"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." —Ecclesiastes 3:1
Most of us are probably familiar with Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, but it may be a passage that we have not considered for a while:
For everything there is a fixed time, and a time for every business under the sun.
A time for birth and a time for death; a time for planting and a time for uprooting;
A time to put to death and a time to make well; a time for pulling down and a time for building up;
A time for weeping and a time for laughing; a time for sorrow and a time for dancing;
A time to take stones away and a time to get stones together; a time for kissing and a time to keep from kissing;
A time for search and a time for loss; a time to keep and a time to give away;
A time for undoing and a time for stitching; a time for keeping quiet and a time for talk;
A time for love and a time for hate; a time for war and a time for peace. (The Bible in Basic English [BBE])
Albert Einstein's thoughts on the matter of time make it seem uncomplicated: "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen all at once." Certainly, he was being facetious. But time is a basic part of our universe that, while we tend to work in relative harmony with it, is far more complex than we realize. Scientists and philosophers spend their lives trying to grasp the hows and wherefores of time.
Timing is a related concept, one whose importance we need to explore because it is a daily factor in our lives. More than that, it will be part of our future—our spiritual future—because God Himself has perfect timing. In this short study, we will look at timing in nature, in society, and in the Bible.
Timing in Nature
Maestro pianist and composer Arthur Rubinstein wrote: "The seasons are authentic; there is no mistake about them, they are what a symphony ought to be: four perfect movements in intimate harmony with one another." Seasons are larger elements of time, each a quarter of a year, each with its own particular properties. God mentions them in the creation account in Genesis 1:14, saying that the operations of the heavenly bodies would control them. Beyond these specific calendar seasons are other large sections of a year like hunting season, football season, and holy day/holiday seasons.
We all have different likes and dislikes, but I prefer the warmer seasons of the year, especially because I would rather be hot than cold. Further, spring and summer always seem to offer so many promises of pleasant happenings.
One of the things I look forward to the most is the return of the fireflies in spring. The term "return" is misleading, as the fireflies never really leave. They do not migrate to warmer climes; they burrow into the ground and hibernate until a warm spring night entices them out. What a magical sight it is to see thousands of fireflies covering an open field!
They all seem to know when to emerge—and all at once. It is a matter of timing. If they come out too early, they may find themselves in the midst of an April cold snap, and many would perish. On the other hand, if they come out too late, they may miss the chance to find a mate. Timing is everything! They need to emerge from hibernation at just the right time.
Another event many of us eagerly anticipate each spring is the return of the orioles. What beautiful birds they are! Their distinctive yellow/orange and black coloring is unique. Here in the Ozarks, we are blessed if we see two or three of them in a season, as they are "neotropical migrants." They winter in Central America and each year migrate to the northeastern United States and Canada—sometimes as much as 4,000 miles—to their breeding grounds. Their timing is triggered by an instinct that urges them to go.
They sometimes stop along the way for a day or two to await better flying conditions or to avoid a storm or a strong headwind. This is when we in central Missouri are allowed to behold their beauty, when they choose to stop in the Ozarks for a day or two before continuing on their journey northward. I like to think that the orioles stop here to smell the roses on their way to spring training in Baltimore—at just the right time.
Many animals and birds, and even whales and fish, migrate each year. For most, the issue of migration is vital, and instinct prompts the timing of their often lengthy travel. This makes the timing of their migration critical. Timing is everything! They need to migrate at just the right time or fail to reproduce—or fail to follow their food source—and die.
Timing in Society
Timing is everything for people, too, in big and small ways. For instance, timing can be critical to the success of a joke, often spelling the difference between a good joke and a bad one. In the same way, timing can make or break an actor's performance.
Timing comes into play in such mundane activities as cooking. "Better late than never" just will not do when grilling one's favorite cut of meat on the barbeque.
Timing is vital to our health. We want to become aware of a disease early before it gets out of hand. If we have to take medication, we need to do it when directed.
Timing is a serious matter in finance. What happens when we pay our bills late or miss paying one altogether? When we venture into investments, we want to buy low and sell high! When we take out a loan for a house or a car, we want a good interest rate with desirable terms.
Certainly, timing is essential when dealing with people. We need to be very careful when we ask for a raise or a favor of someone. Catching that other person at the wrong time—when his car has just broken down or he has just lost a big deal to a competitor—will probably doom our request. It is critical, too, when we need to confront a brother in the church because of a sin he has committed against us (see Matthew 18:15-17).
Timing is important in matters of the heart too. A recent story in the news demonstrates this fact extremely well:
When Alex and Donna Voutsinas were photographed together at Disney World, they didn't know each other. In fact, they didn't even live in the same country. But fifteen years later, they met and married:
That fateful realization came just one week before their wedding eight years ago. Alex and Donna had been going through old family snapshots. There, in the blurry background of a picture of 5-year-old Donna was 3-year-old Alex being pushed down Main Street at the same moment in 1980 by his father. (John Farrier, "Disney Photo Captured Married Couple on Film 15 Years Before They Met," Odd News, June 13, 2010.)
A very wise man, Solomon, advises in Ecclesiastes 9:11:
I realized another thing, that in this world fast runners do not always win the races, and the brave do not always win the battles. The wise do not always earn a living, intelligent people do not always get rich, and capable people do not always rise to high positions. Bad luck happens to everyone. (The Good News Bible [GNB])
Or, as the New King James version reads in that last sentence, "But time and chance happen to them all." Timing is everything!
Composer Hector Berlioz morbidly points out just how critical timing is to humans: "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills its pupils."
Timing in the Bible
Timing is a huge issue in the Bible. It comes up frequently in the sermons and sermonettes we hear. For example, Saul was unwilling to wait for Samuel's arrival, and the results were dire (I Samuel 15). Certain Israelites in the wilderness were terrified of the consequences of not keeping the Passover at its appointed time (Numbers 9). Jonathan and his armor-bearer made a timely attack on a Philistine garrison (I Samuel 14). Of course, we all recall how Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar did not wait on God's timing in bearing a son for Abraham (Genesis 16). With his mother's help, Jacob stole the blessing rather than wait for God to work the matter out (Genesis 27).
In addition, we know that we must count to achieve the proper timing for Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-16). Each Sabbath is an exercise in timing, as we keep it from sunset to sunset (compare Leviticus 23:3, 32). Many of God's miracles involved God's perfect timing, for instance, His parting of the waters of the Red Sea to allow the Israelites through but sending them crashing down on the pursuing Egyptians (Exodus 14). The story of Esther is all about perfect timing (Esther 4:14). Timing was critical to Jeremiah's Seventy Years Prophecy (Jeremiah 25:12), as well as most other prophecies in the Bible.
Standing above these, though, is Jesus Christ's example of timeliness. The Old Testament contains about three hundred prophecies fulfilled by His first coming. These prophecies include the places, circumstances, and timing of His birth, ministry, and of course, His death. The odds of one person fulfilling just eight of these prophecies are 100 trillion to one.
All of this required perfect timing; these events had to happen at just the right time to fulfill the prophecies. Too late or too early would invalidate them. Timing is everything in prophecy. God is never late! He brings everything about at precisely the right time. As the New English Bible translates Ecclesiastes 3:11, "He has made everything to suit its time."
Paul points this out in respect to Christ in Romans 5:6, which we can see in several translations:
» For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (KJV)
» For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. (American Standard Version)
» For when we were still without strength, at the right time Christ gave his life for evil-doers. (BBE)
» For when we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked at the time that God chose. (GNB)
» For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (International Standard Version)
Why was it "just the right time"? There are several reasons:
First, timeliness was required by prophecy. It established Christ's credentials.
Second, timeliness proves how reliable God is.
Third, after eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, man was condemned to experience a life cut off from God. All of us humans share that common sentence. Herbert W. Armstrong used to say that, at that point, man chose to decide for himself what was good and what was evil. As a result of that natural enmity and hostility to God (Romans 8:7), mankind tends to reject what is good and to be attracted to evil. Mankind has been in dire need of rescue ever since, and it was time for that rescue to be carried out.
Fourth, it was time to remove the curtain of separation from those whom God calls. God was restoring human access to Himself; but this required the sacrifice of our sinless Creator. Through His church, made up of those who have accepted that sacrifice, He is forming a Family to help Him convert all humanity.
Fifth, time was running short. If God's plan covers 7,000 years, and if Adam was about 4,000 years before Christ, then roughly 2,000 years of the age of man remained (since the final thousand years, analogous to the Sabbath rest, will comprise the Millennial reign of Christ). When Jesus died, then, only the final third of the time allotted for man's rule remained. Thus, the end was near. Mark 1:14-15 conveys this sense: "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.'"
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. . . .
Lastly, it was time to establish an earnestness and urgency in His people. When someone gives his life so that another—and in this case, many—can live, it motivates.
It is easy to see that timing means a great deal to us, as well as to the world. It is basic in nature, beneficial in society, and essential to Scripture.
Finally, I hate to contradict Albert Einstein, but in the end, everything will happen all at once! Notice these two passages:
» In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (I Corinthians 15:52)
» For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:16-18)
Timing is everything!
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