The intestinal microbiota contains trillions of commensal microorganisms that shape multiple aspects of host physiology and disease. In contrast to the host’s genome, the microbiome is amenable to change over the course of an organism’s lifetime, providing an opportunity to therapeutically modulate the microbiome’s impact on human pathophysiology. In this Perspective, we highlight environmental factors that regulate the temporal dynamics of the intestinal microbiome, with a particular focus on the different time scales at which they act. We propose that the identification of transient and intermediate states of microbiome responses to perturbations is essential for understanding the rules that govern the behavior of this ecosystem. The delineation of microbiome dynamics is also helpful for distinguishing cause and effect in microbiome responses to environmental stimuli. Understanding the dimension of time in host-microbiome interactions is therefore critical for therapeutic strategies that aim at short-term or long-term engineering of the intestinal microbial community.