Throwing Stones

“A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to distance from embracing;”

(Ecclesiastes 3:5)

This passage is one that is interpreted in a number of different ways, depending on how one reads it. Recognizing that the couplets are designed to communicate extremes in the experience of mankind, probably the most natural reading of the text is to see this in the context of punishment and forgiveness. As capital punishment was often carried out by the throwing of stones, the idea conveyed is that there is a time for the casting of stones (execution of punishment) and a time for their gathering (in a time of peace). Assuming that is a correct translation of the first part of the verse, then the latter portion of the verse can be understood in the context of forgiveness — there is a time to embrace in forgiveness but also a time to step back and allow the consequences of the law to be laid out in full.

Yet, the Rabbi’s tend to lean toward a more spiritual interpretation of this phrase. Midrash Lekach Tov argues this verse to be prophetic and to anticipate the fall of the temple, where the stones were scattered all over Jerusalem and then the later rebuilding of the temple as recorded in Ezra. The renown medieval Rabbi, Shlomo Yitzchaki, better known as Rashi, referencing Zechariah 9:16, connected the stones with the people of God who were scattered into exile and then returned — presuming this is a correct interpretation of the first half of the verse, then the second half can be understood as the embracing of reunion when families and communities are reunited.

Presuming that Rashi is correct, then one cannot fail to see the connection between this passage to that of Christ building the church. Christ, of course, is the precious cornerstone laid in Zion to which believers, as living stones in a spiritual house (a new Temple), are aligned and laid (1 Peter 2:4-8). And thus, as the Gospel goes out, the stones are gathered together. If this, then, is our reading of the text, Solomon is focusing not simply on seasons experienced in the lives of individuals, but in terms of seasons experienced in the lives of a people…in particularly, God’s people. This too is how we often mark time and times.

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