Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
Earthly pursuits are no doubt lawful in their proper time and order
but unprofitable when out of time and place; as for instance, when
pursued as the solid and chief good
(Ec 3:9, 10);
whereas God makes everything beautiful in its season, which man
God allows man to enjoy moderately and virtuously His earthly gifts
(Ec 3:12, 13).
What consoles us amidst the instability of earthly blessings is, God's
counsels are immutable
1. Man has his appointed cycle of seasons and vicissitudes, as the
sun, wind, and water
purpose--as there is a fixed "season" in God's "purposes" (for
example, He has fixed the "time" when man is "to be born," and "to die,"
so there is a lawful "time" for man to carry out his "purposes" and
inclinations. God does not condemn, but approves of, the use of
it is the abuse that He condemns, the making them the chief end
The earth, without human desires, love, taste, joy, sorrow, would be a
dreary waste, without water; but, on the other hand, the misplacing and
excess of them, as of a flood, need control. Reason and revelation are
given to control them.
2. time to die--
plant--A man can no more reverse the times and order of "planting,"
and of "digging up," and transplanting, than he can alter the times
fixed for his "birth" and "death." To try to "plant" out of season is vanity, however good in season; so to make earthly things
the chief end is vanity, however good they be in order and season.
takes it, not so well, figuratively
(Jer 18:7, 9;
3. time to kill--namely, judicially, criminals; or, in wars of
self-defense; not in malice. Out of this time and order, killing is
to heal--God has His times for "healing" (literally,
Isa 38:5, 21;
To heal spiritually, before the sinner feels his wound,
would be "out of time," and so injurious.
time to break down--cities, as Jerusalem, by Nebuchadnezzar.
build up--as Jerusalem, in the time of Zerubbabel; spiritually
"the set time"
4. mourn--namely, for the dead
dance--as David before the ark
Lu 6:21; 15:25).
The Pharisees, by requiring sadness out of time, erred
5. cast away stones--as out of a garden or vineyard
gather--for building; figuratively, the Gentiles, once castaway
stones, were in due time made parts of the spiritual building
(Eph 2:19, 20),
and children of Abraham
so the restored Jews hereafter
(Ps 102:13, 14;
refrain . . . embracing--
1Co 7:5, 6).
6. time to get--for example, to gain honestly a livelihood
lose--When God wills losses to us, then is our time to be content.
keep--not to give to the idle beggar
cast away--in charity
or to part with the dearest object, rather than the soul
To be careful is right in its place, but not when it comes between us
and Jesus Christ
7. rend--garments, in mourning
figuratively, nations, as Israel from Judah, already foretold, in
(1Ki 11:30, 31),
to be "sewed" together hereafter
(Eze 37:15, 22).
in a national calamity, or that of a friend
also not to murmur under God's visitation
Ps 39:1, 2, 9).
8. hate--for example, sin, lusts
that is, to love God so much more as to seem in comparison to
hate "father or mother," when coming between us and God.
a time of war . . . peace--
9. But these earthly pursuits, while lawful in their season, are
"unprofitable" when made by man, what God never intended them to be, the
chief good. Solomon had tried to create an artificial forced joy, at
times when he ought rather to have been serious; the result, therefore,
of his labor to be happy, out of God's order, was disappointment. "A
time to plant"
refers to his planting
Ec 2:1, 2;
"his mirth," "laughter"; "build up," "gather stones"
(Ec 3:3, 5),
to his "building"
"embrace," "love," to his "princess"
"get" (perhaps also "gather,"
Ec 3:5, 6),
to his "gathering"
All these were of "no profit," because not in God's time and order of
10. (See on
11. his time--that is, in its proper season
opposed to worldlings putting earthly pursuits out of their proper
time and place (see on
set the world in their heart--given them capacities to understand
the world of nature as reflecting God's wisdom in its beautiful order
(Ro 1:19, 20).
"Everything" answers to "world," in the parallelism.
so that--that is, but in such a manner that man only sees a portion,
not the whole "from beginning to end"
PARKHURST, for "world," translates: "Yet He hath
put obscurity in the midst of them," literally, "a secret," so
man's mental dimness of sight as to the full mystery of God's
works. So HOLDEN and WEISS.
This incapacity for "finding out" (comprehending) God's work is chiefly
the fruit of the fall. The worldling ever since, not knowing God's time
and order, labors in vain, because out of time and place.
12. in them--in God's works
as far as relates to man's duty. Man cannot fully comprehend them, but
he ought joyfully to receive ("rejoice in") God's gifts, and "do good"
with them to himself and to others. This is never out of season
(Ga 6:9, 10).
Not sensual joy and self-indulgence
Jas 4:16, 17).
13. Literally, "And also as to every man who eats . . . this is the
gift of God"
(Ec 3:22; 5:18).
When received as God's gifts, and to God's glory, the good things of
life are enjoyed in their due time and order
1Ti 4:3, 4).
for ever--as opposed to man's perishing labors
any thing taken from it--opposed to man's "crooked and wanting" works
(Ec 1:15; 7:13).
The event of man's labors depends wholly on God's immutable purpose.
Man's part, therefore, is to do and enjoy every earthly thing in its
(Ec 3:12, 13),
not setting aside God's order, but observing deep reverence towards
God; for the mysteriousness and unchangeableness of God's purposes are
designed to lead "man to fear before Him." Man knows not the event of
each act: otherwise he would think himself independent of God.
15. Resumption of
Whatever changes there be, the succession of events is ordered by God's
and returns in a fixed cycle.
requireth that . . . past--After many changes, God's law requires the return of the same cycle of events, as in the past, literally,
"that which is driven on." The Septuagint and Syriac translate:
"God requireth (that is, avengeth) the persecuted man"; a transition
Ec 3:16, 17.
The parallel clauses of the verse support English Version.
16. Here a difficulty is suggested. If God "requires" events to move
in their perpetual cycle, why are the wicked allowed to deal
unrighteously in the place where injustice ought least of all to be;
namely, "the place of judgment"
17. Solution of it. There is a coming judgment in which God will
vindicate His righteous ways. The sinner's "time" of his unrighteous
"work" is short. God also has His "time" and "work" of judgment; and,
meanwhile, is overruling, for good at last, what seems now dark. Man
cannot now "find out" the plan of God's ways
If judgment instantly followed every sin, there would be no scope for
free will, faith, and perseverance of saints in spite of difficulties.
The previous darkness will make the light at last the more glorious.
in eternity, in the presence of the Divine Judge, opposed to the
"there," in the human place of judgment
so "from thence"
18. estate--The estate of fallen man is so ordered (these wrongs are
permitted), that God might "manifest," that is, thereby prove them,
and that they might themselves see their mortal frailty, like that of
sons of men--rather, "sons of Adam," a phrase used for "fallen men."
The toleration of injustice until the judgment is designed to "manifest"
men's characters in their fallen state, to see whether the oppressed
will bear themselves aright amidst their wrongs, knowing that the time
is short, and there is a coming judgment. The oppressed share in death,
but the comparison to "beasts" applies especially to
the ungodly oppressors
(Ps 49:12, 20).
They too need to be "manifested" ("proved"), whether, considering that
they must soon die as the "beasts," and fearing the judgment to come,
they will repent
19. Literally, "For the sons of men (Adam) are a mere chance, as
also the beast is a mere chance." These words can only be the sentiments
of the skeptical oppressors. God's delay in judgment gives scope for the
"manifestation" of their infidelity
They are "brute beasts," morally
and they end by maintaining that man, physically, has no pre-eminence
over the beast, both alike being "fortuities." Probably this was the
language of Solomon himself in his apostasy. He answers it in
Ec 3:19, 20
be his words, they express only that as regards liability to
death, excluding the future judgment, as the skeptic oppressors do,
man is on a level with the beast. Life is "vanity," if regarded
independently of religion. But
points out the vast difference between them in respect to the future
beasts have no "judgment" to come.
21. Who knoweth--Not doubt of the destination of man's spirit
but "how few, by reason of the outward mortality to which man is
as liable as the beast and which is the ground of the skeptic's
argument, comprehend the wide difference between man and the beast"
The Hebrew expresses the difference strongly, "The spirit of man
that ascends, it belongeth to on high; but the spirit of the beast that
descends, it belongeth to below, even to the earth." Their destinations
and proper element differ utterly [WEISS].
Ec 3:12; 5:18).
Inculcating a thankful enjoyment of God's gifts, and a cheerful
discharge of man's duties, founded on fear of God; not as the
not as the anxious money-seeker
(Ec 2:23; 5:10-17).
his portion--in the present life. If it were made his main portion,
it would be "vanity"
for who, &c.--Our ignorance as to the future, which is God's "time"
should lead us to use the present time in the best sense and leave the
future to His infinite wisdom
(Mt 6:20, 25, 31-34).