Ecclesiastes 3:1 through 4:16

Daybreak for Students

Ecclesiastes 3:1 through 4:16

Ecclesiastes 3
Ecclesiastes 4
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. — Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

On a beautiful day in early September, my husband and I drove to a local hospital with excitement in our hearts. The day we had been anticipating for many months was here! Just a few hours later, we held a new granddaughter in our arms. Our hearts had already made room for four precious grandchildren, but in one moment of time, this little girl nestled into her own spot in our hearts. What a joyous experience to welcome another tiny member into our family!

Six weeks later, as my husband and I were finishing dinner, I had a call from my father’s caregiver, asking me to come quickly. I had seen Dad just an hour earlier — I had stopped by on my way home from work to give him a quick hug and see how he was doing. At that point he was sitting up in his recliner, seemingly resting comfortably. But in the short space of time between my five o’clock visit and that dinner-time call, his physical condition had changed. When I stepped to his bedside a few minutes later and leaned over to kiss his cheek, I realized that my dear dad had stepped into the presence of the Savior he had served so faithfully for almost eighty years.

Those two events, juxtaposed as they were in a six-week segment of our family history, illustrate the point that Solomon made in our focus verse: there is a God-ordained season for everything, including a time to be born and a time to die. The original word translated season in this verse means “appointed time,” so in the eternal foreknowledge of God, the moments of our granddaughter’s birth and my father’s death were appointed before time began.

All of us have experienced our appointed moment of birth. One day, if the Lord tarries, we will all experience our appointed moment of death. But in between those two moments, we live life — a sacred gift from our Creator, and one that should be used carefully and thankfully.

Most of us will experience some things among the range of life events described in our text. These are not random happenings that occur by chance; they are all part of our Creator’s divine purpose. Let us accept circumstances as they come to us, believing that throughout all our experiences, God has a plan. We want to do our best to spend the span of years allotted to us in a manner that will glorify Him. The secret to peace and contentment is to discover, accept, and thank God for His perfect purpose and timing in our lives.


In today’s text, the change in literary style from prose to poetry marks the beginning of a new segment of Ecclesiastes. This portion of the book continues Solomon’s probe of life’s meaning by focusing on God’s control over all events.

Chapter 3 begins with a well-known poem (verses 1-8) made up of fourteen pairs of contrasts that use twenty-eight repetitions of the word “time.” The writer declared his thesis statement in verse 1: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” The word season means “appointed time.” Solomon recognized that God controls the universe and the cycles of life. The range of human activities identified in the passage expresses completeness, implying the inclusion of every similar activity that occurs between the “bookends” of each pair of contrasts. Mankind cannot change the pattern; for example, one cannot alter the seasons for planting and harvest. Man does, however, decide how he will respond to the order God has designed.

In verses 9-15, the writer noted that the cycles of life can bring frustration for those who focus wholly on earthly activities. He observed that people are often anxious about the future but they cannot control it. Therefore, he concluded (as he had in previous chapters) that people should find joy in the basic activities of life — eating and working — because God is the One who makes those activities possible. His works are eternal, and man should respect and honor Him.

Next Solomon addressed injustice and evil in the world. In verses16-22, he observed that at times justice is perverted, but God would judge. He noted that like the beasts, a man’s body becomes dust after he dies. Commentators have varying opinions about the meaning of verse 21. Some feel the writer was declaring that man’s spirit went to God for judgment and the beasts’ spirits went to the earth. Others believe Solomon had a question about that when he said, “Who knoweth?” In verse 22, he concluded again that people simply should enjoy the basic activities of life that are given to them.

In chapter 4, Solomon reviewed areas of life that may be inequitable. He felt disheartened when he looked at those who were oppressed (verses 1-3). They had no one to help them when they were exploited by those who had power. At this point he concluded that it would have been better for the oppressed to have died or never been born at all (although he put forth a differing opinion in 9:4). He looked again at work (verses 4-6) and when considering that some who endeavored mightily were driven by envy and competitiveness, he pointed out that this was vanity. Others did nothing, and therefore used up what they had. Consequently, Solomon recommended a moderate position of making a calm, reasonable effort.

Solomon noted that companionship is better than being alone (verses 7-12). He said a person without “child or brother” who works obsessively because he is greedy will find his efforts to be vain, but those who work together will all benefit.

Scholars believe that verse 13 is a proverb that was known by the people of Solomon’s time. Verses 14-16 expand the proverb to add that a king eventually loses his position, admiration, and wealth in old age as he is replaced by the next generation. Solomon concluded that even a king’s reign amounts to “vanity” (nothing) in the end.


(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II.    The theme defended
   F.    The realization that death stalks everyone (3:1-22)
       1.    The absoluteness of God’s program (3:1-15)
       2.    The inevitability of God’s judgment (3:16-22)
   G.    The inequalities of life (4:1-16)
       1.    The oppression of men (4:1-3)
       2.    The futility of earthly endeavor (4:4-6)
       3.    The value of companionship (4:7-12)
       4.    The futility of high station (4:13-16)


  1. What did Solomon say that God had made beautiful in His time? (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

  2. Why do you think Solomon inferred in Ecclesiastes 4:9 that it is preferable to have companionship during one’s journey through life?

  3. How can we prepare ourselves spiritually to endure the difficult life events which are common to the human family?


As we journey through the seasons and circumstances of life, we will experience both pleasant and adverse events. Trusting that God has ordained them all will bring peace and stability to our hearts.