Our lives are made of both cycles and seasons, with some, more obvious than others.
For those who have ever owned a new car – remember that new car smell? Everything was clean, the tires had their full tread and it all worked just right. As the car got older, cleaning didn’t bring it back to that new car look. Parts began to wear out and mechanical issues grew. And when the problems were no longer worth fixing, it was time to retire the vehicle. The challenge was, determining just when that ‘time’ had arrived.
Agricultural growing seasons are more clearly defined and easier to see. Yet farmers still have to decide when to plant in the spring, how to tend through the summer, and when to harvest in the fall. Avoiding early frost and late, protecting from pests and disease and choosing just the right time to harvest. Those who work outdoors and whose livelihoods are governed by the seasons will especially be in tune with what the book of Ecclesiastes has to say.
This book is part of the ‘Wisdom Literature’ of the Old Testament. It was probably written by Solomon who had received knowledge and wisdom directly from God. He applied both in an effort to understand the world in which he lived and his place in it. It was not enough for him to understand how things worked without looking beyond them for meaning and purpose. But what he found was that the things which God had made did not have any meaning residing within themselves. Even the system as a whole had no discernible goal or purpose. Life ‘under the sun’ remained empty and meaningless no matter what anyone did to infuse it with value.
This comes out in his observations and reasoning:
- What good is it for anyone to accumulate wealth, only to die and leave it for others?
- What’s the benefit of being wise over being foolish? In life, it is better to be wise – yet all die and end up – forgotten by the living.
- There is no escaping the cycles of life which repeat themselves, down through history
1:9 (NIV) What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
3:15 (NIV) Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.
Shakespeare captured this seeming futility in his play, ‘Macbeth’:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
Seasons, cycles and phases make up our lives.
- Each month, the moon goes from full to half to new to three quarters to full.
- There are winter stars and summer stars – though with ‘light pollution’, we’re probably not as attuned to that as were our ancestors.
- People are born, they grow, mature, age, and die
- Generations come and go. Each with times of mourning and rejoicing.
In one sense – it’s all be done before and will continue until the end of time. What’s the use? Yet in another sense – God gives us this life, and can give us joy in it when we strive to please Him. There is purpose here, and God is the one who gives it.
Here are some specific thoughts from Ecclesiastes on the purposelessness of it all without God, and what a relationship with God brings:
Ecclesiastes 7:10 (NIV) Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.
- Don’t yearn for the past, thinking that today is nothing in comparison.
- Sure – remember the good times past with fondness – but don’t get lost in them and miss out on the good things of today.
- In a sense, as the song says, “These are the good old days” (‘Anticipation’, Carly Simon, emphasis mine)
- “…And tomorrow we might not be together, I’m no prophet and I don’t know nature’s ways, So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now, And stay right here ’cause these are the good old days.”
Ecclesiastes 8:14-15 (NIV)
There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.
- His observation is that life isn’t always good to those who are righteous, and not always bad to those who are wicked. We can get hung up on this – but we can also recognize that there is always joy to be found for those who belong to the Lord.
Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 (NIV) 24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,
- Enlarging on the previous verses – wisdom, knowledge, and happiness ultimately come from God, and our relationship with Him.
Ecclesiastes 3:17 (NIV) “God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed.”
- God has promised that people will undergo judgment. It isn’t ours to determine what a person deserves, but His. And – He will bring judgment, even if it doesn’t seem to be on a timeline that we would always desire.
Ecclesiastes 9:12 (NIV) 12 Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
- The future is uncertain – expecting the future to be a continuation of the past is an illusion – one that can be shattered at any time.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (NIV)
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
Some of the conclusions that Solomon drew were quite depressing. In isolation from God, life really is ultimately hopeless and depressing. Death is inevitable and we will be soon forgotten.
But in the final sense, Ecclesiastes is a book of promises and hope for those who include God in their lives. God grants us satisfaction in our work, and joy from day to day.
Consider what is perhaps the most well-known passage from the book:
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV) There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
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.
Most of these cycle, alternate and repeat. Sometimes it is one thing and at other times, another.
Yet know this, that:
- Grieving will be followed by rejoicing.
- Weeping won’t be forever – laughter will come again.
- And – most apropos right now – There will be a time for us to embrace again