Ecclesiastes 3:1,3 (ANIV)
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, …
TIME OF DAY:
I have decided to include verse 1 in all the following 7 “A time for everything” scenes & articles notes, to remind the viewer of the point of the list (verses 2-8).
The teacher (king Solomon) refers here (verse 1-8) to every activity under heaven, meaning everything that we human beings get up to. Our achievements, our follies, our actions, our lack of actions, our moods & attitudes. Of course this is not a comprehensive list of ALL human activity, but I think it is indicative of the major headings of human activity.
By looking at other versions of the Bible we can get a more complete understanding of what the teacher was writing about. Verse 1 in the Amplified Bible refers to “every matter or purpose under heaven”. In the Message version “a right time for everything on the earth” is referred to, whilst the Bible in Basic English calls it “every business under the sun”. The English Standard Version refers to it as “every matter under heaven”.
The Hebrew word for “activity,” (chephets (transliteration); pronounced khā‘·fets) always used of people, literally means “delight”, “desire”, “longing”, “the good pleasure” &/or “that in which one takes delight”. The word also refers to willing participation &/or acceptable purpose.
In relation to all of these various human activities the teachers states (in verse 17 of the same chapter):
17 I said to myself, “In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds.”
Notice it says ALL their deeds, not merely some of them. It refers to all deeds we willingly participate in.
The teacher followed his general statement (”There is a time for everything…”) with a poem composed of 7 pairs (14 in total) of polar opposites. It is interesting that king Solomon used 7 pairs of polar opposites (the poetical device called merism), since the number 7 suggests the idea of completeness or totality in Hebrew literature. Solomon begins his poem with “birth & death” and ends it with “war & peace”, with all the other human activities in between these grandest & gravest of themes.
Kill, Heal, Tear Down, Build.
Now to the particulars: verse 3 – “a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, …” the polar opposites in this verse are killing & healing, tearing down (or demolishing) & building (or constructing).
The poem begins in reference to birth (the beginning of a person’s physical life) and death (the end of a person’s physical life), & in this next verse that concept is further elaborated in reference to killing & healing. Killing is the deliberate taking of life, whilst healing is the opposite: returning to health that which has been injured or damaged. We see a mirroring in the poem of birth & healing, versus killing & death.
Further poetic reference to birth/healing/life & killing/death can be seen in reference to building & tearing down. In building, one or more people use their strength & ingenuity to construct something, a house, dwelling, etc. Construction involves deliberate effort to bring materials & skills together, in order to build something. The polar opposite of this building is destruction: the deliberate or accidental de-construction of something. Tearing down a building means reducing it from a recognisable, constructed state into a pile of rubble. There is a clear analogy in King Solomon’s poem between organic life beginning (birth) & construction of a building, versus the end of organic life (killing & death) which is analogous to tearing down or demolishing a building. Of course construction & tearing down or destruction have wider attachments or meanings than merely building houses. We are capable of building a reasonable argument; we are capable of building up a friendship; we can construct a piece of art, or build a community. Conversely we can destroy a friendship, or tear up an acquaintance, or cause divisions in an organisation or community. Taken in a wider sense, the phrases “tear down” & “build” can refer just as easily to relationships between people as it can refer to a physical construction project.