Ecclesiastes 3 Commentary

Events controlled by God’s fixed order (3:1-15)

In 1:1-11 the author considered the ceaseless toil and repetition in the natural world and decided that life was useless. Now (ignoring for the moment the conclusions he has just outlined in 2:24-26) he considers the fixed order of events in the world. It appears to him that everything happens at the time God has decided it will happen. In view of this, all human effort to improve life is useless. People can change nothing (3:1-9).

Human beings may have a desire to know God and the realities of the unseen eternal world, but they still cannot understand God’s ways. The writer is confident that God does everything perfectly according to his plan, but he is also frustrated because he does not know what that plan is. People can only accept whatever God sends them and find pleasure in it (10-13). They can change nothing; events will go on repeating themselves according to God’s fixed purposes. Their realization of this keeps them in a state of fear before God (14-15).

Injustice in the world (3:16-4:3)

Having acknowledged God’s order in human events, the writer now observes that the ‘order’ is, at times, not very orderly. For example, injustice abounds (16). Maybe, thinks the writer, God will put


everything right in a judgment day in the afterlife (17). On the other hand, thinks he, there may not be an afterlife. He observes that people die the same as animals, as if God is trying to show that they are no different from the beasts. Also, he asks, can it be proved that people have life after death? The best they can do, concludes the writer, is to enjoy life while they can (18-22).

Although the enjoyment of life is a desirable goal, the world has so much cruelty and oppression that many people have no way of finding any sort of enjoyment. It would be better for these sufferers if they were dead; better still if they had never been born (4:1-3).

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