Study Notes on Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
Life is Meaningless Without God

A) The Problem Stated Ecclesiastes Ch 1 and 2

Solomon sought for something of lasting value, a lasting satisfaction, and realised he could not obtain it in this world

  • But why should he even have this desire in the first place?
  • If man is of the world, and the world is all there is, why does man seek something more than the world can offer?
  • The answer is that God has set eternity (a yearning for something that lasts more than today) on our hearts.

Pleasure, possessions, wisdom and work produce at best a transient satisfaction

  • We are never satisfied; knowledge increases but no vital new springs of happiness are revealed – knowledge and wisdom fail us
  • There is nothing that currently brings lasting satisfaction, and no new thing will appear that will bring it either.
  • Worse still, we are utterly incapable of changing this. We are transient compared to our surroundings, and by applying wisdom we cannot change either ourselves or the world to produce lasting satisfaction
  • Pleasure ultimately does not satisfy, wisdom while having value does not preserve from death and our work produces nothing lasting

In our western secular society, the view that the natural world is all that exists holds dominance

  • Yet if Solomon is right, it is believers, sometimes suffering believers, who know true eternal contentment, and not those who oppose them
  • The best we have in this life is to be content, enjoy the fruit of our work, be faithful to our families, and to use God given wisdom

The true meaning of life is found in fearing God, living according to His commandments and knowing His purpose for our lives

B) A Time for Everything – God’s Presence In the World

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Solomon’s Inescapable Conclusion

  • There is an order in the world around us, and often we have to wait to respond at the proper time
  • The tides follow a natural rhythm which is predictable. Boats will choose to sail at the most advantageous point for them.
  • Farmers sow seed at regular times of the year and then must wait for harvest. During the harvest season farmers watch and wait for weather which allows them to gather the crop.

The world is not a random chaotic sequence of purposeless events

  • There are physical biological chemical laws that are not established by us
  • Where did this order come from? Who imposed this natural order on the world if not us?

God has appointed the season and determined the purpose

  • God has established an order to birth and death, sorrow and joy, seedtime and harvest
  • We can determine this order through wisdom, skill and study
  • This enables us to enjoy the world around us. Through our knowledge of agriculture we have food to eat. Through our knowledge of science and engineering we create many aids to our lives

The danger we face is that we make the lawful pursuit of understanding and using God’s order in the universe as our main purpose in life

  • In doing so we ignore the purposes of God for ourselves and this world
  • Both reason (our minds) and revelation (the Bible) are given to guide our use of nature
  • To expect unchanging happiness in a changing world must end in disappointment, as this world revolves around God’s purposes (Isaiah 46:10), which are centred on His glory and not our happiness

C) A Time For Various Activities

“a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:2 – 10

There is a time to be born (v2)

  • Our birth is not by chance or random act, yet who can control his birth?
  • It is God who determines the time we are brought into being!
  • Do we curse the day of our birth, as Job did under trial (Job 3:3), or see it as God’s appointed time to live out His purposes for us now?
  • Our lives are a seedtime for eternity, what we do in this life influences our experience in the next life, beyond death

There is a time to die (v2)

  • None can evade God’s appointed time for our death. Not with a great fortune or all the skill and wisdom in the world
  • Everything we do will come to an end, it will not last, because our strength, abilities and finally our lives will all cease

A time to kill and a time to heal (v3)

  • While these events are more under man’s control, yet God still has providence over these actions (Deut 32:39, 1 Sam 2:6, Hos 6:1)

“‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” Deuteronomy 32:29

There are times for weeping, laughing, mourning and dancing (v4)

  • The fact is, there are times in this fallen sinful world that weeping and/or mourning are the correct response!
  • Satan is real, a liar and murderer from the start who will stir up man’s sinful nature to produce oppression, injustice, abuse and war
  • Should we who deserve to be cursed complain when things get tough? Rest instead in God’s wise dealings with us and His help in those times

There is an appropriate time to speak and an appropriate time for silence (v6)

  • Wisdom is needed in determining when as well as what to speak – the afflicted is comforted, Christian rebuke is rightly and lovingly applied, the ignorant is instructed
  • The ability to discern the correct opportunity to speak as well as when to be silent offers a powerful opportunity to build God’s kingdom
  • The talent for conversation will be of little use unless it is combined with the talent for silence

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace (v8)

  • Nations face situations where war is required as well as times for peace
  • Nor can individuals at all times shun dispute and contention, and the need for self-defence may be required
  • All this is not chance – it is the providence of the Great Ruler of the Universe (Ps 46:9, Ps 147:14).

This is God’s overruling Providence and governance of His creation

  • It stands in contrast to God’s man’s impotence and inconsistency
  • How can man expect happiness from an unstable world where the God orders events for His own glory?

“If the sun shines today, the darkening clouds may come tomorrow. Only one thing remains unchangeable – the glorious gospel of the blessed God – God’s love for His people – Christ’s work perfected for them, and in them. Not a shadow of change is found here.” Charles Bridges

D) A Yearning For Eternity – God’s Presence in Our Lives

God has Placed Eternity on Our Hearts

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

God has placed within us a longing to be or do something that lasts beyond our short lifespan

  • We stare into the abyss of death left with an uneasy sense that life may continue in some form after death.
  • Yet death is impenetrable to us. No scientific experiment has yet credibly examined what is beyond death for human beings. We simply cannot, from this world alone, understand what is beyond death

Both our desire to understand life and death, and the limitations on our ability to do so, have been ordained by God

  • God put into Solomon’s heart a desire to study and a great power to comprehend life in all its order and beauty
  • However the field of study is so wide, life is so short, our knowledge of the past so imperfect, and of the future so clouded, that no one can find out the purposes of  God through history from beginning to end
  • Indeed our short lifetimes are part of the problem; much of God’s work is begun in one age, and finished in another
  • We are driven to faith and to trust in God.  Where we cannot discern God’s plans we have to trust in the character of God.  

Because the world cannot satisfy us we must find God’s will for our lives

  • Those who live for this world cannot be satisfied by it
  • God has placed both eternity in our hearts and our inability to find it in this transient world
  • God promised there shall be no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22
  • We all can be so taken up with this world that we have neither time or desire to think of God, but the world leaves us restless, dissatisfied.
  • By making the world our whole object we miss the influence and purposes of God in our lives and deny ourselves true contentment from finding eternal value in the things of God

E) The Best We Have Within Our God Given Limitations

12I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” Eccles 3:12,13

The best enjoyment we can obtain from this world is to do good, be able to enjoy the fruit of our labours all of this is a gift of God (12,13)

  • Rather than becoming embittered about what God has not given us (the ability to understand all of reality) instead enjoy the gifts God has given us
  • God encourages us to trust Him – and He returns our trust by the overflowing fulfilment of grace beyond our prayer and expectation
  • If we have God with us, then surely joy and gratitude should be in our lives. Thankful godliness is a bright light in a cold disappointing world, a true enjoyment, a real good

14I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.” Ecclesiastes 3:14

The contrast is drawn between God’s enduring purposes and the short-lived “vanities” of this world (v 14)

  • Whatever God does stands, and cannot be altered by man’s will or power
  • There is nothing defective in God’s plans in and of themselves that may render them void
  • Man’s plans are subordinate to God’s plans that cannot be overruled

15That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.” Ecclesiastes 3:15

“That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been” (v15) God’s work, and this world, is the same in each age

  • The same laws of governance are in force as from the beginning
  • We face inherently the same world as Solomon did
  • We will find contentment in the same place Solomon did, in knowing God
  • The children of God have the same trials as from the beginning (1 Pet 5:9, 1 Cor 10:13), and most encouragingly God has not changed (Heb 13:8)
  • He is every ready, as He always has been, to help and encourage His people and carry them through every trial they face here on earth

F) Lessons From Chapter 3:1 – 15

God has placed eternity in our hearts – it is impossible for us to be satisfied with this world alone

 Don’t try to find your lasting satisfaction in the things of this world. God has made this impossible. We should instead come to God in faith and obedience to be truly happy, discovering His purpose for our lives.

The world has an order and a purpose placed on it which is there to establish God’s glory

God work’s out His plans and purposes through this world. These plans are based around His glory and not solely man’s happiness. To try and find you happiness, without God, in a world that not designed for that purpose will only lead ultimately to frustration.

Acknowledging our eternal souls and coming to know God through Christ, and seeking to live out His Will for our lives, gives us our proper value and dignity