By Mike Dawson
Pastor Emeritus, First Baptist Church, Columbia
Focal Passage: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
A Jewish rabbi was once asked by an inquirer, “Why do Jewish teachers always seem to answer a question with a question?” The rabbi replied, “Why not?” Of course that was originally told as a joke, but it’s actually quite true; the greatest Rabbi ever, Jesus Himself, often answered questions with questions.
Each of our studies in the book of Ecclesiastes starts with a question; the first one (last week) was “What’s the Use?” (Ecc. 1-2). The second one is today, “What Time Is it?” (Ecc. 3), and is followed by “Why Listen?” from chapters 4 and 5. After that, we’re to study in chapter 7, “Where Is the Balance?” Our next-to-the-last question, found in Ecclesiastes 9, will be “Facing Death?” And our final study, from Ecclesiastes 12, will ask “What is Life About?”
Some of these profound questions are answered by even more questions from the now old and cynical author of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon.
So ‘Ol’ King Sol’ exclaims throughout Ecclesiastes “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Remember that the word vanity means futility or nonsense. Solomon describes how he has begun to look at life “under the sun;” I call that viewing life at “see-level” — horizontally only. Solomon only has rare glimpses of life “under the Sovereign,” which means seeing all of life vertically. Today’s focal passage, Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, contains several of those rare glimpses.
Verses 1-8 may be one of the most-quoted (and ‘mis-quoted’) passages in the Bible. From graduation addresses to ceremonial events, speakers have lifted phrases from these verses to say that there’s a time for everything. Dr. J. Vernon McGee writes that this passage actually portrays a viewpoint of fatalism — “whatever will be, will be” or “taking life as it comes.” Many people today sadly live out that philosophy of life. But there are some powerful truths to ponder in these verses.
Let’s read the fourteen life-events by adding the words “for the Gospel” to each phrase. “A time to be born, and a time to die — for the Gospel”… “A time to break down and a time to build up — for the Gospel”… “A time to keep silence and a time to speak — for the Gospel.”
Read each phrase in light of the Gospel (the good news that Jesus’ death and resurrection can free us from sin and guilt). That way these phrases, some that might seem disturbing on the surface, can take on new meaning. Think of some Bible truths that lift each phrase from ‘see-level’ to ‘Savior-level.’
Corrie Ten Boom said, “Look at the world and be distressed. Look within and be depressed. Look at Jesus and be at rest.” In verses 9-15, Solomon briefly stops looking around and within; he finally looks UP to God. He refers to GOD often in these verses; he speaks of God giving us work. God making everything beautiful in its time. God putting eternity in our hearts. God’s incomprehensible creation. God’s gift of good things to enjoy. Solomon teaches that God acts eternally and for a reason, that all would fear (stand in awe of) Him, and finally that God requires accountability on our part. So be it, Preacher Sol. B&R — Dawson is pastor emeritus at First Baptist Church, Columbia, and also serves as transitional interim around the state.