After studying Ecclesiastes 3 in our small group, I decided to do a staff meeting devotional on it.
Background: Ecclesiastes contains King Solomon’s observations about about the natural world—what can we learn about the world “under the sun” through wisdom? (Note that the name of God, YHWH or LORD, is never used. He is simply called “God” or the “Creator”—characteristic of general revelation.)
Verses 1-8 set the stage for the chapter. Human life—on both an individual and a national level—is cyclical and apparently futile.
- This is a major theme of chapter 1: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9). We live in a cursed world in which there is no escape from these cycles (e.g. the “cycle of violence” in the Middle East, the seemingly hopeless poverty and despair in Africa, our own inability to escape from aging, disease, and death).
- Because of these cycles, there is no gain from all of our toil (v. 9). We can’t escape from the Curse, no matter how hard we try to prolong our lives, no matter how high a priority our comfort is, and no matter how much money Bono raises for Africa.
- We seem to be no better off than the animals (vv. 16-22). People are characterized by wickedness, not by righteousness (v. 16)—we are not “more noble” than animals. Also, we cannot tell by observing the world “under the sun” what happens to us when we die…how do we know what will come after our lives, or whether there is an afterlife at all (vv. 19-22)? (Note that in the absence of special revelation from God, we don’t know anything about heaven. Anyone who talks about heaven without divine revelation is speaking foolishly.)
- In spite of this apparent hopelessness, God has given us work to do, which we are to rejoice in (vv. 10, 13, 22). This is a tension found throughout Ecclesiastes as well as the entire Bible: God has a sovereign, unalterable plan for the universe, and it is not our place to know it unless He reveals it through prophecy. Rather, we are to be concerned with day-to-day obedience to His commandments.
In contrast to man and the futility of his achievements, God is eternal and sovereign (vv. 11-15).
- God has placed eternity in our hearts (v. 11). We have an intuitive understanding that there is something beyond the transient reality around us. However, God has also placed ignorance in our hearts—we can’t see what he has done “from beginning to end” (v. 11). We don’t know His divine decree, or plan, for the universe.
- God’s work is never futile. Rather, “whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it” (v. 14). His sovereign purposes can never be thwarted (Job 42:2). In fact, God is responsible for the cursed cycles of the world (v. 15)—it is part of His plan.
- God decrees that these cycles continue and that evil may take the place of justice and righteousness. There is an appointed time for all these things in His plan (vv. 1-8, 11, 14-15, 17) This is the overarching theme of chapter 3. He does this to humble man and to make him fear God (vv. 11, 14, 18).
May God be praised, for He alone is sovereign and eternal! We are but a vapor, but “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).