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Jul 3 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 1, 2012 – Ecclesiastes 3:1

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven– Ecclesiastes 3:1

INTRO: A thought occurred to me recently, that I should keep a record of the wisdom Mom handed down to us kids

For example:

Mom once told my older sister and I, “Everyone has their own light. Sometimes when you’re with friends or at a social gathering, it is your turn for your light to shine. You explain something, tell a story or a joke, that everyone wants to hear. For that moment, you are the center of attention. Other times, it is someone else’s turn for their light to shine. Respect that moment, let them shine and enjoy their light. Do not always try to be the one whose light is shining. Recognize when it is time for someone else to be the center of attention.

The Bible contains books like the one I should right – they are repositories of wisdom

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction
And do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
(Pr. 1:8)

Three Old Testament books in particular are classified as “Wisdom Literature”

Proverbs – a collection of wise sayings that provide practical advice
– this is not speculative or theoretical wisdom
– these proverbs assume cause and effect relationships in an ordered universe
• so they can promise rewards for choosing the wise path and trouble for those who make the foolish choice
• example:

In all labor there is profit,
But mere talk leads only to poverty.
(Pr. 14:23)

Job – is a protest against the idea that the use of wisdom as in the Proverbs is absolute
– in general, that approach to life works well enough, but it doesn’t explain everything and it doesn’t always work
– Job’s complaint is resolved (or dissolved) in his encounter with God

Ecclesiastes – is aware of both Proverbs and Job, and in a way blends them and goes beyond them
– it contains proverbs that, in form and content, are almost identical to what we find in the Book of Proverbs
• but it also raises a sense of uncertainty, as in Job

I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all (Ecc. 9:11)

– this worldview is not as mechanical as what we see in the Proverbs
• yet Ecclesiastes is not a complaint that must be resolved by an encounter with God
– Job had to relearn (or move to a deeper level in) the “fear of the LORD” (Job 6:14 & ch. 28)
• but the fear of God is already well established in Ecclesiastes, appearing no less than seven and notably at the end of the book

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. (Ecc. 12:13)

– Ecclesiastes is unique and contradicts neither Proverbs or Job
• instead, it asks, “So what? So what if you’re wise? So what if you’re right? You’re still going to die”
• and that lets the air out of everything

Pious scholars (both rabbinical and Christian) did not know what to do with Ecclesiastes

They tended to misread it

  • first, they assumed Solomon was the author
  • then, they tried to fit Ecclesiastes somewhere in his story (as told in 1 Kings)
  • they felt Ecclesiastes was too cynical to be the work of a believer
  • they concluded Solomon wrote it after his heart was “turned away after other gods” (1 Ki. 11:1-4)
  • but they also realized that the author of Ecclesiastes pointed readers back to God
  • so then, Christian scholars invented a new ending to Solomon’s story
    – that at some undisclosed time after turning away, he repented and returned to Yahweh

Working from their assumptions, they missed what book is about
– by the way, modern scholars who see only the cynicism of Ecclesiastes have also missed the point of “the Preacher”

Ecclesiastes has two surface themes and one deep theme

We find the surface themes in two expressions:

  1. “Vanity” (Heb. hebel) is emptiness (because transient), vaporous
    – Robert Alter translates it, “mere breath”
    –  another term of capturing the same idea is “chasing the wind,” which Alter translates “herding the wind”–a great word picture! (Ecc. 1:14)
  2. “Under the sun,” which appears again and again – a one-dimensional view of life
    – an exclusively materialistic view that excludes God – we come, we go, it’s over
    – in the end, even the wisest and wealthiest humans are no better off than beasts that perish (3:19)
    – this radically undermines the hope people place in their accomplishments or possessions

The deep theme:
– life is good – it’s not a waste and the best way to live it is to enjoy it
– but this life doesn’t carry its meaning in itself — if there’s a meaning for it, we have to look elsewhere
• we do not find life’s meaning anywhere “under the sun” — that is an inadequate worldview
• we need a different point of view that is neither materialistic or transient

All through chapter 3, the Preacher explores time and eternity

He is not thinking philosophically! He does not treat time as an abstraction
– the philosophical Greeks treated time as an abstraction and asked questions like, “What is the nature of time?”
– the practical Hebrews asked questions like, “What is the purpose of time?”

In his third album entitled “Why Is There Air?”, Bill Cosby talks about a college sweetheart. She was a philosophy major who went around asking questions, like Why is there air? Cosby says, “Every athlete knows that–to blow up basketballs”

Cosby’s girlfriend represents the Greek mind and Cosby the Hebrew mind

The Preacher says, whatever time is, humans exist in it and belong to it
– we begin in time, end in time, and in between we are controlled by time

On the other hand, God is eternal — time belongs to him
• everything we do is limited by time – has a start and finish
• but “everything God does will remain forever” (v. 14)

What is the purpose of time? What are we supposed to do with it?

“There is an appointed time for everything”
– the Hebrew is more condensed and goes something like: To all, a season and a time to all pleasure under heaven
– “pleasure” (the Hebrew can also be translated “desire”) can be applied to what people hope to experience and therefore refers to what they plan or  purpose to do

The Preacher then inserts a poem to illustrate his point – a time for this, a time for that

In the poem, time runs in cycles that alternate between opposites
– there are universal cycles, like the seasons of the year
– but there are also individual cycles through which every human life runs its course

For each rotation in the cycle there is an appropriate activity
– it’s as if life consists of a series of appointments
– this is reminiscent of the way Jesus talked about his life in the Gospel of John
• “My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2:4), “My time [kairos] has not yet come” (Jn. 7:6-8)

Wisdom is to know where you are in the rotation and the activity appropriate to it
– this wisdom is illustrated a number of times in the Hebrew Scriptures:

  • Esther 1:13, the king’s “wise men who understood the times”
  • 1 Chronicles 12:32, “. . . men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do”
  • 2 Kings 5:26, “Is it a time to receive money, etc. . . .?”
  • Esther 4:14, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

Have you ever walked up to a department store or office building where the sign on the glass door says “Pull” and you pushed?
– that’s what happens when we don’t correctly read our current rotation in time
• it’s as if we end up fighting the forces of nature
• we try to do what cannot be done at this time – e.g., collect a harvest when it’s time to plant
– on the other hand, if we cooperate with the rotations, then time works for us

CONC: We all know that in most things timing is a critical factor

But maybe we haven’t realized how critical
– or we don’t know what we’ve missed because our timing was off

In a lot of our activities, timing is simply a habit
– but what would happen if we brought awareness to time even in the simple things we do?
– this practice could become a way to be at peace with every moment in life
•  when things are not going our way, we might be able to see how our timing is off
– rather than complain, “I wanted something else by now,” we could ask, “What is here now?”
• then we could settle into the moment and accept it for what it is

Something is appropriate to this season of our lives and other things are not appropriate now
– who determines what is most important now?

But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD,
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in Your hand . . .
(Ps. 31:14-15)

Right now is the right time for something and it may be on this list the Preacher has written
– whatever that is, we will not find the answer in time, but eternity

But what if we spend the next few weeks working our way through the list and still can’t figure out what time it is?
– several psalms tell us that certain things are good to do “at all times”

  • Ps. 34:1,”I will praise the LORD at all times”
  • Ps. 62:8, “Trust in Him at all times”
  • Ps. 106:43, “practice righteousness at all times”

Praise the Lord, trust him, and stay right with him and others all the time
– these three activities will at least keep us close to the mark until we learn how to tell time

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