Ecclesiastes 3

CHAPTER III

Every thing has its time and season, 1-8.

Men are exercised with labour, 9, 10.

Every thing is beautiful in its season, 11.

Men should enjoy thankfully the gifts of God, 12, 13.

What God does is for ever, 14.

There is nothing new, 15.

The corruption of judgment; but the judgments of God are right,

16, 17.

Man is brutish, and men and brutes die in like manner, 18-21.

Man may enjoy the fruit of his own labours, 22.

NOTES ON CHAP. III

Verse 1. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every

purpose] Two general remarks may be made on the first eight

verses of this chapter. 1. God by his providence governs the

world, and has determined particular things and operations to

particular times. In those times such things may be done with

propriety and success; but if we neglect the appointed seasons, we

sin against this providence, and become the authors of our own

distresses. 2. God has given to man that portion of duration

called TIME; the space in which all the operations of nature, of

animals, and intellectual beings, are carried on; but while nature

is steady in its course, and animals faithful to their instincts,

man devotes it to a great variety of purposes; but very frequently

to that for which God never made time, space, or opportunity.

And all we can say, when an evil deed is done, is, there was a

time in which it was done, though God never made it for that

purpose.

To say any farther on this subject is needless, as the words

themselves give in general their own meaning. The Jews, it is

true, see in these times and seasons all the events of their own

nation, from the birth of Abraham to the present times; and as to

fathers and their followers, they see all the events and states

of the Christian Church in them!

It is worthy of remark, that in all this list there are but two

things which may be said to be done generally by the disposal of

God, and in which men can have but little influence: the time of

birth, and the time of death. But all the others are left to the

option of man, though God continues to overrule them by his

providence. The following paraphrase will explain all that is

necessary to be generally understood:-

Verse 2. A time to be born, and a time to die-plant]

"As in its mother's womb the embryo lies

A space determined; to full growth arrived,

From its dark prison bursts, and sees the light;

So is the period fix'd when man shall drop

Into the grave.-A time there is to plant,

And sow; another time to pluck and reap.

Even nations have their destined rise and fall:

Awhile they thrive; and for destruction ripe,

When grown, are rooted up like wither'd plants."

Verse 3. A time to kill,-heal,-break down,-build up]

"The healing art, when out of season used,

Pernicious proves, and serves to hasten death.

But timely medicines drooping nature raise,

And health restore.-Now, Justice wields her sword

With wholesome rigour, nor the offender spares:

But Mercy now is more expedient found.

On crazy fabrics ill-timed cost bestow'd

No purpose answers, when discretion bids

To pull them down, and wait a season fit

To build anew."

Verse 4. A time to weep,-laugh,-mourn,-dance]

_________________"When private griefs affect

The heart, our tears with decent sorrow flow;

Nor less becoming, when the public mourns,

To vent the deepest sighs. But all around

When things a smiling aspect bear, our souls

May well exult; 'tis then a time for joy."

Verse 5. A time to cast away stones,-to gather stones,-to

embrace,-to refrain]

"One while domestic cares abortive prove,

And then successful. Nature now invites

Connubial pleasures: but, when languid grown,

No less rejects."

Verse 6. A time to get,-to lose,-to keep,-to cast away]

___________________"Commerce produces wealth,

Whilst time of gaining lasts; from every point

Blow prosperous gales. Now heaven begins to lower,

And all our hopes are blasted. Prudence bids,

One while, our treasure to reserve, and then

With liberal hand to scatter wide. How oft

In raging storms, the owner wisely casts

Into the deep his precious merchandise,

To save the foundering bark!

Verse 7. A time to rend,-sew,-keep silence,-speak]

_______________"Intestine broils

And factions rend a state: at length the breach

Is heal'd, and rest ensues. Wisdom restrains

The tongue, when words are vain: but now,

'Tis time to speak, and silence would be criminal."

Verse 8. A time to love,-hate,-of war,-of peace.]

"Love turns to hatred; interest or caprice

Dissolves the firmest knot by friendship tied.

O'er rival nations, with revenge inflamed,

Or lust of power, fell Discord shakes awhile

Her baleful torch: now smiling Peace returns.

The above paraphrase on the verses cited contains a general view

of the principal occurrences of time, in reference to the human

being, from his cradle to his grave, through all the operations of

life.

Verse 9. What profit hath he] What real good, what solid

pleasure, is derived from all the labours of man? Necessity drives

him to the principal part of his cares and toils; he labours

that he may eat and drink; and he eats and drinks that he

may be preserved alive, and kept from sickness and pain. Love of

money, the basest of all passions, and restless ambition, drive

men to many labours and expedients, which perplex and often

destroy them. He, then, who lives without God, travails in pain

all his days.

Verse 10. I have seen the travail] Man is a sinner; and, because

he is such, he suffers.

Verse 11. Beautiful in his time] God's works are well done;

there are order, harmony, and beauty in them all. Even the

caterpillar is a finished beauty in all the changes through

which it passes, when its structure is properly examined, and the

end kept in view in which each change is to issue. Nothing of

this kind can be said of the works of man. The most finished works

of art are bungling jobs, when compared with the meanest operation

of nature.

He hath set the world in their heart] haolam, that

hidden time-the period beyond the present,-ETERNITY. The proper

translation of this clause is the following: "Also that eternity

hath he placed in their heart, without which man could not find

out the work which God hath made from the commencement to the

end." God has deeply rooted the idea of eternity in every human

heart; and every considerate man sees, that all the operations of

God refer to that endless duration. See Ec 3:14. And it is only

in eternity that man will be able to discover what God has

designed by the various works he has formed.

Verse 12. I know that there is no good in them, but, &c.] Since

God has so disposed the affairs of this world, that the great

events of providence cannot be accelerated or retarded by human

cares and anxieties, submit to God; make a proper use of what he

has given: do thyself no harm, and endeavour as much as possible

to do others good.

Enjoy, and bless thyself; let others share

The transient blessing: 'tis the gift of God.

Verse 14. I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever]

leolam, for eternity; in reference to that grand

consummation of men and things intimated in Ec 3:11. God has

produced no being that he intends ultimately to destroy. He made

every thing in reference to eternity; and, however matter may be

changed and refined, animal and intellectual beings shall not be

deprived of their existence. The brute creation shall be restored,

and all human spirits shall live for ever; the pure in a state of

supreme and endless blessedness, the impure in a state of

indestructible misery.

Nothing can be put to it] No new order of beings, whether

animate or inanimate, can be produced. God will not create more;

man cannot add.

Nor any thing taken from it] Nothing can be annihilated; no

power but that which can create can destroy. And whatever he has

done, he intended to be a means of impressing a just sense of his

being, providence, mercy, and judgments, upon the souls of men. A

proper consideration of God's works has a tendency to make man a

religious creature; that is, to impress his mind with a sense of

the existence of the Supreme Being, and the reverence that is

due to him. In this sense the fear of God is frequently taken in

Scripture. The Hebrew of this clause is strongly emphatic:

vehaelohim asah sheiyireu millephanaiv;

"And the gods he hath done, that they might fear from before his

faces." Even the doctrine of the eternal Trinity in Unity may be

collected from numberless appearances in nature. A consideration

of the herb trefoil is said to have been the means of fully

convincing the learned Erasmus of the truth of the assertion,

These Three are One: and yet three distinct. He saw the same

root, the same fibres, the same pulpy substance, the same

membraneous covering, the same colour, the same taste, the

same smell, in every part; and yet the three leaves distinct: but

each and all a continuation of the stem, and proceeding from

the same root. Such a fact as this may at least illustrate the

doctrine. An intelligent shepherd, whom he met upon the mountains,

is said to have exhibited the herb, and the illustration while

discoursing on certain difficulties in the Christian faith. When a

child, I heard a learned man relate this fact.

Verse 15. That which hath been is now] God governs the world

now, as he has governed it from the beginning; and the

revolutions and operations of nature are the same now, that they

have been from the beginning. What we see now, is the same as

has been seen by those before us.

And God requireth that which is past] i.e., That it may return

again in its proper order. The heavens themselves, taking in their

great revolutions, show the same phenomena. Even comets are

supposed to have their revolutions, though some of them are

hundreds of years in going round their orbits.

But in the economy of grace, does not God require that which is

past? Whatever blessing or influence God gives to the soul of man,

he intends shall remain and increase; and it will, if man be

faithful. Reader, canst thou produce all the secret inspirations

of his Spirit, all the drawings of his love, his pardoning mercy,

his sanctifying grace, the heavenly-mindedness produced in thee,

thy holy zeal, thy spirit of prayer, thy tender conscience, the

witness of the Spirit, which thou didst once receive and enjoy?

WHERE are they? God requireth that which is past.

Verse 16. The place of judgment, that wickedness was there]

The abuse of power, and the perversion of judgment, have been

justly complained of in every age of the world. The following

paraphrase is good:-

"But what enjoyment can our labours yield,

When e'en the remedy prescribed by heaven

To cure disorders proves our deadliest bane?

When God's vicegerents, destined to protect

The weak from insolence of power, to guard

Their lives and fortunes, impious robbers turn?

And, or by force or fraud, deprive of both?----

To what asylum shall the injured fly

From her tribunal, where perverted law

Acquits the guilty, the innocent condemns?"

C.

Verse 17. For there is a time there for every purpose] Man has

his time here below, and God shall have his time above. At his

throne the judged shall be rejudged, and iniquity for ever close

her mouth.

Verse 18. That they might see that they themselves are beasts.]

The author of Choheleth has given a correct view of this difficult

verse, by a proper translation: "I said in my heart, reflecting on

the state of the sons of men, O that God would enlighten them, and

make them see that even they themselves are like beasts." These

words are to be referred to those in authority who abused their

power; particularly to the corrupt magistrates mentioned above.

Verse 19. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth

beasts] From the present comparison of great men to beasts, the

author takes occasion to enforce the subject by mentioning the

state of mankind in general, with respect to the mortality of

their bodies; and then, by an easy transition, touches in the next

verse on the point which is of such infinite consequence to

religion.

As the one dieth, so dieth the other] Animal life is the same

both in the man and in the beast.

They have all one breath] They respire in the same way; and when

they cease to respire, animal life becomes extinct.

Befalleth beasts-This is wanting in six of Kennicott's and De

Rossi's MSS.

Verse 20. All go unto one place]

"Man was born

To die, nor aught exceeds in this respect

The vilest brute. Both transient, frail, and vain,

Draw the same breath; alike grow old, decay,

And then expire: both to one grave descend;

There blended lie, to native dust return'd."-C.

Verse 21. Who knoweth the spirit of man] I think the meaning of

this important verse is well taken by the above able writer:-

The nobler part of man, 'tis true, survives

The frail corporeal frame: but who regards

The difference? Those who live like beasts, as such

Would die, and be no more, if their own fate

Depended on themselves. Who once reflects,

Amidst his revels, that the human soul,

Of origin celestial, mounts aloft,

While that of brutes to earth shall downward go?"

The word ruach, which is used in this and the nineteenth

verse, has two significations, breath and spirit. It signifies

spirit, or an incorporeal substance, as distinguished from

flesh, or a corporeal one, 1Ki 22:21, 22, and Isa 31:3.

And it signifies the spirit or soul of man, Ps 31:6;

Isa 57:16, and in this book, Ec 12:7, and in many other

places. In this book it is used also to signify the breath,

spirit, or soul of a beast. While it was said in Ec 3:19,

they have all one breath, i.e., the man and the beast live the

same kind of animal life; in this verse, a proper distinction is

made between the ruach, or soul of man, and the

ruach, or soul of the beast: the one goeth upwards, the other

goeth downwards. The literal translation of these important

words is this: "Who considereth the ruach) immortal spirit of

the sons of Adam, which ascendeth? it is from above; ( hi

lemalah;) and the spirit or breath of the cattle which descendeth?

it is downwards unto the earth," i.e., it tends to the earth only.

This place gives no countenance to the materiality of the soul;

and yet it is the strongest hold to which the cold and fruitless

materialist can resort.

Solomon most evidently makes an essential difference between the

human soul and that of brutes. Both have souls, but of different

natures: the soul of man was made for God, and to God it shall

return: God is its portion, and when a holy soul leaves the body,

it goes to paradise. The soul of the beast was made to derive its

happiness from this lower world. Brutes shall have a resurrection,

and have an endless enjoyment in a new earth. The body of man

shall arise, and join his soul that is already above; and both

enjoy final blessedness in the fruition of God. That Solomon did

not believe they had the same kind of spirit, and the same final

lot, as some materialists and infidels say, is evident from

Ec 12:7: "The spirit shall return unto God who gave it."

Verse 22. A man should rejoice in his own works] Do not turn

God's blessings into sin by perverseness and complaining; make the

best of life. God will sweeten its bitters to you, if you be

faithful. Remember this is the state to prepare for glory; and the

evils of life may be so sanctified to you as to work for your

good. Though even wretched without, you may be happy within; for

God can make all grace to abound towards you. You may be happy if

you please; cry to God, who never rejects the prayer of the

humble, and gives his Holy Spirit to all them that ask him.

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