Sunday, October 6, 2013

Gather Stones

Gather Stones 
October 7, 2013 
Ecclesiastes 3:5  ". . . a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them . . ." 

The famous writer of the book of Ecclesiastes was often poetic in his sharing of wisdom.  He accomplishes his timeless points extremely well, though leaving the modern reader slightly pondering his exact case analogy.  One such poem we have affectionately entitled, A Time for Everything.  He writes that there is a time for everything under the sun, a season for things done by man.  He goes on to reference a list of those activities along with their complete and polar opposite.  The first of those being: a time to be born and a time to die.  This first one is very clear in its reference and consequential understanding with little interpretation needed.  When reading further, however, there is one analogy that leaves the modern reader hanging; it reads, "a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them."  I will propose several probable interpretations, all plausible through Scriptural support.

A time to gather stones or scatter them might refer to rocks in a field.  You would certainly gather stones if you wanted to clear the field for growing an intended harvest.  Conversely, you would scatter stones in someone else's field if you wanted to thwart their ability to grow a crop.  Destroying a field was actually quite common after a battle to further hamstring an opponent from rebuilding his livelihood.

A time to gather stones or scatter them might refer to building or construction.  There is certainly an appropriate time to erect a building and usually a time to tear down or re-purpose an old one.  The usage of stones in construction techniques was also mentioned many times in the Bible when discussing alters.  There were very integral times to build an alter to the Lord and tear down an alter that was built for pagan purposes.  Sometimes alters that were previously built to worship the Lord were used by others to offer sacrifices to pagan gods.  It was definitely required to tear down those alters.  Neither of these two instances is a probable interpretation, however, since the concept of building or tearing down are covered in verse three of the poem.

A time to gather stones or scatter them might refer to punishing someone.  Stoning a person to death was the prescribed way of dealing with certain sins or crimes.  You would obviously need to gather stones if you intended to stone someone to death.  Scattering the stones would be akin to showing mercy, where mercy would be more productive than killing the person.  Remember that this is what Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery.  The interpretation of justice versus forgiveness, interesting as it is, would not probably be correct, since killing or restoring a person were also covered in verse three of the poem.

A time to gather stones or scatter them might refer to a simple but effective monument.  While this is not specifically a building or an act of construction, a pile of stones was often erected to commemorate an event.  If you wanted to seal a memory in a public manner, you would set it in stone by collecting a pile of rocks.  You would also destroy a memory, or wipe away someone else's commemorative event from history, by tearing down those stones and scattering them.

While all of these interpretations are plausible, I sincerely believe the author is talking about remembrance stones.  If you were to write the verse with this interpretation in mind, it might read, "a time to remember and a time to forget."  There are many things you and I should remember on a daily basis and there are many things you and I should simply forget; this is advice we seldom take.   This point is argued many times over in Scripture, as we are to remember all the things the Lord has done for others in the past and remember what He has done for us in recent history.  It is also good to forget.  Forget someone's transgressions toward you, just as the Lord has forgotten yours.  Thankfully the  Lord has put our sins far from His memory, as far as the east is from the west.  Though we have sin-filled, commemorative events in our lives, the Lord is able to scatter those stones of remembrance.

I encourage you to re-read this poem in its entirety, thinking of each line as it could apply to yourself.  We are often at one extreme or the other no matter what point the author was trying to convey to us, but we need to realize there is an appropriate time for both ends of the spectrum. 

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Gen 41:51, Deut 8, 1 Sam 7:12, Ps 103:12, Ecc 3:1-8, Is 43:15, John 8:2-4, Phil 3:13

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