Ecclesiastes 3 – There is a Time for Everything

The Tuesday we will be gathering to discuss Ecclesiastes 3. Within Ecclesiastes the Speaker struggles to make sense of the world.  One of the solutions he devises is that things can only happen in their due time.  Nothing can happen out of season. And God is fully in control.

All of you should know Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  These words were put to music by Pete Seeger and sung by the Byrds (Turn! Turn! Turn!).  This poem sets forth 14 (7×2) pairs of antinomies to show that everything has its own time:

               There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven:

A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot;
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build;
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 avoid embracing;
A time to search and a time to count as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away;
A time to tear and a time to sew;
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.

The key to understanding the poem is what is meant by the word “time.” In Greek, there are two words for time: Chronos and Kairos.  Chronos is time in the sequential, quantitative, and chronological sense. It is the time that can be divided into minutes and years. In Greek mythology, Chronos (or Saturn to the Romans), is the King of the Titans and the God of Time.  He is seen as a destructive, all-devouring force, who ends up eating his own children. In Hindu mythology, chronological time is represented by the goddess Kali. Like Chronos, Kali is not only the Goddess of Time, but also of death and violence. The movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is about Kali worship. Chronological time is the type of time that consumes and eventually devours us.

Alternatively, Kairos is time in the qualitative and opportunistic sense.  It is when the “time is right.”  In Greek rhetoric, Kairos is that exact right moment to say the exact right thing allowing the speaker to drive home his point. Kairos is the God of Opportunity, youth (being the youngest son of Zeus), and beauty.  His statue was located at the entrance to the stadium in Olympia to remind the participants that games are won by grasping the opportunity that presents itself at the right time. (Sanskrit has a similar term for the right time (Ritu) which refers to the right time to offer the sacrifice.)

For the Speaker, time is not a calendar but the right time.  Therefore, God will bring about all things when the time is right. He has made everything and every event appropriate for its time. v.11.  A good expansion of this idea is found in Sirach 39:12-35 where the writer extols not only God’s providence in the good things of life but also God’s timely providence over fire and hail and famine and pestilence and wild beasts and scorpions and vipers. 

This recognition by the Speaker that everything happens in God’s appropriate time, however, still does not increase his understanding of the world.  For he also realizes that we are incapable of discovering the Kairos of God. This is a similar message that God tells Job out of the whirlwind – we do not and cannot know God’s time. Job 39:1-2. This is also the same teaching that Isaiah brings to the exiles – our timing is not God’s timing and we can never know God’s timing. Isa. 55:8-9.

If you have the opportunity this weekend, ruminate over the poem. Think through each of the fourteen couplets and see if you agree with the Speaker’s understanding that God brings about everything (not just things we believe to be good) in the right time.  Also, think about our place in this timing and how the Speaker’s teaching should challenge our perspective on the events that occur.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is sausage and peppers. Discussion about 6:45. I look forward to seeing y’all on Tuesday.

Therefore from the beginning I have been convinced,
    and have thought this out and left it in writing:
The works of the Lord are all good,
    and he will supply every need in its hour.
And no one can say, “This is worse than that,”
    for all things will prove good in their season.

Sirach 39:32-34.

2 thoughts on “Ecclesiastes 3 – There is a Time for Everything”

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