by William J. Stewart
The “…a time to…” statements of Ecclesiastes 3 are simple, relatable tidbits, but they carry within them the wonderful insights which Solomon received from God regarding the affairs of the world. Much thought can be provoked in each case. This week, we will consider Ecclesiastes 3:2.
A Time To Be Born, And A Time To Die
The course of human life is summed up in this brief statement. The opening and closing of life’s curtains, spoken of in such proximity to one another reminds us of the brevity of life. Job remarked, “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). Jacob used the word “few” to describe his one hundred and thirty years of life to Pharaoh (Genesis 47:9). Man’s life is spoken of as a vapour “that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14; cf. Psalm 39:5, 11; 89:47; 90:9-10; 144:4).
The birth of a child is cause for rejoicing. So many relationships are graced with the presence of the newborn one—parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, perhaps even great grandparents. Beyond these family relations, neighbours, church family, friends, co-workers, etc.. The announcement of a single birth brings gladness to the hearts of many. In particular, the Psalmist penned, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them…” (Psalm 127:3-5). Indeed, children are a beautiful gift from God!
It is Benjamin Franklin who coined the phrase, “In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.” The tax man is already ready and waiting for his share—income tax, property tax, sales tax, school tax, a variety of government issued permits and licenses (hidden taxes, if you will), etc.. Were these not sufficient, there is yet one more tax to consider—a death tax. It appears Mr. Franklin’s inevitabilities are not mutually exclusive.
The inescapable end for every soul born is death, the exception being those who are alive at the coming of Christ. Man’s body is destined to return to the ground from which it was formed (Genesis 3:19). But this is not all. The Hebrew writer states, “…it is appointed for man to die once, but after this the judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27). Death brings with it an appointment with the Almighty, wherein we will be judged according to our deeds (2 Corinthians 5:11).
A Time To Plant, And A Time To Pluck What Is Planted
Del Tarr, a denominational missionary who worked in West Africa for 14 years tells a story about sowing and reaping:
I was always perplexed by Psalm 126 until I went to the Sahel. In the Sahel, all the moisture comes in a four month period—May, June, July and August. After that, not a drop of rain falls for eight months. The ground cracks from dryness, and so do your hands and feet…
October and November, these are beautiful months. The granaries are full — the harvest has come. People sing and dance. They eat two meals a day. The meals lie heavy on their stomachs so they can sleep.
December comes, and the granaries start to recede. Many families omit the morning meal. Certainly by January not one family in fifty is still eating two meals a day. By February, the evening meal diminishes. The meal shrinks even more during March and children succumb to sickness. You don’t stay well on half a meal a day. April is the month that haunts my memory. In it you hear the babies crying in the twilight. Most of the days are passed with only an evening cup of gruel.
Then, inevitably, it happens. A six or seven year old boy comes running to his father one day with sudden excitement. “Daddy! Daddy! We’ve got grain!” he shouts. “Son, you know we haven’t had grain for seeks.” “Yes, we have!” the boy insists. “Out in the hut where we keep the goats—there’s a leather sack hanging up on the wall—I reached up and put my hand down in there; Daddy, there’s grain in there! Give it to Mommy so she can make flour, and tonight our tummies can sleep!”
The father stands motionless. “Son, we can’t do that,” he softly explains. “That’s next year’s seed grain. It’s the only thing between us and starvation. We’re waiting for the rains, and then we must use it.” The rains finally arrive in May, and when they do the young boy watches as his father takes the sack from the wall and does the most unreasonable thing imaginable. Instead of feeding his desperately weakened family, he goes to the field and with tears streaming down his face, he takes the precious seed and throws it away. He scatters it in the dirt! Why? Because he believes in the harvest.
The seed is his; he owns it. He can do anything with it he wants. The act of sowing it hurts so much that he cries. But as the African pastors say when they preach on Psalm 126, “Brothers and sisters, this is God’s law of the harvest. Don’t expect to rejoice later on unless you have been willing to sow in tears.”
One doesn’t have to be a farmer to understand that there is a time to sow and a time to reap. For those spoken of by Mr. Tarr, grasping this concept is a matter of life and death. These are truths which can be relied upon, as the LORD has promised, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and night and day shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).
But sowing and reaping is not merely a cycle for the production of food. Consider the spiritual application: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:7-8).
The apostle Paul instructs Christians, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Contextually, this relates to giving of our means to minister to the needs of others, but it is a universal truth—put out little effort, get little results.
Finally friend, consider one more spiritual application of God’s law about sowing and reaping. Paul wrote, “…what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body… So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body… The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven… as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (1 Corinthians 15:36-38, 42-44, 47, 49).
What a great God we have, who has given us life and breath. There are so many wonderful cycles that He has set in motion. Life is a gift from God. To the mortal mind, death seems to be an end, but it is rather the putting off of a physical tent, to be clothed in the spiritual body which God supplies. The course of life and death has within it the daily opportunities to sow. Not merely of seed for food, but more importantly, of seed for life—life eternal. Let us sow bountifully to the Spirit, that we might in the hereafter reap bountifully of the Spirit.