Ecclesiastes teaches us how to die, but it also teaches us how to live. Our life is a series of continual releases. But our life is also a series of embraces, taking hold of that which is before us.
In the Jewish tradition, the feast of Sukkot (going on right now), also known as the feast of Booths or feast of Tabernacles, is a time of rich feasting and celebration. Many of the liturgical prayers call this festival the “Season of our Rejoicing.” During this weeklong festival, an observant Jewish family will build a richly decorated booth in which they will take their meals and sleep in, if possible.
And what is the customary Bible reading for the Sabbath that falls during this holiday? A festal psalm? The song of Miriam, perhaps?
That’s right. The Season of our Rejoicing is punctuated by “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity.” Kind of odd, don’t you think?
Yet when we reconsider these verses of chapter three, the choice makes sense. The Jewish festal calendar moves very quickly from the solemnity of Yom Kippur to the joi de vivre of Sukkot. This is a living illustration of “to everything there is a season and a time.”
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (3:11) Consider that for a moment. How often do we get trapped on the treadmill of rush rush rushing to the next thing. In our haste, how often do we miss the opportunity to embrace the blessings of God’s providence that are right in front of us? How much do we fall into the idolatry of what lies ahead, thinking that fulfillment is a future state, rather than realizing it is a present reality of enjoying God’s presence with us in Christ?
Embrace this moment, for this is where you experience God’s handiwork. Seasons come and seasons go. Release the past season to learn to die. Embrace the present season to learn to live.
And lest we think that Ecclesiastes is teaching simply that life is transient, we get this potent little reminder: “He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no-one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (3:11)
We have, deep within, an instinct for wonder, an inkling of the eternal, a grasp of the truth that there is more than we can grasp. Things are bigger, grander, more amazing than we can fathom. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,” says Shakespeare’s Hamlet to his rationalist friend, “than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
There is a transience from one season to the next. But that transience is undergirded by a permanence that provides security. Verse 14 reminds us of Gods total sovereign rule over all creation. “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”
Psalm 104 picks up on this sense of the times and seasons being gifts from God’s hand:
“These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them, they gather it up
When you open your hand they are satisfied with good things
When you hide your face, they are terrified
When you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust
When you send your Spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the earth.
May the Glory of the Lord endure forever: may the Lord Rejoice in his works.” (104:27-30)
There is in this psalm a sense of delight and wonder and rightness to all these times and seasons. Ecclesiastes hints at it, the Psalm makes it clear.
Colossians 1 wraps it up with a neat bow by revealing Jesus’ part in the mix: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (1:15-17)
Everything happens in God’s proper time. God superintends all things. Jesus holds all things together.
That teaches us how to live.
Soli Deo Gloria
Note: this is part of a series of meditations on Ecclesiastes. See the whole series via the menu option at the top of the page.
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