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What the Bible says about Time-Bound Universe
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Ecclesiastes 3:11

We should tie this directly to the truth of verse 1: “There is a time for every purpose.” The key word, of course, is “time.” In life's challenges to our faith, in which God is involved with us, some purpose is being worked out. In verse 11, we learn that both the timing and what is being worked out are “beautiful.” The event might be challenging, but God, who is involved in the Christian's life and in this challenge, calls it “beautiful.” With that hopeful knowledge, what should our attitude be?

The root of the Hebrew word translated beautiful literally means “bright.” The Hebrew word can be translated “fair,” “comely,” “beautiful,” “suitable,” “appropriate,” and “timely,” depending on the context. In Job 42:15, the same Hebrew word is translated “beautiful” when describing Job's daughters. It indicates something good and admirable, a blessing.

What an encouraging truth! God's timing, His oversight of events, and what He wants them to accomplish are something good! They are not merely broadly good but also suitable, fitting, appropriate, and timely.

Was the scattering of Israel and Judah beautiful in its time? If we read Lamentations without considering God's entire purpose, the situation appears very ugly indeed. However, over the long haul, the answer is undoubtedly, “Yes, it was beautiful and good!” It was suitable for that occasion.

What about the scattering of the church? Was it beautiful? The same is true. Our going through it may have been stressful, requiring painful adjustments while enduring to the end, but in the long term, it will most certainly be beautifully good.

Is correction good? Do we really want to continue doing things wrong? If God had not done what He did when and how He did it, how many serious spiritual character and attitude flaws would have gone uncorrected? How disastrous would they have been to the salvation of many?

How many nice people have we fellowshipped with in the past but who have seemingly been swept overboard and appear lost? The reality may be that they were “nice tares.” They indeed may have been fine people with many social graces but completely unconverted. Perhaps they no longer fellowship with us because God delayed their true calling, sparing them from the Lake of Fire.

Peter states clearly that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). There used to be a television program called Father Knows Best. Yes, He does! And because of the way God has acted, many more will enter His Kingdom in His image than if He had not intervened. It is even possible to consider that we may all have been lost except for His rough intervention!

It is critical for us to keep in mind always that God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). His overview captures the entire span of events; He sees the entire picture. We, though, live in a time-bound, material universe, and all we have is a mere point of view (I Corinthians 13:12). For the most part, we are restricted to grasping things from our narrow perspective. This is why faith is required of us and why Solomon states in verse 11 that we cannot “find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”

So how can we meet life's challenges in the right spirit?

If we think the scattering of the church has been difficult to accept in a good attitude, we need to be patient because prophecy reveals that things will become much worse as time moves on! I am personally becoming ever more aware that time is moving on for me. My mother, who lived to be almost 93, said to me once, “Getting old is not for sissies.” She was saying in her unconverted way that, regardless of age, the trials of life never do really end. As one ages, they simply morph into another form.

To help us through our current spiritual trials as well as the intensifying times ahead, we must come to know God through a personal relationship and trust Him to work things out. We must use our faith, knowing that we do not see the entire picture.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Three): Time

Ecclesiastes 3:15

Ecclesiastes 3:15 is an illustration that shows the breadth and depth of God's sovereignty over time and the events of life. To picture this more clearly, we have to perceive time as a moving reality. It is as though it is coming toward us and moving away from us simultaneously.

Though time is involved in this statement, the emphasis is more on the events that happen within time rather than time itself. We can perhaps understand this verse better as saying that what is happening right now, already happened in the past, and what will happen has already happened. It is a way of saying that, in one sense, time cannot be broken into parts. Time and the events happening within it of and by themselves are a whole. Thus, Solomon is essentially saying, “Past, present, and future are bound together.”

In what way is this so? Time and the events happening in it are parts of a continuous stream. Solomon's point is again that only God is in perfect control of both time and its events, and He can seek out and bring back into existence in the present what happened in the past. Thus, Solomon's comment in Ecclesiastes 1:9 is a parallel: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (ESV). In plainer language, history repeats itself.

Names, personalities, ethnicities, locations, dates, languages, clothing, and weapons change, but the core of the events is essentially the same. We can learn from history what works and what does not. Thus, we have the saying by George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This makes the Bible an even more valuable source of guidance in wisdom and right conduct because God gives true accounts of what happened, not ones embellished by men's prejudices.

One might wonder why God would essentially repeat what is said in Ecclesiastes 1:9 just two chapters later. The reason is that there is a major difference in the contexts. In Ecclesiastes 1:9, the statement is used negatively, suggesting life is nothing but repetitious vanity. In Ecclesiastes 3:15, though, it is mentioned explicitly within the context of God's sovereignty—He is in control, and He makes positive use of history repeating itself for mankind's benefit.

Many alternative renderings of the last phrase of verse 15, “God requires an account of what is past,” are quite hopeful:

» The New International Version: “God will call the past to account.”

» The Revised Standard Version: “God seeks what has been driven away.”

» The American Standard Version: “God seeks again that which is passed away.”

» The New English Bible: “God summons each event back in its turn.”

» The Amplified Bible: “God seeks that which has passed by.”

Though each translation is somewhat different, each has two elements in common: God is looking for something, and it involves time, an event that occurred in the past. Why is He doing this? What instruction is there for us here?

We tend to think that former days are gone forever. However, Ecclesiastes 3 shows that this concept is not totally true because history keeps repeating itself. In fact, we are learning that God causes this repetition. Verse 15 confirms this fact once again, but it adds a positive twist to it. Why would God do this?

A prominent theme in Ecclesiastes is judgment. The book ends with the statement that God will bring every deed into judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14), pointing directly to a reason why everything matters. It is obvious that God, who is in control, brings up the past for His purposes. God always does things with good purposes in mind. In this verse, the language is quite positive: He does not bring the past up for the purposes of condemnation but for redemption. Our Savior God is a Redeemer.

He is seeking to help those who have truly made a mess of their past—that includes all of us. This verse provides evidence that by His grace He is seeking to recover and restore what seems from our point of view to be forever lost. Earlier in the chapter, Solomon says that the work of God endures forever (Ecclesiastes 3:14). This verse suggests that, since we are God's work, He will use His powers to make sure that our labors are not in vain. He will make things beautiful in His good time by enabling us to profit even from our messes.

This is not to suggest that those messes will be completely resolved, and everybody is happy, happy, happy! No, but He has the power to bring experiences from our past to mind, facilitating us to sort through them with a great deal more clarity than we had when they originally happened. Thus, He helps us recall incidents with honesty that helps us learn what we should and should not have done or said, and resolve to conduct ourselves far better going forward. He helps us to grasp whether repentance should occur if a similar situation happens again.

Should we forgive and forget? Should we be more patient and kind? Should we sacrifice our pride? Should we be firmer, insisting that godly actions be done to uphold righteousness? He may reveal to us how an event's outcome could have been far more profitable for all concerned.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 




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