Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – What Time Is It?


Ecclesiastes 3:1-8


Everything happens in its own time. This theme, common to the wisdom tradition, is spelled out here most fully.


This is the most well-known passage in Ecclesiastes thanks to the Pete Seeger song of 1959, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” The song was later popularized by The Byrds, who recorded it in 1965. The point of the biblical passage is that there is a right time for everything. The Teacher develops the idea with 14 balancing pairs. Farmers know that there is a time for planting and for harvesting (3:2). Verse 3 appears to refer to wartime and verse 4 to the happiness and the tears that mark human lives. One of the concerns of biblical Wisdom literature is to determine when it is time to speak and when it is time to keep silent (Proverbs 25:11; Ecclesiastes 3:7). The Teacher has noted something problematic here: we humans cannot determine or control these times. This is most evident in the first pairing; no one has anything to say about the time when they are born. God determines these times, and humans “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (v. 11).