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Background Considerations

Have you ever lived in a culture in which people explain all life’s coincidences by saying: “It was written (that it should happen that way).”

Among the neighboring nations of ancient Israel, there was a widespread belief that all events in history are predetermined by the gods. An impersonal force known as fate controlled the destiny of all things. Fate was written on tablets which could at times get into wrong hands. Once, for example, the bird god Anzu stole those tablets and this accident caused a stir among the gods until Anzu was killed.

The author of Ecclesiastes relates the events from history as well as from one’s personal life to God and his providence. Thus he boldly states that God “has made everything beautiful in its time (verse 11).

Relevant Biblical Passages

  1. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. What is the Teacher trying to say by presenting the catalogue of times? If our lives are preordained, is there room for our active parts in everyday events?
    How much are we responsible for what takes place around us? Are wars, for example, as inevitable as rain or sunshine?
  2. Ecclesiastes 3:11-14. How does this passage relate to the Genesis creation story? Explain the statement from verse 11 which says that God has set eternity in our hearts.
  3. Ecclesiastes 3:16-17. This is one of the passages in the book that talk about the prosperity of the wicked. Both the question and an answer are given here. Is this the shortest passage in the Bible dealing with the difficult question of God’s justice (theodicy)?

Lessons for Life

Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes teaches that times are set by God as opportunities that come in life. We as human beings are given freedom of choice as to what to do with those opportunities.

Verse 12 summarizes the teaching of the whole chapter, and perhaps, the whole book in the following words: “Be happy and do good as long as you live!”

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