“He has put eternity in their hearts” Ecclesiastes 3:11
Here is the full text of that verse – “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, so that man cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end.”
Just what does this mean? It is often quoted in Biblical literature, as though it contains something very special, but few attempt to unlock its meaning. Let’s have a go. I don’t want my ideas to intrude here. I’ll only reveal what the Hebrew Lexicon says.
ETERNITY. Hebrew OLAM. “What is hidden; especially hidden time, the beginning or end of which is uncertain or not defined. Time long past, antiquity, from the most ancient times. . . . more often of future time, frequently used of a person’s lifetime, the close of which is hidden. Perpetual, in the sense that continuity is unbroken whilst the action lasts. “Everlasting”, “eternal”, Hebraic hyperbole of future time, the length of which is undefined. [Taken from Gesenius’s Hebrew Lexicon.]
From this we can visualise a time-line stretching back into the past, and on into the future, but without any knowledge of where it began, or where it will end. This covers the basic meaning of something being “hidden”. We read in Psalm 90 about God being “from everlasting to everlasting”. We should dismiss the modern concept of “eternity” here. It was not present in the minds of the ancient writers. The hyperbole merely focuses on the concept of “hidden time”. No one can get a fix on the beginning or the end.
And this is exactly what the rest of the verse in Ecclesiastes says. God puts the idea of hidden time into our hearts, so that we cannot discover the beginning or the end of His works. No one can “define” God.
Let’s have a look now at Isaiah 57:15. “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity.” The Lord inhabits eternity, and yet He has put eternity in our hearts. Are we then to understand that God is sensitive to everything that man feels? Is He here with us, in us, knowing, feeling, grieving over our anger, our waywardness, our injustices and hatred? And at the same time comforting those who are beset by all the sins of those who persecute?
Maybe the answer is contained in the latter part of the Lord’s words to Isaiah – “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would fail beforeMe, and the souls which I have made.”
I for one would like to dwell on this thought because it is yet another angle to the incomparable compassion of God towards the creatures He has made. How wonderful is our God. How rich is His grace.
Much more could be said about the word OLAM. It is a fascinating word study, but I will leave that to those who love searching the Scriptures using Lexicons and Concordances. As Bishop Lightfoot once said, “I can bury my head in a Lexicon, and arise in the presence of God!” Yes, I am sure the Lord rewards all those who delight in searching out divine mysteries.