A Time for Every Matter

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven

The list that Solomon presents in Ecclesiastes 3 is all normal, everyday human activity. And the things listed here are often taken to be things that we arrange, as if the poem were telling us to make sure we do things in good time, or in proper order. But that is not the point of the poem at all. It uses these human activities to show that it is God who sovereignly arranges even these things. God set up the cycle of seasons at creation and established the appointed feast times. He opens and closes the womb as He sees fit, and returns man to the dust from which he came.

Martin Luther put it this way:

All human works and efforts have a certain and definite time of acting, of beginning, and of ending, beyond human control… It is not up to us to prescribe the time, the manner, or the effect of the things that are to be done; and so it is obvious that here our strivings and efforts are unreliable. Everything comes and goes at the time that God has appointed. He proves this on the basis of examples of human works whose times lie outside the choice of man. From this he draws the conclusion that it is useless for men to be tormented by their strivings and that they do not accomplish anything, even though they were to burst, unless the proper time and the hour appointed by God has come… So the power of God comprehends all things in definite hours, so that they cannot be hindered by anyone.

And this is indeed how Solomon follows this up. “I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with…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.” We find ourselves thrust into this world that we can’t control, and the more we try, the more frustrated we get. Our toil doesn’t get us any gain or advantage – no leverage – over the way things are. But this is in no way a reason to throw up our hands and quit. He has given us the work that we have to do. He also gives us the gift of enjoying our work, of enjoying our spouse, our children, of eating and drinking. We can’t see the end, or really anything that comes after us, but we trust God when he says that He works all things together for good, according to His will.