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III. A Catalog of Times (3:1–15)

Contrary to some popular ideas and lyrics, these verses are not suggesting that there are proper or appropriate times for the specified activities, i.e., that there is a right time for war and a right time for peace. They indicate rather that these tenets and all that occurs have been fixed and determined by God.

Open to question is Qoheleth's attitude toward this fact. Generally it is said to be negative. He has already lamented the futility of life and human effort because of their transience. Lack of permanence makes human toil meaningless. Now he compounds the sense of frustration by noting that all human efforts have been predetermined. Humankind simply executes an already determined schedule of events. Life is both fleeting and fixed.

However, it is possible to read these verses, not as adding to Qoheleth's sense of futility, but as answering objections already raised. Since all has been determined by God, life has purpose and meaning. Since God has set a time for everything, a sense of security results. The continual movements of life do not need to be viewed as meaningless. “Instead of changelessness, there is something better: a dynamic, divine purpose, with its beginning and end. Instead of frozen perfection, there is the kaleidoscopic movements of innumerable processes, each with its own character and its period of blossoming and ripening; beautiful in its time and contributing to the over-all masterpiece which is the work of our Creator” (Kidner, 39). From this perspective, then, God's actions are not simply arbitrary, but appropriate, and not simply confining, but releasing.