Life By God’s Clock

Many of you probably know the Song of Solomon. If I said, “Where is the Song of Solomon?” You’d say, “Right after the book of Ecclesiastes.” It would also be accurate to say the Song of Solomon can be found as a number one song on the Billboard 100. You didn’t know Solomon was still writing hits, did you? It was a collaborative effort. Solomon wrote the lyrics and a guy named Peter Seeger wrote the tune directly from Ecclesiastes 3. The song was picked up by a group in the ‘60s named The Byrds. The result is this well-known tune:

The lyrics are remarkably close even to the ESV translation. It was the 1960s so of course the song ended with an anti-war message. The song has the distinction of being the number one hit with the oldest lyrics. 3,000-year-old lyrics. Way to go Solomon! So the text is popular and familiar while the meaning is less known.

You will see that verses 1-8 are a poem. What is it about? It is a poem about everything. The verses that follow explain that the poem is about everything describing a God over everything. A poem about everything. A God over everything.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
   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 3:1-8 ESV)

Right away we see that this is a list of life’s varying aspects. Don’t these all sound like the normal activities of the human race? Birth. Death. Weep. Dance. Love and even hate. That is why I call it a poem about everything.

A Poem About Everything

As is his style, Solomon is writing a big picture statement on the reality of the human condition. Our hopes. Our despairs. Our joy and pains. I suspect this poem has been so popular because at every stage of life it seems to be describing us. Where are you in the poem?

This is Solomon’s purpose. Notice that each of these lines show opposite extremes. Love/Hate. War/Peace. Break down/Build up. He is including both extremes and everything in between. Verse 1 provides that summary. “For everything there is a season.” Time is mentioned 28 times in this passage. Life has times, seasons. Episodes. Chapters. Times of this and times of that. Human nature tends to be discontent in one season while waiting for the next. Just ask a senior in high school. Or ask a child how old they are, almost 4. There’s always a new season of life coming. Everything has a season.

Another thing to note in this list is that these are all things that happen to us. (See Peter Enns, Ecclesiastes: The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary, p. 52). These are circumstances or responses to those circumstances that are thrust upon us and sometimes overwhelm us. We don’t see them coming. We don’t anticipate our birth and we are often surprised when our day of death arrives. Times of mourning are normally a painful interruption to life. But on the positive side, life has seasons of surprise joy too. Life brings unexpected laughter and dancing. A special season of love and peace.

The list overall is to point out that while we may think we are in control, the real things that define life are out of our control. Ever feel that way?

I remember this past September, we were having dinner with some friends when suddenly we realized our 3-month-old daughter was seriously struggling. An ambulance ride for our 3-month-old began four days of parental terror for us. Where did that come from? We weren’t planning that. It wasn’t on the calendar.

What do you think when life brings a sudden change of season? Solomon wants us to see these through the larger grid of mankind’s dilemma. We make our plans. We act like we are in control. But there is a season for everything whether we have planned for it or not, like it or not, ready or not, here it comes.

This is a long list, so let me point out some of the highlights.

“A time to be born, and a time to die.” (Ecclesiastes 3:2) Solomon starts with the two bookends of life. The day you are born, and the day you die. How many of you planned the day you were going to be born? Similarly, we cannot control or know the day that will be our last day. Both the starting and the stopping of life are out our control. “You cannot live any longer than the Lord has prescribed nor die any sooner.” (Martin Luther, as quoted by Philip Graham Ryken, Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters, p. 82)

“A time to kill and a time to heal.” (Verse 3) This may sound grotesquely violent but that is because we may miss the biblical distinction between murder and killing. A violent and war-torn culture like the ancient Middle East had to simply acknowledge there was a time for war and killing and a time for healing those wounds. War and peace.

Verse 4 is so human. “A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance.” These are both seasons we experience in life. Weeping and mourning signify the tragic and painful circumstances. Laughing and dancing signify the opposite. Joyful circumstances. One is the funeral home and the other is the wedding reception.

I perceive a grace gift for some of us here in this little verse. Sometimes when we have experienced a season of mourning or pain, we feel obligated to remain in that mourning or pain. We feel loyalty to the person we lost or the losing cause we stood up for. A biblical example of this is Naomi in the book of Ruth. Her husband died and she was so committed to her disappointment that she changed her name to Mara which means bitter. When you change your name to “bitter” you are committed to perpetual mourning. I’ll never get over this. I’ll never get past this. I will always be in this season. I’ll always be Mara.

But even Mara didn’t stay Mara. Ruth ends with Ruth married to Boaz and Naomi caring for her grandson Obed, the grandfather of King David himself. Some of us need biblical permission to get back to Naomi—the person you were before the great pain. It’s okay. There was a season for mourning and anger but seasons come and seasons go. Isn’t it time you left behind the obligation to your season of pain and experience perhaps a new season of replanting, gathering stones, laughing, and dancing? God brings those into the human experience as well and they are a gift to be enjoyed. I’ll bet somebody needed to read Ecclesiastes 3:3 today.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2016 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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