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.
A time to love, and a time to hate. This reminds one of the gloss to which our Lord refers ( Matthew 5:43 ), "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy," the first member being found in the old Law (Le 19:18), the second being a misconception of the spirit which made Israel God's executioner upon the condemned nations. It was the maxim of Bias, quoted by Aristotle, 'Rhet.,' Ecclesiastes 2:13 , that we should love as if about some day to hate, and hate as if about to love. And Philo imparts a still more selfish tone to the gnome, when he pronounces, "It was well said by them of old, that we ought to deal out friendship without absolutely renouncing enmity, and practice enmity as possibly to turn to friendship. A time of war, and a time of peace. In the previous couplets the infinitive mood of the verb has been used; in this last hemistich substantives are introduced, as being more concise and better fitted to emphasize the close of the catalogue. The first clause referred specially to the private feelings which one is constrained to entertain towards individuals. The second clause has to do with national concerns, and touches on the statesmanship which discovers the necessity or the opportuneness of war and peace, and acts accordingly. In this and in all the other examples adduced, the lesson intended is this—that man is not independent; that under all circumstances and relations he is in the hand of a power mightier than himself, which frames time and seasons according to its own good pleasure. God holds the threads of human life; in some mysterious way directs and controls events; success and failure are dependent upon his will. There are certain laws which, regulate the issues of actions and events, and man cannot alter these; his free-will can put them in motion, but they become irresistible when in operation. This is not fatalism; it is the mere statement of a fact in experience. Koheleth never denies man's liberty, though he is very earnest in asserting God's sovereignty. The reconciliation of the two is a problem unsolved by him.