“Time and chance happen to them all”
In our Ecclesiastes reading today a verse occurs which has caused much discussion, “Again I saw that under the sun” writes Solomon, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all” (9:11).
The clue as to how it should be understood is at the start of the very next verse, “For man does not know his time”. This reminds us of the parable of Jesus about the wealthy man who built bigger barns and stored abundant crops and goods and said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you … So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God’” (Luke 12:19-21).
But those who are rich toward God, and serve Jesus as their Lord, do not necessarily think in terms of the accidents of time and chance. Paul said to the elders at Ephesus, “I do not account my life of any value nor precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:24). The time came when he wrote, “the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:7). His time had been in God’s hands.
Similarly in the Gospels it is recorded that John the Baptist said, “this joy of mine is now complete … I must decrease” (John 3:29,30). Those who are “working together with him” wrote Paul (2 Corinthians 6:1) know that their “time” is in his hands – not that of total chance.
What Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes should be understood as his perception of the Godlessness that sadly possesses the heart of most people: what he writes in verses 3 and 5 of today’s chapter is so true of today, “the hearts of the children of men are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead … the dead know nothing, they have no more reward”. If we are “rich toward God” then our time is in his hands, so let us make sure we have committed our lives to him.
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