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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 3

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

Verses 1-22

Ecclesiastes 3:1

How for everything there is a time and a season, and then how does the glory of a thing pass from it, even like the flower of the grass. This is a truism, but it is one of those which are continually forcing themselves upon the mind.

Borrow's Lavengro, xxvi.

He is a good time-server that finds out the fittest opportunity for every action. God hath made a time for everything under the sun, save only for that which we do at all times to wit, sin.

Thomas Fuller.

References. III. 1-8. R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 92. Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons (3rd Series), p. 334.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

The second of these may describe the times of analysis which often succeed periods of creation. They are not necessarily bad, for they may detect things evil and hollow; but they are times of distrust and unsettlement, and they easily go to excess. Everything is doubted, and in some minds this leads to universal scepticism. We are in such a period now, and it gives the feeling as if the ages of faith were past, and bare rationalism lord of the future. This would resolve everything into dust and death.

Dr. John Ker's Thoughts for Heart and Life, p. 153.

Compare J. S. Mill's Autobiography, p. 137.

References. III. 2. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 57. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ecclesiastes, p. 323.

Ecclesiastes 3:4

Men thin away to insignificance quite as often by not making the most of good spirits when they have them, as by lacking good spirits when they are indispensable.

Thomas Hardy.

If cheerfulness knocks at our door we should throw it wide open, for it never comes inopportunely; instead of that we often make scruples about letting it in. Cheerfulness is a direct and immediate gain the very coin, as it were, of happiness, and not, like all else, merely a cheque upon the bank.


'Don't tell me,' William Pitt once cried, 'of a man's being able to talk sense, every one can talk sense; can he talk nonsense?'

A sense of humour preserves all who have it from extremes. It warns away from the confines of the petty and ridiculous, and produces very often the same tolerant effects as magnanimity, revealing through laughter that reasonable line of thought which was obscured by logic.

Spectator, 27 May, 1905, p. 778.

Ecclesiastes 3:4

Last July, at an evening concert in the Kursaal of Sestroretz, a fashionable seaside resort near St. Petersburg, a number of the audience loudly insisted upon funeral music being played in memory of those who had perished in the St. Petersburg massacres of 22 January. The demonstrators shouted,' This is no time for pleasure'.

References. III. 4. W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses, p. 56. W. Brock, Midsummer Morning Sermons, p. 118.

Ecclesiastes 3:7

Luther begins the dedicatory letter to Amsdorf, prefixed to his epoch-making 'Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,' with these words: 'The time for silence is gone, and the time to speak has come, as we read in Ecclesiastes.'

It was this treatise which, in 1520, first gave voice to the conscience of the nation

Ecclesiastes 3:7

When hearts are overfull they seldom run to speech. When sorrow has broken in on love, love left alone again, is hesitant and shy, more prone to look and kiss and hold than to mend his wounds with words.

Katherine Cecil Thurston in The Circle.

Thoughts on Silence

Ecclesiastes 3:7

'Speech is silvern, silence is golden,' saith the proverb. But there are many kinds of silence. There is a silence that is trying, and another that is fearful: as also there is a silence that is wholesome, one that is acceptable, one that is instructive, and still another that is blessed.

I. There is a Silence which is Good and Wholesome, viz. when a man sets a guard over his tongue and keeps silence from idle, vain, hurtful words. It has been well said that he who would speak well must speak little. Silence is a most wholesome restraint, a most helpful discipline, especially for those who are much pressed with engagements and have little time to themselves.

II. There is a Silence that is Acceptable to God and Well Pleasing in His Sight . When things go wrong; when people are careless, or stupid, or perverse; when we feel irritated or annoyed; when the cutting speech, or the angry word, or the impatient exclamation rises to our lips; then 'the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time'. Or when we are blamed unjustly; when our actions are misjudged, and our intentions misconstrued; when we have laid to our charge things that we know not; when we are maligned, insulted, or reviled; then is the time to keep silence. At such times let us strive to imitate our Blessed Lord, 'Who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered He threatened not'.

III. There is a Silence which is Sweet, Comforting and Blessed, and of which we read 'there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour'. As though in the midst of the songs and praises and rejoicings of the Holy Angels the Lord God Almighty ordered silence, and bid them pause awhile that the prayers and cries and tears of men might the better rise up to heaven, and enter into His ears. Not that God is deaf or can ever be distracted. His piercing eye takes in everything at a glance. His loving ear is attentive to the faintest whisper of His children. But He condescends to our weakness and ignorance by speaking to us in the language of men. God hears the faintest whisper of His servants' hearts. His ear is always open day and night unto their prayers; nevertheless, at the crisis of a life, as in the last great crisis of the world's history the opening of the Seventh Seal silence is kept in heaven, that there may be help upon earth.

'A time to keep silence.' Whilst at times we keep silence before men, let us talk unceasingly to God and pour out our hearts before Him. Let us tell Him our wants, our weakness, our hopes, our fears, our desires, and never fear of wearying His all-loving, all-sympathizing ear.

Ecclesiastes 3:8

'Ah, Sam!' said Carlyle once to Froude, apropos of Bishop Wilberforce, 'he is a very clever fellow; I do not hate him near as much as I fear I ought to do.'

Compare Newman's lines on Zeal and Love. 'I believe,' said Prof. W. K. Clifford upon one occasion, 'that if all the murderers and all the priests and all the liars in the world were united into one man, and he came suddenly upon me round a corner and said, How do you do? in a smiling way, I could not be rude to him.'

Reference. III. 9-22. R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 107.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

'What we mean to insist upon is, that in finding out the works of God, the intellect must labour, workmanlike, under the direction of the architect Imagination...." He hath set the world in man's heart," not in his understanding, and the heart must open the door to the understanding. It is the far-seeing imagination which beholds what might be a form of things, and says to the intellect, "Try whether that may not be the form of these things ".' So George Macdonald writes in his essay on The Imagination, which he concludes by quoting Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 , over again as 'setting forth both the necessity we are under to imagine, and the comfort that our imagining cannot outstrip God's making. Thus,' he comments, 'thus to be playfellows with God in this game, the little ones may gather their daisies and follow their painted moths; the child of the kingdom may pore upon the lilies of the field, and gather faith as the birds of the air their food from the leafless hawthorn, ruddy with the stores God has laid up for them; and the man of science

May sit, and rightly spell

Of every star that heaven doth show,

And every herb that sips the dew;

Till old experience doth attain

To something like prophetic strain.'

Ecclesiastes 3:11

So might we sum up the spirit of Israel. But the Jewish ideal simplified life by leaving half of it untouched. It remained for Greece to make the earth a home, ordered and well equipped for the race, if not indeed for the individual. Greece supplied the lacking elements art, science, secular poetry, philosophy, political life, social intercourse.... Hebraism and Hellenism stand out distinct, the one in all the intensity of its religious life, the other in the wealth and diversity of its secular gifts and graces.

Thus the sharp contrasts of the Sculptor's plan

Showed the two primal paths our race has trod;

Hellas, the nurse of man complete as man,

Judaea pregnant with the living God.

Butcher, Harvard Lectures on Greek Subjects, pp. 42, 43.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

'Within me there is more.' So runs the fine device inscribed upon the beams and pediment of an old patrician mansion at Bruges, which every traveller visits; filling a corner of one of those tender and melancholy quays, that are as forlorn and lifeless as though they existed only on canvas. So too might man exclaim, 'Within me there is more': every law of morality, every intelligible mystery.


The Judgment

Ecclesiastes 3:11

I. Some idea of 'Judgment' is practically universal. The reasons seem to be:

a. The intrinsic incompleteness of life.

b. The fact that character continues to grow after faculties decline.

c. The imperious clamour of the affections.

II. The prominent place of the idea in the teaching of Jesus.

d. Its immediate expectation by the early Church.

e. Chiliasm 'Millenarianism' ' Second Adventists,' etc.

f. The popular notion that the record is incomplete for each individual at death.

III. Christ sets it much farther forward.

g. The things which must first occur.

h. That it will be a humane judgment

i. A perfectly correct judgment. 'The books opened' all relevant facts exposed. If arbitrary this would not be emphasized.

IV. Whom He condemns and approves.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

'The woods,' says Ruskin in Præterita, 'which I had only looked on as wilderness, fulfilled, I then saw, in their beauty the same laws which guided the clouds, divided the light, and balanced the wave. "He hath made everything beautiful in His time," became for me thenceforward the interpretation of the bond between the human mind and all visible things.'

Ecclesiastes 3:11

The tree of life is always in bloom somewhere, if we only know where to look.

Havelock Ellis.

All Things Beautiful in Their Season

Ecclesiastes 3:11

The sentiment of the beautiful is universal. The beautiful is much more than a mere gratification of the senses.

I. God's manifest delight in beauty. Beauty is essentially inwrought into God's works; every little flower, every blade of grass, every fitful shape, every vagrant twig, exemplifies it Beauty is God's taste, God's art, God's manner of workmanship.

II. Beauty is the necessary conception of the Creator's thought, the necessary product of His hand; variety in beauty is the necessary expression of His infinite mind. Even decay, disorganization, feculence, have an iridescence of their own.

III. Beauty is part of our human perfection also. Unbeautiful things are defective things. Beauty is not intended to minister to a mere idle sentiment It is a minister to our moral nature. It is the deeper, more pervading sense of God; it is the religious sentiment of the soul.

H. Allon, Harvest and Thanksgiving Services, p. 17.

References. III. 11. A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester (3rd Series), p. 209. W. Park, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii. p. 259. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ecclesiastes, p. 334. III. 16-22. T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 87. III. 14, 16. J. C. M. Bellew, Christ in Life: Life in Christ, p. 237. III. 15. W. R. Owen, A Book of Lay Sermons, p. 73. III. 19-21. W. L. Alexander, Sermons, p. 238.

Ecclesiastes 3:20

After all it comes to the same thing in the end, how we make our grand tour be it afoot, or on horseback, or on board ship. We all arrive at the same hostelry at last the same poor inn, whose door is opened with a spade and where the appointed chamber is so narrow, cold, and dreary; but there we sleep well, almost too well.


Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 3". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/ecclesiastes-3.html. 1910.
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