For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break 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 cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
From pop culture, you might get the idea that this poem was written for anyone to use for any sentimentalized and romanticized idea they can imagine. You’ll even find preachers who turn, turn, turn here for guru-like advice, and try to show that there are appropriate moments for people to act. That is not what this poem is about. Studying how it fits within Preacher Solomon’s overall context and purpose is a safeguard against these errors.
This poem is not about people’s determination of events or even people’s discernment of times and seasons. On the contrary, it is about God’s activity, not man’s. Unpopular as this may feel, the purpose of this poem is about God’s comprehensive determination of all of the “times” of man. God has an all-encompassing plan, and we are neither the master of our fate nor the captain of our soul.
Now, that’s quite a claim in light of statements that appear to be in the hands of men: “a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.” It’s interesting how gaining some age and wisdom helps us see that things really were in God’s hands, which our experience suggested to us were in our hands earlier in life. God is even the one who appoints our emotions: “a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” We don’t get to plan how long grief will last any more than we could determine when our loved ones will die. That is for God’s timing.
The Hebrew word for “season” in the opening line (“For everything there is a season”) means “appointed time” or “predetermined season.” If you are often frustrated that you haven’t found enough success, or you are alarmed by your lack of control over your life, then Ecclesiastes is suggesting that you reconsider. Controlling the times and seasons, or even understanding why God sends them when He does, is too great and marvelous a thing for anyone but God.
Solomon’s poem calls for humble wisdom. It is not an exhaustive list in its detail, but it covers “everything” and “every matter.” This means every season. The list itself doesn’t seem to have an order or pattern. That may well be on purpose because life can seem exactly like that. We have no sovereign determination over these things. They come upon us. If we hope in the Lord, we must not pretend that our toil or striving, or even our wisdom and knowledge, will deliver us. That’s the Lord’s doing. Like Jesus exemplified, submitting to God’s timetable is wisdom and exercises faith that the Father’s plan for us is not only inscrutable, but superior to our own. That’s the gospel.
Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.