A Time for Every Purpose
“For every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose [or matter] under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1. Scriptures from RVIC unless otherwise noted).
— Keith Belheumer
King Solomon was one of the most celebrated kings in Jewish history. Being one of David’s sons (2 Samuel 5:14), he was called Jedidiah by Jehovah through the prophet Nathan. The name means “beloved of Jehovah.” However, his mother Bath-sheba named him Solomon (2 Samuel 12:24-25). Solomon reigned for approximately 40 years. Most historians date his reign from approximately 970 to 931 BC.1 Solomon provided insights derived from Jehovah’s gift of wisdom which he preserved in God’s word. He helps solidify doctrines we have come to understand. He also provided an example of what not to do in our consecrated journey.
(1) Agape Bible Study article, “Dating the Reigns of the Kings of Judah and Israel.”
A Time for Everything
Solomon begins his observations of life by pointing out that there is an appropriate season for everything or for every purpose under heaven. In verse one, the use of the phrase “under heaven” rather than “under the sun” suggests a divine perspective. We all go through confusing or difficult situations which are the natural occurrences of life. Just as there are seasons of life, there is a divine purpose in every aspect of life, especially for those called to the high calling. These personal experiences are for our benefit.
Experiences that may seem tumultuous at times are running in perfect order from Jehovah’s perspective, much like the spinning wheels seen by Ezekiel in his vision. Notice that in Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 Solomon uses “times” to describe a series of life’s events. This is not to be confused with prophetic “times,” but used as a circumstance in one’s life. Such is the transient and changeable nature of life on earth. In faith, however, we realize that all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28 NASB). God will accomplish his purpose for us if we wait patiently on His timing. “These wait all for thee, that thou mayest give them their food in due season” (Psalms 104:27).
Profit of Labor
In Ecclesiastes 3:9-15, Solomon poses the question of why we labor to do anything since it is a wasted effort. His attitude seems to be, “What is the use?” Solomon restates one of his opening premises from Ecclesiastes 1:3, “What profit is there in the labors we do?” “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and, behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). He repeats this sentiment in Ecclesiastes 5:15, 16, calling it a grievous evil. Solomon is starting with the grim perspective of an existence devoid of meaning. It is a stark truth that without a relationship with God, life can seem vain and laborious. If our interests are in the world and things associated with it, Solomon shows how quickly we can fall into the depths of despair. However, he then shares an alternative view reminding the reader of Jehovah’s wonderful character and love. “He hath made every thing beautiful in its time: also he hath set eternity [or, the world] in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
We live in a wonderful time with many blessings — when the restitution of all things has already begun. Solomon had only had a small glimpse of purpose. His view that “man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end” has changed quite notably for us at this end of the Gospel Age. God’s plan has now been revealed. To those who now have perceiving eyes and understanding hearts discern that God has a purpose from the “beginning even to the end.” It has been revealed through the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles. This is a blessing Solomon did not have in his time. What a blessed privilege we have been given to know the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end (Isaiah 40:21).
Solomon puts it in practical terms: “I know that there is nothing better for them, than to rejoice, and to do good [or, to get good] so long as they live. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God. I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it; and God hath done it, that men should fear before him. That which is hath been long ago [or, that which hath been is now]; and that which is to be hath long ago been: and God seeketh again that which is passed away [driven away]” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-15). We are reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words, “Therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our labors, our trials and our tribulations will not be in vain.
Dust to Dust
Solomon shifts perspectives again in Ecclesiastes 3:16-22. He addresses something we now understand, the permission of evil for a time. “I saw under the sun in the place of justice, that wickedness was there; and in the place of righteousness, that wickedness was there. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked; for there is a time there for every purpose [matter] and for every work. I said in my heart, It is because of the sons of men that God may prove them [or, I said in my heart concerning the sons of men, It is that God may prove them], and that they may see that they themselves are but as beasts” (Ecclesiastes 3:16-18). Solomon understood Jehovah’s justice, wisdom, and love. They remind us that by ignoring the principles of God’s law and truth, men are just beasts. Jesus said, “Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto a resurrection of life; and they that have done [or, practiced] evil unto a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). The evil has been allowed for the education of mankind to know, understand, and experience the effects of good (following God’s instruction) and evil (ignoring God’s instruction). God will prove each one.
Next, Solomon provides insightful anchor scriptures2 regarding our mortality. “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yes, they all have one breath [spirit]; and man hath no preeminence above the beasts: for all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 3:19).
Genesis 2:7 describes how God breathed into man the “breath of life and man became a living soul.” The Hebrew word translated “breathed,” neshamah, means vital breath divine inspiration, intellect.3 The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, which is defined as a breathing creature.4 The Genesis verse also gives us a definition for a soul (nephesh) — it is a body with the breath of life (neshamah).
(2) Anchor scriptures, a term coined by Br. David Doran, described as solid foundational standards or precepts that anchor our understanding for doctrines within scriptures. Examples, Ecclesiastes 3:20 and 9:5.
(3) Strong’s H5397, neshamah, pronounced neshawmaw, from H5395, a puff, that is, wind, angry or vital breath, divine inspiration, intellect, or (concretely) an animal. Translated blast, (that) breath (-eth), inspiration, soul, spirit.
(4) Strong’s H5315, nephesh, pronounced neh-fesh, from H5314, properly a breathing creature, that is, animal or (abstractly) vitality.
However, in Ecclesiastes 3:19, Solomon uses a different Hebrew word for breath, ruach.5 Ruach is related to breath or wind in the sense of an expression of emotion, personality or character. Therefore, ruach is not specifically just “the breath of life” (which is neshamah) but something more — individual uniqueness. It is most often translated as “spirit.” An example of its meaning is when someone exhales in exasperation or anger. This describes an emotion requiring thought and intelligence of mind or personality. This suggests that the experiences and personality that make an individual unique is their ruach, and represents one’s spirit.
(5) Strong’s H7307, ruach, pronounced roo-akh, from H7306, wind; by resemblance breath, that is, a sensible (or even violent) exhalation; figuratively life, anger, unsubstantiality … but only of a rational being (including its expression and functions). Translated air, anger, blast, breath, cool, courage, mind, quarter, side, spirit (ual), tempest, vain, (whirl) wind (y).
This is similar to saying that a horse is “spirited,” or a team member possesses “team spirit.” Ruach then is not to be confused with an entity or spirit being. Solomon was saying that both man and beast come to the same kind of death, and all have the same spirit or breath (ruach or spirit). All go to the same condition of death, and it is vanity to think otherwise. This is not well understood within Christendom. Satan exploited man’s vanity with his first lie and has perpetuated it ever since, “Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4).
Death is the cessation of life or existence and it affects both man and beast the same. Solomon further elaborates on this in verses 20 and 21. He makes the point with another anchor scripture, “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). The place he refers to is prophetic because it is future for us. It is the condition of death or the grave, ceasing to exist, yet still retained in the memory of God. This concept is described by Psalms 146:4, “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”
Solomon asks in verse 21, “Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether it goeth downward to the earth?” It is rhetorical of course. To be resurrected with our former experiences and personality intact, God must have some mechanism or process to preserve the essence of our spirit, and in due time, reunite it to a new resurrected body. Since Jesus said “All will be resurrected,” then all spirits (ruach — personality, experiences, and character) of the dead must be preserved by God. This preserved memory is described in Revelation 20:12 as “Books,” maintained and opened at the appropriate time.
Some may interpret the rhetorical question in verse 21 to imply that the spirit of man goes to heaven at death. However, this cannot be true since Jesus said at his First Advent, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13). The Apostle Peter also understood this fact, saying, “For David is not ascended into the heavens” (Acts 2:34).
Those who advocate that the dead go immediately to heaven say only the good go to heaven and all others reside elsewhere after death, in hell or purgatory. To believe that these spirit entities go somewhere after death — upward to heaven or downward to elsewhere — would violate verse 20 (Ecclesiastes 3), which says “all go to one place.” God is not the origin of this misconception, “For God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). The truth is clear to those that understand His word.
Solomon concludes his thoughts that in death we cease to exist and exhorts us to live our best and most productive lives. “Wherefore I saw that there is nothing better, than that man should rejoice in his works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him back to see what shall be after him?” (Ecclesiastes 3:22). Who shall bring him back indeed? By the grace of Jehovah and the ransom sacrifice of Jesus, God answers that question. We have the blessed hope that all shall be raised, and some to a better resurrection as spirit beings.
Evil Under the Sun
“Then I returned and saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold, the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter” (Ecclesiastes 4:1). Solomon changes focus on his observations of life to again address the permission of evil in the form of injustice. He commends the dead who have lived in such a world for having experienced it (verse 2) and even more so, those who have not yet lived (verse 3). His words can be explained in two different ways: those that have not yet lived are better off for not having had to experience injustice or evil; or that hopefully things may get better, and injustice reduced or eliminated in the future. At face value, not having to have experienced evil or injustice may appear to be the proper meaning. However, that would negate the purpose of the permission of evil. Therefore, the infinite wisdom of Jehovah is greater than human wisdom. For without experiencing injustice and evil firsthand, mankind would never be completely informed of their effects.
Solomon then reflects upon all his works and the works of others, some of which might cause envy or rivalry. In Ecclesiastes 4:4, he concludes that all works are vanity and an attempt to grasp the wind. Expending so much effort for such labors to be envied, or as competition with our neighbors, is foolishness. It can cause stress and angst which can sometimes consume our vitality, wealth, and creativity (verse 5). He concludes with advice to avoid this folly. It is better to be satisfied with a few things, rather than seeking greatness and renown, to foolishly spend our lives laboring to grasp more than we need (verse 6). He again compares it to striving after the wind.
This should cause us to take inventory of our consecrations. How are we serving the brethren, our neighbors or those around us whom we influence? As in the parable of the talents, the master was pleased with those who did something with their portions. Solomon reminds us to do good things, in quietness and not for vanity’s sake. We are reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus, “that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee” (Matthew 6:4). Delivering a card or a casserole dish in due season to the brethren or a neighbor experiencing trials can be just as important as publishing an article, running a youth camp, or planning a convention. Whatever you find in your hands to do, do it with love and reverence and not for self-glory.
Solomon’s observations remind us that there is a due season for everything in life. We all experience trials and tribulations which are a normal part of life. Jehovah has a plan that will unfold in His due time. His plan for our own lives will also unfold in the appropriate season as He wills. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing is happening unto you” (1 Peter 4:12). He permits evil and testing for our education, experience, and as examples for others. Evil and injustice are all around us, but we should endeavor not to be a part of them or to contribute in any way.
When we die, we cease to exist. Therefore, we should live our lives in humility, work for the Lord and love others, giving our best efforts. Unlike Solomon, we rest in quietness, knowing that when we die, we have the promise of a better resurrection in which we will be able to continue our humble service to Jesus our Lord, and Jehovah our Father.
“And let the favor [or, beauty] of Jehovah [Sopherim changed to the Lord] our God be upon us; And establish thou the work of our hands upon us; Yes, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Psalms 90:17). Solomon strayed from his obedience and reverence for Jehovah by ignoring His principles and ordinances as outlined in 1 Kings 11:1-8. He lost favor with Jehovah and lost his crown. Let each of us learn from his experiences and be faithful in our consecration, so that we do not lose our crown of life.