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The Scriptorium

Everything in Its Place

It all makes sense, under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3.1-8

1To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
2A time to be born,

And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what isplanted;
3A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
 4A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
5A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
6A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
7A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
8A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.

The Story: His brief biographical reflection completed, Solomon now plainly declares his theme: everything has its proper place, and, thus, only makes sense, when it is received within the divine economy (“under heaven, v. 1). It is significant that Solomon does not say that men can understand everything that happens to them (see on, v. 11), or all the events, processes, creatures, and situations of the vast cosmos. Solomon’s theme is a declaration of faith, which he believes all his experience adequately confirms. These paired concepts are meant to take in every aspect of the human experience, things good as well as bad, things beneficial as well as hurtful, things permanent and those of little lasting value. He is not intending to be exhaustive, merely suggestive; the introduction (v. 1) states his case categorically; the examples that follow merely illustrate his point. Solomon implies that everything in life has its place and purpose within the divine economy, in the sovereign hand of a good and loving God. His theme implies his lesson: cut yourself off from God and your life will be impossible to live in a coherent and meaningful way. This way lie vanity and despair.

The Structure: These verses are set up as a series of parallelisms, which is a device of Hebrew poetry designed to emphasize a common idea. The first six verses (2-7) are regular parallelisms. Solomon states something; then he restates it in a different way. So, for verse 1, his point is that both life and death have their place in the divine economy. Verse 2, doing away or being done with things, as well as restoring them; verse 3, joy and sadness, and so forth. In each of these six parallelisms the idea and its opposite are stated – A, B – then they are restated in a different way – A1, B1). The last verse (8) presents a change in the structure designed to indicate that the trope has reached its end. Here, instead of a regular parallelism, we find a chiastic parallelism, in which the middle (B) parts are joined and the A parts serve as bookends. The selection of seven for the number of examples also indicates that these are meant to stand for the whole of human experience, since seven is a number of completion in Scripture. It is interesting to note that Scripture makes wide use of poetry, much more, for example, than people today typically do.

How does knowing that all things have their place in God’s grand scheme of things help us to approach the things we encounter each day?

Each week’s studies in our Scriptorium column are available in a free PDF form, suitable for personal or group use. For this week’s study, “Heart of the Matter: Ecclesiastes 3,” simply click here.

T. M. Moore

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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