No One Can Determine the Right Time to Act
1* There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.
2A time to give birth, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
3A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.
4A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
5A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
6A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
7A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
8A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.
9a What profit have workers from their toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to mortals to be busied about. 11b God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless* into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. 12c I recognized that there is nothing better than to rejoice and to do well during life. 13Moreover, that all can eat and drink and enjoy the good of all their toil—this is a gift of God. 14I recognized that whatever God does will endure forever; there is no adding to it, or taking from it. Thus has God done that he may be revered. 15* d What now is has already been; what is to be, already is: God retrieves what has gone by.
The Problem of Retribution. 16e And still under the sun in the judgment place I saw wickedness, and wickedness also in the seat of justice. 17f I said in my heart, both the just and the wicked God will judge, since a time is set for every affair and for every work.* 18I said in my heart: As for human beings, it is God’s way of testing them and of showing that they are in themselves like beasts. 19For the lot of mortals and the lot of beasts is the same lot: The one dies as well as the other. Both have the same life breath. Human beings have no advantage over beasts, but all is vanity. 20g Both go to the same place; both were made from the dust, and to the dust they both return. 21Who knows* if the life breath of mortals goes upward and the life breath of beasts goes earthward? 22h And I saw that there is nothing better for mortals than to rejoice in their work; for this is their lot. Who will let them see what is to come after them?i
* [3:1–8] The fourteen pairs of opposites describe various human activities. The poem affirms that God has determined the appropriate moment or “time” for each. Human beings cannot know that moment; further, the wider course of events and purposes fixed by God are beyond them as well.
* [3:11] The timeless: others translate “eternity,” “the world,” or “darkness.” The author credits God with keeping human beings ignorant about God’s “work”—present and future.
* [3:15] The verse is difficult. Literally it reads “and God seeks out what was pursued.” It appears to be a variation of the theme in 1:9, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
* [3:17] A time is set…work: another possible reading would see this verse referring to a judgment in or after death: “a time for every affair and for every work there” (that is, in death or in Sheol).
* [3:21] Who knows: the author presumes a negative answer: “No one knows.” In place of speculation on impossible questions, the author counsels enjoyment of what is possible (cf. v. 22; but see also 2:10–11).
f. [3:17] Eccl 8:6a; 11:9; 12:14.
g. [3:20] Eccl 12:7; Gn 3:19; Sir 17:2.
h. [3:22] Eccl 3:12–13; 5:17–18.