Question

What does Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 mean?

Answer

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).

Most of the world understands that there are different times and seasons in life. Perhaps the best example of this is the song "Turn! Turn! Turn!" It was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s but in 1965 it was recorded by The Byrds (Columbia Records) and rose to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in just a few months. The song is based upon Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. [1] While I’m not sure if the Byrds understood the complete significance of what they were singing at the time, the song's message was that all of life consists of numerous contrasting cycles. [2]

The LORD God is sovereign over all things—including all of life. As King Solomon penned the words of Ecclesiastes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as he reflected on his life experiences and observed that all of life consisted of a wondrous chain of beginnings and endings. Every season of life is appointed by God himself. Solomon’s father David similarly echoed this same truth in Psalm 139:15-16: "My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." Ultimately, the sovereign LORD God is the chief designer of our lives.

As we read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, we see a sequence of fourteen contrasting seasons and times—"a time for every matter under heaven":

Text
Statement
Contrast
Eccl. 3:2 a time to be born a time to die
Eccl. 3:2 a time to plant a time to pluck up what is planted
Eccl. 3:3 a time to kill a time to heal
Eccl. 3:3 a time to break down a time to build up
Eccl. 3:4 a time to weep a time to laugh
Eccl. 3:4 a time to mourn a time to dance
Eccl. 3:5 a time to cast away stones a time to gather stones together
Eccl. 3:5 a time to embrace a time to refrain from embracing
Eccl. 3:6 a time to seek a time to lose
Eccl. 3:6 a time to keep a time to cast away
Eccl. 3:7 a time to tear a time to sew
Eccl. 3:7 a time to keep silence a time to speak
Eccl. 3:8 a time to love a time to hate
Eccl. 3:8 a time for war a time for peace

All of the above pairings communicate different times of human activity throughout a lifetime. It is all ordained by God, and "he has made everything beautiful in its time" (Eccl. 3:11). The seasons of life bring about God’s eternal purposes, which are a beautiful part of his overall plan.

The days of our lives are all numbered (Job 14:5; Heb. 9:27) and our times are in the Lord’s hands (Psa. 31:15). IF there are different seasons and times in our lives and God is in control of every one of them, then there is no reason for us to be anxious over anything (Rom. 8:28; cf. Matt. 6:25-34; Luke 12:23-31). As we seek God and his kingdom first (Matt. 6:33), we can be assured that in every breath and every moment of every season from the day we are born until our final breath are in the Lord’s hands.

Footnotes

[1] Wiki. "Turn! Turn! Turn!" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turn!_Turn!_Turn!). Last Accessed 13 Oct. 2021.

[2] Roger McGuinn, converted from Subud, an obscure Indonesian religious sect, to Christianity in 1978 after the band’s demise. John Seetoo. PS Audio. "Songs of Praise from Unlikely Artists, Part Two." (https://www.psaudio.com/copper/article/songs-of-praise-from-unlikely-artists-part-two/). Last Accessed 13 Oct. 2021.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).