• The Explore the Bible lesson for July 28 focuses on Ecclesiastes 3:1, 10-14; 4:9-12; 5:1-7.
This week’s passage contains some memorable—and often-quoted—portions of Ecclesiastes. Chapter 3:1-8 mentions the diverse movement of time: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (v. 1). This text also is recognizable because it was the source for “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season),” written by Pete Seeger and made most famous when it was covered by The Byrds in 1965.
Of course, whether reading Ecclesiastes or listening to The Byrds, these words have power, because they resonate with our human experiences. Everything, whether desirable or undesirable, does have a place in the movement of creaturely existence. There is in fact a time to be born and a time to die (v. 2), a time to weep and a time to laugh (v. 4), a time to keep and a time to throw away (v. 6), and a time to keep silent and a time to speak (v. 7). To experience time rightly, then, we allow for the flexibility of this movement. Moreover, we know we do not control the shifts from one “season” to another.
The clock is ticking
This is what the writer of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth, wants us to realize in this poetically beautiful passage: Time is outside our control, despite our various attempts—through things like cosmetics, medical technology and psychosocial assistance—to steer time in our direction. The clock continues to tick, and time moves on. We are not in control; God is. This is the focus on 3:9-14: “(God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He also sets eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (v. 11). God determines the events of life; if there is any direction to these events, humans cannot discern it. Thus, as Qoheleth points out, we receive life as a gift in time to be graciously received (v. 12).
Chapter 4 also contains a well-known quotation from Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one. … Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (4:9, 12). This text highlights the fact there is no “Lone Ranger Christianity.” Not only do friends have assistance in case of a stumble or crisis, but friends also can work together on something larger than any one could individually.
Good friends challenge us
However, simply having friends is not the only thing; having good friends is much more important when it comes to moral development. A good friend is not simply someone who joins your activities—like a business partner or someone from a similar income bracket. Good friends do more than that.
A good friend not only will encourage you in times of trouble and enjoy the good times with you, but he or she also will challenge your character flaws in order to help you become a better person. Therefore, we become good Christians only by living and working with others. Good friends make life more than bearable; they make it fruitful and even enjoyable.
The remainder of this passage concerns a phrase that is so important it appears twice—fearing God (3:14; 5:7). God’s ways are different than our ways. Even if there is an ordered movement of time, we cannot know its contours; only God does. This infinite difference between Creator and creatures is summed up in 3:19-20, part of which is used in Ash Wednesday services: “All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all comes from dust, and to dust all return.”
Guard your steps
With this in mind, Qoheleth focuses on wisdom as a path one travels by highlighting the need to guard one’s steps (5:1). In other words, how you live your life leads to wisdom or foolishness. Notice also the emphasis is on conduct at the temple. Rather than sacrifice—the primary activity within the temple—Qoheleth states: “Go near to listen … . Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God” (vv. 1-2).
This is helpful because our culture is full of words—political pundits, sports talk radio, morning shows, water cooler talk. Here, silence is the best policy. Worship, even silence in worship, becomes central to following God. Even the question of finding purpose in life is transformed by Qoheleth’s advice. Qoheleth is doubtful human beings truly can find and state their purpose; instead, one should trust God, regardless of whether life seems meaningful or not. Only then can genuine contentment and joy in life be found.