To everything there is a season

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Ecclesiastes 3

Aside from the title – “Turn, Turn, Turn” – Pete Seeger wrote 6 words.   Solomon wrote the other 173.  Yet today, it’s probably the the Byrds’ cover version that’s more famous than either!

No chart-topper has older lyrics than this song.  So why have these words from Ecclesiastes 3 found such enduring and universal appeal?

“1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

There is a sorrowful beauty to life under the sun.  A kind of tragic loveliness.  It looks like a protest song.  The six added words from Seeger are these:

“A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

Yet it’s not a protest at all.  Neither Solomon nor Seeger are railing against the natural order.  Theirs is a blanket acceptance of all the turning seasons of life.  Instead of protesting death, the song asks us to give up and enjoy the ride.

Solomon resigns himself to the circle of life (which is ultimately a circle of death), and contents himself with the thought that God “hath made every thing beautiful in his time.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:12)

And why wouldn’t the world sing along with Solomon?  Here is the ultimate philosophy for those bound within the turning seasons.  Embrace it all – love and hate, peace and war, birth and death.  Acknowledge its inevitability.  Enjoy what you can.  Accept it as your lot.  And sing.

But there are other songs to sing.  Isaiah envisages a world transformed by the Messiah.  His chapter 35 is the true protest song.  He even rails against the final enemy, death.  He dares to hope that, through the victory of the Messiah, the natural order will be overturned and the captives set free.  Through Christ, the wilderness blossoms, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap. The natural world is turned right-side-up.

4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6 Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. 7 And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.   (Isaiah 35:4-7)

When we merely exist for life “under the sun” we may sing beautiful laments.  But they are fleeting.  This is the song of one with eyes fixed on the Messiah:

The ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)

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