Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 5, There Is A Time For Everything

Today we're looking at a passage of Scripture that will be familiar to us. This poem was written by King Solomon but when The Byrds used it for their song "Turn, Turn, Turn" in 1965 it became well-known to most radio listeners, some of whom may not even have realized it came from the Bible.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot," (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2) Beautiful as this poem is, it comes from a heavy heart. We've been studying Solomon's struggle with his feelings of pointlessness and depression. He has been saying there is nothing new under the sun, that all the work that has been performed must be performed again, and that there is a repetitive cycle to everything...even birth and death. Thousands of new babies are born every day and thousands of people pass away every day. The yearly schedule of planting and harvest take place over and over again. In his current frame of mind Solomon finds these things monotonous.

"A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build," (Ecclesiastes 3:3) According to the commentaries I consulted, the Hebrew word used for "kill" in verse 3 is not the same word used for "kill" in the ten commandments. Premeditated murder is not in view, but instead it probably has to do with killing in self defense or killing an enemy in battle. There's a possibility it may also refer to killing in the legal sense, such as the carrying out of capital punishment.

"A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance," (Ecclesiastes 3:4) Life in this fallen world can be hard. There will be days of weeping and mourning, but thank God there will be days of dancing and laughing! There's an old song that says, "He's made the good times outnumber the bad," and I praise Him for that.

"A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing," (Ecclesiastes 3:5) Following a skirmish or full-on battle, the victorious army might scatter large stones all over the enemy's fields in order to hinder the next planting season. Men who are occupied with clearing their fields for planting won't have time to mount an attack on anyone. Time is of the essence when it comes to getting crops in the ground; if the proper time is missed there will be no harvest that year. But there's also a time for gathering stones together, for clearing one's own fields or for helping friends and neighbors clear theirs. Solomon also says there's value in knowing the right timing in our relationships. There are days when a hug is exactly what a friend needs, but there are days when the best thing we can do is let the person spend time alone with the Lord. There are also times when a hug is able to mend a broken relationship, but there are situations in which it's best to let the relationship go because it's unhealthy.

"A time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away," (Ecclesiastes 3:6) This is another example of our need to be wise enough, with the help of the Lord, to know when we are going down the wrong path. We need to be able to tell if we are looking for all the right things in all the wrong places. This is how Solomon spent his youth, searching for meaning in things that couldn't satisfy his soul. It's vitally important that we possess spiritual discernment so we can tell whether we are hanging onto things that aren't good for us. Sometimes we are supposed to keep working on something and refuse to give up, but there are other times when we need to give up because a particular thing or particular person is not God's will for our lives. There are relationships that need to be nourished or mended, while there are others that are toxic to us. There will be times when we need to stick with our job even though we don't like it, but there will be other times when the Lord gives us a sense of restlessness to prepare us for making a change. Only by keeping in close contact with Him, by daily talking to Him and listening to Him in prayer, and by faithfully reading our Bibles can we stay connected with our most important source of guidance.

"A time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak," (Ecclesiastes 3:7) When a garment begins to look worn, it's time to decide whether there's enough life left in it to make it worth mending or whether to cut it up and use the best parts for patches on other garments or for quilt pieces. This is a lovely metaphor for our lives. Some things are worth keeping, some are not. It hurts us to let our dreams go or to let some relationships fall apart, especially if we have invested a lot of time and energy in them, but when a thing is wrong for us it's better to realize it earlier instead of later. When the Lord tells us it's time to mend, we should wholeheartedly obey Him even if friends and family members keep giving us their opinion that we should give up instead. But if the Lord tells us its time to tear, we should obey Him and move on. We will take little pieces of our experiences with us and the Lord can use those for good in our lives, even if it's just to help us learn from our mistakes. God is more than able to take our past and weave it into the tapestry of our lives to make something good come from our failures. So when He says, "It's time to move on," we need to pack up our tents and move on just like the children of Israel did when He brought them through the desert. They stayed still when He told them to stay still; they moved on when He told them to move on.

"A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace." (Ecclesiastes 3:8) There are things in this world that we ought to hate, sinful things such as murder, cruelty, injustice, unfaithfulness, dishonesty, thievery...the list could go on and on. It's okay to hate these acts because God hates them too. But there are so many things to love! We should love and honor acts of bravery and courage, unselfish and sacrificial love, faithfulness, honest work, help given to those in need, godliness, acts of support and encouragement...this list could also go on and on. As the Apostle Paul said in his recipe for living with optimism, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable---if anything is excellent or praiseworthy---think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

As long as we live in this world there will be wars and rumors of wars. We will come under attack by enemies, and especially by our chief enemy the devil. The Lord Jesus warned us, "In this world you will have trouble," but in the same verse He says, "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace...I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) The Lord Jesus Christ, who made peace between man and God, is able to give us peace in our hearts even when it seems like the world is falling down around us. He provides an anchor that holds even through the fiercest storms. This world is a battleground but someday all wars will cease and the foe known as Satan will torment us no more. It will be a time for peace, a peace that lasts forever. Jesus Christ, King of kings, will reign over the earth and there will be no more tears, no more wars, no more pain or injustice. The time for those things will be ended.

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