Why do things turn out the way they do? Yesterday you were winning; you finished everything you started. Everyone cooperated. Things fell into place. Today, not so much. And it started with that fellow who cut in front of you. Of what could this be a sign? Returning to our disgruntled king this week, he says:
Again, I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11 English Standard Version (ESV)
Matthew Henry gives us insight into the meaning of what King Solomon, also known as “the preacher,” offers us. First, Henry puts the verse in context of what preceded it:
The preacher here, for a further proof of the vanity of the world, and to convince us that all our works are in the hand of God, and not in our own hand, shows the uncertainty and contingency of future events, and how often they contradict the prospects we have of them.
He had exhorted us (v. 10) to do what we have to do with all our might; but here he reminds us that, when we have done all, we must leave the issue with God, and not be confident of the success.
Note that the first lesson of such an outcome at odds with our expectation is to rely on God. Henry drives home this point with:
We are often disappointed of the good we had great hopes of, v. 11. Solomon [had observed] that events, both in public and private affairs, do not always agree even with the most rational prospects and probabilities…
The [outcome] of affairs is often unaccountably [counter] to everyone’s expectation, that the highest may not presume, nor the lowest despair, but all may live in a humble dependence upon God, from whom every man’s judgment proceeds…
So, God deals equanimously with us all. Then Henry clarifies the meaning of “time and chance” in the context of the scriptures:
He resolves all these disappointments into an over-ruling power and providence, the disposals of which to us seem casual, and we call them chance; but really, they are according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, here called time, in the language of this book, Ecclesiastes 3:1; Psalm 31:15. Time and chance happen to them all.
A sovereign Providence breaks men’s measures, and blasts their hopes, and teaches them that the way of man is not in himself, but subject to the divine will. We must use means, but not trust [in] them; if we succeed, we must give God the praise (Psalm 44:3); if we [are thwarted], we must acquiesce in his will and take our lot.
This gives us a different perspective on causality and human agency. Finally, such turns of events should not, ultimately, catch us off guard:
We are often surprised with the evils we were in little fear of (v. 12): Man knows not his time, the time of his calamity, his fall, his death, which, in scripture, is called our day and our hour.
…It is not for us to know the times, no, not our own time, when or how we shall die. God has, in wisdom, kept us in the dark, that we may be always ready.
…Men often find their [trouble] where they sought their blessing, and catch their death where they thought to find a prize. Let us therefore never be [falsely] secure, but always ready for changes, that, though they may be sudden, they may be no surprise or terror to us.
Our end is always approaching. Our Judge is at the door, knocking. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ so you too can say: “Our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”
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