Ecclesiastes 3:1-22

One of the popular hit songs of the 1960's was produced by "The Byrds" and entitled, "Turn, Turn, Turn." The words for this song were taken from this chapter of Ecclesiastes. In some way, the words of the Preacher hit a responsive chord in the youth of that era. His message is no less relevant for us today.



1 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven

2 A time to give birth and a time to die;

A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.

3 A time to kill and a time to heal;

A time to tear 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 stones and a time to gather stones;

A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.

6 A time to search and a time to give up as lost;

A time to keep and a time to throw away.

7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;

A time to be silent and a time to speak.

8 A time to love and a time to hate;

A time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

The Preacher opens in verse 1 to an introduction of the principle that there is a proper time for everything. He is speaking of those things which take place "under heaven." As was true in the last chapter, so now also the Preacher is giving us a picture of life as it exists "under the sun."

It has been said that there are four seasons to a man's life:

This chapter also presents the seasons in a man's life. It does so by way of a series of contrasts. There are fourteen contrasts presented. These contrasts cover nearly every event of life. They seem to be presented in chiastic form.

Give birth & Die

Plant & Uproot

Kill & Heal


Be silent & Speak

Love & Hate

War & Peace



Tear down & Build up

Tear apart & Sew together



Weep & Laugh

Mourn & Dance

Throw & Gather Stones


Embrace & Not Embrace Search & Give up as lost

Keep & Throw away


1. A time to give birth and a time to die (3:2).

The Preacher begins by looking at the two extremes of life. These are the bookends of your earthly existence. There is a time when you are born and there is a time when you die and everything else takes place between these two times.

Nearly every other time mentioned in this chapter involves a choice on your behalf. You can decide when to plant or when to uproot or when to kill or when to heal or when to weep or when to laugh or when to mourn or when to dance. But there are two things you don't decide. You don't decide when to be born. And you normally don't decide when you will die.

2. A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted (3:2).

The Preacher is speaking to people who live within an agricultural economy. If he were speaking today, him might say that there is a time when you punch in to go to work and there is a time when you punch out to go home.

3. A time to kill and a time to heal (3:3).

It is noteworthy that the word used here for kill is NOT the same word as is used in the ten commandments for murder.

4. A time to tear down and a time to build up (3:3).

Buildings have their life expectancy in the same way that people do. There are times when it is appropriate to build and there are times when the most constructive thing to do is to tear a building down.

5. A time to weep and a time to laugh (3:4).

There is a proper time for the manifestation of emotions. There are times when we Christians ought to weep and there are times when we ought to laugh the laughter of the redeemed.

C.S. Lewis described pain as God's megaphone. He whispers to us when we laugh, but He shouts to us when we weep.

6. A time to mourn and a time to dance (3:4).

This forms a parallel couplet with the previous line. Those who weep are the same as those who mourn. And those who laugh are the same as those who dance.

7. A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones (3:5).

The throwing of stones was a part of the method of execution of criminals. It describes a rejection of that person, not only from society, but even from life. On the other hand, the gathering of stones would be for constructive purposes - to build a house or a wall or even an altar to the Lord.

8. A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing (3:5).

This also seems to be in chiastic parallel with the preceding line. It is again relational in nature. There is a time to mend relational fences and there is a time to avoid making up.

Embracing was a form of greeting in the ancient world. There is a time for hellos and there is a time for good-byes.

9. A time to search and a time to give up as lost (3:6).

You cannot spend your entire life searching for that which has been lost.

There comes a time when you have to face the facts that what is lost is now lost and can no longer be found.

Men often go through a mid-life crisis in which they attempt to regain their youth by doing youthful things - a young way of dressing, a new sports car, a new wife. But it doesn't work. There is a time to give up such things as lost.

If you want to feel young, hang around young people. If you want to feel old, try to keep up with them.

10. A time to keep and a time to throw away (3:6).

Everything that you now own will one day be thrown away. That does not mean you should throw it all away now. But perhaps it DOES mean that you should take care to what you cling too tightly.

This also applies to relationships. Parents, there comes a time when you have to begin to let go of your children. Begin to allow them to make their own decision and even to make some of their own mistakes.

11. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together (3:7).

This seems to be in chiastic parallel with the previous phrase. The idea of "tearing apart" is often used of rending garments in a time of grief or of crisis. There comes a time when the crisis is over and the grief is passed and that which has been torn is sewed back together.

12. A time to be silent and a time to speak (3:7).

There have been times when I have regretted speaking. And there have been times when I have regretted my silence. Wisdom comes in knowing when to speak and when not to speak.

13. A time to love and a time to hate (3:8).

We read that God both loves and that He hates. The hatred of God is directed against sin. And there are times when we ought to hate, too. We ought to hate injustice and hypocrisy whenever we see it.

14. A time for war and a time for peace (3:8).

This and other passages in the Scriptures indicate that there are times when warfare is just and right - specifically when it involves defense from outside aggression.



9 What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?

10 I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.

11 He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11).

Having stated all of the various activities of life, the Preacher now comes to a summarizing question. Of what profit are all of these activities? This is a rhetorical question. It expects an obvious negative answer. The Preacher has spent the last two chapters demonstrating that these various activities have no ultimate profit.

What good is it to be born if you eventually die? What good is it to plant if that which you plant is eventually uprooted? What good is it to throw stones if they must eventually be regathered? What good is it to go to war if you will eventually make peace?

One of the household chores that I have always found to be frustrating is that of mowing the lawn. No matter how well you mow it, the grass grows and it must be mowed again a week or so later.

The Preacher says that he has observed this phenomenon. And notice that he brings God into the equation. I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves (3:10). It is God who has appointed our activities. We ought to view those activities as being done in the service of the Lord.

He has made each one to be appropriate in its time (3:11). The word translated "appropriate" is - "beautiful." It is used to describe the beauty of Sarah (Genesis 12:11,14), Rachael (Genesis 29:17), Esther (Esther 2:7), and the daughters of Job (Job 42:15). It is used to describe both men and women - Joseph is said to have been beautiful of form and beautiful of face (Genesis 39:6).

There is a design to life. And it is a beautiful design. The problem is that you do not see the entire story in this life. And because you do not see the entire story, you miss the beauty.

God has made us in such a way that we are not satisfied with life as it exists "under the sun." God had made us so that we always want to know the whole story. He has also set eternity in their heart. That is the good news. The bad news is that, even though we have eternity in our hearts, we are not able in ourselves to lay hold of eternity - yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.

You will never have all of the answers in this life. And that is by design. God has structured it to be that way.

He has also set eternity in their heart


Yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end

What does it mean that God has set eternity in our heart?

"Our Heavenly Father has provided many delightful inns for us along our journey, but he takes great care to see that we do not mistake any of them for home." (C.S. Lewis).

There is a longing for home - a call deep in the human spirit for more than life can provide. This itch which we cannot scratch is part of God's plan.



I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one's lifetime; 13 moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor -- it is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).

Here we see a repetition of the same Hebrew phrase which was used in Ecclesiastes 2:24 - "there is nothing better" - literally, "not good for a man except to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good." He is indicating that this is as good as it gets in this life.

That you rejoice

That you do good while you live

That you see the fruit of your labor

And that you recognize all of this as a gift from God.

In the last few years, I have been learning to enjoy the journey of life. It hasn't been an easy lesson. I am task-oriented by nature. I tend to be one of those people who is always reaching for a goal. And that is okay as long as the goal is Christ. But in the process of that reaching, I am learning to enjoy the precious life that God has given. Enjoy the NOW. It will never come again.



14 I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.

15 That which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by. (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15).

What we do is temporary. Even man's greatest and most enduring monuments will one day crumble into dust. In modern Egypt there is a team of construction workers whose task it is to maintain and occasionally rebuild and reinforce the Sphinx. It has lasted for over 4000 years. But it is decaying. And like all of man's works, it will one day pass.

1. God is Eternal.

And His work brings about eternal results. His plans are long range in nature. He is building for eternity.

When God wants to grow a squash, He does so in 6 months. When He grows an oak tree, He takes 20 years. When He raises up a man, He takes a lifetime.

2. God's Plan will not be Compromised.

God knows the end from the beginning. History is His story. The past and the future are equally open to Him.



16 Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness.

17 I said to myself, "God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man," for a time for every matter and for every deed is there. (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17).

When you look at life as it exists only "under the sun" there does not seem to be much in the way of justice. Bad people do bad things and get away with it. This even extends to places of judgment and places of righteousness.

You can find evil within the courts of law. Lawyer jokes abound - and there is good reason for it. In this life you will find perversions of justice.

You will also find evil in places that are supposed to be righteous. The church has been rocked by scandals. And this has happened in every age. Those who are in positions of spiritual leadership are seen to have feet of clay.

But in the same way that there is a time and a season for everything under the sun, there is also a time when God shall judge all men. The books eventually DO get balanced. Evil IS eventually judged. Righteousness IS eventually rewarded.



18 I said to myself concerning the sons of men, "God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts."

19 For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity.

20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.

21 Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth? (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21).

The Preacher opened this chapter by stating that there is a time for being born and a time to die. He comes now to speak of death. This is one sense in which we are not much different than the animals.

We are Dissimilar to the Animals

We are Similar to the Animals

God has placed eternity in our hearts so that we hold both the concept of eternal life as well as the desire to see beyond this life.

We die just like the animals - our body fails and we stop breathing and the body is left in a lifeless state, returning to the dust from where it was created.

Notice the specific points of comparison between man and beast. They all relate to how we die:

1. We Both Die.

I can remember when, as a child, I witnessed the death of a beloved pet. It was a long-haired dachshund named Fritz. He had been hit by a car and I watched the life drain out of him. I have seen a lot of people die since in my career in the fire department. And in this, we are not dissimilar from the animals.

2. We have the Same Breath.

The word for "breath" is Ruach. It can be translated either "breath" or "wind" or "spirit." We have life in the same way that animals have life. We are born and we grow and then we die and we stop breathing, all the same as the animals.

3. All go to the Same Place.

This is not speaking of heaven or hell. It is speaking of the body. It dies and it goes into the ground. It doesn't matter if the process used is burial or cremation. One is merely faster than the other. In either case, the body eventually decays. And you cannot tell just by looking at the process of death that a man's spirit is any different from an animal's spirit. Indeed, we would know nothing of life after death from mere observation.

How do we know that there is life after death? We know it through FAITH. We know it because a dead man rose up from the grave to tell us about it. We know about it on the word or a Galilean carpenter who was crucified, dead and buried and who rose again and promised that we would also one day rise.



I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him? (Ecclesiastes 3:22).

The Preacher repeats the conclusion to which he came in verse 12. He repeats that conclusion now almost word for word. It is that you should make the most of this time that you do have. Life is precious. And it is short. And eternity is long. Make the most of the NOW.

Vince Foster, deputy counsel to President Clinton, spoke to the 1993 graduating class of Arkansas University School of Law only six weeks before his death. His words now echo back to us from somewhere in eternity. A portion of what Mr. Foster said to several hundred young lawyers on that historic day:

"You have amply demonstrated that you are achievers willing to work hard, long hours and set aside your personal lives. But it reminds me of that observation that no one was ever heard to say on a death bed, I wish I had spent more time at the office.' Balance wisely your professional life and your family life.

If you are fortunate to have children, your parents will warn you that your children will grow up and be gone before you know it. I can testify that it is true.

"God only allows us so many opportunities with our children to read a story, go fishing, play catch and say our prayers together. Try not to miss a one of them. The office can wait. It will still be there after your children are gone."

About the Author
Return to the John Stevenson Bible Study Page
Have a Comment?