This is part 5 of a many-part blog series on the book of Ecclesiastes.
Remember the “hamster wheel” feeling that Solomon introduced in 1:3-7? Solomon brings it up again and in even greater detail. Take a look at his math in 3:1-8:
There is a time and season for everything:
+1 a time to be born
-1 a time to die
+1 a time to plant
-1 a time to pluck up what was planted
-1 a time to kill
+1 a time to heal
-1 a time to break down
+1 a time to build up
-1 a time to weep
+1 a time to laugh
-1 a time to mourn
+1 a time to dance
-1 a time to cast away stones
+1 a time to put stones together
+1 a time to embrace
-1 a time to refrain from embracing
+1 a time to seek
-1 a time to lose
+1 a time to keep
-1 a time to cast away
-1 a time to tear
+1 a time to sew
-1 a time to keep silence
+1 a time to speak
+1 a time to love
-1 a time to hate
-1 a time for war
+1 a time for peace
When you add up the 14 positive statements and 14 negative statements, you get back to where you started: zero. That isn’t to say that no life happens within those statements. There is supposed to be a lot of joy between being born and dying, and in most cases there is. Yet, hebel is reigning in the background. Solomon’s point is that you can feel there should be more gain; it’s intuitive to the human spirit that things should be progressing, getting better. That’s because we were built for gain, for the infinite. Let’s see how Solomon puts words to this next.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (3:11).
We were built to experience the infinite. We were created for the 14 positives listed above. Yet, God’s curse on life under the sun from Genesis 3 has wrought the 14 negatives that cause the full meaning not to be grasped from it all. His conclusion from this is that we should be joyful in what we have and do good as long as we live (3:12), and that we should eat and drink and take pleasure in our toil (3:23). If we cannot extract the full value, we can at least be positive about what we have and enjoy it for what it’s worth, temporary though it is.
This still feels depressing, right? The more depressing this feels, the more thankful we will be when we realize the conclusion God has given us. But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, hang in there.
Back to our upside-down world: Solomon looks around and sees wickedness in the place of justice (3:16). He takes solace in the fact that God will judge this topsy-turvy nature of the world (3:17). Man even has no advantage over beast in Solomon’s limited worldview because they both breathe the same air, they both die, and they both return to the dust (3:18-20). He admits in 3:21 that he doesn’t know whether the spirit of man goes somewhere different than the spirit of the beast upon death.
If that is the case, there is nothing better than for a man to rejoice in his work. Yet it is worth noting there is a difference in the Hebrew used for toil (ESV) in 3:13 and work (ESV) in 3:22a. In 3:13, we are told to take pleasure in all our toil, which can include the laborious and painful and troublesome parts of our lives.
B4T Fails Sometimes
This is an especially painful chapter for me. There is a time for everything: a time to succeed in business and a time to fail. B4T is risky from a human standpoint. There is no guarantee that all the blood, sweat, and tears you have put into building something with the LORD amongst the least reached will yield fruit. Time and chance happen even to our B4Ts, and the LORD is in it. Failure is a wonderful opportunity to show our local friends that we live for more than success in the way the world defines it. Let’s always remember that the LORD allows us to go through things while our Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist friends are watching. We have an opportunity to put the worth of Jesus on display in our businesses.
In 3:22a, we are told to rejoice in our work, the Hebrew of which means “workmanship,” “business,” “yield,” etc. Solomon means that we should rejoice in the gain (however little it may be) that we experience in this life. It is a gift of God. Now the author leaves us with a question: “Who can bring him to see what will be after him?” (3:22b). I have a feeling, standing on the other side of the Cross, that you already have an inkling. But let’s leave the question hanging for now.
Greg is the President of OPEN USA. He used his education to work as a tentmaker in the Middle East for 8.5 years seeking to plant a church amongst a least-reached people group. Currently back in the USA with his wife and children, they aim to return to finish what the LORD used them to start.
To learn more about B4T, read Business for Transformation by Patrick Lai.