What Does "a Time to Kill" Mean in Ecclesiastes 3:3?

Liz Pineda

Contributing Writer
Published: Mar 06, 2023
What Does "a Time to Kill" Mean in Ecclesiastes 3:3?

More often than not, the seasons of our lives are determined by the choices we make. Simply put, the actions we take shape our lives. It is easy to blame God for our misery when in reality, we simply succumb to the repercussions of our sinful behavior and unwise decisions.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, where the famous phrase “a time to kill” is mentioned, can be baffling, especially for Christians. Given God's warning against murder, the phrase seems at odds with God's command:

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.”

Ultimately, the verse does not condone killing but rather asserts that our life here on earth will have its seasons, just as everything else in nature has varying cycles and rhythms.

It's a very poignant reminder of how the same principles that influence the ebb and flow of the natural world also apply to our lives. A sobering reality that painful life shifts and transitions are inevitable facets of life that we cannot dodge or escape from. 

The phrase “a time to kill” also mirrors the painful consequences of sin for mankind. Due to the sinful nature of man and the ramifications of sin, killing has become an inescapable reality in our world. Additionally, violence and bloodshed were recurring themes in the Old Testament. Thus, the phrase also reflects the mindset and prevailing conditions of the period.

Nevertheless, we find comfort in knowing that God is still in control despite life's uncertainties and shifting seasons.

Thou Shall Not Kill

In light of this, avenging ourselves by killing an adversary who wronged us violates God's law. God is the Creator and the Giver of Life; therefore, He alone has the authority to enforce a death sentence against an individual or a group.

Here are a few verses that prove God abhors violence in any form:

“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezra 33:11).

And though He commanded David to annihilate his adversaries (not God's desire, but a direct consequence of sin), God's abhorrence towards murder or any act of savagery is clearly evident when He tells David:

“But God said unto me, Thou shalt not build a house for my name, because thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood.” (1 Chronicles 28:3 AKJV)

Remember when Jonah was inflamed with rage because God didn't carry out His punishment on Nineveh?

“And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” (Jonah 4:11 NKJV)

“So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” (Jonah 4:2 NKJV)

And remember when Abraham haggled with God to spare the people of Sodom from mass destruction? Every single time, God met Abraham’s request without any objection until it was down to ten righteous people.

“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25 NIV).

The Bible is also replete with verses that speak of God’s compassion:

“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15 NIV)

Given this, the inhabitants of Canaan and Sodom were surely given the chance to repent before God struck them with calamity. Nevertheless, it must be noted that it was only when their sins reached the zenith of depravity that God imposed judgment upon them.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the people of Canaan lived in the land for hundreds of years before the Israelites decimated them. Thus, it took hundreds of years before God exacted judgment on the Canaanites—a testament to God's patience and compassion.

In light of this, let God be God. Sometimes we forget that we are serving a God, not just a loving Father but a God who administers justice. 

Painful Seasons of Life Are the Consequences of Sins

More often than not, the seasons of our lives are determined by the choices we make. Simply put, the actions we take shape our lives. It is easy to blame God for our misery when in reality, we simply succumb to the repercussions of our sinful behavior and unwise decisions.

As much as God is a God of love, He is also a God of justice. It is in His nature to exact justice and impose discipline to curb and correct wrongdoings.

“I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished” (Jeremiah 30:11 NLT)

Nonetheless, let us not be discouraged by the Lord's rebukes and severe discipline. Never hold a grudge when His discipline cuts deep because He chastises those He loves most.

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; For whom the Lord loves He corrects just as a father the son in whom he delights“ (Proverbs 3:11-12 NKJV)

Why Can't Life Be All Good and Wonderful? 

Is God being harsh on us? Why does God subject us to life's traumatic adversities, such as a debilitating illness, a devastating divorce, or the loss of a loved one? 

Our Creator never intended for us to live in grief, misery, and despair. Before the fall, mankind lived in a world devoid of hardship, death, or sorrow. However, when the bitter poison of sin engulfed our world, humans found themselves alienated from God. Man was suddenly destined for ruin, death, and destruction.

It is for these reasons that Jesus died for us all so that we may be reunited with God and live a life of joy and abundance for all eternity.

Thus, be comforted by Revelation 21:1-4 (RSV): “He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." 

Each Season in Our Lives Life Has Its Own Merits

Change is essential for growth. A life that is stale and unchanging is like stagnant water that becomes murky, polluted, and degraded. Nothing can grow and develop unless it undergoes a profound and radical change that allows it to evolve.

God’s ultimate desire for our lives isn't always what we would plan. A comfortable lifestyle, good health, romantic happiness, and a successful career do not constitute the primary purpose of our lives. Although God desires that we fulfill these aspirations, they are not the basis of our existence.

We must embrace this fundamental reality– that God's primary objective for our lives is not attaining earthly goals but to be transformed into the image of Christ. To flourish, evolve, and conform to the likeness of His Son. 

As such, the cyclical nature of happiness and misery is integral to man's spiritual growth. Through the highs and lows of a man’s journey, his character is refined, and his faith in God is edified.

Everything Has Its Season for a Reason

Given this, the changing seasons of life are necessary as they play a pivotal role in helping us develop Christ-like character. Thus, we need to be profoundly aware of what we are here for. By doing so, we will not feel disheartened by the slightest inconvenience or devastating setbacks. 

Every season brings with it its own set of challenges and possibilities. It is through these challenges that we build our faith, refine our character, and deepen our bond with God. By embracing each season and its changes, God will reveal more of Himself to us, enabling us to become the people He designed us to be.

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