From one point of view this section may be entitled In Praise of Opportunism, from another Human Helplessness. Every action in which man can engage has its allotted season, but who can be sure that he has found this season? God's plan can be known only in part, hence man's efforts to succeed are always liable to fail; nothing remains but to enjoy the present.
Ecclesiastes 3:1. purpose: read business or affair. In the Heb. the antitheses that follow are in parallel columns like a Greek sustoichia or Table of Contrasts.
Ecclesiastes 3:2. Untimely birth and untimely death are both abhorrent; human entrances and exits have their parallel in the agricultural operations of sowing and reaping. There is no need to compare Jeremiah 1:10; Zephaniah 2:4, though the Heb. word is the same.
Ecclesiastes 3:3 finds particular application in time of war.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 reminds us of Jesus-' parable of the children in the market-place and the contrast between Himself and John the Baptist.
Ecclesiastes 3:5 a. The best comment is 2 Kings 3:19-25 and Isaiah 5:2; others make it synonymous with Ecclesiastes 3:3 b. To take the casting as referring to the custom of throwing stones into a grave at a burial leaves the gathering unexplained.
Ecclesiastes 3:6. The first clause refers to the acquisition (and loss), the second to the protection (and rejection) of property.
Ecclesiastes 3:7. rend may betoken sorrow and mourning or perhaps schism (1 Kings 11:30; cf. Matthew 10:34 f.); sew would then mean the return of joy or of unity (cf. Isaiah 58:12); silence and speech may also have to do with sorrow and joy.
Ecclesiastes 3:9. As often in this book, the positive question is a negative assertion. Man has to go the round of all these activities and experiences, yet he wins nothing from them. With Ecclesiastes 3:11 cf. Genesis 1:31; the word rendered beautiful will bear the translation fitting or appropriate. he hath set the world in their heart: for world mg. reads eternity; the Heb. word is that which is usually translated for ever. If we adopt this we must understand it of the soul's yearning after a larger, fuller, and clearer life than is possible on earth a yearning which does not amount to a belief in subsequent existence but only adds to the burden of present experience. But by reading the word with other vowels, - elem for - olam, we get the more intelligible meaning of something hidden or concealed, and may render it ignorance. God, jealous lest man should rival Him, has set ignorance in his heart (cf. Genesis 2:16 f., Genesis 3:5). Another slight change makes the word mean wisdom, but this is unlikely.
Ecclesiastes 3:14. If this is Qoheleth's it means that there is no escape for man from the scheme of things, he wins no gain from the course of life, nothing except Epicurean enjoyment with the dread of God as a shadow in the background. But it may be from the hand of a pious annotator who make God's unchanging purpose the ground of man's trust in Him.