Ecclesiastes 3 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Ecclesiastes 3)

Verse 1

[1] To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A season — A certain time appointed by God for its being and continuance, which no human wit or providence can alter. And by virtue of this appointment of God, all vicissitudes which happen in the world, whether comforts or calamities, come to pass. Which is here added to prove the principal proposition, That all things below are vain, and happiness is not to be found in them, because of their great uncertainty, and mutability, and transitoriness, and because they are so much out of the reach and power of men, and wholly in the disposal of God.

Purpose — Not only natural, but even the voluntary actions of men, are ordered and disposed by God. But it must be considered, that he does not here speak of a time allowed by God, wherein all the following things may lawfully be done, but only of a time fixed by God, in which they are actually done.

Verse 2

[2] A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

To die — And as there is a time to die, so there is a time to rise again, a set time when they that lie in the grave shall be remembered.

Verse 3

[3] A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

To kill — When men die a violent death.

To heal — When he who seemed to be mortally wounded is healed.

Verse 4

[4] A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

To weep — When men have just occasion for weeping.

Verse 5

[5] A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

Stones — Which were brought together in order to the building of a wall or house.

To embrace — When persons perform all friendly offices one to another.

Verse 6

[6] A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

To life — When men lose their estates, either by God's providence, or by their own choice.

To cast away — When a man casts away his goods voluntarily, as in a storm, to save his life, or out of love and obedience to God.

Verse 7

[7] A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

To rent — When men rend their garments, as they did in great and sudden griefs.

Verse 8

[8] A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

To love — When God stirs up love, or gives occasion for the exercise of it.

Verse 9

[9] What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?

What profit — Seeing then all events are out of man's power, and no man can do or enjoy any thing at his pleasure, but only when God pleaseth, as has been shewed in many particulars, and is as true and certain in all others, hence it follows, that all men's labours, without God's blessing, are unprofitable, and utterly insufficient to make them happy.

Verse 10

[10] I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.

Seen — I have diligently observed mens various employments, and the different successes of them.

Hath given — Which God hath imposed upon men as their duty; to which therefore men ought quickly to submit.

Exercised — That hereby they might have constant matter of exercise for their diligence, and patience, and submission to God's will and providence.

Verse 11

[11] He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: 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.

He hath — This seems to be added as at apology for God's providence, notwithstanding all the contrary events and confusions which are in the world. He hath made (or doth make or do, by his providence in the government of the world) every thing (which he doth either immediately, or by the ministry of men, or other creatures) beautiful (convenient, so that, all things considered, it could not have been done better) in its time or station, (when it was most fit to be done). Many events seem to mens shallow judgments, to be very irregular and unbecoming, as when wicked men prosper, and good men are oppressed; but when men shall throughly understand God's works, and the whole frame and contexture of them, and see the end of them, they will say, all things were done wisely.

He hath set — It is true, God hath put the world into mens hearts, or made them capable of observing all the dispensations of God in the world; but this is to be understood with a limitation, because there are some more mysterious works of God, which no man can fully, understand, because he cannot search them out from the beginning to the end.

Verse 12

[12] I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.

Them — In creatures or worldly enjoyments.

To do good — To employ them in acts of charity and liberality.

Verse 13

[13] And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.

Should eat — Use what God hath given him.

Verse 14

[14] I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.

For ever — All God's counsels or decrees are eternal and unchangeable.

Nothing — Men can neither do any thing against God's counsel and providence, nor hinder any work or act of it.

Fear — That by the consideration of his power in the disposal of all persons and things, men should learn to trust in him, to submit to him, to fear to offend him, and more carefully study to please him.

Verse 15

[15] That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.

Hath been — Things past, present, and to come, are all ordered by one constant counsel, in all parts and ages of the world. There is a continual return of the same motions of the heavenly bodies, of the same seasons of the year, and a constant succession of new generations of men and beasts, but all of the same quality.

Verse 16

[16] And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.

Moreover — This is another argument of the vanity of worldly things, and an hindrance of that comfort which men expect in this life, because they are oppressed by their rulers.

Judgment — ln the thrones of princes, and tribunals of magistrates. Solomon is still shewing that every thing in this world without the fear of God is vanity. In these verses he shews, that power, of which men are so ambitious, and life itself, are worth nothing without it.

Verse 17

[17] I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.

I said — I was sorely grieved at this, but I quieted myself with this consideration.

Shall judge — Absolving the just, and condemning the wicked.

A time — God will have his time to rectify all these disorders.

There — At the judgment-seat of God.

For — For examining not only all men's actions, but all their thoughts and purposes.

Verse 18

[18] I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.

I said — And further I considered concerning their condition in this present world.

That God — God suffers these disorders among men, that he might discover men to themselves, and shew what strange creatures they are, and what vile hearts they have.

Beasts — That altho' God made them men, yet they have made themselves beasts by their brutish practices, and that, considered only with respect to the present life, they are as vain and miserable creatures as the beasts themselves.

Verse 19

[19] For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.

For — They are subject to the same diseases, pains, and calamities.

So dieth — As certainly, and no less, painfully.

One breath — One breath of life, which is in their nostrils by which the beasts perform the same animal operations.

No pre-eminence — In respect of the present life.

Verse 20

[20] All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

One place — To the earth, out of which they were taken.

All turn — All their bodies.

Verse 21

[21] Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

Who knoweth? — True it is, there is a difference, which is known by good men; but the generality of mankind never mind it: their hearts are wholly set on present and sensible things, and take no thought for the things of the future and invisible world.

Verse 22

[22] Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

Better — For a man's present satisfaction.

Should rejoice — That he comfortably enjoys what God hath given him.

His portion — This is the benefit of his labours.

For — When once he is dead he shall never return to see into whose hands his estate falls.