In the mid-1960s, a rock band called The Byrds recorded a hit song with lyrics straight out of the Bible. The song was called Turn, Turn, Turn.
“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose under heaven.”
The rest of the song essentially quoted Ecclesiastes 3:2-8, which says,
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
It’s a profound message about the relentless place that time holds in our lives. The clock is always running. Deadlines are always approaching. Time doesn’t standstill. In fact, as I write this in mid-August, it seems incredible to think that summer is nearly over. It seemed to fly by.
But, there’s another aspect of time that these verses are communicating. They’re pointing us back to the one who is King over our time.
Ecclesiastes talks a lot about life “under heaven,” or “under the sun.” That phrase is meant to sum up how life looks for most people whose worldview leaves little room for a transcendent and all-powerful God. In other words, they are simply living under the sun, for the here and now. They are aware that death is looming at some point in the future, but they’ve not spent much time thinking about eternity, or what might lie above the heavens.
With that kind of outlook, time is an even more valuable commodity. We only have so much of it. All of our wealth and accomplishments cannot buy more time. We can’t postpone the inevitability of death. And, if this is all there is, then time must be seized and used.
The point of this extended poem about times and seasons in Ecclesiastes 3 is that all of these things – birth, death, suffering, joy, and so on – have appointed times. The writer of Ecclesiastes believed that God rules over time. As David wrote in Psalm 31:14-15, “…I trust you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand…”
David, like his father Solomon, who was likely the human writer behind Ecclesiastes, was convinced that God ruled over his life… over his time. And David responded by trusting in God’s rule.
Resting in God’s dominion over my time is one way to handle this truth that God is a sovereign ruler and is master over our time. There are other ways to respond. Some rebel against God and fight to be the captains of their own purposes and plans, determined to not submit to the rule of a sovereign God. And still others, respond to God’s rule with a sense of fatalism; sure, I believe God is in control, so what I do and think really doesn’t matter.
That sense of fatalism comes through in the verse that immediately follows the poem about time. Ecclesiastes 3:9 asks, “What gain has the worker from his toil?” In other words, if life is really only about what we see here on earth (“under heaven” to use the words of Ecclesiastes), then stuff like work feels almost pointless. I work hard to build things that are meaningful and to accomplish goals. I strive to succeed at my job, but why? One day I’ll die and leave everything behind. And then others will come along and pick up that same cycle. So, what’s the point?
Well, there’s an answer. We need to read on in Ecclesiastes 3:
10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. --Ecclesiastes 3:10-11a
There it is: God is the giver of work. God provides meaningful labor for us to do, and we should receive work as a gift from Him. We should also know and believe that God is the one who brings blessing through our work. He gives it meaning. When verse 11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time,” it means that God makes it to be excellent, or appropriate, or useful. In other words, God gives purpose and benefit to the work of our hands.It’s been estimated that the average person spends almost 1/3 of their life at a job. That’s a big chunk of our lives. And God’s design is that we not do so aimlessly, as if just biding our time, wondering why it even matters. Believers in Jesus Christ are called to be faithful stewards of our talents, our material good, and our time.
God is the great king over our lives, but He is also the one who brings beauty and purpose and meaning to bear as we strive to be faithful servants who receive work as a gift of His grace, and who serve as those who are following our loving Savior, Jesus Christ. And, with that in mind, we are called to be grateful; to give thanks to the God who appoints times and seasons and who gives work for our hands. That the eternal and perfect God of heaven would redeem the time of frail human beings is cause for great rejoicing!
Ecclesiastes has much more to teach us about how we view time. And we’ll look at it in our next blogpost.