Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 – A God Placed Yearning In Our Hearts That This World Cannot Fulfil

Introduction

Solomon was seeking for something of lasting value, a lasting satisfaction, and realised he could not obtain it in this world. But why should he even have this desire in the first place? If man is of the world, and the world is all there is, why does man seek something more than the world can offer? The answer is that God has set eternity (a yearning for something that lasts more than today) on our hearts.

Solomon had found that pleasure, possessions, self-indulgence, wisdom and work all produce at best a transient satisfaction – they all fail to produce anything that endures. There is nothing that currently brings lasting satisfaction, and no new thing will appear that will bring it either. Worse still man is utterly incapable of changing this. He is transient compared to his surroundings, and by applying wisdom he cannot change either himself or the world to produce lasting satisfaction.

In our western secular society, the view that the natural world is all that exists holds dominance, and this view can be safely be expressed without fear of reprisal on the individual. The view that there exists a Biblically defined God, who can be known through Jesus Christ, and that His followers should make the Bible their rule for daily life, is fiercely resisted in modern Britain. A GP faces being struck for sharing his faith with a patient [1], street preachers have been hand-cuffed and locked in cells [2],[3] or fined £1000 pounds [4].  A teacher was sacked for offering to pray for a sick pupil [5]. Yet if Solomon is right, it is believers, sometimes suffering believers, who know true eternal contentment, and not those who oppose them.

A Time for Everything –God’s Presence In the World

A Time For everything

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:” Eccles 3:1

It was Solomon ‘s inescapable conclusion, there is a definite time and purpose for events in this world. This purpose comes not from man, but the circumstances around him, and often man has to wait to respond at the proper time.  The tides follow a natural rhythm which is predictable. Boats will choose to sale at the most advantageous point for them. Farmers sow seed at regular times of the year and then must wait for harvest. During the harvest season farmers watch and wait for weather which allows them to gather the crop. The world is not random. It is not a chaotic sequence of purposeless events. There are physical biological and chemical laws that are obeyed, these laws point to an order, not established by man. Where did this order come from? Who imposed this natural order on the world if not man?

God has appointed the season and determined the purpose. It is He who balances life: birth and death, sorrow and joy, seedtime and harvest  – an order which we cannot easily explain using natural phenomena alone.

“It is the wise, and regular, and orderly administration of One, who sees the end from the beginning, and to whom there is no unanticipated contingency; and whose omniscient eye, in the midst of what appears to us inextricable confusion, has a through and intuitive perception of the endlessly diversified relations and tendencies of all events, and all their circumstances discerning throughout the whole the perfection of harmony.” Charles Bridges

God has appointed this order, which man can determine through wisdom. By understanding the order God has placed in creation man is enabled to enjoy this world. Through our knowledge of agriculture we have food to eat. Through our knowledge of science and engineering we create many aids to our lives – transportation, domestic appliances and medical equipment. But again we face a danger. If we make the lawful pursuit of understanding and using God’s order in the universe as our chief end, this causes problems, in doing so we ignore the purposes of God for ourselves and this world. Both reason (our minds) and revelation (the Bible) are given to control our use of nature. To expect unchanging happiness in a changing world must end in disappointment, as this world revolves around God’s purposes (Isaiah 46:10), which are centred on His glory and not our happiness.

A Time For Various Activities

There is a time to be born, and a time to die (v2). Our birth is not by chance or random act, yet who can control his birth? It is God who determines the time we are brought into being! Do we curse the day of our birth, as Job did under trial (Job 3:3), or see it as God’s appointed time to live out His purposes for us now? Our lives are a seedtime for eternity, what we do in this life influences our experience in the next life, beyond death. We also have a time to die. None can evade God’s appointed time for our death. Not with a great fortune or all the skill and wisdom in the world. God’s work in us and through us will be done, man is immortal until it is done, and then our lives end.

A time to kill and a time to heal (v3). While these events are more under man’s control, yet God still has providence over these actions (Deut 32:39, 1 Sam 2:6, Hos 6:1).

There are times for weeping, laughing, mourning and dancing (v4). We look around to the right or left to avoid this or that trouble, our natural instinct to look for the easy path. However the danger is that we enter some by-water out of God’s will where we will have neither His promise, His comfort nor His guidance. We need to be content with our lot, there is godly joy even in suffering. Even if, as God’s children, we are disciplined by Him, it is because He disciplines those he loves (Heb 12:7). Should we who deserve to be cursed complain against His loving application of the rod? We need to rest in God’s wise dealings with us and be happy.

There is an appropriate time to speak and an appropriate time for silence (v6). Wisdom is needed in determining when as well as what to speak – the afflicted is comforted, Christian rebuke is rightly and lovingly applied, the ignorant is instructed. The ability to discern the correct opportunity to speak as well as when to be silent offers a powerful opportunity to build God’s kingdom. The talent for conversation will be of little use unless it is combined with the talent for silence.

There is a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace (v8). Nations experience situations where war is required as well as times to pursue peace. Nor can individuals at all times shun dispute and contention, and the need for self-defence may be required. All this is not chance – it is the providence of the Great Ruler of the Universe (Ps 46:9, Ps 147:14).

All of these examples point to God’s overruling Providence and governance of His creation, in contrast to God’s man’s impotence and inconsistency. How can man expect happiness from an unstable world where the God orders events for His own glory?

“If the sun shines today, the darkening clouds may come tomorrow. Only one thing remains unchangeable – the glorious gospel of the blessed God – God’s love for His people – Christ’s work perfected for them, and in them. Not a shadow of change is found here.” Charles Bridges

A Yearning For Eternity – God’s Presence in Our Lives

God has Placed Eternity on Our Hearts

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.“ Eccles 3: 11

God has placed within us a longing to be or do something that lasts beyond our short lifespan. We stare into the abyss of death left with an uneasy sense that life may continue in some form after death. Yet death is impenetrable to us. No scientific experiment has yet credibly examined what is beyond death for human beings. We simply cannot, from this world alone, understand what is beyond death.

Both our desire to understand life in its entirety (including death), and the limitations on our ability to do so, have been ordained by God. God put into Solomon’s heart a desire to study and a great power to comprehend life in all its order and beauty. However the field of study is so wide, life is so short,  our knowledge of the past so imperfect, and of the future so clouded, that no man can find out the purposes of  God through history from beginning to end. Indeed our short lifetimes are part of the problem, much of God’s work is begun in one age, and finished in another. Our desire to understand life, and our inability to do so, drives us to faith and to trust in God.  Where we cannot discern God’s plans we have to trust in the character of God.  Do we expect to always be able to understand the divine mind, weak, limited and fallible as we are in our abilities?

Because the world cannot satisfy us (God has placed eternity on our hearts) we must find God’s will for our lives and let Him work according to His purpose. Here is true peace and contentment. Those who live for this world cannot be satisfied by it. This has been ordained by God. He has placed both eternity in our hearts and our inability to find it in this transient world. When God promises there shall be no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22) – the godless – He means it! Yet there is a challenge here for us all. We all can be so taken up with this world that we have neither time or desire to think of God, but the world leaves us restless, dissatisfied. By making the world our whole object we miss the influence and purposes of God in our lives and deny ourselves true contentment from finding eternal value in the things of God.

The Best We Have Within Our God Given Limitations

“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.  That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.” Eccles 3:12 – 15

The best enjoyment we can obtain from this world is to do good, be able to enjoy the fruit of our labours, and to have sufficient for our bodily needs, all of this is a gift of God. Rather than becoming embittered about what God has not given us (namely the ability to comprehend all of reality) we should enjoy the gifts God has given us. God encourages us to trust Him – and He returns our trust by the overflowing fulfilment of grace beyond our prayer and expectation. If we have God with us, then surely joy and gratitude should be in our lives. Thankful godliness is a bright portion in a cold disappointing world, a true enjoyment, a real good.

The contrast is drawn between God’s enduring purposes and the short-lived “vanities” of this world in verse 14. Whatever God does stands. It cannot be altered or set aside by man’s will or power. Man’s plans are subordinate to God’s plans that cannot be overruled. There is nothing defective in God’s plans in and of themselves that may render them void.

“That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been” God’s work, and this world, is the same in each age. In Providence (God working His purposes out in the world), the same laws of governance are in force as from the beginning. We face the inherently the same world as Solomon did. We will find contentment in the same place Solomon did, in knowing God. The children of God have the same trials as from the beginning (1 Pet 5:9, 1 Cor 10:13), and most encouragingly God has not changed (Heb 13:8). He is every ready, as He always has been, to help and encourage His people and carry them through every trial they face here on earth.

Man Reduced to the Level of The Beasts – God’s Presence Ignored

Ignoring the Just God’s Presence Produces Injustice

“Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.”
Eccles 3:16, 17

We might think that with such evidence for God both in the created order around us and placed upon our own natures, that men would seek God and have unity in following His purposes. However the reality is very different. In the place of justice was injustice (v16). Injustice is seen in the best of governments, all too often the guardian of the innocent often becomes the hangman of the innocent. Power if not the instrument of promoting godliness, can often make is possessor a wolf or a tiger to his fellow creatures – possessing power is fraught with danger. Yet injustice extends into broader human relationships such as the home or the work place. There is a desire to sin in all our hearts, no-one is exempt from the possibility of either receiving from or committing injustice against our fellow man. The picture painted is one of man’s brutishness – the stronger oppresses the weaker just as in the animal kingdom.

What makes the view of such injustice, which brings suffering to the innocent, tolerable? It is that God will bring judgement at the appointed time, if not here on earth, then at the judgement to come, when every human being shall stand before God. Why does God delay His judgement? Because there is a time for every work. Why is this time sometimes delayed? Only God truly knows the answer, but here are some thoughts. Further, If judgement followed immediately after each sin, there would be no room for faith, perseverance or trust in the face of difficulty. If judgement immediately followed an individual’s sin, then that individual would not have an opportunity to repent (2 Peter 3:8, 9). But we have the great and certain hope that the darkness now will be replaced by a glorious eternity with the one who judges justly.

Ignoring the Eternal God’s Presence Removes Man’s Hope of Eternity

“I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.  All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? “ Eccles 3:18 – 21

In our society we see even the most gifted of individuals deny the eternal existence of their souls, and as a result, all accountability before God. They reduce themselves, in their minds, to the level of the beasts in that they are simple following their own instincts and motives without reference to a holy and just God, living for this world alone, with no possibility of an afterlife.

“Yet when we see men of vast capacity – of the mightiest grasp of mind in earthly things – living as if they had no souls – seeking happiness in sensual pleasures – never looking beyond the grave – never calculating soberly the Infinite stake of eternity – rather determined to perish in rebel stubbornness, than willing to return to God – does not man here sink immortal nature to the very lowest brutishness?” Charles Bridges

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821) was one of the greatest military leaders in history and emperor of France, he conquered much of Europe. He did not believe in the God of the Bible. He never believed in a living God, his deity was an absent and distant God. Yet when dying in exile on the island of St Helena, he stated:

“I die before my time; and my body will be given back to the earth, to become the food of worms. Such is the fate which so soon awaits the great Napoleon …  What an abyss between my deep wretchedness, and Christ’s eternal kingdom, proclaimed, loved, adored, and spreading through the world!” Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon recoiled at the thought of what would happen to his body. The fact that people die is an insult to man’s dignity, he is reduced to the level of a beast. Realising that we will die in like manner to all other creatures, but that we are vastly superior in knowledge, skills and abilities to them, should lead us to humility (acknowledging our mortality) and to seek God. By making this world our only portion we lower ourselves to the level of beasts that have no eternal hope or awareness of the judgement to come.

“The spirit of a man goes upward , to be judged, and is then fixed in an unchangeable state of happiness or misery. It is as certain that the spirit of the beast goes downward to the earth; it perishes at death. Surely their case is lamentable, the height of whose hopes and wishes is, that they may die like beasts.” Matthew Henry

Lessons From Chapter 3

God has placed eternity in our hearts – it is impossible for us to be satisfied with this world alone.

Don’t try to find your lasting satisfaction in the things of this world. God has made this impossible. We should instead come to God in faith and obedience to be truly happy, discovering His purpose for our lives.

The world has an order and a purpose placed on it which is there to establish God’s purposes – not our happiness

God work’s out His plans and purposes through this world. These plans are based around His glory and not solely man’s happiness. To try and find you happiness, without God, in a world that not designed for that purpose will only lead ultimately to frustration. Our true happiness and contentment are found in God alone.

Acknowledging our eternal souls and coming to know God through Christ gives us our proper value and dignity

Denying our eternal souls reduces us to the level of brute beasts where we act according to our instincts and desires without reference to the eternal states of Hell and Heaven which are to come. This lack of awareness of the coming judgement all too often leads man to oppress his fellow man.

 


Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in A Biblical View of Life, The Problem Stated: Chapters 1 - 3 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>