duck5

procrastination, heresy, and navel-gazing.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ecclesiastes 3.1-15

This week is supposed to be just chapter 3, but I'm not convinced that the section extends beyond v15. The regular use of ראה (to see) from 3.16 onwards, as in 1.12-2.26, seems to be an ordering principle that works through most of Ecclesiastes, with exceptions in the blocks of poetry, as we've already seen in the opening section of the book, and as we also see in 3.1-9 (-16).

3.1-15 has a very similar structure to 1.3-11, although in reverse order:
3.1 Statement 1.9-11
3.2-8 Examples 1.4-8
3.9-15 Question 1.3
One other difference is where 1.4-8 had five examples in a chiastic structure, with the theme of wind at the centre, 3.2-8 has fourteen pairs of alternatives for how time is ordered by God. The structure is quite Shakespearean (obviously an anachronism - so perhaps the sonnet was passed down from Ecclesiastes 3!), with a concluding couplet as follows:

A +-(x2)
      B  -+ (x4)
      B'  +- (x4)
A'  -+ (x2)
            C +- -+
Pluses are desirable outcomes, minuses are undesirable outcomes, and the last couplet has a nice little chiasm to conclude.

This tightly structured poem expands on the statement of 3.1, that 'for everything there is a season, and a time for every activity under heaven', as it works through the whole of life. Although not telling us about every single activity done by people, many of the pairs, and especially the opening and closing ones, provide us with merisms to point to the entirety of human experience: from birth to death and from war to peace. Whoever and wherever and whenever we are, we will be at one pole or somewhere in the middle.

With the opening statement and the fourteen pairs of examples, there is then a question which grounds the reflections of the next few verses on the poem. 'What does the worker gain from his labour?' (3.9) This is the same question asked before the poem (2.22), but we gain some kind of answer, as there is a discussion on the task (ענין at 3.10) and on time in general (3.11).
There are three answers to the question posed in 3.9, hinging off the three asyndeton qatal verbs which begin 3.10,12,14 as follows:
     I have seen the task (10) - God makes everything beautiful in its time (11)
     I know about mankind (12) - everything is a gift (13)
     I know about God (14) - whatever will be will be and has been (15) (cf 1.9)
In this sense, the conclusions are not hugely different to those of previous sections; what is emphasised here is the divine fittingness of every situation to its time. As P. G. Ryken says, every action is a divine action before it is a human action. God is the one who determines what is suitable for its time, so as those who receive all things as a gift from the hand of God, we in turn live as is appropriate to the time and place God has placed us.

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