A Recurring Theme
“A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).
— Noah Amoo
The Book of Ecclesiastes is a book of reflections. While it is agreed that the writer was Solomon, the author calls himself “The Preacher.” His reflections on life consider his personal circumstances given the wisdom with which God blessed him. He asks many questions about various situations in life and concludes that life, whether poor or wealthy, is not worth living without a purpose in how one lives.
A recurring theme opens the book, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” His answer summarizes the essence of the entire book: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (see 1:2‑3 and 12:13‑14).
Why are Solomon’s reflections worth considering? Jehovah not only blessed him with unmatched wisdom, but also permitted him to taste the extremes of life. That gave him a unique perspective which led to a viewpoint that life is futile without a divine purpose attached to it.
All was good at the beginning of his reign as king. He heeded his father David’s advice and completed tasks that David did not or could not, such as building the temple (1 Kings 2:1‑10). Although Solomon began his reign as a young man, the gift of wisdom blessed his rule beyond any that had preceded him, and any that would come after him (1 Kings 3:12).
Wisdom, economic prowess, and religious observance characterized his early years. No king dared to attack Israel. Nevertheless, Solomon showed weakness. He turned his heart away from the Law of Jehovah. His life then became empty. He finally realized that this emptiness could only be filled by obedience to Jehovah. Although not listed among the heroes of faith, Solomon’s example has benefit for us (Hebrews 11:34).
Being a preacher (Hebrew Qohelet) implies an audience. His words are often directed to younger men. “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore, remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10). Elsewhere he writes, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1 NIV). (See also Proverbs 1:1‑4.)
Just reading the book of Ecclesiastes can be beneficial to a young person seeking meaning in life, but will also benefit the more mature (2 Chronicles 1:11‑12, 2 Timothy 3:16). Solomon’s experience in dealing with the highs and lows of life are reflected in his words and provide insight into the benefits of a life with God, and the emptiness of a life without Him. As Paul would later write, a man is worth heeding when he has “exercised his senses to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14, Ecclesiastes 1:17, 13).
A Season to Everything
Chapter three contains a series of contrasts that became ubiquitous through a popular song, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” written by 1950’s folk singer Pete Seeger: planting and harvesting, sorrow and joy, peace and war, saving and spending, quietness and garrulousness, mistakes and corrections, life and death.
These contrasts make us realize the importance of time, and the need to use it wisely. God took time to create the earth and its habitation. He took the time to make sure that every part of that creation would work harmoniously. Yet he permitted the purpose of creation to be interrupted by evil because of the effect it would have for the maximum benefit for those who would live in that creation. But it was not random. He gave time prophecy so that we might understand his foreknowledge and see the entire plan from his perspective (Daniel 9:24‑27).
God apportioned time in that plan for the call and development of a Church class, a family that would eventually join Him in heaven. He gives every prospective member time to respond to the call, time to appreciate His Word, time to count the cost of consecration, and time to prove faithful (Luke 14:28). Whether one experiences a short or long walk in this life, God gives them time to develop the needed characteristics. Is it little wonder that Paul says, “So then, be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15,16 NASB). Let us run the race diligently and strive earnestly to make our calling and election sure. “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now, is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Romans 13:11).
Anxiety can be one of the biggest time‑wasters we encounter (Luke 12:25‑31). We must focus our efforts during difficulties. James exhorts us to let “patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:5). By patient endurance, we not only learn to develop the fruit of the spirit, but also to remove the stress from our earthly journey — “in your patience, possess ye your souls” (Luke 8:15, Hebrews 10:36).
Farmers know that crops should not be harvested before they mature. Similarly, we are not instantaneously transformed into the image of our Master. We must develop patiently the fruit of righteousness. Sometimes we are too eager for a trial to be over or for a promise we have claimed to be fulfilled. But “the Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering” (2 Peter 3:9). Paul gives good advice: “ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10: 36).
God does not need to rest physically (Psalms 121:4, John 5:17). Yet He provided periods of rest for Israel in the Sabbaths and Jubilees. For the consecrated, rest comes through faith. We are accepted into the body of Christ by faith, something many in Israel failed to gain (Hebrews 4:11, 3:19, 12). Let us patiently rest in faith and the promises of God and wait for the prospective rest that will come to those who endure.
“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT).
Israel had prospered under divinely appointed judges, but asked for a king in order to be like other nations. There is a wise saying: “Be careful what you ask for, because you may get it.” God permitted Israel to discover the error of their desire. Both good and bad kings came forward until the kingdom was divided.
When Jesus establishes his kingdom, risen humanity will be delivered from the bonds of sin and evil and will experience the benefits of a truly wise and benevolent ruler. He will judge with wisdom superior to that of Solomon (Luke 11:31). It will be the first true opportunity fallen man will have to learn righteousness (Revelation 20:12, Isaiah 26: 9).
Injustice to Disappear
Solomon writes a lamentation over injustice (Ecclesiastes 4:1). We often observe injustice on a mass scale. This may cause us to become cynical about the world and people in general. That is dangerous. God’s plan helps us understand the need for a beneficent ruler. God did not design an unjust creation (Genesis 1:28). However, with the disobedience of our first parents, and the introduction of sin, our world became distant from God’s intention. Solomon commends the resiliency of humanity despite the conditions of his day. Let us do the same — there are many good people in the world despite what we see and hear. Let us represent the principles of the Kingdom today (verses 4‑6). Let us view the world not as it is, but as it will be when the 1000‑year rule is complete.
All social injustice will be eradicated. The oppressors (mountains) shall be made low, and the oppressed (valleys) shall be exalted (Isaiah 40:4, Haggai 2:7). “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands” (Isaiah 65:21, 22 NIV).
May our zeal and faith be strengthened to use our time to become acceptable in God’s sight. May the words of the Preacher help us to walk more closely with Jesus and to follow God’s will in our lives.