“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from the beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Some believe that this refers to creation. God made everything. “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Time, as we know it, began with creation.
However, contextually, the words seem to refer to the cycle of life. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-ff). Nothing under heaven is permanent. People are born, and people die. The seasons change. There is a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted. Still, there is beauty in this life.
Consider what the writer said about the joys of this life: (1) Work – “I made my works great, I built myself houses, I made gardens and orchards… my heart rejoiced in all my labor” (Ecclesiastes 2:4-5, 10). (2) Family – “Live joyfully with the wife whom you love…” (Ecclesiastes 9:9). (3) Life and Nature – “Truly the light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to enjoy the sun” (Ecclesiastes 11:7). (4) Youth – “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth…” (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
“Also, He has put eternity in their hearts.” There is in the heart of man a longing for something more than this temporal world can provide. Consider the words of the writer: (1) Work – “Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet, he will rule over all my labor in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19). (2) Wealth – This did not provide lasting satisfaction. “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; Nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This is also vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). (3) Family – “Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life…” (Ecclesiastes 9:9). Family is good (Genesis 2:18; Proverbs 18:22; 31:10; 10:1; 15:20; Psalm 127:3-5). However, something is still missing without eternal hope. (4) Life and Nature – “But if a man lives many years and rejoices in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. All that is coming is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 11:8). (5) Death – “As it happens to the fool, it also happens to me, and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, ‘This also is vanity.’ For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die? As the fool!” (Ecclesiastes 2:15-16). “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so does the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 3:19).
Is there more? (1) Abraham, we’re told, “Waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10 cf. 11:14-16). (2) David spoke of a deceased son, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23). (3) Solomon, in this book of Ecclesiastes (his authorship is inferred from Ecclesiastes 1:1; 1:12; 1:16; 2:8-9), spoke of judgment to come (Ecclesiastes 3:17;11:9; 12:13-14). (4) Martha believed in the resurrection (John 11:23-24). (5) Things are more fully revealed and become clearer under the New Testament. Life and immortality have been brought to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).
“No one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” The Hebrew word (matsa’) occurs in several other places in this book (Ecclesiastes 7:14, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 8:17). The word can mean “figure out, comprehend by study” (ESV Study Bible).
In context, a distinction is being made between God and man. While man may long for, and seek, eternal life (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Romans 2:6-11), man is not God. Man may find out certain things in this life (e.g. Ecclesiastes 7:29). However, he does not know or control the future (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14; 8:17). God is in control (Ecclesiastes 8:13). God’s thoughts are much higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 40:12-14; 55:8-9; Job 41:11; Romans 11:34-35). He has prepared amazing things for us, and these things are only known through revelation (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).
While we do not know the future, the faithful can take comfort in the fact that God is in control. John Waddy comments, “The faithful servant of God can console himself in the recognition that somehow God is working all things together for his good” (Romans 8:28). The man trying to live life apart from God has no such consolation” (John Waddy, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, pp. 23-24).