After being put into lyrics by Pete Seeger (b. 1919) and popularized in 1965 by The Byrds in the song “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There is a Season)”, the third chapter of Ecclesiastes is the most recognizable portion of the book. The famous poem, whose author is commonly referred to as Qoheleth, presents a series of opposites unified by the thought of there being a time for each. The unit begins with birth/death and ends speaking of war/peace.
Sidney Greidanus (b. 1935) determines:
The poem uses the word “time” 28 times (4×7), distributed over 14 lines (2×7). Since 7 is the number of completeness (think of the seven days of creation), the author, without naming all possible times, intends to depict the complete number of different times humans may encounter in their lifetime. This is also evident from the first pair, birth and death, which “marks the extreme limits of human existence itself and so by anticipation defines the scope of the whole list.” (Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Sermons, 72)The closing stanza uses a word often frowned upon - hate.
A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:8 NASB)The Hebrew sane’ conveys the same intensity as the English “hate” as the term is meant to be contrasted with “love”. The text moves from these personal feelings to the socio-political conditions that they produce, peace and hate.
James L. Crenshaw (b. 1934) sees the poem’s ending as bringing it full circle:
The final pair of opposites concentrates on human emotions, on the personal level and in the wider sphere of international relations. After “there is a time to love and a time to hate” one expects the sequence to read “a time to make peace and a time to wage war.” Qohelet varies the poem’s structure and its syntax, and in doing so he reaches a forceful conclusion. The correspondence between the first infinitive of each pair disappears in this verse, as do the infinitives in the last half verse. The first infinitive (love) is parallel with the last noun (peace), and the second infinitive (hate) corresponds to the third item, the noun (war). The result is a chiastic structure for the whole poem (birth/death: war/peace), and in Ecclesiastes 3:8 taken alone (love/hate: war/peace). (Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 96)Regarding war and peace, Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) notes that, “According to the Midrash, this pair sums up several of the others, namely uprooting/planting, seeking/losing, tearing down/building up, slaying/healing, ripping/sewing, and hating/loving (Midrash Koheleth Rabbah) (Fox, Ecclesiastes (The JPS Bible Commentary), 22).”
Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) asserts that, “It is important to emphasize that the poem does not advocate these emotions/states/actions, but simply describes them as parts of the full spectrum of human experience (Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 117).”
Duane A. Garrett (b. 1953) concurs:
The text is a masterpiece of wisdom poetry. J.A. Loader [b. 1945] observes that the verses move back and forth among desirable and undesirable aspects of life, and he correctly notes that the book is not telling the reader how to attain the former and avoid the latter. Nevertheless, he like others, wrongly supposes that the point of this text is that an arbitrary deity manipulates human affairs and that the only appropriate response is resignation to fate. Ecclesiastes is not concerned about questions of “cyclic” verses “linear” time. These verses concern not divine providence or abstract notions of time but human mortality...The poem concerns life “under heaven.” It is not so much a theological statement as an observation on human life in the human world. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary), 297-298)Perhaps counterintuitively, there are no Bible passages which condemn war and no one doubts war’s reality. Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (b. 1954) lament:
Much of human history has shown that the time for love is short and the time of hate much too long. As for war, it is still an unfortunately attractive means for settling disputes. Peace is the ideal to be hoped for. (Kravitz and Olitzky, Kohelet: A Modern Commentary on Ecclesiastes, 25)Is hatred ever acceptable? If so, when is it time to hate?
For Kathleen A. Farmer (b. 1943), the determining factor in deciding whether it is a time for love or hate is context:
It would be easy to conclude from the bulk of proverbial wisdom that some forms of behavior are inherently evil and are never appropriate. But Qohelet makes a radically different claim. He says that circumstances determine whether a given action is good or bad. Even war and hate might be appropriate in certain contexts. Like the wise who listed totally opposite pieces of advice one after another in Proverbs 26:4-5, Qohelet implies that a given action can be either right or wrong, depending on what else is going on when it is done. (Farmer, Who Knows What is Good?: A Commentary on the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (International Theological Commentary), 161)William P. Brown (b. 1958) reminds, “Qoheleth’s vision of time does not stray far from the tenets of conventional wisdom, whose message frequently is not so much ‘know thyself’ as ‘know the time’ (Brown, Ecclesiastes (Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 41).”
Craig G. Bartholomew (b. 1961) asserts that hatred is not inherently wrong:
Hate need not imply something wrong and sinful; in Deuteronomy 12:31, for example, God is referred to as “hating” the ways in which the Canaanites worshiped their gods, and the example is given of child sacrifice. (Bartholomew, Ecclesiastes (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 165)Similarly, Philip Graham Ryken (b. 1966) deduces that hatred cannot be evil in and of itself as God hates:
God is not either/or; he is both/and, depending on what time it is. According to God’s schedule, there is both “a time to love, and a time to hate.”...many people like to think of God as love without considering the reality of his wrath. But the hatred of God is one of his perfections. It is right and good for God to oppose every wicked deed and to bring evil to judgment. We see this is the Second Commandment, where the holy God tells us that he will hate idolatry to the third and fourth generation, while at the same time showing love to a thousand generations of people who love and keep his commandments (see Exodus 20:4-6). We also see it in Proverbs, where Solomon tells us seven things that the Lord hates...(Proverbs 6:17-19). (Ryken, Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters (Preaching the Word), 82)As to what the Christian is to hate, Douglas B. Miller (b. 1955) claims that evil should be both hated and battled:
There are things that followers of Jesus should hate (what is evil, Psalm 97:10; Proverbs 8:13; Amos 5:15), and there is a certain kind of warfare that should be engaged (Ephesians 6:10-17). The New Testament writers do not spiritualize the issue but take a position of the tactics of this battle; evil is to be overcome with good by using divine weapons (Romans 12:20-21; Ephesians 6:10-18). (Miller, Ecclesiastes (Believers Church Bible Commentary), 80)The key is hating what God hates, a sticky predicament as, in deciding, one must assume the will of God. Daniel J. Treier (b. 1972) analyzes:
Ecclesiastes 3:8 addresses emotions and their larger social consequences...the verse could seem morally jarring. Even if one grants the necessity of war in a fallen world, in light of occasionally justified killing (→Ecclesiastes 3:3), what about hate? The text does not specify other people as the object, while the rest of scripture does suggest that hate is appropriate with respect to sin...Still in context, the hatred is not violent emotion leading to vicious behavior; to the contrary, it is personal, prayerful alignment with the will of God in judgment. The only sense in which we properly hate the wicked involves prayerfully anticipating judgment in God’s time and refusing to cavort with God’s enemies as if we were simply friends and their opposition to God were no barrier between us. It is never appropriate to hate God’s image-bearers in themselves and as such, or to appoint ourselves as their moral superiors aside from divine grace. But it is necessary to hate evil in such a way that those persistently characterized by opposition to God leave us distraught until we take into account the end of their behavior (Psalm 73:17, 27). (Trier, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 154)Jill Briscoe (b. 1934) sees a correlation between hate and love:
We know there is always a time to love, but is there ever a time to hate? I believe there is a legitimate case for hating whatever it is that spoils love...There is definitely a time to hate that which destroys love. If we hate sin enough, we might be motivated to seek God’s help to turn from it...Yes, there is a time to hate. The problem comes when our love does not contain the element of hatred. False love allows anyone to do anything to anybody regardless of the consequences. False love even loves what God hates!...True love hates what spoils it. (Briscoe, The One Year Book of Devotions for Women, 125)David George Moore (b. 1958) also lauds a connection between hate and love, advising that even the Christian’s hate should be rooted in love:
Love is a defining character quality of the Christian. The believer is to love his neighbor as himself (Matthew 22:39). He is even commanded to love his enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). But love is more than silly sentimentalism. In our therapeutic age, we must remember that it is not antithetical to the Christian virtue of love to show anger (see Ephesians 4:26). When Jesus cleansed the temple (John 2), he did not stop being a loving God. Rather, the manifestation of his love took on a different look. In the same way, our willingness to hate at times is a manifestation of love. If we do not get angry at sin and its effects, do we really know the full truth about God’s love? (Moore and Daniel L. Akin [b. 1957], Ecclesiastes, Songs of Songs (Holman Old Testament Commentary), 42)How important is context in determining the appropriate response to a given situation? What is the relationship between love and hate? Is hate the opposite of love? When and what should we hate? Is it ever appropriate to hate another human being, hating the sinner as well as the sin?
“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” - Anne Lamott (b. 1954), Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, p. 22