Little did King Solomon know that when he wrote the text of this study he was setting the stage for one of the most recorded texts of the Bible. Pete Seeger took the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and, verbatim, made them into lyrics of a song that eventually became an international hit. The only words that were actually his came at the end of the song, “…I swear it’s not too late” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” made its way into recording history.
It was first recorded in 1962 by Limeliters. In 1963 Jody Collins re-released the song using, as did Gary Shearston in 1964. However, in 1965 The Bryds once again released “Turn! Turn! Turn!” as the cover song for their album and memorialized the words for a generation.
I wonder if Solomon ever thought the words penned into a journal expressing the futility of a life lived outside the influence of God, would end up as the lyrics of a song crying out for world peace? Such was the desire of Seegar. But what was a tired king named Solomon trying to say? Even more, what was God trying to say? After all, the words song by The Byrds were first spoken by the Lord.
“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck 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; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw 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 of war, And a time for peace.” (vv.1-8) There you have it. Are these words profound in their simplicity or the tired thoughts of a man who had tried everything?
Let’s begin with the latter. Keeping the passage in context with what Solomon wrote leading up to Ecclesiastes 3, it is quite possible that he was expressing the mundaneness of everyday life. A quick reading through the passage reveals the events that make up our days. Solomon started where we all start, with birth, and in a single, four-word phrase (in his language) he takes the reader on a quick journey through life. We see the same phrase on every headstone in any cemetery. Granted, numbers replace words but the thought is still there.
From his opening line the king continues to tell the personal story of anyone who has walked on this planet. In short, their life was made up of a series of events: planting-harvesting, killing-healing, crying-laughing and so on. In other words, life is simply a collection of point/counterpoint activities, opposites that fill the time between starting and finishing. These as the things we can spend the 86,400 seconds granted each of us at the beginning of each day. Looking at the list might tempt you to ask, “Are there any other choices?” But this is life summed up by a guy who had tried it all and found it to be empty.
But can these short phrases also be filled with the profound? Come on, their found in the Bible, of course they can. The first of the fourteen opposites is one that is total out of a person’s control. Yet it is these two that fill us with the questions: Why was I born? Why didn’t I die? We must understand that these belong to God, the One who also brings meaning to life and hope in death.
Planting and uprooting are reminders that there are times in life that we need to stay put and at others it is time to move on. The writer of Proverbs calls on us to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and allow Him to direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Killing and healing are two extremes that are tightly connected. Ask any soldier that has spent time in an aid station near the front. When healing comes it is God at work, whether in the body, mind, or spirit.
There are periods when God says it is time to tear something down; a prejudice, grudge or unforgiveness. There are seasons in life to build; friendship, love, and hope.
In weeping, we call out to God. In laughter, we thank Him.
There are times when the moment is too serious to dance or too lite to moan. Living in God’s wisdom we learn appropriateness.
There are times for confronting and affirming (throwing, shunning, gathering, embracing). In these God calls us to seek His timing.
In life there are times when we must not give up looking. In life there are times when we must let go. For both, God offers patience and grace.
There are times to keep and mend, throw away and tear apart. There are times to save and repair that which is precious and release that which destroys.
There’s a time to speak up and a time to shut-up. Ask God to help keep these in the right order.
There are things in this world we must love. There are things in this world we must hate. Ask Abraham Lincoln.
There is a time to be a peace-maker; these are called the sons of God. There are times when only war will stop tyranny, and those who die trying are called heroes.
Fourteen simple yet profoundly wise opposites that can only be understood as one lives walking with God. There is a time for everything. For you, what time is it?