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Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – What Time Is It?

Summary

Everything happens in its own time. This theme, common to the wisdom tradition, is spelled out here most fully.

Analysis

This is the most well-known passage in Ecclesiastes. It is known, for example, from the Pete Seeger song of 1954, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" The point is that there is a right time for everything. The Teacher develops the idea with fourteen balancing pairs. Farmers know that there is a time for planting and for harvesting (3:2). Verse 3 appears to refer to wartime and verse 4 to the happiness and the tears that mark human lives. One of the concerns of Wisdom literature is to determine when it is time to speak and when it is time to keep silent (Proverbs 25:11; Ecclesiastes 3:7). The Teacher has noted something problematic here: we humans cannot determine or control these times. This is most evident in the first pairing; no one has anything to say about the time when he or she is born. God determines these times, and humans "cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end" (v. 11).

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Everything Has Its Time

3For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

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10 February 2011

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