The changes of human affairs. (1-10) The Divine counsels unchangeable. (11-15) The vanity of worldly power. (16-22)
Verses 1-10 To expect unchanging happiness in a changing world, must end in disappointment. To bring ourselves to our state in life, is our duty and wisdom in this world. God's whole plan for the government of the world will be found altogether wise, just, and good. Then let us seize the favourable opportunity for every good purpose and work. The time to die is fast approaching. Thus labour and sorrow fill the world. This is given us, that we may always have something to do; none were sent into the world to be idle.
Verses 11-15 Every thing is as God made it; not as it appears to us. We have the world so much in our hearts, are so taken up with thoughts and cares of worldly things, that we have neither time nor spirit to see God's hand in them. The world has not only gained possession of the heart, but has formed thoughts against the beauty of God's works. We mistake if we think we were born for ourselves; no, it is our business to do good in this life, which is short and uncertain; we have but little time to be doing good, therefore we should redeem time. Satisfaction with Divine Providence, is having faith that all things work together for good to them that love him. God doeth all, that men should fear before him. The world, as it has been, is, and will be. There has no change befallen us, nor has any temptation by it taken us, but such as is common to men.
Verses 16-22 Without the fear of the Lord, man is but vanity; set that aside, and judges will not use their power well. And there is another Judge that stands before the door. With God there is a time for the redressing of grievances, though as yet we see it not. Solomon seems to express his wish that men might perceive, that by choosing this world as their portion, they brought themselves to a level with the beasts, without being free, as they are, from present vexations and a future account. Both return to the dust from whence they were taken. What little reason have we to be proud of our bodies, or bodily accomplishments! But as none can fully comprehend, so few consider properly, the difference between the rational soul of man, and the spirit or life of the beast. The spirit of man goes upward, to be judged, and is then fixed in an unchangeable state of happiness or misery. It is as certain that the spirit of the beast goes downward to the earth; it perishes at death. Surely their case is lamentable, the height of whose hopes and wishes is, that they may die like beasts. Let our inquiry be, how an eternity of existence may be to us an eternity of enjoyment? To answer this, is the grand design of revelation. Jesus is revealed as the Son of God, and the Hope of sinners.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-22 .
Earthly pursuits are no doubt lawful in their proper time and order ( Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ), but unprofitable when out of time and place; as for instance, when pursued as the solid and chief good ( Ecclesiastes 3:9 Ecclesiastes 3:10 ); whereas God makes everything beautiful in its season, which man obscurely comprehends ( Ecclesiastes 3:11 ). God allows man to enjoy moderately and virtuously His earthly gifts ( Ecclesiastes 3:12 Ecclesiastes 3:13 ). What consoles us amidst the instability of earthly blessings is, God's counsels are immutable ( Ecclesiastes 3:14 ).
1. Man has his appointed cycle of seasons and vicissitudes, as the sun, wind, and water ( Ecclesiastes 1:5-7 ).
purpose--as there is a fixed "season" in God's "purposes" (for example, He has fixed the "time" when man is "to be born," and "to die," Ecclesiastes 3:2 ), so there is a lawful "time" for man to carry out his "purposes" and inclinations. God does not condemn, but approves of, the use of earthly blessings ( Ecclesiastes 3:12 ); it is the abuse that He condemns, the making them the chief end ( 1 Corinthians 7:31 ). The earth, without human desires, love, taste, joy, sorrow, would be a dreary waste, without water; but, on the other hand, the misplacing and excess of them, as of a flood, need control. Reason and revelation are given to control them.
2. time to die--( Psalms 31:15 , Hebrews 9:27 ).
plant--A man can no more reverse the times and order of "planting," and of "digging up," and transplanting, than he can alter the times fixed for his "birth" and "death." To try to "plant" out of season is vanity, however good in season; so to make earthly things the chief end is vanity, however good they be in order and season. GILL takes it, not so well, figuratively ( Jeremiah 18:7 Jeremiah 18:9 , Amos 9:15 , Matthew 15:13 ).
3. time to kill--namely, judicially, criminals; or, in wars of self-defense; not in malice. Out of this time and order, killing is murder.
to heal--God has His times for "healing" (literally, Isaiah 38:5 Isaiah 38:21 ; figuratively, Deuteronomy 32:39 , Hosea 6:1 ; spiritually, Psalms 147:3 , Isaiah 57:19 ). To heal spiritually, before the sinner feels his wound, would be "out of time," and so injurious.
time to break down--cities, as Jerusalem, by Nebuchadnezzar.
build up--as Jerusalem, in the time of Zerubbabel; spiritually ( Amos 9:11 ), "the set time" ( Psalms 102:13-16 ).
4. mourn--namely, for the dead ( Genesis 23:2 ).
dance--as David before the ark ( 2 Samuel 6:12-14 , Psalms 30:11 ); spiritually ( Matthew 9:15 , Luke 6:21 , 15:25 ). The Pharisees, by requiring sadness out of time, erred seriously.
5. cast away stones--as out of a garden or vineyard ( Isaiah 5:2 ).
gather--for building; figuratively, the Gentiles, once castaway stones, were in due time made parts of the spiritual building ( Ephesians 2:19 Ephesians 2:20 ), and children of Abraham ( Matthew 3:9 ); so the restored Jews hereafter ( Psalms 102:13 Psalms 102:14 , Zechariah 9:16 ).
refrain . . . embracing--( Joel 2:16 , 1 Corinthians 7:5 1 Corinthians 7:6 ).
6. time to get--for example, to gain honestly a livelihood ( Ephesians 4:23 ).
lose--When God wills losses to us, then is our time to be content.
keep--not to give to the idle beggar ( 2 Thessalonians 3:10 ).
cast away--in charity ( Proverbs 11:24 ); or to part with the dearest object, rather than the soul ( Mark 9:43 ). To be careful is right in its place, but not when it comes between us and Jesus Christ ( Luke 10:40-42 ).
7. rend--garments, in mourning ( Joel 2:13 ); figuratively, nations, as Israel from Judah, already foretold, in Solomon's time ( 1 Kings 11:30 1 Kings 11:31 ), to be "sewed" together hereafter ( Ezekiel 37:15 Ezekiel 37:22 ).
silence--( Amos 5:13 ), in a national calamity, or that of a friend ( Job 2:13 ); also not to murmur under God's visitation ( Leviticus 10:3 , Psalms 39:1 Psalms 39:2 Psalms 39:9 ).
8. hate--for example, sin, lusts ( Luke 14:26 ); that is, to love God so much more as to seem in comparison to hate "father or mother," when coming between us and God.
a time of war . . . peace--( Luke 14:31 ).
9. But these earthly pursuits, while lawful in their season, are "unprofitable" when made by man, what God never intended them to be, the chief good. Solomon had tried to create an artificial forced joy, at times when he ought rather to have been serious; the result, therefore, of his labor to be happy, out of God's order, was disappointment. "A time to plant" ( Ecclesiastes 3:2 ) refers to his planting ( Ecclesiastes 2:5 ); "laugh" ( Ecclesiastes 3:4 ), to Ecclesiastes 2:1 Ecclesiastes 2:2 . "his mirth," "laughter"; "build up," "gather stones" ( Ecclesiastes 3:3 Ecclesiastes 3:5 ), to his "building" ( Ecclesiastes 2:4 ); "embrace," "love," to his "princess" (perhaps also "gather," Ecclesiastes 3:5 Ecclesiastes 3:6 ), to his "gathering" ( Ecclesiastes 2:8 ). All these were of "no profit," because not in God's time and order of bestowing happiness.
11. his time--that is in its proper season ( Psalms 1:3 ), opposed to worldlings putting earthly pursuits out of their proper time and place
set the world in their heart--given them capacities to understand the world of nature as reflecting God's wisdom in its beautiful order and times ( Romans 1:19 Romans 1:20 ). "Everything" answers to "world," in the parallelism.
so that--that is, but in such a manner that man only sees a portion, not the whole "from beginning to end" ( Ecclesiastes 8:17 , Job 26:14 , Romans 11:33 , Revelation 15:4 ). PARKHURST, for "world," translates: "Yet He hath put obscurity in the midst of them," literally, "a secret," so man's mental dimness of sight as to the full mystery of God's works. So HOLDEN and WEISS. This incapacity for "finding out" (comprehending) God's work is chiefly the fruit of the fall. The worldling ever since, not knowing God's time and order, labors in vain, because out of time and place.
12. in them--in God's works ( Ecclesiastes 3:11 ), as far as relates to man's duty. Man cannot fully comprehend them, but he ought joyfully to receive ("rejoice in") God's gifts, and "do good" with them to himself and to others. This is never out of season ( Galatians 6:9 Galatians 6:10 ). Not sensual joy and self-indulgence ( Philippians 4:4 , James 4:16 James 4:17 ).
13. Literally, "And also as to every man who eats . . . this is the gift of God" ( Ecclesiastes 3:22 , Ecclesiastes 5:18 ). When received as God's gifts, and to God's glory, the good things of life are enjoyed in their due time and order ( Acts 2:46 , 1 Corinthians 10:31 , 1 Timothy 4:3 1 Timothy 4:4 ).
14. ( 1 Samuel 3:12 , 2 Samuel 23:5 , Psalms 89:34 , Matthew 24:35 , 1:17 ).
for ever--as opposed to man's perishing labors ( Ecclesiastes 2:15-18 ).
any thing taken from it--opposed to man's "crooked and wanting" works ( Ecclesiastes 1:15 , 7:13 ). The event of man's labors depends wholly on God's immutable purpose. Man's part, therefore, is to do and enjoy every earthly thing in its proper season ( Ecclesiastes 3:12 Ecclesiastes 3:13 ), not setting aside God's order, but observing deep reverence towards God; for the mysteriousness and unchangeableness of God's purposes are designed to lead "man to fear before Him." Man knows not the event of each act: otherwise he would think himself independent of God.
15. Resumption of Ecclesiastes 1:9 . Whatever changes there be, the succession of events is ordered by God's "everlasting" laws ( Ecclesiastes 3:14 ), and returns in a fixed cycle.
requireth that . . . past--After many changes, God's law requires the return of the same cycle of events, as in the past, literally, "that which is driven on." The Septuagint and Syriac translate: "God requireth (that is, avengeth) the persecuted man"; a transition to Ecclesiastes 3:16 Ecclesiastes 3:17 . The parallel clauses of the verse support English Version.
16. Here a difficulty is suggested. If God "requires" events to move in their perpetual cycle, why are the wicked allowed to deal unrighteously in the place where injustice ought least of all to be; namely, "the place of judgment" ( Jeremiah 12:1 )?
17. Solution of it. There is a coming judgment in which God will vindicate His righteous ways. The sinner's "time" of his unrighteous "work" is short. God also has His "time" and "work" of judgment; and, meanwhile, is overruling, for good at last, what seems now dark. Man cannot now "find out" the plan of God's ways ( Ecclesiastes 3:11 , Psalms 97:2 ). If judgment instantly followed every sin, there would be no scope for free will, faith, and perseverance of saints in spite of difficulties. The previous darkness will make the light at last the more glorious.
there--( Job 3:17-19 ) in eternity, in the presence of the Divine Judge, opposed to the "there," in the human place of judgment ( Ecclesiastes 3:16 ): so "from thence" ( Genesis 49:24 ).
18. estate--The estate of fallen man is so ordered (these wrongs are permitted), that God might "manifest," that is, thereby prove them, and that they might themselves see their mortal frailty, like that of the beasts.
sons of men--rather, "sons of Adam," a phrase used for "fallen men." The toleration of injustice until the judgment is designed to "manifest" men's characters in their fallen state, to see whether the oppressed will bear themselves aright amidst their wrongs, knowing that the time is short, and there is a coming judgment. The oppressed share in death, but the comparison to "beasts" applies especially to the ungodly oppressors ( Psalms 49:12 Psalms 49:20 ). They too need to be "manifested" ("proved"), whether, considering that they must soon die as the "beasts," and fearing the judgment to come, they will repent ( Daniel 4:27 ).
19. Literally, "For the sons of men (Adam) are a mere chance, as also the beast is a mere chance." These words can only be the sentiments of the skeptical oppressors. God's delay in judgment gives scope for the "manifestation" of their infidelity ( Ecclesiastes 8:11 , Psalms 55:19 , 2 Peter 3:3 2 Peter 3:4 ). They are "brute beasts," morally ( Ecclesiastes 3:18 , Jude 1:10 ); and they end by maintaining that man, physically, has no pre-eminence over the beast, both alike being "fortuities." Probably this was the language of Solomon himself in his apostasy. He answers it in Ecclesiastes 3:21 . If Ecclesiastes 3:19 Ecclesiastes 3:20 be his words, they express only that as regards liability to death, excluding the future judgment, as the skeptic oppressors do, man is on a level with the beast. Life is "vanity," if regarded independently of religion. But Ecclesiastes 3:21 points out the vast difference between them in respect to the future destiny; also ( Ecclesiastes 3:17 ) beasts have no "judgment" to come.
21. Who knoweth--Not doubt of the destination of man's spirit ( Ecclesiastes 12:7 ); but "how few, by reason of the outward mortality to which man is as liable as the beast and which is the ground of the skeptic's argument, comprehend the wide difference between man and the beast" ( Isaiah 53:1 ). The Hebrew expresses the difference strongly, "The spirit of man that ascends, it belongeth to on high; but the spirit of the beast that descends, it belongeth to below, even to the earth." Their destinations and proper element differ utterly [WEISS].
22. (Compare Ecclesiastes 3:12 , Ecclesiastes 5:18 ). Inculcating a thankful enjoyment of God's gifts, and a cheerful discharge of man's duties, founded on fear of God; not as the sensualist ( Ecclesiastes 11:9 ); not as the anxious money-seeker ( Ecclesiastes 2:23 , 5:10-17 ).
his portion--in the present life. If it were made his main portion, it would be "vanity" ( Ecclesiastes 2:1 , Luke 16:25 ).
for who, &c.--Our ignorance as to the future, which is God's "time" ( Ecclesiastes 3:11 ), should lead us to use the present time in the best sense and leave the future to His infinite wisdom ( Matthew 6:20 Matthew 6:25 Matthew 6:31-34 ).