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Ecclesiastes - Chapters 3 - 5

A verse by verse study of the book of Ecclesiastes

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Hello everyone. We’re going to continue through the book of Ecclesiastes today. So please get your Bible and follow along. It’ll mean a lot more if you do that.

Ecclesiastes — Chapter 3

Let’s go to Ecclesiastes 3:1.

1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A right time for everything is what Solomon is saying here. Now please keep in mind as we go through this book that Solomon is viewing life from man’s vantage point. He’s observing things in life, but all the while leaving God out of the picture. Now God inspired this book, so there’s a lot of wisdom here. And much of what Solomon says is tremendously helpful, and we should consider that it is inspired scripture. But just keep in mind that the overview of the book of Ecclesiastes, as he makes observations and as he reaches conclusions, that the overview in doing that is looking at life without God in the picture. So some of the things he says, he says just from man’s point of view, not from God’s point of view. And that way the understanding of the book of Ecclesiastes will open up for you—if you keep that in mind.

Also keep in mind that he’s driving toward a pivotal point, which we’ll get to toward the end of the book. So, again Chapter 3 and verse 2.

2 A time to be born, and a time to die; —

In other words, a right time for everything.

2 — a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

You can just apply this to life in general and you’ll see that that’s true. You plant a crop and then there comes a time when you harvest the crop.

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

Now Solomon was writing this in the Old Testament under the old covenant and he said, “A time to kill.” We know that God gives life and He can take life. But we also know that in the New Testament under the new covenant, He points out that not only can we not kill, we can’t even hate. Not only can we not commit adultery, we cannot lust. And so we have to take the whole Bible together and let it explain itself. Let it interpret itself.

So we are never going to come to a time when it’s okay for us to kill. The sixth commandment says, “You shall not kill.” So we have to keep that in mind as we read here in verse 3.

3 A time to kill —

That’s in God’s hands. We are not to do that.

3 — a time to heal; —

That’s also in God’s hands.

3 — a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

Appropriate times for appropriate things. If you don’t follow what he’s saying here, you end up in inappropriate situations doing inappropriate things. For instance, if you are in a situation that’s a tragic situation and people are sad and they’re crying, you don’t go around telling jokes and laughing. That’s not the time to laugh. That’s the time to mourn.

But on the other hand, if you are, let’s say, at a gathering where people are celebrating a wedding or celebrating the birth of a child, that’s not the time to mourn or weep, except maybe for tears of joy. That’s the time to laugh and to dance and to be happy. Just consider all this and kind of break it down into specific situations and you will see that these are some very wise words that Solomon is giving us here, under inspiration of God.

Ecclesiastes 3:5

5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; —

If you want to build a stone fence, for instance.

5 — a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6 A time to get, —

Or acquire

6 — and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

So many of these things are very important, but this one is especially important.

7 — a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

As we mature and as we grow and as we learn to get along in life, and as we learn to appreciate other people in the situations they’re in, we realize: you know what, there is a time to just be quiet. A time to listen. But there’s also a time to speak and to speak in the right way. People get their feelings hurt when we speak up at the time we should be listening, and sometimes when we just stay quiet at the time we ought to speak up. There’s a balance through all these things.

8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

You know, God’s way is not the way of war, although He can carry out war. But Israel of old did get involved in wars. They were a physical nation under a physical covenant with physical blessings and physical penalties. But now, the new covenant elevates everything to the spiritual level, so that not only are we to keep the letter of the law, we’re to keep the spirit of the law. And so now, we are not to hate. We’re not to kill nor are we to hate. It doesn’t mean that we’re to be pushed around. It doesn’t mean that we’re to be a throw rug. It doesn’t mean that we’re to be a victim. There’s a way to handle it in a way where that doesn’t happen. And God’s Word shows that as well.

But we are not to hate. So the Bible explains the Bible. The Bible interprets the Bible. Now, I’ll tell you one example, however, when there is a time to hate. We’re to hate sin.

Let’s notice over here in Proverbs 8:13. But we’re not to hate people. We can hate what they do. We can hate the sins that are committed.

It says here in Proverbs 8:13:

13 The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.

There’s a time to hate. But it’s not talking about hating people.

Let’s continue, verse 9.

9 What profit has he that works in that wherein he labors?

10 I have seen the travail, which God has given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.

11 He has made every thing beautiful in his time: —

There’s a right time for everything. That’s the point here in Chapter 3.

11 — also he has set the world in their heart, —

A better translation is: He has set eternity in their heart. Probably the strongest human drive is that of preservation of life. We want to continue to live. And that is an excellent and wonderful and right and good drive in every human being. And we want to have eternal life, and that’s a tremendous goal that all of us ought to set out in front of our lives and in front of our eyes. And where did that drive, where did that quest, where did that desire come from?

Well, notice here in verse 11.

11 — also he has set the world in their heart, —

He has set eternity in their heart.

11 — so that no man can find out the work that God makes from the beginning to the end.

We can see part of it. We can understand some of it. But it’s so massive, so magnificent, so glorious. It has such depth and width and such substance to it. We cannot comprehend with our limited minds and our limited abilities—we cannot fully comprehend Almighty God and all that He does, can do, and will do. But we can catch a glimpse of it enough to motivate and inspire us to go forward in His way.

12 I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.

In other words, if you take a look at what life has to offer and you leave God out of the equation, it ends up kind of being a blank, and therefore Solomon is saying, “The best thing you have left is just to rejoice and get as much pleasure as you can.”

13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God.

And that’s good. We should do that. But we should do it in connection with serving God and serving others. Not apart from serving God and serving others, and therefore it becomes not just a means to an end. It becomes the end. It becomes the be–all, end–all. Just satiating the five senses. Just gratifying the flesh. And he concluded: that’s all there is if you leave God out of the picture. But we’re going to see later he comes to realize: “No, there’s more to it than that.”

14 I know that, whatsoever God does, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God does it, that men should fear before him.

We may think we can improve on something God has done. We may think we can negate it. We may think we can alter it. But in the end, we can’t do any of that. God does what He wants to do and it’s always good. And what we have to do is get in line with it, instead of trying to add to it or take from it.

15 That which has been is now; and that which is to be has already been; and God requires that which is past.

An accounting of the past. In other words, we are judged, and our actions, our thoughts and our words are all taken into the judgment that is being made. God is merciful. He’s forgiving. He’s kind. But He does see and know and take note of what we do and what we don’t do, and what kind of person we are. God requires us to give an accounting of all that. So we need to keep Him in the picture. Not push Him out.

But Solomon is pushing Him out as he observes life in these early chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes. And many, many people in the world push God out too, as they live their lives. And they never, ever, ever retain Him in their knowledge. And they end up with the same conclusions that Solomon does right here in the book of Ecclesiastes. Vanity of vanities. It’s all just a bunch of vanity, grasping for the wind.

16 And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.

Well, you know the place of justice. You go into the justice system and you’re going to see some things there that are wicked, and you might see some things there that are appropriate. But you’re going to see some judgments and some actions and some decisions and some sentences and some penalties and punishment that are simply not proper.

You go into the place of righteousness. You can go into some churches where you should see righteousness. You should see things done right. You should see proper behavior. You should see proper teachings. You don’t always see that there. And so Solomon was making an observation with those things in mind.

17 I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.

Nothing goes unseen or unknown by God. And nothing escapes judging by God and rendering the judgment that it is either right and therefore will be blessed or it is wrong and therefore will be punished. God is in the picture whether we like it or not. And I hope we like it.

18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.

Well, now, they’re not really beasts. The proper translation is: They’re like beasts. Keep reading and get this in context and you’ll see what he means. Of course, human beings are far above animals, far above animals. We’re made in the image of God. That’s a whole different subject and we’ll get into that another time. But there are people who like to elevate animals to the level of human beings. And of course, that cannot be done. It never works when people try to do that.

But notice what we see in context when he says what he said in verse 18.

19 For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man has no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.

He’s talking about life and death, and he says “You have a horse out here. He goes through the cycle of life and he dies and returns to the dust. You have a man out here, he goes through the cycle of life and he dies and returns to the dust. They both die. They both return to the dust. So when you really get down to it, they’re both just about alike if you don’t have God in the picture. One has a higher form of life than the other. But when life is over, they both die, the breath lives them and they go back to the dust. If you just look at it on a physical plane, that’s the conclusion you reach and that’s what he reached, that conclusion.

20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

21 Who knows the spirit —

Or the breath

21 — of man that goes upward, and the spirit of the beast that goes downward to the earth?

Who knows? Who can tell? Who can figure it out? There’s not that much difference in that, if you do not view it from God’s vantage point, but rather see it from man’s view point.

22 Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

That’s all that’s left. Get while the getting is good. Enjoy as much physical pleasure, as much satiation of the five senses as you can because when it’s all said and done, that’s about all you have left. That’s what life is all about. Be as comfortable as you can for as long as you can and then you die.

Of course, that’s not true. But that’s what Solomon is saying in this book when it is used and viewed and considered from a physical position, without the spiritual aspect of the equation in the picture.

Ecclesiastes — Chapter 4

Chapter 4 and verse 1.

1 So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.

Look at how people are mistreated. Look at how people are taken advantage of and bullied around, and just taken advantage of financially and physically and emotionally. And sometimes there’s nobody there to help them. There’s nobody there to deliver them. There’s nobody there to be on their side and to be an advocate for them. It happens all the time all over the world. You see it where there are brutal dictators and the masses are just completely plundered and with no recourse. And so Solomon is saying “What’s that all about? Why is that fair?”

Verse 2, considering that he says:

2 Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.

At least they don’t have to be oppressed. They’re dead. If you’re still alive, you’re subject to being oppressed, he said.

3 Yea, better is he than both they, which has not yet been, who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

Why be born into this evil world if basically you’re going to just see so much evil and be subject to so much oppression. If that’s all there is, better not to be born. A lot of people think that way. Solomon thought that way. His view in life, looking at it strictly on the physical plane was that view.

4 Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbor. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.

5 The fool folds his hands together, and eats his own flesh.

Well, when you really think about it, that’s really, actually what happens. Somebody who is lazy and won’t work and won’t produce what he needs, begins to just melt away, does not replenish his health, does not reinvigorate his body and mind. And he begins to fade away. Because instead of being active and instead of doing what he can do, he just is a fool and wants to sit around philosophizing, folding his hands and have somebody else wait on him. And that doesn’t work. It never does and never will, not for anybody involved.

Verse 6, here’s a real pearl of wisdom.

6 Better is a handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.

Better to have what you need and you have peace and quietness, than to have way more than you need and along with it comes travail and vexation of spirit. A grasping for the wind and a lot of toil.

7 Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun.

I saw futility.

8 There is one alone, and there is not a second; —

Or a companion.

8 — yea, he has neither child nor brother: nor is there no end of all his labor; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither says he, For whom do I labor, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.

One of the things that I’ve noticed in doing a little special study on the subject is that so many people in life are all alone. Or they are lonely and there’s nobody who cares for them. Children sometimes are not cared for by anyone. You have men who are all by themselves. They have no father, no mother, no brothers, no sisters and nobody that cares. You have women in the same condition. You may have a husband, you may have a wife, you may have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and mother and father—thank God for that, and be happy and be thankful for the blessings.

But just because you have that condition and that blessing and that situation in your life doesn’t mean everybody does. There are many, many, many people alive today that nobody even gives any care about whatsoever. Nobody cares whether they live or die. Nobody even pays any attention to them one way or the other. And Solomon is making that observation and he’s saying this is tremendous futility and vanity and —

8 — it is a sore travail.

And it is. Because, you know, one of the biggest blessings in life is to have friends. One of the biggest blessings in life is to have family and to have people who really are interested in you and really care for you and really keep track of you. But I’ll tell you something that is also a big blessing. A big blessing in life is to care for somebody else, and to keep track of other people and to give and serve. That really adds immeasurably to life. And quite often when a person does that, they won’t be alone anymore.

9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.

You know, it’s easier for two people to pick up a table than one, and it’s more enjoyable if they respect one another.

10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: —

Or his companion.

10 — but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up.

And so he just lies there. And falling here is not just referring to literally falling. It has to do with failure in life.

11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?

In other words, a married couple, a husband and wife and they love one another and they enjoy one another and they have a tremendous companionship. It’s warm to be together in bed. It’s warm to be together at dinner, etc. It’s just better. God started out life by creating Adam and then He soon created Eve. And He said it’s not good for a man to dwell alone. Family, friends, companionship, it’s all wonderful as long as we’re careful about the companions and as long as we’re careful about what kind of companion we are and what we all do. And it’s really sad when you live a life where nobody knows anything about you, nobody cares anything about you, and whatever you do makes no difference with anyone whatsoever. Well, many, many people live that way right now and have throughout history. And Solomon is simply saying, “What a vain, futile thing that is.”

Now, it doesn’t have to be that way. We’ll find that out later. But quite often it is that way.

Notice here in verse 12.

12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

13 Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.

When a leader becomes so ensconced and so cemented in his position and he feels invincible, and now instead of being responsive, instead of being aware, instead of being on top of things in terms of his responsibility to those that he’s leading, he loses touch. And he no longer will take input, he no longer will take feedback, he no longer will take advice. Then everybody suffers and he doesn’t last too long. And so that’s what Solomon is saying here.

13 Better is a poor and a wise —


13 — than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.

Just read these verses and then read them again and go into them like you would go into a goldmine. Just keep digging and considering and thinking and weighing. And you will see there’s a tremendous amount of wisdom in each and every one of these verses. Ask yourself, who, what, when, where, how, and why this verse is talking about? See how it applies, in a practical way, to life, to you, to others. That’s the point of this book.

14 For out of prison he comes —

Still talking about this old king, this foolish king.

14 — out of prison he comes to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becomes poor.

In other words, if he was locked up and now he comes out of prison and he’s reigning and he won’t be admonished anymore and he’s become hardened and selfish, people in his kingdom are going to end up suffering and even be poor. But the other and most important part of that verse is somebody who’s born in his kingdom and has been in touch with everything even though he was born poor, at least he’s aware of what’s been going on in his kingdom and can give him good advice if he would listen. So there’s a lot in that verse, verse 14.

15 I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead.

And —

16 There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

So he’s just talking about government, he’s talking about a king, he’s talking about a kingdom. He’s talking about people that come along, he’s talking about youth that come along, he’s talking about children that come along. And when you weigh it all out, sooner or later, they run into trouble too, even though they are a king, even though they have power, even though they have wealth, even though they have prestige. They start to run into trouble too because they won’t be admonished anymore. They begin to be foolish, not all of them are that way, but too often it’s that way. And then even his children who come along after him, they then don’t succeed as much as they could and as much as they otherwise would. So leadership carries a responsibility. And that is: a leader must be involved, must care for those he’s leading, and must take advice and weigh it—not just turn into a dictator that’s just concerned with himself.

Ecclesiastes — Chapter 5

Chapter 5 and verse 1

1 Keep your foot when you go to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.

When we go before God to worship Him and we’re in His house, we ought to go there in the right attitude and in the right respect. And we ought to go there ready to hear more than to spout off and get involved in a lot of talking and in a lot of just babbling along. That’s the sacrifice of fools, and sometimes that ends up being evil.

Notice here, verse 2. This is what he’s talking about.

2 Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and you’re upon the earth: therefore let your words be few.

When you go to the house of God, in terms of maybe what you would usually talk about. Here, you come there to be taught. Here, you come there to worship God. Here, you come there to fellowship with God’s people. So make sure that you are conducting yourself—even in how much you say and the way you say it—in the appropriate way. It’s not that every word has to be measured. It’s not that you have to be uptight and can’t fellowship. No, but just be aware of where you are and be concerned about your behavior even in the matter of how much we speak and what we speak about. That is what he’s telling us here in Chapter 5 verse 1 and 2.

3 For a dream comes through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.

That’s right. A fool’s voice is known by multitude of words. A good conversationalist, a good communicator, that’s all great. But someone who just talks all the time, nobody can get a word in edgewise. It gets to where he doesn’t even know what he’s saying, doesn’t even remember what he said, and gets fascinated with his voice, fascinated with his words—and everyone else is just supposed to sit in rapt attention and wait to see what she has to say while she goes on and on and on and on and on and on, or he does. He is considered, right here in Ecclesiastes 5:3, a fool.

3 — a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.

So a good conversation involves exchanges. It involves listening as well as speaking.

4 When you vow a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he has no pleasure in fools: pay that which you have vowed.

Actually it’s better not to vow before God. But you can determine to do something. You can decide to do something. You can promise to do something. You better keep your word unless you didn’t know all the facts and you promised to do something that actually was wrong. Once you got all the facts, you see it’s wrong; well then, you have to go get that straight.

But if you say you’re going to do something, you need to keep your word. We need to be known as someone who keeps our word. Our word is our bond. That’s what it’s saying here. That’s the point.

5 Better is it that you should not vow, than that you should vow and not pay.

Don’t say you’re going to do it, if you’re not going to do it. If you say you’re going to do it, do it, unless it’s wrong. Then you have to straighten that out. But if it’s right, one way or the other, sooner or later, try your best to do it. If you bit off more than you could chew, go back and talk to the person and say, “Look, can we rethink this, can we reconsider this. I’m not going to be able to do what I told you I could do, because I didn’t consider everything. Now that I consider it all, it’s too much. But I want to tell you, I want to do as much as I can.” See, that’s caring for other people and that’s upholding your integrity and that’s standing by your word. That’s what he’s talking about here.

6 Suffer not —

Do not let —

6 — your mouth to cause your flesh to sin; —

And that can happen.

6 — neither say thou before the angel, —

Or a messenger. That could be anyone in authority, really.

6 — that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at your voice, —

Or angry at your excuse.

6 — and destroy the work of your hands?

In other words, we’re going to be held responsible for what we say. Our feet are going to be held to the fire with what we promised. Our word is important.

7 For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also different vanities: but fear thou God.

That’s the bottom line.

8 If you see the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment —

Miscarriage of judgment.

8 — and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regards; and there be higher than they.

It looks like people get away with things. It looks like people in authority can abuse others and get by with it, and sometimes there are things that can be done. But sometimes there’s nothing that can be done. Just remember this: God sees it, God knows it, and God is not going to allow that to happen without dealing with it in His own good time and in His own good way.

9 Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field.

No matter who we are and no matter how wealthy we are, we still have to be fed. And when it gets down to being fed, that comes from the ground. And when it gets down to coming from the ground, that comes from farmers and people who provide the food from the field. So we need to remember that. You know, there are people who think eggs and milk come from some factory somewhere. They don’t even know that eggs come from chickens, and milk comes from cows. But they need to be told and they need to be taught appreciation for the fact that —

9 — the king himself is served by the field.

10 He that loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loves abundance with increase: this is also vanity.

It never satisfies. THINGS never satisfy.

11 When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?

They just do not scratch the itch. THINGS won’t do that.

12 The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.

You know what it’s like to put in a good hard day’s work where you really accomplished a lot of things and go home and then you sleep really well. That’s great. That’s a big reward. But you know, if you have a lot of things and you focus on those things, you’ll probably toss and turn and pace and wring your hands and wonder who’s going to get it from you or who’s going to rob you or how can I hang on to those things. That’s not happiness and that’s not peace.

13 There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.

It happens a lot.

14 But those riches perish by evil travail: —

Or misfortune.

14 — and he begets a son, and there is nothing in his hand.

Nothing left for the son. We know of so many cases where that’s taken place. I just heard of a case where this man saved up and saved up and saved up for his son and then some other people were able to get into his bank account and take all that he had saved up for his son. And he’s about to die and his son gets nothing. That’s the way life is. It’s cruel and it’s mean and it’s hateful so many times, if we live life apart from God.

15 As he came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labor, which he may carry away in his hand.

16 And this is a sore evil, —

A severe evil.

16 — that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit has he that has labored for the wind?

17 All his days also he eats in darkness, and he has much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.

Life doesn’t have to be that way but so often it is, when we go OUR way and do it OUR way and forget about God.

18 Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor that he takes under the sun all the days of his life, which God gives him: for it is his portion.

Now, if you’re going to live life without God in the picture, at least you won’t be quite as miserable if you will enjoy what you have and share it with others. And if you will enjoy what you have and take time to appreciate what you have, that’s better than just being miserable and not taking note of what you have.

But the way to really live life abundantly is to enjoy the food, enjoy the drink, enjoy the good music, enjoy the good times, and do it in a way that pleases God and that also you share it with other people.

19 Every man also to whom God has given riches and wealth, and has given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.

Enjoy it and thank God for it and share it with others.

20 For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answers him in the joy of his heart.

Or keeps him busy.

20 — in the joy of his heart.

So he’s living life as best he can. But we’re going to see even a better way as we go through this book.

Well, we’ll stop there in Chapter 6 of the book of Ecclesiastes and pick it up there next time.

This is Charles Bryce with the Enduring Church of God.