Ecclesiastes 3:1,5 (ANIV)
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, …
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.
Scatter, Gather, Hold, Part.
Now to the particulars: verse 5 – “a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, …” the polar opposites in this verse are scattering stones & gathering stones, embracing (or holding someone) & refraining (or choosing not to embrace or hold someone).
So far we’ve seen that King Solomon’s 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 the next verse this concept of beginning & ending is further elaborated in reference to killing & healing. After that Solomon seems to turn his attention to writing about human reactions to the start & end of life, in referencing the polar opposites contained in his phases in ”a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
In verse 5 Solomon is comparing scattering & gathering stones with embracing & refraining from that embrace. Again he uses polar opposites to make the point. The action of gathering stones is inclusive – collecting them, possibly in reference to the building mentioned in verse 4.
This brings us to the phases used at the beginning of verse 5 “a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them…” In other Bible versions we read “A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together,” (Amplified Bible), “A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones;” (New King James Bible), other versions have very similar words. However The Message bible says “A right time to make love and another to abstain,” clearly considering not stones to be the meaning, but rather human love.
In my picture you can see a man in the top left who is tipping stones out of a wheel barrow. He is representative of “scattering stones”, whereas the woman (top right) with her nose in the air who is dropping a single pebble on a large pile of stones by her feet is representative of “gathering them (stones).”
Solomon then wrote of the display of affections (”a time to embrace”), probably of a man to a woman and vice verse. That is why I have drawn a young man & woman embracing in the bottom left of my picture.
The opposite of embracing is standing apart, or refraining from the previous mentioned embrace. There is no reference in the poem as to what is meant by “refraining from embrace”. We can not infer any qualities or meaning on the phase – it would be unwise to infer any anger, enmity, mistrust, or any other emotional condition that causes the “refraining from embrace”; it is simply the opposite of engaging in an embrace. The Bible in basic English uses the phrase “a time for kissing and a time to keep from kissing;” which would add a more intimate dimension to the action involved. The Message version states, “A right time to embrace and another to part,” referring more to ending an embrace at a particular point in time, rather than to abstinence from embracing. But the exact meaning is best left to personal interpretation.
In my picture I have drawn a man & a woman who are passing each other, but who have clearly seen & noted each other. The man’s hands are drawn in a prayer-like gesture, whilst the woman’s hands are lowered, yet subtly seeking his! Perhaps they are passing strangers who are attracted to each other? Perhaps they are acquaintances or friends, but want to get to known each other more intimately? Perhaps he is seeking to follow the Lord God (hence the interwoven hands in prayer) & she is drawing his attention away from that pursuit? Certainly abstinence from physical contact with the opposite sex, whilst pursuing a closer prayerful contact with the Lord God, would give purpose to the phrase “refraining from embrace”.