I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, and the battle is not to the strong, and neither is bread to the wise, nor wealth to the discerning, nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11
I have always enjoyed the irony this verse details. It really demonstrates man’s weakness and God’s sovereignty.
Note how Solomon describes observation: I again saw under the sun. This is something he has seen repeatedly. There are two sides to his observation: negative and positive. The negative particulars he sees are:
1. The race is not to the swift
2. Nor the battle to the strong
3. Nor the bread to the wise
4. Nor wealth to the discerning
5. Nor favor to men of ability
The positive observation is: But time and chance overtake them all.
By “time,” Solomon means that God has allotted a certain time to every purpose and action. By “chance,” he simply means occurrence. The same Hebrew word (פֶּגַע) appears in 1 Kings 5:4 and is rendered occurrence. Solomon is not advocating “chance” in the sense of luck or fortune. Thomas Manton writes, “The success is such as the counsel of God has foreordained, yet to us it seems to be a mere chance. Things casual to us are counsels to Him.” It may be chance to men, but it is providence to God who “works all things after the counsel of His will.” Nor is Solomon being Epicurean or atheistic when he says, “time and chance overtake them all.” This remark is prefixed to his observations about the vanity of worldly things.
Sometimes it turns out that those who are most fitted, prepared and diligent are frustrated of that which they so earnestly intended and hoped for.
We all know of well qualified people who are overlooked. We all know stories of great athletes tripping at the last second. We all know of otherwise intelligent people doing something stupid. I read a story about Einstein running his boat aground with the excuse that he must’ve been thinking about something else.
The best of God’s servants often provoke Him to disappoint them because they place too much confidence in themselves. To say and do, or to make a thing to be, is the act and name of God and He will not share His glory with another. Lam. 3:37 - Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?
This teaches us:
1. The nothingness of the creature and the all-sufficiency of God.
This is a great spiritual lesson. We are all nothing when compared to God, indeed, less than nothing. He alone is I AM. Excluding God, we really are nothing. He not only made us, but He holds us in existence both physically and spiritually. In opposition to God, we might as well be nothing. “All they that were incensed against thee shall be shall be as nothing” Isaiah 49:11
2. It establishes our dependence on God. Rom 4:17, 18.
3. It is intended to show us that without God, all is futility. We should not rely on our skills and talents.
In the lottery of human affairs we should look after surer comforts than those which earth has to offer. We should seek God in all our plans regarding our future. What good are our efforts without God? (Prov. 16:13) When we have done our duty, we can quietly refer the success to God. The wisest and best men must not expect to always be happy, but should prepare themselves for adverse circumstances.
We must beware of self-confidence. “The battle is the Lord’s.” He sometimes delights to thwart us to maintain His right when we rely too much upon our own strength.
4. It prevents discouragement for those who are perhaps less talented. “LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many or with them that have no power” (2 Chron. 14:11). God frequently passes over the wise and powerful and gets Himself the most glory by protecting the weak.
In conclusion, let us bear all things that befall us as from the wise hand of the Lord’s providence and encourage ourselves in His sufficiency in all obstacles and difficulties.