Ecclesiastes 3:1-22 Bible Study Questions

The Bible Teacher's Commentary

-The Meaning of Life-

Paul J. Bucknell

An Introduction

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22 is separated into four sections each with the Bible text, Bible study questions and a summary for the passage. This chapter is filled with philosophical insight as we together contemplate on the meaning in life and the special role God has given man. We find four special arguments, though they are very subtle at points, that help the secular man realize that the world is more than what he sees and lives in.

A.) Ecclesiastes 3:1-11a    The argument of meaning in life
B.) Ecclesiastes 3:11b-15    The argument of eternal conscience
C.) Ecclesiastes 3:16-17    The argument of moral conscience
D.) Ecclesiastes 3:18-22    The argument of God-awareness

A.) Ecclesiastes 3:1-11a  - The argument of meaning in life

1 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven-- 2 A time to give birth, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted. 3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to tear down, and a time to build up. 4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance. 5 A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing. 6 A time to search, and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep, and a time to throw away. 7 A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together; A time to be silent, and a time to speak. 8 A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace. 9 What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils? 10 I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.11a He has made everything appropriate in its time.

Study Questions on Ecclesiastes 3:1-11a

  1. Read through Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Use your own words to describe what Solomon is saying through this poetical section. It might be more than one thing.

  2. Go through each pair of terms and share whether you have seen it before. If so, where?

  3. Use four words to describe your own circumstances in this past year.
    Finish the phrase “A time to …….”

  4. List 5 trivial things you did this week. Does God want them to be part of your life? Why or why not? (For example, eating a banana.)

  5. What parts of life are God concerned with? Do some parts please Him while others don’t? Is He more impressed with a person making $1,000,000  under thirty than a mother washing some dishes? What is God pleased with?

Summary of Ecclesiastes 3:1-11a

God oversees what goes on around the world. He is very involved in the world’s affairs. Do you remember when Saul’s dad lost his donkeys? He sent Saul to look for them. It was a time to find. At a certain point in the search, Saul said, “Come, and let us return, lest my father cease to be concerned about the donkeys and become anxious for us” (1 Samuel 9:5). It was a time to give up as lost.

But this also turned out to be a time that Saul would never forget. It was on this trip that God requested Samuel to anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. It was that journey that Saul was filled with the Spirit of God and prophesied. (Read 1 Samuel 9:1-27).

The point is that some things seem to be a waste or unfortunate, but they all form part of our lives. We should not get easily discouraged with what we must do with our time as God oversees it. We can trust Him. Of course, we should not purposely waste time, but neither should we get so intent on one project that we forget everything else.

When I was on my back for three weeks, I humbled myself and realized this was going to be a time of slowing down and pausing before the Lord. It  became a special time. I did not need to personally struggle with my immobility. I did what I could and trusted him for the rest. Maybe I would have been more restless if I could not work with my laptop, but that would have been another circumstance.

When our life seems to fill up with so-called distracting or trivial matters such as cutting toenails, coughing, filling out tax forms, bathing, looking for lost things, we realize that we are but man and must live in this world. God wants to make all that we do holy by the motives and attitudes with which we do these things.

Man’s meaning in life is not found in the multitude of his or her activities. In the end, God is not impressed whether one is a CEO or a mother holding a baby. Whether one has a Ph.D. or  puts out trash. Nothing impresses the Lord. Our status in life does not matter to Him. Meaning in life comes from two avenues: (1) Being responsible to our duties in a way that please Him, and (2) Have pleasing (to Him) attitudes when we carry out our duties.

B.) Ecclesiastes 3:11b-15 - The argument of eternal conscience

11He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; 13 moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor--it is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. 15 That which is has been already, and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by. 

Study Questions on Ecclesiastes 3:11b-15

  1. What might he mean in verse 11, “He has also set eternity in their heart?”

  2. What other New Testament scriptures address this inner awareness of something greater than our own earthly affairs? (Check out Romans 1).

  3. How does the first set of verses in 1-9 contrast with this thought “eternity in their heart?”

  4. After looking at all that man involves himself in, daily living and exploration of the greater world and what is beyond, what is Solomon’s recommendation (12)?

  5. God looks at time (3:14-15) much differently from man (3:1-9). What is the difference between the way God and man looks at time?

Summary on Ecclesiastes 3:11b-15

God has shaped man differently than animals (more of this later). He has given him a special part of his life where he has concern about what goes on after life on earth. Often attached to this idea is the knowledge of an eternal Power. This special knowledge puts man on a different level. He is aware and knowledgeable, even if he is not clear about the issues. He searches and inquires. He wants to know about the meaning in life. Just living out one’s life just doesn’t do it–even though it seems like it would. As much a man tries to live in a insular secularized world, God has snuck an eternal awareness with him so that he never can completely separate his life from God.

We should not be so busy and distracted with the affairs of life that we don’t settle down and enjoy it. This is part of God’s plan–His gifts. We should recognize that the pleasure in simple activities as eating and drinking are gifts from His hand. Life takes on a divine aspect when we acknowledge His hand in the joys of life. It is much like a little child who after receives a gift from his mom, turns around and gives her a big hug.

We should not think God is like man. We get involved in our plans. We forget or do not know what is happening in other places and with other people. He knows all that is going on. We separate past, present and future, but to God they are all the same. We cannot impress God by our knowledge. He knows much more. It is instead more how we search for knowledge, apply that ‘science,’ and for what reason we employ ourselves in different tasks that ultimately makes a difference.

C.) Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 - The argument of moral conscience

16 Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness, and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness. 17 I said to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.

Bible Study Questions on Ecclesiastes 3:16-17

  1. What is the author’s surprising discovering in verse 16? Have you seen this? Where?

  2. How does God respond to such things (17)?

  3. Why does God allow the wicked to live?

Summary of Ecclesiastes 3:16-17

He is not saying there are no righteous judges but that many who would appear to be righteous are not righteous at all. The appearance of man, his height, role or status,  makes no difference to God at all. God after all made him and put him in that particular position.

We see that there is a seeming contradiction through the Book of Ecclesiastes. On the one hand, Solomon paints a very strong picture of the secular world–man without God. But then, here and there, he leaks certain thoughts that crack this perspective. Above we have seen how God’s placing of eternity in man’s heart make him aware of a larger system.

In this section, he reminds us of our moral conscience. He doesn’t have to directly say it, but his short sample of life, he makes us aware of our inner demand for justice. We know that life is not not ‘fair.’ There must be a greater judgment that makes everything right. And of course, there must be an Eternal Powerful One who makes everything right.

Man has a moral conscience. We demand justice. But, alas, this means we ourselves will be judged. And so this Book of Ecclesiastes opens up the secular man’s mind that life is more than just a hive of mankind replenishing itself for the next generation to repeat itself. We need help from the very One who will judge us. This book prepares us for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.In the next section, we discover yet one more aspect that breaks the secular man from his inward thoughts that God does not exist– the God-conscious aspect of man. 

D.) Ecclesiastes 3:18-22 - The argument of God-awareness

18 I said to myself concerning the sons of men, “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.” 19 For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. 20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. 21 Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth? 22 And I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him? 

Bible Study Questions on Ecclesiastes 3:18-22

  1. In what ways is man like animals (19-22)?

  2. In what way is he different?

  3. What kind of test does God bring upon man (see 18)?

  4. How did you do in the past week? Are there times when you acted as if God was not there and you responded merely by your passions and lusts? You did not think but just acted?

  5. How is man to act differently?

Summary of Ecclesiastes 3:18-22

God has provided numerous ‘tests’ in life. They are special provided by God to clearly demonstrate man’s rejection of his special calling. Man will never be able to say, “I didn’t know.” God has a whole big bag of tests on which we have lived counter to our design.

We see a possible contradiction here. On the one hand, we see Solomon stating that man is no different from the beasts of the field. They all live and die. But he hints that something greater is going on. After all, why is it that man even thinks about “the breath of man” ascending upwards?  The beasts do not think this. By his very conclusion, he subtly hints that man is very different than the animals that God has made. (See more on Genesis 2). Again, Solomon is drawing out our deep down conclusions. He is playing quiet so that the voice within the secular man can arise. Once the secular man sees that he has these thoughts, they become proof that God is and that he should live his life in light of who God is.

Man in his passion and with all of his drives might insist on acting as a animal of the field. He is so preoccupied on caring for his needs that he never looks up to God and beyond the end of his own nose. But when man takes a moment and thinks about life, he all of a sudden is aware that he does think differently than animals. He is made for a different world. And true happiness will only be found when he lives in light of God’s will and purpose.

The Book of Ecclesiastes - The Bible Teaching Commentary

Ecclesiastes introductory: Outline of Ecclesiastes | Design & Purpose of Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11:
The Pursuit of Pleasure | Cycle of Satisfaction | The Pleasure Cycle | Bible Study Questions

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22: Bible Study Questions and Short Commentary

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: Independent Success | Ecclesiastes 4:9 | Ecclesiastes 4:10-12 | A Look at Our Lives | Bible Study Questions

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Biblical Foundations for Freedom

Rev. Paul J. Bucknell
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