The verse in Ecclesiastes 3:5 that mentions a “time to scatter stones and a time to gather them” is part of a poetic passage describing the cyclical nature of life. Here is the full verse:
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together (Ecclesiastes 3:5 ESV)
This verse appears in the midst of a poem about the seasons and rhythms of life. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 describes different occasions or purposes under heaven, arranged in pairs of opposites:
For 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;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
The poem expresses that for everything in life, there is a season and a time appointed by God. The cyclical nature of life involves both sowing and reaping, mourning and dancing, tearing down and building up, scattering stones and gathering them.
Specifically, what does it mean that there is “a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together”? Here are some key points:
- This refers to the cyclical nature of agricultural work. Farmers would gather stones from their fields and cast them away in order to prepare the ground for planting. But allowing fields to lay fallow for a period would result in stones surfacing again, requiring the farmer to re-gather the stones.
- Stones could hinder planting but be useful for other purposes, like building homes, walls, altars, etc. So there was a balanced time for removing stones and a time for gathering them.
- The scattering and gathering of stones is symbolic of life’s ups and downs, losses and gains. We go through seasons of purging and cleansing as well as seasons of building up and restoration.
- There are purposes appointed by God for both scattering stones (tearing down, pruning, purging) and gathering them (building up, restoring, establishing).
The Preacher of Ecclesiastes sees life as full of meaningful purposes ordained by God, yet also transient and cyclical. After verses that seem to emphasize meaningless repetition, verse 11 affirms that “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” God’s timing is perfect; He has planned seasons and purposes for both scattering and gathering.
Some key lessons we can take from this verse:
- God appoints changing seasons and purposes in our lives. We will go through both times of loss and times of gain.
- Periods of pain and demolition are not meaningless; they have a purpose in God’s plan.
- After scattering and loss, God promises restoration and rebuilding in due time.
- We should accept God’s timing and purposes, even when they involve casting stones away from us.
- When God gathers stones to us and builds us up, we should be grateful and use them for His glory.
The cyclical nature described in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 teaches us to accept and appreciate all of God’s purposes in the varying seasons of life. Times of scattering stones prepare the ground for times of gathering stones. Loss prepares for later gain. Overall, God makes everything beautiful in its proper time and season.
1. Examples of times to scatter stones
In our lives, there are various circumstances that can feel like the “time to cast away stones.” Here are some examples:
- Letting go of possessions – Moving, downsizing, minimalism, or just de-cluttering all require “casting away” extra stuff that’s weighing us down.
- Ending relationships – To grow, we sometimes must scatter the stones of toxic, abusive, or codependent relationships.
- Changing jobs or roles – A season can end in one career, calling us to scatter those stones and move in a new direction.
- Reconfiguration – In business, relationships, or personal habits, we often have to take things apart before we can rebuild in a healthier way.
- Pruning and refinement – John 15 talks about God pruning fruitless branches, which can be painful yet necessary for future fruitfulness.
- Death of dreams – We are forced to cast away stones when long-held dreams or hopes die. This can pave the way for resurrection.
- Loss and grief – The death of a loved one, job loss, financial loss, divorce – all kinds of loss require us to scatter stones of what once was.
- Discipline or consequences – When we sin or make bad choices, the result is often discarding treasures or opportunities. But this purges sin from our lives.
Though painful, scattering stones is often necessary to clear space for new growth and purpose. We must trust God’s timing in leading us through times of loss.
2. Examples of times to gather stones
After times of purging and loss, God brings times of restoration to “gather stones together.” Here are some examples of the gathering times:
- New relationships – God can bring people into our lives to enrich us: friends, spouse, co-workers, mentors, or supporters.
- Spiritual breakthroughs – We gather stones of wisdom, growth, healing, and greater intimacy with God.
- Fresh vision and dreams – God revives passion and brings new direction after we’ve grieved lost hopes.
- Provision – After financial struggles, steady work and provision may come. Needs are met in unexpected ways.
- Opportunities or promotions – Stones of greater responsibility, influence, and open doors gather at the right season.
- New skills – We accumulate new talents, abilities, insights, and education for the next phase of life.
- Reconciliation – After discipline and consequences, wiser choices allow us to gather lost treasures.
- Healing – With time, God heals wounds and restores what the enemy stole, gathering irreplaceable stones to us again.
If we entrust the scattered stones to God, He will gather new stones to us in due time. His plans involve both building up and tearing down stone by stone.
3. How to develop the right perspective during times of scattering stones
When we are in seasons of casting stones away, it’s vital to have the right perspective. Here are some principles that can help us during scattering times:
- Remember it is appointed by God. He brings this season for a purpose.
- Don’t cling too tightly. Open your hands; surrender control to God.
- View it as necessary preparation. Scattering makes room for gathering.
- Release things to God with thanksgiving for the time you had them.
- Don’t dwell on losses. Keep eyes forward on where God is leading.
- Stay connected to God’s presence and promises through prayer and Scripture.
- Trust God’s perfect timing. Remember delays are not denials.
- Look for spiritual insights to apply. Pruning seasons can cultivate growth.
- Ask God to reveal any needed changes. Examine your heart and priorities.
- See it as a faith building opportunity. God often uses trials to refine us.
Adjusting our perspective allows us to cooperate with God’s purposes during times of loss. We can take the stance of humility and trust as we scatter stones at His leading.
4. What should we do during the times of gathering stones together?
After a painful season of scattering stones, God delights to gather new treasures to us. How should we respond in seasons of blessing and restoration?
- Give thanks – Gratitude recognizes every good gift is from God’s hand. Thank Him often.
- Use gifts wisely – Employ new resources, skills, and opportunities for God’s glory, not selfish aims.
- Be a conduit – Allow possessions, funds, and influence to flow through you to bless others.
- Steward well – Taking care of gathered treasures proves we can handle more responsibility.
- Stay humble and teachable – Don’t become proud; remain open to God and others input.
- Invest in relationships – Time is our most precious commodity. Invest in people.
- Redeem the time – Make the most of open doors; they won’t always remain open.
- Plan for future seasons – Save resources, rest, and make wise decisions to prepare for later scattering times.
- Keep trusting God – Don’t find ultimate security in what you’ve gathered. Keep reliance on God alone.
The times of gathering stones together are meant to equip us for the seasons ahead and teach us dependence on our Provider. We steward all for His purposes.
5. How this truth can bring comfort and perspective
This poetic passage in Ecclesiastes 3 brings great comfort when we remember a few key truths:
- God orchestrates the timing and purpose of every season under heaven.
- No season, whether scattering or gathering, is permanent. Change will come.
- God makes beautiful things in the proper time, even from life’s imperfect seasons.
- There are appointed purposes from God for both times of loss and times of gain.
- Even in painful seasons of casting stones away, God works to prepare us for restoration.
- If we entrust the stones we’ve lost to Him, God will gather new stones to us in due time.
- times in, God has promised eternity with Him where there will be no more pain or loss.
As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time and season for everything under heaven. Therefore we can walk through each season, trusting in the goodness of God’s plans. He takes the stones the enemy aims to destroy us with and gathers them to build and equip us in His perfect timing.