The Word Made Fresh
1There is a season for everything. There is time for every labor under the heavens:
2there is a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pull up what was planted;
3there is a time to kill and a time to heal;
a time to tear down and a time to restore;
4a time to weep and a time to rejoice;
a time to grieve and a time to celebrate;
5a time to throw things away and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace and a time to release;
6a time to search and a time to let go;
a time to keep and a time to throw away;
7a time to tear and a time to sew together;
a time to be silent and a time to speak;
8a time to love and a time to reject;
a time for war and a time for peace.
9But how can workers benefit from their work? 10I have seen the burden God has given everyone to carry. 11God has made everything suitable for its own time and has even put an awareness of past and future into our heads, but we can’t find out what God has done from beginning to end. 12I know there is nothing better for people than that they should be happy and enjoy life as long as they live. 13It is a gift from God that people eat and drink and find pleasure in their work. 14I know that what God does lasts forever, and nothing can be added to or taken from it. It’s from God, so stand in awe! 15That which is has already been and that which is to be already is, and God searches for the things that have passed away.
16On top of all this, I saw that wickedness was always near the place of justice and even in the place of righteousness. 17I said to myself, “God will judge the good and the bad because God has appointed a time for everything.” 18And I said to myself that God is testing people to demonstrate that they are just animals, 19for the fate of humans and animals is the same; they both die. They breathe the same air, and humans have no advantage over animals. It’s all the same. 20All of them go to one place because we were made from dust, and we will return to dust. 21Who knows if the human soul goes upward and the animal’s soul goes down into the earth?
22So, I saw that there is nothing better for any of us but that we should enjoy our work. That is, after all, our lot. How can we see what will come after us?
1-8: Probably among the ten most recognized passages in the Bible, these verses continue the cynicism of the previous chapter. Everything has its season, and the good and the bad get equal play in life. There is scant reason to rejoice at successes or bemoan failures, since the opposite condition will eventually visit as well.
9-14: It is impossible to figure out what God is doing and why, he seems to be saying. The only reasonable course in life is to enjoy your work and whatever pleasure falls your way. God’s work is endurable and unalterable and therefore beyond our scrutiny and influence.
15: This is a curious statement over which commentators differ widely. I think the sense of it is “there’s nothing new under the sun,” and the past is no more except in the mind of God.
16-22: There is a time for justice and a time for evil; a time for righteousness and a time for wickedness. The cynicism continues: it is impossible to determine if humans are any better off than animals. All we have is the day at hand and the work before us.
So, God is inscrutable, and we can’t really see what’s going on in our lives. But God is God, so we can rest assured that there is meaning and purpose.