    and they have no comforter.
And I declared that the dead,
    who had already died,
are happier than the living,
    who are still alive.
But better than both
    is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
    that is done under the sun.
And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Fools fold their hands
    and ruin themselves.
Better one handful with tranquillity
    than two handfuls with toil
    and chasing after the wind.
Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:
There was a man all alone;
    he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
    yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
    “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
    a miserable business!
Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

  • Ecclesiastes 4:1-16

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Ecclesiastes 3:1 ‘A Time for each event’: “After pondering the whole idea of not being able to enjoy life apart from God, the writer breaks life down into measurable chunks which he calls ‘events.’ ”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 3:8 ‘a time to love’: ”This chapter gives an accurate summary of how most of our lives are spent. Ours is a checkered life. We are not long in any one state, and we quickly change from one condition to another—which is sometimes better, but sometimes worse. But let us never forget that eternal council chamber where Christ undertook to be our surety and substitute and, in due time, to die for us. It was with Christ, ‘a time to love.’ Now may our thoughts fly onward to that period when the fullness of time for the birth of Christ had come. Will Christ leave his throne, his Father’s house, the company of the holy angels and ‘the spirits of righteous people made perfect’ (Heb. 12:23)? Yes, for it is with him now, once again, ‘a time to love.’ Having become incarnate and having come to live on earth, it was absolutely necessary that a perfect righteousness should be worked out on behalf of his people. But in such a wicked world as this, it could only be accomplished through shame, reproach, rebuke, and slander of the most abominable kind. Did he endure all that? Yes, he did, for it was with him, ‘a time to love.’ But has Christ ceased to love us now? Oh, no, for every day and every moment is with him, ‘a time to love.’ Then, in due time, the resurrection will come, and amid the splendors oi that long looked-for day, the great King, stepping down from his throne, will meet his spouse, his church, and clothing her with his own glory, will take her up to sit with him on his throne, and then, indeed, it will be with him, ‘a time to love.’ I cannot comprehend how it is that some of us are so cold towards the Lord Jesus Christ. How is it that we can, even for a moment, tolerate that wicked, diabolical Laodicean lukewarmness towards him whose love is like a flaming fire? Come, Holy Spirit, give us coals of juniper! No, give of your own divine sacred fire. Then it will indeed be with us ‘a time to love.’ ”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 ‘conclusions for the timed events’: “What we need are some conclusions that take away the futility. I am pleased to announce that Solomon does that. He even brings the name of God into it … what a shocker for a man on a horizontal journey! …
“What is it? God has put eternity in our hearts. What in the world does that mean? Well, let me help you with the key word—eternity. Let’s expand it to mean ‘curiosity about our future.’ ”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 3:11 ‘longing for more’: “It doesn’t take a wise person to know that people long for more than earth. When we see pain, we yearn. When we see hunger, we question why. Senseless deaths. Endless tears needless loss …
“We have our moments. The newborn on our breast, the bride on our arm, the sunshine on our back. But even those moments are simply slivers of light breaking through heaven’s window. God flirts with us. He tantalizes us. He romances us. Those moments are appetizers for the dish that is to come.
“ ‘No one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:1
“What a breathtaking verse! Do you see what it says? Heaven is beyond our imagination. … At our most creative moment, at our deepest thought, at our highest level, we still cannot fathom eternity.”

  • Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name

Ecclesiastes 3:11 ‘Reflections’: “Yes, these plain people, these believing people, will tell you that God created the flowers to be beautiful and the birds to sing so that men and women could enjoy them. The scientist, with an entirely different kind of perspective, would never admit that fact. The scientist contends that the bird sings for a totally different reason.
“ ‘It is the male bird that sings, and he sings only to attract the female so they may nest and procreate,’ he tells us. ‘It is simply biological.’
“It is at this point that I ask the scientist, ‘Why doesn’t the bird just squeak or groan or gurgle? Why does he have to sing and warble and harmonize as though he had been tuned to a harp?’
“I think the answer is plain—it is because God made him to sing.
“If I were a male bird and wanted to attract a female I could turn handsprings or do any number of tricks. But why does the bird sing so beautifully?
“It is because the God who made him is the Chief Musician of the universe. He is the Composer of the cosmos. He made the harp in those little throats and the feathers around them and said, ‘Go and sing.’
“Thankfully, the birds obeyed and they have been singing and praising God ever since they were created.
“The scientific man may protest and say, ‘No, no!’ But my heart tells me that it is so and the Bible declares that it is so. ‘He hath made every thing beautiful in his time’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11).”

  • A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?

Ecclesiastes 3:11 ‘Challenge’: “God made mankind in His own image. He ‘hath set the world [eternity] in their heart’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1 1). What a graphic picture! How much it explains ourselves to us! We are creatures of time—time in our hands, our feet, our bodies—that causes us to grow old and to die. Yet all the while we have eternity in our hearts!”

  • A. W. Tozer, Jesus, Our Man in Glory

Ecclesiastes 3:12 ‘our time is short’: “Time has begun for you and me, but it hasn’t yet ended, by His grace. Are you ready for that moment when God will ‘blot out time and start the wheel of eternity’? What will be your hope, your secure confidence, when God steps on the scene and announces, ‘Time shall be no more’? If you’re not absolutely sure that at the breathing of your last breath you have heaven as your destiny, you’re not really even ready to live. I point you to Jesus Christ … Jesus Christ, who came to give men and women hope, forgiveness, and assurance, along with eternity in their hearts.
“The gift of eternal life is there to be received. So take God’s gift while you still have time. Along with Solomon’s list of contrasts, there is still one more worth considering. There’s a time to reject and a time to accept. Make this your time to accept.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 3:14-15 ‘permanent and complete’: “The first two things Solomon mentions here emphasize the quality of God’s actions—they are permanent and they are complete. God is thorough. The last two things mentioned emphasize the activity itself … God performs things that cultivate respect for Him and God repeats things until they are learned and firmly etched into our lives. Let’s take a moment to think about each of these.
“First, look at the quality of God’s work: it’s permanent. Whatever God does is permanent. ‘It will remain forever.’ God does nothing with shallowness, nothing superficially. He doesn’t glue on a thin layer of veneer. His work is solid. It’s got substance. It’s got staying power. It’ll be there tomorrow and for an eternity of tomorrows. If God does it, you can mark it down—it’s permanent.
“Second, it’s thorough and complete. Nothing can be added to it (so there’s nothing missing when it comes) and nothing can be taken from it (so it’s never excessive or superfluous). Isn’t that great? Everything God does is thorough. It’s never too little, never too late … it’s never too much, never too early, and there’s never anything missing.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 3:14 ‘Can we stand inspection?’: “When God had created the heavens and the earth He looked them over and pronounced them very good. They stood inspection. Paul said of his religious activities, ‘l am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner’ (Acts 26:26). His ministry stood inspection.
“The Lord through the ministry of Peter healed a man who had been lame from birth. The authorities later brought Peter before them and charged him with heresy, but their whole case collapsed because the healed man was there in plain sight. ‘And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it’ (Acts 4:14). Peter’s ministry stood inspection.
“We have never gone along with the tender-minded saints who fear to examine religious things lest God be displeased. On the contrary, we believe that God’s handiwork is so perfect that it invites inspection. If God performs the work no matter how closely we look into it we may be sure that we will be forced to stand back in wonder and exclaim, ‘My Lord and my God.’ ‘l know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever’ (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
“Of all work done under the sun, religious work should be the most open to examination. There is positively no place in the church for sleight of hand or double talk. Everything done by the churches should be completely above suspicion. The true church will have nothing to hide. Her books will be available to anyone for inspection at any time. Her officers will insist upon an audit by someone from the outside.”

  • A. W. Tozer, Of God and Men

Ecclesiastes 3:14 ‘fear before him’: “Acknowledging God’s enduring and perfect work becomes grounds for reverence, worship, and meaning. Apart from God, man’s works are inadequate. The theme, ‘the fear of God,’ also appears in 5:7; 7:18; 8:12, 13; 12:13. Cf. Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10; 15:33.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 ‘philosophical viewpoint’: “The phrases ‘l have seen’ and ‘l said to myself’ underscore a basic, philosophical commitment to human perspective. You will not find Solomon on his knees, but on his feet. You will not find Solomon looking up, but looking out. You won’t find Solomon quietly seeking patience in prayer, but rather shouting back at God. As a man who was driven from the human point of view, looking strictly on this earth and not into the heavens, he sneers, ‘There is no advantage for man over beast.’ ”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 ‘injustice’: “Qoheleth now addresses the matter of injustice. Continuing his emphasis on sets of opposites and a proper place and time for each event of life, he now suggests that there is a time established for injustice and justice. Presently he is sensitive to oppression (4:1-3) and injustice in juridical procedures under the sun (3:16). But God has established a time when he will administer justice (v.17). Injustice, like all earthly evils, will not continue indefinitely.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 3:17 ‘God shall judge … for there is a time’: “The culminating issue of Solomon’s ‘appointed time’ discussion is that there is a time for judgment (cf. John 5:28, 29). God’s judgment is a central theme in Solomon’s message for this book (cf. 11:9; 12:14). Even where the word judgment is absent, the greater issue of divine retribution is often pervasive.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 ‘injustice’: “God’s toleration of injustice has a purpose. It is to show people that they are like the animals (3:18). The presence of injustice in the world (v.16) along with the fact of human mortality (v.19) places humans at the level of beasts. Qoheleth notes that as we have come from dust, so we return to dust (v.20). Observations made under the sun do not reveal to him whether the human spirit will survive death. Strong affirmations about life after death are reserved for the NT.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 4:1-8 ‘What ought to be but never will’: “Some things ought to be, but they never will be—like these words from Solomon’s ancient journal, for example. These statements ought to be required reading at Harvard and Stanford business schools, but they never will be.
“Peter Drucker’s 839-page volume entitled Management ought to quote Solomon’s words so every reader would have the benefit of hearing divine counsel alongside human advice regarding success, but that never will be.
“I’d also like to see Ecclesiastes 4:1-8 printed just below the heading of every issue of The Wall Street Journal, right up there at the top, so that businessmen and career women around the world, upon picking up that newspaper, would read Solomon’s wisdom first. But that never will be.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 4:4-8 ‘injustice’: “In this section Qoheleth condemns the competitive spirit (v.4) while calling for a cooperative one (vv.9-12). Either prompted by envy (v.4) or habit (v.8) the solitary worker may secure wealth, but he has neither friends nor family. His drive for wealth has virtually dehumanized him, robbing him of companionship.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 4:5 ‘folds his hands … consumes his own flesh’: “Even the man who settles into idleness, living on what he takes from others, is self-tormented and never satisfied (cf. Is. 9:20; 44:20).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 ‘One often must work alone’: “The futility of labor alone without satisfaction and without any heir to experience its value is addressed (cf. 2:18-22, a complementary message). Life is better with companionship.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ‘No matter where your career takes you …’: “If you felt left out in the previous chapter, you have no reason to feel left out in this one. This is for those at the top, those in the middle, those on their way, those at the bottom, as well as those who don’t even know which way they’re going!”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ‘injustice’: “Cooperation, on the other hand, provides for great productivity (v.9). Further, companionship provides support for the person who physically falls or has a lapse in judgment (v.10), warmth for a cold winter’s night (v.11), and protection against a thief (v.12).”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary


My Thoughts

Our toils are made under the sun, and what we search for on earth is a chasing after the wind.  It is Solomon’s refrain, of sorts, a means of gathering the wandering mind and focusing it back on the topic of meaninglessness.  I just threw that in because I had copied a chapter and then thought I copied the wrong chapter because both ended with “a chasing after the wind.”  As Rev. Swindoll says above, God repeats Himself – until we can understand, but the Ecclesiastes repetition of catch phrases is to refocus our minds that without God, all is meaningless.

This does not mean that the Evolutionists could be right.  You know, those people who say that all humans are a cosmic accident without purpose in life.  We were born with a purpose, to glorify God, but in denying God, the Evolutionist cannot achieve their purpose.  Thus, they simply claim that there is none.

Of all the time events, Rev. Spurgeon focused on a “time to love,” but the other side of that is true, a time to hate.  I have had so many within the church state that there is no circumstance in which hatred is allowed by God, but even God hates sin.  We are to hate what sin does within us so that we are more greatly motivated to not commit that sin again.  We should hate the evil that is perpetrated on ourselves and upon others throughout the world, especially the persecution of Christians.

Now, when a face is applied to that hatred, we are commanded to love our enemy.  In countless discussions in a church setting, the subject of unforgiveable people occasionally comes up.  Adolph Hitler is usually the first mentioned.  I wonder in following generations if Vladimir Putin will eclipse Hitler?  I love reading the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker.  I think there are two of them that I have not read.  In many of them, Spenser and his companions will have a little strategy meeting.  The others will talk about how their present enemy is pure evil.  They were stoking themselves up for that chance to take the kill shot, if it fell upon them to do so.  Then Spenser would stare into the fire in the fireplace (as an example) and say, “Hitler liked dogs.”  It was the author’s way of having painted a character of pure evil into his novel, but bringing the reader back down to earth, in that we all have choices in life.  The most evil does not choose evil every time, nor does the good guy always choose the good, or best, choice all the time.  We are all a work in progress.

Ecclesiastes 3 ends with a reminder that a judgment is coming.  We can look at judgment and find wickedness.  We can look at justice and find wickedness.  But God will, in the end, make things right.  And as it says in Revelation 20:14, God will cast death into the lake of fire.  Those who are in Heaven with Jesus will be shown Mercy.

And while it seems Ecclesiastes 3-4 is a break from the constant barrage of meaningless things, it is really an expansion on toil being meaningless.  The time events are things that we “do.”  Then we will be judged.

But then in Ecclesiastes 4, it talks of toil and oppression.  It talks of power being on the side of the oppressor.  That is rather logical.  If you have no power, how can you oppress?

I have talked many times about the best boss that I ever had.  He said, when I went to work for him, that he wanted to hear complaints.  In hearing them, he knew I was doing my job.  And he stayed true to his word in providing a buffer between me and those who complained.  Even his boss, a full colonel, mirrored that sentiment, backing up my decisions, rarely asking me if a different approach might be better.  Both my boss and the colonel knew that I was making the best decision for our military community, and through my efforts, I had obtained over $10 million in funding from Congress, something no one in our community had accomplished since reconstruction after World War II, not even a small one-million-dollar project. To Congress that would be teeny tiny.  Which led to many people loving what I did, and others hating me as they wanted their greedy hands on the money.

The photo above shows the colonel cutting a ribbon. He is tied, in my book, as my best boss’ boss that I ever had, alongside a maintenance superintendent who was my boss’ boss about seven years later, a guy that everyone called, “Daddy Earl.” God does not shield us from oppression, but he gives us a blessed reprieve on occasion.

But then came the day that my boss was promoted, and he was replaced by … one of those people who had complained about me – and had wanted the millions that I had obtained redirected in his direction.

He called me into his office.  He had a gallon jug on his desk, made to look like a well-advertised headache medicine.  The ads would ask, “Do you have an Excedrin headache?”  The major tapped the jug and said, “I do not get Excedrin headaches.  I dish them out.”  In other words, the days of my oppression had just begun, but I only had a short time before I was afforded the option of preparing to move back to the USA.  I gladly told my oppressor that I was going to take the maximum time afforded to me.

Sadly, probably 3 of every 4 bosses I ever had after that point enjoyed oppressing people.  I was sometimes their prime target.  Yes, power is on the side of the oppressor, but judgment day is coming.  I hope they have accepted Jesus.

And all this toil under the sun, even in the best of conditions is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

Ecclesiastes 3 a Time for Everything: 1. What ‘time’ is it for you? At what ‘times’ (vv.1-8) do you doubt that God is in control?
“2. Would you rather spend your time fathoming God’s work (v.1 1), doing good (v.12), or eating and drinking (v.13)? Why?
“3. How do you differentiate enjoying yourself from going too far?
“4. Does belief in God’s sovereignty free you to enjoy life? How so?
Ecclesiastes 3 A final judgment: 1. How do you respond to those who act as if there is no God or final judgment?
“2. How does the promise of eternal life (Jn 5:24) help you deal with injustice?
Ecclesiastes 4 Toil, Oppression: 1. Do you see yourself more often in the role of the ‘oppressed’ or the ‘oppressor’? How so?
“2. How much does someone’s wealth or status affect the way you treat him?
“3. Do you presently have ‘one handful’ or ‘two’ (v.6)?
Ecclesiastes 4 Toil: 1. For whom (yourself, God, others) do you toil in the different areas of life (work, home, school, church)? How much satisfaction do you derive from your toil and your companions?
“2. How easy is it for you to allow someone to help you? Or, to let someone know that you need help?
“3. Where would you be spiritually were it not for others’ ‘help’?
“4. How can you be part of a ‘three—fold cord’, strengthening others?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There are two sets of questions for each chapter.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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