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Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 “God Sets the Times”

New Year’s can be of the most human-centered times of the year. We look back at what we did. We look forward to what we’re going to do. New Year’s can easily become a time that discourages having a proper awe of God. What some things we do that don’t reflect an awe of God? Praying in a disrespectful way or not praying at all. Using God’s name in a flippant manner. Saying OMG for example. Reading/studying the Bible in order to win an argument and forgetting the Bible is meant to inspire an awe of God.

This passage in Ecclesiastes is meant to remind us that there is a time for everything and God is the one who sets up the times. This awe-inspiring thought is the point of vs 1.

Ecclesiastes isn’t man-centered. It’s not about making New Year’s resolutions and acting appropriately at the right time. It’s just the opposite.

A common mistake people make is to take this passage figuratively thinking, “a time to plant and a time to uproot” refers to starting and ending churches, not the straightforward meaning of planting crops, for example.

But there is no need to make something a metaphor when the plain meaning makes perfect sense. It’s best to take the plain meaning with this passage.

The introductory statement to this passage is…

1 There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven:

The word “time” is used 28 times in the poem so “Time” is definitely the theme of this section. The question is “what does the teacher want to say about time?” Does he want to say that people need to determine the right time to act or is it that God sets the times? The passage nowhere makes the former point but the later point is quite clear.

Time keeps on ticking…and there’s nothing we can do about it. God’s in charge.

Here’s a poem on the times:

2a a time to give birth and a time to die;

We didn’t choose when to be born, or even if we would be born, and we don’t decide when to die.

2b a time to plant and a time to uproot;

We plant at the right time, but we have no say in when that time is. When can plant in the middle of winter if we want to.

3 a time to kill and a time to heal;

During war it is time to kill. After the war it is time to heal. But are we in charge of when the war begins and ends?

a time to tear down and a time to build;

Again, during war time buildings are torn down. When the war is over it is time to rebuild. Even in times without war old building need to be torn down to make way for the new.

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance;

At funerals we weep and mourn. At parties we laugh and dance. There are appropriate times for both.

5 a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing;

What does “throw stones and gather stones” mean? Some have speculated that it is a metaphor for sexual intercourse. What? A better understanding occurs when we take a literal meaning. In times of war you throw stones. In times of peace you gather them up so you can grow your crops (2 kings 3:19, 25). You use the gathered stones to make walls, etc. This fits well with 8b.

6 a time to search and a time to count as lost; a time to keep and a time to throw away;

When someone or something is lost we search but not forever. In times of peace we tend to accumulate. In times of war we tend to scale back. Near the ends of our lives we tend to stop accumulating.

7 a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak;

It’s time to tear your clothes (Gen 37:29, 34) when you grieve.

8 a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.

A “time for war and a time for peace” pretty much sums up the poem.

In verse 9 we read a rhetorical question which leads to the conclusion of the poem.

9 What does the worker gain from his struggles?

The worker has nothing to gain from his struggles. Compare with 1:3 and 2:11. One time cancels out the other. Time to live, time to die… The result is nothing is left.

Verse 10 offers a reflection on the Poem:

10 I have seen the task that God has given the children of Adam to keep them occupied.

11a He has made everything appropriate in its time.

God has set the times. “Everything” refers back to verse one: “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven.” All the times in the poem are set by God.

Even the time of Jesus’ birth was set…Galatians 4:4-5 God sent his son at just the time he determined.

Mark 1:15 says Jesus began his ministry at the right time.

John 7:30 says Jesus wasn’t arrested because His time hadn’t come.

John 13:1 says there was an hour when Jesus would be arrested.

Matthew 26:18 says Jesus knew when his hour was near.

Romans 5:6 says Jesus died at the right time.


11b He has also put eternity in their hearts, but no one can discover the work God has done from beginning to end.

We are unlike the animals because we can think about the past and the future. We don’t just live in the present. But even this ability doesn’t help us know what God will do in the future.

Acts 1:7 says “He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority”

We “look through a glass darkly.” We have the ability to stand back a few feet to take in a little bit of the picture, but we can’t see it all. God looks on from “beginning to end” and sees everything in its proper perspective.

We see things primarily from a white, American point of view. But in the grand scheme of things America has only existed for a short time, and may not always be here.

Therefore, verse 12…

12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life

13 It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts.

There is nothing better to do than enjoy God’s gifts. God sets the times. He give good gifts at the right time…so enjoy them!

Why? Here’s the conclusion…

14a I know that everything God does will last forever;

The times God sets are permanent and unchangeable. When God determines something will happen, that’s it. No amount of effort on our part is going change what God has decided to do.

God’s setting of the times lasts forever. So much so that…

14b there is no adding to it or taking from it.

And here’s the reason he does all of this…

14c God works so that people will be in awe of him.

We naturally don’t want to be in awe of God. We want to be in awe of ourselves. We like to look back and think about all the good choices I made. We naturally think God created time and it’s up to me to me how I use it so at the end of the day I get the credit. But that’s not the teacher’s point. His point is that at the end of the day we look at all God has done and we stand in awe of Him!

Understanding that God sets the times reminds us of our helplessness. We are totally dependent upon him. As we grow in our understanding of this we grow in our awe of Him.

Matthew 10:29 “Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father.” God is involved with even the smallest of birds. The meaning is more than the Father just being aware. God must give his consent, his permission, before even a single sparrow dies.

Why don’t we stand in awe? Because we don’t see God in control.

The Bible doesn’t primarily focus on human history. It focuses on what God has done. The past has been determined by what God has done and the implication is that the same is true for the future.

Matthew 24:21, 29-31 say the tribulation will occur at the right time.

1 Timothy 6:13-15 says Jesus will return at the right time.

Just restating the main point, here’s a final thought…

15 Whatever is, has already been, and whatever will be, already is. However, God seeks justice for the persecuted.

Here’s the main point…The sovereign God set the times forever so that people will stand in awe before him. The author doesn’t necessarily want to encourage you to stand in awe but to convince you there isn’t really any other option.

Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:6 “Working in a Wicked World”

Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26 “What is the Meaning of Life?”