Question: "What does it mean that there is a time for war and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:8)?"

Answer: In Ecclesiastes 3:1–8, King Solomon presents a series of fourteen contrasting seasons and events that together represent all human activity in its varied forms. Our lives contain a mixture of joy and sorrow, birth and death, harmony and conflict. Solomon resolves that God is in control of each moment. He has a good purpose for everything we experience (see Romans 8:28).

In the final couplet, Solomon states that there is “a time for war and a time for peace.” In the original language, the term for “war” refers to “the waging of armed conflict against an enemy.” “Peace” (shalom in Hebrew) is the state of “harmonious relations and freedom from disputes, especially during the absence of war.” Shalom also describes an inner condition of total well-being. In general, “a time for war and a time for peace” could represent the spectrum of national concerns and sociopolitical conditions humans confront in life.

In ancient times, people did not wage war during harvest season. Soldiers went to battle only at specific times of year (2 Samuel 11:1). Today, nations go to war only in response to certain situations.

While war can never be classified as good, Scripture reveals that God has an appointed purpose for it (Psalm 144:1; 2 Samuel 22:35). In the Old Testament, the Lord at times commanded His people to go to war to bring judgment on sinful nations (Deuteronomy 20:1–4; Numbers 31:7; Joshua 8:1, 10:40; Isaiah 13:3–4).

War is part of the reality of living in a fallen world (Exodus 17:16; 2 Samuel 3:1; 2 Samuel 3:1). Humans are flawed and sinful (Romans 3:10–18), and war results from hatred and sin (James 4:1–2; Psalm 140:1–2; Proverbs 10:12; 29:22). Evil people such as Adolf Hitler make going to war unavoidable and necessary to prevent even greater atrocities from being committed.

“A time for war” is also associated with end times. In Matthew 24:3–14, the disciples ask Jesus, “What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (verse 3). Jesus answers, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. . . . All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:6–8).

On this earth, perfect peace is only found in God and preserved through having a close relationship with Him (Philippians 4:6–7). “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you,” declares Isaiah 26:3. “A time for peace” is the opportunity and blessing of every believer in all circumstances (Romans 5:1–5; John 16:33; Philippians 4:11–13). Life in the Holy Spirit offers righteousness, joy, and peace (Romans 14:17–19; 8:6; Galatians 5:22).

“A time for peace” is the reward of those who love and obey God’s Word (Psalm 119:165–167; Philippians 4:8–9). The Bible says that “those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die” (Isaiah 57:2, NLT).

The Lord is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), and, ultimately, it is His will that wars cease to exist on earth (Psalm 46:9; Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3). There will come a day when weapons of war will become instruments of peace.

A future “time for peace” is promised in the New Jerusalem when God Himself will make His home among His people (Revelation 21:1–4; 22:3–5). “In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow. The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the LORD” (Isaiah 11:6–9, NLT).

The fact that there is “a time for war and a time for peace” reminds us that we are utterly dependent on God to make it through the ever-changing, often turbulent seasons of this life. In all circumstances and every relationship, God holds us firmly and forever in His sovereign hands. Even in the most hostile situations over which we have little or no control, we can know peace by trusting and resting in God, knowing that He orders our times according to His good pleasure.