As I studied this chapter (Ecclesiastes 3), it seemed the following verses jumped out as the major premises that underpin the theme of time in this chapter.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for ever matter under heaven.” (v. 1)
The following verses contain the familiar poem that truly delineates a time for nearly every activity on Earth. Which is encouraging—there are many things to demand our attention, that call our desires, that pique our interest. There is a time for each of these things.
“What gain has the worker from his toil?” (v. 9)
More than just a premise in the chapter, this seems to be the question that Solomon is trying to answer (or at least one of them) as he undertakes his searching in the book. What do we gain?
“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.” (v. 14)
In contrast to the cyclical nature of time that Solomon obsesses over in chapter 1, he recognizes here the constancy of God and His works. This goes along with the contrast to the view of time expressed in chapter 1, and expresses a subtle shift in Solomon’s analysis. Perhaps God’s constancy has practical applications for us.
“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.” (v. 16)
Just when it felt like we had a chapter that was going to be positive from beginning to end, Solomon goes depressed again. But this goes toward the larger, final point. Part of what breeds wickedness and injustice is the improper use of time, a most precious resource misappropriated for the gain of the powerful rather than the benefit of the many.
“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.” v.16
In the end, time is important. It’s not just a cycle of booms and busts that repeats indefinitely into eternity. While future generations may not remember what happened before them, God does. What is it that brings gain from toil? What is wickedness in the place of justice and righteousness? It’s the proper (or improper) use of time.
The business of putting “first things first” is not just a matter of joy and gladness—it’s actually the basis of the judgment. Something that most people in this day and age don’t like to talk about. “Don’t judge me.” But I’m in a profession where judgment is a daily part of the job. And from that experience I’ve learned it’s nice to know what you are going to be judged on. In this particular case, it is clear that the improper use of time is going to weigh poorly when God evaluates what exactly we spent our days on Earth doing. After all, there is a time for everything.
The proper ordering of that time is not just a safe guard in the judgment, it also leads to true happiness and contentment. So why would we put off this practice of valuing and balancing time? “He has made everything beautiful in its time…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.” vv. 11-13