5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
5-6 Several specific instructions compose this general admonition to be faithful. The first is to trust in the Lord and not in oneself, because he grants success. "Trust" carries the force of relying on someone for security; the confidence is to be in the Lord and not in human understanding. Such trust must be characterized by total commitment—"with all your heart," "in all your ways." "Understanding" is now cast in a sinful mode (cf. 1:2, 6); so there is to be a difference between the understanding that wisdom brings and the natural understanding that undermines faith. When obedient faith is present, the Lord will guide the believer along life's paths in spite of difficulties and hindrances. The idea of "straight" contrasts to the crooked and perverse ways of the wicked.
3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil?
10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.
11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.
13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.
14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
15 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.
16 And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.
17 I said to myself,
“God will bring into judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time to judge every deed.”
18 I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.
A time for everything (3:1). In further reflections on human mortality, Ecclesiastes asserts that because we are creatures of time and occasion, we must live in harmony with the ebb and flow of life (3:1 – 8). Although we have eternity in our hearts (3:11), timeless bliss is not ours in this world, and we must learn to live appropriately in both good times and bad times. Any attempt to find a philosophy of time or history in these verses should be abandoned; this text is about coming to terms with the realities of life, not about cyclical versus linear time or such notions.
Water clock, 3rd c. b.c., inscribed on outside with scenes related to deities connected months of the calendar, and a raised relief of Thoth in baboon form, who measures time. Passage of time was measured by the level of the water in relation to the twelve rows of holes.
Kim Walton, courtesy of the Oriental Institute Museum
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Read more from NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
1:5 Before I formed you in the womb. Jeremiah was chosen and commissioned for prophetic office even before God formed him in his mother’s womb. Biblical prophets such as Moses and Samuel were marked for leadership functions from the time of their birth, so in a sense one can say that they were called while in the womb. The closest Biblical example to Jeremiah’s situation is the apostle Paul, who said that God had chosen and set him apart before he was born (Gal 1:15). There are writings from Egypt and Mesopotamia that exhibit similar ideas and concepts. The Egyptian god Amun said of Piankhy, a pharaoh in the eighth century BC, that he had been designated ruler when he was yet unborn; the same is said of other contemporary rulers, e.g., the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal and the Babylonian king Nabonidus. This demonstrates that this was a common sort of statement to make about important people in the ancient world. What is unique in Jeremiah’s case is that the choosing by God is said to have taken place even before being conceived in his mother’s womb. However, this may just be a matter of a slightly different nuance regarding the same theme, and one perhaps should not make too much out of the difference.