The Book of Ecclesiastes
James J. Barker


Lesson 4
GOD CONTROLS TIME

Text: ECCLESIASTES 3


INTRODUCTION:

  1. In the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon presented four arguments that seem to prove that life is really not worth living:

    (1) The monotony of life (cf. 1:4ff)

    (2) The vanity of wisdom (cf. 1:12-14, 18)

    (3) The futility of wealth (cf. 2:4-11)

    (4) The certainty of death (cf. 2:15-19) {from W. Wiersbe}

  2. But this is from man’s perspective “under the sun” (cf. 1:1-3, 9). Once we consider that God is in control of everything “under the sun,” our thinking changes.
  3. In chapter 3, King Solomon (“the Preacher”) teaches that God controls time. God created time, and God controls the seasons. Genesis 1:14 says, “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.”
  4. Ecclesiastes 3 begins with, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (3:1).
  5. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God, “hath made every thing beautiful in His time.”

 

I. GOD HAS A PURPOSE FOR TIME (3:1).

  1. History is a rotating cycle of seasons, which recur with unchangeable regularity. To the man “under the sun” (or “under heaven” – 3:1) this could seem like a tedious and senseless circle of repetition (cf. 1:4, 5).
  2. William MacDonald said, “Man is locked into a pattern of behaviour which is determined by certain inflexible laws or principles” (Enjoying Ecclesiastes).
  3. In his search for truth, Solomon concluded that God has a purpose for everything, and the times and seasons are in His hands.
  4. God is sovereign and we must trust Him at all times.  History is “His story,” and God intervenes wherever and whenever He wants to.
  5. Our Lord said to His disciples in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.”
  6. God controls the times and the seasons (3:15).  And God has a purpose for time.  God has a schedule and everything is moving along according to His program.
  7. Everything that happens, even calamities, is part of God’s plan (Eccl. 3:11).  I thought about this last night as we discussed the lawsuit.  God is working and we have to trust Him.
  8. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
  9. The word “time” is found 31 times in Ecclesiastes 3.   In verses 2—8, it is found 28 times.  These 28 activities represent the whole round of life, beginning with birth and ending with death (3:2).
  10. Numbers in the Bible are important. Seven is the number of completeness – for example, there are seven days in a week. The number four represents God’s absolute control over the world.
    • Four directions on the earth (north, south, east, and west).
    • Four seasons (summer, autumn, winter, and spring).
    • Four things that make up the universe (time, energy, space, and matter).
    • Four major provisions for man (earth, air, fire, and water).
    • Four winds. Our Lord said in Matthew 24:31, “And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
    • Rev 7:1 speaks of four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth.
    • The New Jerusalem lieth foursquare.
  11. Seven (completeness or perfection) times four is 28, and there are 28 activities in Ecclesiastes 3:2-8.
  12. The list is made up of fourteen pairs of opposites – fourteen are positives and fourteen are negatives. “In some ways, they seem to cancel out each other” (William MacDonald).
  13. If all the negatives cancel out all the positives, man asks, where is the profit (3:9)? “Under the sun” there would seem to be no profit (cf. 1:3; 2:11).
  14. But we must look beyond the sun (3:10, 11). God has made everything beautiful “in His time” (3:11).
  15. Remember the repetition refrain in Genesis 1 – “God saw that it was good.”
    • “And God saw the light, that it was good” (1:4).
    • “And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good” (1:10).
    • “And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good” (1:14).
    • “And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good” (1:17, 18).
    • “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good” (1:21).
    • “And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good”(1:25).
  16. Everything is beautiful in God’s world.  It is man’s sin that has corrupted and defiled God’s creation.  And although sin has entered the world, it has not done away with God’s orderly cycles of life (3:2-8).
  17. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” Man yearns to find these things out but cannot (cf. 8:17).
  18. Romans 11:33 says, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!”

 

II. GOD HAS PUT ETERNITY IN MAN’S HEART (3:11).

  1. We are living in a world of time – watches, clocks, calendars, seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years.  But though we are living in a world of time, we instinctively know that beyond this life there is eternity.
  2. God has put this in the heart of man (3:11), and God has revealed this to us through His Word.  So in addition to seconds, minutes, hours, days and years, there is infinity, eternity, forever, etc.
  3. Man is made in the image of God, and has a deep-seated desire to understand eternal things (3:11-15).
  4. God has put eternity in the heart of the atheist too.  Sinners may try and fight it but it is still there nevertheless (cf. 3:16, 17).
  5. Some have mistakenly believed that King Solomon advocated a philosophy similar to that of the Epicureans (3:13).  But Solomon stressed that eating and enjoying the fruit of one’s labor was “the gift of God” (3:13b).
  6. And what God does, “it shall be for ever” (3:14).   Therefore, men should fear God (3:14).  Our Lord said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

 

III. GOD IS TESTING MAN (3:18-22).

  1. The word “manifest” in 3:18 means, “to test or prove.”
  2. The final verses in Ecclesiastes 3 seem puzzling. Cults have used these Scriptures to teach many unscriptural doctrines, such as “soul sleep.” God is testing man. Those who join false cults have failed the test. The spirit of man “goeth upward” (3:21).
  3. “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7).
  4. By outward appearances, man is like a beast.  And when man leaves God out of his life, he behaves like an animal. That is why Solomon’s father wrote, “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding” (Ps. 32:9).
  5. In Proverbs 7, Solomon said he looked out through his window and he saw a young man void of understanding.  This foolish young man followed a strange woman home to her house, and verse 22 says, “He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter.”
  6. Second Peter 2:22 (quoting Proverbs 26:11) says, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”
  7. Unregenerate men do indeed behave like animals. In a recent presidential debate, Congressman Tom Tancredo said. “Bill Clinton redefined morality to the level of an alley cat.”  Personally, I think that is insulting to alley cats.
  8. Many insist that man is nothing but an animal. This is the philosophy behind evolution and the animal rights movement.
  9. Some men call themselves “party animals.” Many men believe they are highly advanced animals, and they will not have to face the judgment of God.
  10. The natural man cannot tell whether or not there is any difference at death between a man and an animal (3:20-22). King Solomon pointed out that men and beasts have certain things in common. For one thing, physical death is common to both man and beast (3:19, 20).
  11. Life and death, time and eternity, are beyond man’s comprehension. Man cannot figure this out by outward appearances. Man can understand this only by divine revelation (cf. 12:7, 13, 14).
  12. Merrill Unger wrote, “The best an unregenerate man can attain in this life of vanity is to rejoice in his own works – get satisfaction out of what he does. For that is his portion (lot) as an unsaved person…He might as well enjoy himself here, for he may not enjoy what God will do with him in the life after death, when he is called to give an account for his life on earth (cf. vs. 17). It is useless to argue with such an unbeliever. He will not be convinced, for God has arranged the whole matter in such a way that He might test mankind on this score” (Unger’s Commentary on the OT).

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. The famous poet, Walt Whitman, was a worldly humanist, a sensualist, and possibly even a homosexual.
  2. In his poem, “Song of Myself,” Whitman writes:

    “I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained, I stand and look at them long and long.
    They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
    They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
    They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God.”

  3. Walt Whitman envied the animals.  Animals do not weep over their sins or talk about their duty to God. From Walt Whitman’s worldly perspective animals were better off than men.
  4. God blessed Walt Whitman in many ways but Walt Whitman failed God’s test (cf. Eccl. 3:17).


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