Today we will try to finish Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, the second of the three parts in which Solomon responds to his own search for meaning by saying that there is meaning but that it is found only in God. You will remember that we already went through the main idea of these fifteen verses, spending two letters on verses 1-8. Verses 9-15 finish this section, “God Controls Everything to be Beautiful in its Time.” It’s only seven verses but…seven verses can make a long letter!
Before we look at these verses one by one, I’ll summarize the main thoughts they contain. I think this will make it easier to study them one by one.
Verses 9-10: Solomon asks again his theme question: “What profit is there in labor? Is there profit?” Then he reminds us of its importance: “Answering this question is man’s basic need!”
Verse 11: Faith answers this question, “Yes! There is meaning because God has made everything beautiful in its proper place!”
Yet, because man knows there must be eternal value to labor while he is limited to time and space, man is unable to discern just where this beauty lies.
Verses 12-13: The good is not found in the things themselves but rather in joyfully using all things and all events to serve God…and this is possible only as a gift from God.
Verse 14: God has done things so perfectly that
(1) all things will last forever, they honestly will! and
(2) man cannot possibly improve on anything at all!
This truth should make men fear God!
Verse 15: Furthermore, we don’t have to fear that we missed something by not living in a different time and age. Everything, with slight variations, occurs in every age over again. And be sure that God will judge all things, both past and present and future! This might be enough to make the verses clear already but, to make sure we’ll also go through them one by one.
(3:9-10) “What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth? I have seen the travail which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.”
Solomon has just given his poetic overview of God’s sovereign planning of everything that occurs in time. Now he plans to draw out the doctrines behind this beautiful trust in God. To introduce this doctrinal part, he repeats his theme question and reminds us of his search for an answer to that question. He is basically saying:
“In the light of what I’ve just said, let’s ask our key question again: ‘What profit is there in labor?’ I have searched, remember, and have seen that labor is profitless to the sons of men!”
The expression “sons of men” always applies to the godless world and so he’s reminding us that those who labor apart from God find no meaning in their labor…and now he’s going to say WHY it is that they find no meaning in their labor, since God has made everything beautiful.
(3:11a) “He hath made everything beautiful in his time….”
This reviews what verses 1-8 taught us. By faith we know there is meaning to life and to work because God has ordained everything without error, beautifully.
(3:11b) “…also he hath set the world (or, eternity) in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.”
Why can’t men find meaning to their work?
REASON 1: They are limited to their experiences in this life whereas to find meaning they must see everything from the view point of eternity; a truth they realize, but an obstacle they cannot overcome. How can I, from one place on earth and from one point in history, observe all that happens from beginning to end? I cannot!
(3:12) “I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice and to do good in his life.”
Why can’t men find meaning in their labor?
REASON 2: The good is not found in the labor itself or in things themselves, but in joyfully using these things to serve God and the neighbor!
(3:3) “And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God.”
Why can’t men find meaning in their labor?
REASON 3: Enjoyment in labor is God’s gift! Two men may be in identical situations; one hates his labor while the other enjoys it…because God gave him the gift of enjoyment.
(3:14) “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it (i.e., added to it) nor anything taken from it: and God doeth it that men should fear before Him.”
Question: What are the things that God does?
Answer: He does all things on this earth (cf. verses 1-8).
Question: How can these earthly things last forever?
Answer: God gives to each small event an eternal value which will lead to His eternal praise.
Question: Cannot anything be improved upon?
Answer: Men cannot improve anything, anywhere, either by adding to it or by taking away from it. (What a statement of beautiful faith!)
Question: How will ungodly men respond to this truth?
Answer: They shall fear God! If they fail to learn this fear in this life and repent of their ungodliness, then they shall be taught this fear in eternity as they face God Himself…but they shall fear God!
(3:15) “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be, hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.”
Men should fear God for what He is in Himself and also for His wonderful works—that was taught in verse 14. Now Solomon adds that they must fear Him also for themselves because they will face Him as Judge. All ages repeat the same sins, over and over, and God will judge not only what is happening today, but everything anyone has ever done throughout all the ages.
Thank God that He humbles us as His children now, today, so that we learn in this life to reverence and love Him! Thank God that we will not be judged as the “sons of men” but as those who are found in Christ, for whom He has died! Thank God also that, because of His gift of salvation to us, we are able to see in a small way how everything He does is beautiful and that therefore we can also find joy in our work!
- How does 3:9-15 fit with 3:1-8?
- Give Solomon’s three reasons why men (without Revelation) cannot find beauty and meaning in their labor.
- From verse 14:
- What characterizes all God’s works?
- What is the purpose of all God’s works?
- What does it mean, “and God requireth that which is past?” Can you give an example?