Ecclesiastes: Day 22: Time and chance (9:11,12)

Day 22: Time and chance (9:11,12)

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them” (9:11,12).

If we needed concrete examples of how life is unpredictable and unfair, today’s text provides it (9:11) and is one, when we think about it, while exceptions to the rule do exist, there are many of them. The Preacher, as if to reinforce his point, then gives examples how death or something disagreeable can befall us any time.

  1. The fastest do not always win the race.
  2. The strongest are not always the victors in battle.
  3. The wise are not always rewarded with bread.
  4. Those who understand are not necessarily rich.
  5. The most skilled are not always given favour.

In a world where we expect the best to be rewarded, over what is less than best, it should follow none of the above will happen. But not only is it something the Preacher had observed, it is likely we can all cite examples (likely many) of that being so and, moreover, there is little we can do about it, much as we might want to do so, despite our best efforts or our cheering (or even praying) on the person who deserves to be rewarded etc. That is how life under the sun is and we find here the Preacher eloquently banging home the point he has been making throughout his sermon. Then to rub it in, he gives examples that irrespective of our best efforts, the worst can happen: “Bad luck happens to everyone. You never know when your time is coming” (9:11b,12a GNT). The examples are “like birds suddenly caught in a trap” and “like fish caught in a net” (both can happen at any time and neither the birds nor the fish can see what is coming), and so it is that “we are trapped at some evil moment when we least expect it” (9:12b GNT).

This might be a good juncture, if preaching the gospel, to point out life without God is meaningless because it is so unfair. We might reflect that often those who respond best to the gospel message are those who have been victims of injustices to be found in this world. But we can remind ourselves of the words of Jesus: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” John 10:10. Life under the sun is unfair, but God has something better in store. 

Prayer: We are constantly bemused Lord at the uncertainties and unfairness of life, but are grateful that you have the answers. May we embrace your gift of life.

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