everything there is a season, and a
time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance. . . .
These famous verses are spoken by the
unnamed Teacher who investigates the meaning of life in the Book
of Ecclesiastes. The poetic interlude in the Teacher’s musings represents
an excellent example of the parallelism that defines biblical poetry:
the lyrical verse has rhythm because each line is divided into two
halves, both of which mirror and oppose each other at the same time.
More important, the Teacher’s saying continues the pattern of doubles
and opposites developed throughout the Old Testament narrative.
Since God’s creation in Genesis, the Old Testament depicts the world
as a place of opposing forces—good versus evil, greater versus lesser,
light versus dark, seen versus unseen. The Old Testament frequently
reverses these opposites, showing the younger dominating over the
older, the weak over the strong, and the oppressed over the powerful.
This motif suggests that humans cannot confidently discern that
which is better or worse without faith in God. Similarly, the Teacher
explains that there is a time for every human experience, good and
bad. One cannot say that dancing is obviously better than mourning,
for both experiences are integral to human life. The Teacher argues
that trying to find meaning in life by what people traditionally
assume to be better or worse is misguided, and that the only correct
way for humans to behave is to fear, or obey, God.