Friday 24 September 2010

Bible Book:

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." (v.1)

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 Friday 24 September 2010


Today's passage is among the best known in the Bible, even ifthose who recognise it could not always say where it comes from. Inaddition to lending lyrics to popular songs over the years, it isoften read at funerals or on New Years Day.

The book of Ecclesiastes dates to around 250 BC, making it one ofthe later books of the Hebrew biblical canon (collection of books).The author uses a narrator whom he calls Qohelet (or in English,'the Teacher') but gives this teacher royal lineage as the 'son ofDavid' and thus sets the text several hundred years earlier.

Verses 2-8 in today's passage list 28 experiences, potentiallycommon to all people at different times of life. The passagerecognises the reality of each, in its place, but makes nojudgement between them. This means that almost any reader canrecognise themselves in the reflections of the teacher Qohelet,which may account for the popularity of this Scripture. It isentirely inclusive in the way it describes the different times oflife.

Some of the experiences mentioned refer to particular situations intheir original context. For instance, verse 7a refers to thepractice of tearing garments at the news of a death, and re-sewingthem when mourning is passed; 7b to the practice of keeping silenceduring the time of mourning. One medieval Jewish source suggeststhat both pairs in verse 5 (stones and embracing) are directmetaphors for sexual relations - this list anticipates bothintimate and communal moments of human life.

Interestingly, the final pair in verse 8b (war and peace) reversethe order of those that precede it, putting 'peace' in theemphasised, final position. Because of that reversal, birth (2a)and peace (8b) act as the beginning and end of this list of theexperiences of human life, as if to hold all other conditionswithin. Readers must make of that poetic device what they will.

To Ponder

Are there any of the 28 experiences you areuncomfortable with, or wish had been left out? Why?

Why do you think this passage is so popular?

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