Section 4. In confirmation of the truth that man's happiness depends upon the will of God, Koheleth proceeds to show how Providence arranges even the minutest concerns; that man can alter nothing, must make the best of things as they are, bear with anomalies, bounding his desires by this present life.
The providence of God disposes and arranges every detail of man's life. This proposition is stated first generally, and then worked out in particular by means of antithetical sentences. In Hebrew manuscripts and most printed texts Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 are arranged in two parallel columns, so that one "time" always stands under another. A similar arrangement is found in Joshua 12:9 , etc; containing the catalogue of the conquered Canaanite kings; and in Esther 9:7 , etc; giving the names of Haman's tensions. In the present passage we have fourteen pairs of contrasts, ranging from external circumstances to the inner affections of man's being.
To every thing there is u season, and a time to every purpose under heaven . . "Season" and "time" are rendered by the LXX . καιρός and χρόνος . The word for "season" ( zeman ), denotes a fixed, definite portion of time; while eth , " time ," signifies rather the beginning of a period, or is used as a general appellation. The two ideas are sometimes concurrent in the New Testament; e . g . Acts 1:7 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:1 . So in Wis. 8:8, "wisdom to foreseeth signs and wonders, and the events of seasons and times ( ἐκβάσεις καιρῶν καὶ χρόνων )." Every thing refers especially to men's movements and actions, and to what concerns them. Purpose ; chephets , originally meaning "delight," "pleasure," in the later Hebrew came to signify " business ," "thing," " matter ." The proposition is—In human affairs Providence arranges the moment when everything shall happen, the duration of its operation, and the time appropriate thereto. The view of the writer takes in the whole circumstances of men's life from its commencement to its close. But the thought is not, as some have opined, that there is naught but uncertainty, fluctuation, and imperfection in human affairs, nor, as Plumptre conceives, "It is wisdom to do the right thing at the right time, that inopportuneness is the bane of life," for many of the circumstances mentioned, e.g. birth and death, are entirely beyond men's will and control, and the maxim, καιρὸν γνῶθι , cannot apply to man in such eases. Koheleth is confirming his assertion, made in the last chapter, that wisdom, wealth, success, happiness, etc; are not in man's hands, that his own efforts can secure none of them—they are distributed at the will of God. He establishes this dictum by entering into details, and showing the ordering of Providence and the supremacy of God in all men's concerns, the most trivial as well as the most important. The Vulgate gives a paraphrase, and not a very exact one, Omnia tempus habeat, et suis spatiis transenat universa sub caelo . Koheleth intimates, without attempting to reconcile, the great crux of man's free-will and God's decree.