A Time for This, A TIme for That
In Ecclesiastes 3, the Preacher observed, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to tear down, and a time to build up.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search, and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together;
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 is the point of this well-known text?
Do Things at the Appropriate Time?
The first idea that comes to mind is that we should seek to do things at the appropriate time, a principle acclaimed throughout the Bible. Take speech as an example. Good timing is essential. Even children learn early to be sure that Dad is in a good humor before making a big request of him. When a friend is about to make a mistake, warning him of his error before it happens is much more valuable than waiting and telling him afterward that you had been afraid he was headed for disaster. Words of encouragement are always appreciated, but never more than when you are feeling low. “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances” (Proverbs 25:11).
As true and valuable as this principle of timeliness is, we run into problems trying to make it the point of our text. First, no such application is made anywhere in the chapter. Second, we cannot govern some of the things in the Preacher’s list: when we are born and when we die, for example.
Do Things at God’s Appointed Time?
The application that the Preacher makes is to God doing things at the appropriate time. “He has made everything appropriate in its time” (v. 11a). Therefore, a better interpretation would be to say that man should seek to do things at God’s appointed time.
Moses, at about age forty, went out to visit his enslaved Israelite brethren. “And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. And he supposed that his brethren under stood that God was granting them deliverance through him; but they did not understand” (Acts 7:24-25).
Why did Moses fail in his first attempt at deliverance? Among other things, it was forty years ahead of God’s schedule! When the right time finally came, Moses was completely successful.
Again, however, we run into problems making this—acting according to God’s timetable—the point of our text. As before, we cannot control the timing of some of the things in the Preacher’s list. Besides that, we do not always know God’s appointed times. Sometimes an ailment is merely a “thorn in the flesh,” actually an advantage, equipping us for greater service. In other cases, the same malady quickly leads to death. Which will it be for me? I have no way of knowing. And if I do not know God’s appointed time, how can I act consistently with it?
The rest of v. 11 says, “He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” We know that God is working in accordance with an eternal plan (Ephesians 3:11). (This is not Calvinistic absolute predestination, where every single thing that ever happens is predetermined by God. Scripture plainly teaches that God’s determinations are often conditional, and many things occur which are against His will.) We know that for the last 2,000 years we have been living in the final era of that plan, the “last days” (Hebrews 1:2). But beyond that, it is difficult to know what specific plans God may have in mind for an individual or a group, or what His time frame is. Our perspective is just too limited to see the “big picture,” apart from what is revealed in God’s word.
God Is in Control
What, then, is the Preacher’s point? It is simply that God is in control. The book of Ecclesiastes begins, “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’” God’s control is one of the principles that explains why so many efforts are vanity. If man is trying to build when God says it is time to tear down, if he plants amidst God’s uprooting, man will not be successful.
What does all this mean in practical terms? Shall we adopt a kind of fatalistic view of life, pull in our reins and not try anything for fear it is opposite God's timing? No, just the opposite reaction is commended.
“I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him” (vv. 12-14).
God’s control means simply that I must take His word and be busy living my life as it directs. I must do my best, enjoy my work, and beyond that, trust in and leave the rest to Him. That enables me to be content in any time, in any circumstance, knowing that a loving Father will always do what is best and supply every need.