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Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Context
A Time for All Events in Life

3:1 For everything 1  there is an appointed time, 2 

and an appropriate time 3  for every activity 4  on earth: 5 

3:2 A time to be born, 6  and a time to die; 7 

a time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted;

3:3 A time to kill, and a time to heal;

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

3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

3:5 A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones;

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

3:6 A time to search, and a time to give something up as lost; 8 

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

3:7 A time to rip, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silent, and a time to speak.

3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

1 tn Verse 1 is arranged in an ABB’A’ chiasm (לַכֹּל זְמָן וְעֵת לְכָל־חֵפֶץ, lakkol zÿman vÿet lÿkhol-khefets): (A) “for everything”; (B) “a season”; (B’) “a time”; (A’) “for every matter.” The terms “season” (זְמָן, zÿman) and “time” (עֵת, ’et) are parallel. In the light of its parallelism with “every matter” (כָל־חֵפֶץ, khol-khefets), the term “everything” (כָל, khol) must refer to events and situations in life.

2 tn The noun זְמָן (zÿman) denotes “appointed time” or “appointed hour” (HALOT 273 s.v. זְמָן; BDB 273 s.v. זְמָן; see Eccl 3:1; Esth 9:27, 31; Neh 2:6; Sir 43:7), e.g., the appointed or designated time for the Jewish feasts (Esth 9:27, 31), the length of time that Nehemiah set for his absence from Susa (Neh 2:6), and the appointed times in the Jewish law for the months to begin (Sir 43:7). It is used in parallelism with מועד (“appointed time”), i.e., מועד ירח (“the appointed time of the moon”) parallels זמני חק (“the appointed times of the law”; Sir 43:7). The related verb, a Pual of זָמַן (zaman), means “to be appointed” (HALOT 273 s.v. זְמָן); e.g. Ezra 10:14; Neh 10:35; 13:31. These terms may be related to the noun I זִמָּה (zimmah, “plan; intention”; Job 17:11; HALOT 272 s.v. I זִמָּה) and מְזִמָּה (mÿzimmah, “purpose; plan; project”), e.g., the purposes of God (Job 42:2; Jer 23:20; 30:24; 51:11) and man’s plan (Isa 5:12); see HALOT 566 s.v. מְזִמָּה; BDB 273 s.v. מְזִמָּה.

sn Verses 1-8 refer to God’s appointed time-table for human activities or actions whose most appropriate time is determined by men. Verses 9-15 state that God is ultimately responsible for the time in which events in human history occur. This seems to provide a striking balance between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Man does what God has willed, but man also does what he “pleases” (see note on the word “matter” in 3:1).

3 tn The noun עֵת (’et, “point in time”) has a basic two-fold range of meanings: (1) “time of an event” and (2) “time for an event” (BDB 773 s.v. עֵת). The latter has subcategories: (a) “usual time,” (b) “the proper, suitable or appropriate time,” (c) “the appointed time,” and (d) “uncertain time” (Eccl 9:11). Here it connotes “a proper, suitable time for an event” (HALOT 900 s.v. עֵת 6; BDB s.v. עֵת 2.b). Examples: “the time for rain” (Ezra 10:13), “a time of judgment for the nations” (Ezek 30:3), “an appropriate time for every occasion” (Eccl 3:1), “the time when mountain goats are born” (Job 39:1), “the rain in its season” (Deut 11:14; Jer 5:24), “the time for the harvest” (Hos 2:11; Ps 1:3), “food in its season” (Ps 104:27), “no one knows his hour of destiny” (Eccl 9:12), “the right moment” (Eccl 8:5); cf. HALOT 900 s.v. עֵת 6.

4 tn The noun חֵפֶץ (khefets, here “matter, business”) has a broad range of meanings: (1) “delight; joy,” (2) “desire; wish; longing,” (3) “the good pleasure; will; purpose,” (4) “precious stones” (i.e., jewelry), i.e., what someone takes delight in, and (5) “matter; business,” as a metonymy of adjunct to what someone takes delight in (Eccl 3:1, 17; 5:7; 8:6; Isa 53:10; 58:3, 13; Pss 16:3; 111:2; Prov 31:13); see HALOT 340 s.v. חֵפֶץ 4; BDB 343 s.v. חֵפֶץ 4. It is also sometimes used in reference to the “good pleasure” of God, that is, his sovereign plan, e.g., Judg 13:23; Isa 44:28; 46:10; 48:14 (BDB 343 s.v. חֵפֶץ). While the theme of the sovereignty of God permeates Eccl 3:1–4:3, the content of 3:1-8 refers to human activities that are planned and purposed by man. The LXX translated it with πράγματι (pragmati, “matter”). The term is translated variously by modern English versions: “every purpose” (KJV, ASV), “every event” (NASB), “every delight” (NASB margin), “every affair” (NAB), “every matter” (RSV, NRSV), “every activity” (NEB, NIV), “every project” (MLB), and “every experience” (NJPS).

5 tn Heb “under heaven.”

6 tn The verb יָלָד (yalad, “to bear”) is used in the active sense of a mother giving birth to a child (HALOT 413 s.v. ילד; BDB 408 s.v. יָלָד). However, in light of its parallelism with “a time to die,” it should be taken as a metonymy of cause (i.e., to give birth to a child) for effect (i.e., to be born).

7 sn In 3:2-8, Qoheleth uses fourteen sets of merisms (a figure using polar opposites to encompass everything in between, that is, totality), e.g., Deut 6:6-9; Ps 139:2-3 (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 435).

8 tn The term לְאַבֵּד (lÿabbed, Piel infinitive construct from אָבַד, ’avad, “to destroy”) means “to lose” (e.g., Jer 23:1) as the contrast with בָּקַשׁ (baqash, “to seek to find”) indicates (HALOT 3 s.v. I אבד; BDB 2 s.v. אבד 3). This is the declarative or delocutive-estimative sense of the Piel: “to view something as lost” (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 28, §145; IBHS 403 §24.2g).



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