Ecclesiastes 9:11
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 favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.
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-11Romans 9:16.

Chance.—Elsewhere only in 1Kings 5:4.

Ecclesiastes 9:11. I returned and saw — This may have some respect to the foregoing verse: for having urged men to labour with all their might, he now adds, by way of caution, that yet they must not be confident of their own strength, as if they were sure of success by it, but must look up to God for his blessing, without which all their endeavours would be in vain. But it seems chiefly to be added, either, as another instance of the liberty and power of God’s providence, in the disposing of human affairs, of which he spake Ecclesiastes 9:1-2; or as another of the vanities of this present life; that the race is not to the swift — Either ability to run, or success and victory in running; nor the battle to the strong — The victory in battle; nor riches to men of understanding — Who yet are most likely to get and keep riches; nor yet favour — Acceptance and love from men; to men of skill — Who know how to conduct themselves and all affairs, and therefore are most likely to find favour, at least, in the eyes of such as need their services; but time and chance happeneth to them all — There are times or seasons, casual to men, but known by God, in which alone he will give men success.9:11,12 Men's success seldom equals their expectations. We must use means, but not trust to them: if we succeed, we must give God the praise; if crossed, we must submit to his will. Those who put off the great concerns of their souls, are caught in Satan's net, which he baits with some worldly object, for which they reject or neglect the gospel, and go on in sin till they suddenly fall into destruction.Chance - Or, "incident," that which comes to us from without, one of the external events described in Ecclesiastes 3. Compare Ecclesiastes 2:14 note.11. This verse qualifies the sentiment, Ec 9:7-9. Earthly "enjoyments," however lawful in their place (Ec 3:1), are to give way when any work to be done for God requires it. Reverting to the sentiment (Ec 8:17), we ought, therefore, not only to work God's work "with might" (Ec 9:10), but also with the feeling that the event is wholly "in God's hand" (Ec 9:1).

race … not to the swift—(2Sa 18:23); spiritually (Zep 3:19; Ro 9:16).

nor … battle to … strong—(1Sa 17:47; 2Ch 14:9, 11, 15; Ps 33:16).


favour—of the great.

chance—seemingly, really Providence. But as man cannot "find it out" (Ec 3:11), he needs "with all might" to use opportunities. Duties are ours; events, God's.

I returned, and saw: this may have some respect to the foregoing verse; for having pressed men to labour with all their might, he now adds, by way of caution, that yet they must not be confident of their own strength, as if they were sure of success by it, but in all, above all, to look up to God for his blessing, without which all their endeavours will be in vain. But it seems chiefly to be added, either,

1. As another instance of the liberty and power of God’s providence in the disposal of human affairs, of which he spoke above, Ecclesiastes 9:1-3. Or,

2. As another of the vanities of this present life.

The race; either ability to run, or success and victory in running.

The battle; the victory in battle.

Men of understanding; who yet are most likely to get and to keep riches.

Favour; good acceptance and love from men.

Men of skill; who know how to manage themselves and all affairs, whereby they are necessary and serviceable to others, and therefore most likely to find favour in their eyes.

Time and chance happeneth to them all; there are some times or seasons unknown and casual to men, but certain and determined by God, in which alone he will give men success. I returned, and saw under the sun,.... The wise man returned to his former subject, concerning the same events happening to all sorts of persons, righteous and wicked, wise and unwise, Ecclesiastes 10:1; and enlarged upon it in his mind; and took notice of various things done under the sun, and made the following remarks: and whereas he had exhorted men to use all their might in doing the duties of their calling while they lived here; he suggests, that they should not depend upon, and promise themselves, anything from their own strength and wisdom; but have a regard to the providence of God, that superintends all affairs, and gives or withholds success as he pleases; since it may be observed,

that the race is not to the swift; swiftness oftentimes is of no service to a man to escape dangers, as may be seen in the case of Asahel and others, 2 Samuel 2:18; so the Targum,

"men who are swift as eagles are not helped by running to escape from death in battle.''

Or the sense may be, that the swift are not always made use of in running a race; or, if they are, they do not always win the prize, something or other happens to hinder them; they fall, or become lame, when one more slow gets the advantage of them, 1 Corinthians 9:24; and so in spiritual things, one that is ready to halt, as David says of himself, gets to heaven, and is saved, Psalm 38:17; when others, at first starting or setting out in a profession, run well for a while, as the Galatians did, Galatians 5:7; but afterwards drop and fall short; for "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God, that sheweth mercy", Romans 9:16;

nor the battle to the strong: as not to the Midianites, nor to Goliath, nor to Abner, in whom Jarchi instances; victory is not always on the side of the mighty and the many, but oftentimes on the side of the weak and few; see 2 Chronicles 14:9; so in spirituals, such who go forth in their own strength against an enemy, trusting in it, fall; while weak believers, depending on the grace and strength of Christ, wrestle with principalities and powers, and come off victorious;

neither yet bread to the wise: the Targum adds, in a time of famine, when their wisdom cannot help them; but the sense rather is, that skilful artificers, in any trade or business, do not always get the best livelihood, yea, sometimes want the necessaries of life, or eat the bread of sorrow, when persons of meaner capacities shall thrive and flourish; and even the wisest of men sometimes have been obliged to others for bread, as was the case of David, 1 Samuel 21:3; and even of a wiser than he, our Lord himself, Luke 8:2; and as for the wise men of this world, the bread of life, Christ Jesus, is neither enjoyed nor sought after by them;

nor yet riches to men of understanding; mention is afterwards made of a wise man that was poor, Jarchi instances in Job; and, on the other hand, sometimes fools are rich, as Nabal and others; and as for the riches of grace, and treasures of spiritual knowledge, they are not usually given to the wise and prudent Matthew 11:25; Nor yet favour to men of skill; to men of knowledge and learning, whose genius and abilities might be thought sufficient to recommend them to the favour, affection, and applause of men, and yet oftentimes fall herein; such who have the art of address and persuasion are not always able to ingratiate themselves, and gain the esteem of men: Jarchi interprets it of the favour of God, and instances in Moses; than whom there was not a more knowing and understanding man in Israel, yet could not by his prayer find grace and favour to enter into the land: but the Targum is better;

"neither they that know understanding are helped by their knowledge to find favour in the eyes of a king;''

but time and chance happeneth to them all; to the swift and strong, the wise, understanding, and skilful; or to the swift and slow, to the strong and weak, to the wise and unwise; everything befalls them just as it is ordered by divine Providence; for there is a certain "time" fixed by the Lord for every event; and whatever seems casual and contingent to man, and which he is ready to call "chance", is noticing but "decree" with God, firm and unalterable; Plato (e) has the same expression. The word signifies "occurrence" (f), or event, which is under the wise direction and order of the providence of God, with respect to whom nothing comes by chance; and it is rendered "occurrent", 1 Kings 5:4; and so it is here, by the Septuagint version, "occurrence" or "event"; and in the Targum, event by their star, which is fate: and Aben Ezra interprets it , the "superior ordination"; it is something we meet, or meets us, by divine appointment. Aben Ezra and Kimchi, who are followed by others, think that, from Ecclesiastes 10:4; to this, Solomon is speaking in the person of epicures and atheists; which is not likely, since it is not in character for such persons to talk of God's acceptance of men's works; of living joyfully with a wife; of this life being a life of vanity; and of death and the grave; and of diligence in working while the present life lasts.

(e) , Plato de Leg. l. 4. p. 827. (f) "occursus", Montanus; "sive eventus", Mercerus, Rambachius; "occurrent", Broughton,

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 {f} chance happeneth to them all.

(f) Thus the worldlings say to prove that all things are lawful for them and attribute that to chance and fortune which is done by the providence of God.

11. that the race is not to the swift] The sequence of thought is that while it is a man’s wisdom to do the work which he finds ready to his hand, he must not reckon on immediate and visible results. The course of the world witnesses many apparent failures even where men fulfil the apparent conditions of success. The wise and skilful often gain neither “bread” nor “favour,” and the injustice of fortune is worse than that painted in the words of the Satirist, “Probitas laudatur et alget” (Juven. i. 74). So a poet of our own time has sung,

“Oh, if we draw a circle premature,

Heedless of far gain,

Greedy of quick return of profits, sure

Bad is our bargain.”

Browning. A Grammarian’s Funeral.

The thought of “the race” seems to belong to a time when contests of this nature had become familiar to the dwellers in Palestine, i.e. after they had come in contact with Greek habits, and is so far an argument for the later date of the book. In 1Ma 1:14; 2Ma 4:9-14, games of this kind are said to have been introduced in Jerusalem under Antiochus Epiphanes. On the assumption of Alexandrian authorship we may think of the hippodrome of that city as present to the writer’s mind.

time and chance] The first word is that which is so prominent in ch. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; the second is found elsewhere only in 1 Kings 5:4, where it is translated “occurrent,” the latter word being used, as commonly in the English of the 16th and 17th centuries, as a substantive. So in Shakespeare we have “So tell him, with the occurrents more and less,” in Hamlet, Ecclesiastes 9:2.Verses 11, 12. - Section 8. It is impossible to calculate upon the issues and duration of life. Verse 11. - He reverts to the sentiment of ver. 1, that we cannot calculate on the issues of life. Work as we may and must and ought, the results are uncertain and beyond our control. This he shows by his own personal experience. I returned, and saw under the sun. The expression here does not indicate a new departure, but merely a repetition and confirmation of a previous thought - the dependence and conditionality of man. It implies, too, a correction of a possible misunderstanding of the injunction to labor, as if one's own efforts were sure to secure success. The race is not to the swift. One is reminded of the fable of the hare and tortoise; but Koheleth's meaning is different. In the instances given he intimates that, though a man is well equipped for his work and uses all possible exertions, he may incur failure. So one may be a fleet runner, and yet, owing to some untoward accident or disturbing circumstance, not come in first. Thus Ahimaaz brought to David tidings of Absalom's defeat before Cushi, who had had the start of him (2 Samuel 18:27, 31). There is no occasion to invent an allusion to the foot-race in the formal Greek games. The battle to the strong. Victory does not always accrue to mighty men, heroes. As David, himself an instance of the truth of the maxim, says (1 Samuel 17:47), "The Lord saveth not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's" (comp. 2 Chronicles 20:15; Psalm 33:16). Neither yet bread to the wise. Wisdom will not ensure competency. To do this requires other endowments. Many a man of cultivated intellect and of high mental power is left to starve. Riches to men of understanding. Aristophanes accounts for the unequal distribution of wealth thus ('Plutus,' 88), the god himself speaking-

"I threatened, when a boy,
On none but just and wise and orderly
My favors to bestow; so Zeus in jealousy
Hath made me blind, that I may none of these Distinguish."
Nor yet favor to men of skill. "Skill" here does not mean dexterity in handicrafts or arts, but knowledge generally; and the gnome says that reputation and influence do not necessarily accompany the possession of knowledge and learning; knowledge is not a certain or indispensable means to favor. Says the Greek gnomist -

Τύχης τὰ θνητῶν πράγματ οὐκ εὐβουλίας.

"Not prudence rules, but fortune, men's affairs." That time and chance happeneth to them all. We have had the word eth, "time," all through Ecclesiastes 3. and elsewhere; but פֶגַע, rendered "chance," is uncommon, being found only in 1 Kings 5:4 (18, Hebrew). Everything has its proper season appointed by God, and man is powerless to control these arrangements. Our English word "chance" conveys an erroneous impression. What is meant is rather "incident," such as a calamity, disappointment, unforeseen occurrence. All human purposes are liable to be changed or controlled by circumstances beyond man's power, and incapable of explanation. A hand higher than man's disposes events, and success is conditioned by superior laws which work unexpected results. He sarcastically verifies his comparison in favour of a living dog. "For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything, and have no more a reward; for their memory is forgotten. Their love, as well as their hatred and their envy, has long ago perished, and they have part no more for ever in all that is done under the sun." The description of the condition of death begins sarcastically and then becomes elegiac. "They have no reward further," viz., in this upper world, since there it is only too soon forgotten that they once existed, and that they did anything worthy of being remembered; Koheleth might here indeed, with his view shrouded in dark clouds, even suppose that God also forgot them, Job 14:13. The suff. of אהב, etc., present themselves was subjective, and there is no reason, with Knobel and Ginsburg, to render them objectively: not merely the objects of their love, and hatred, and envy, are lost to them, but these their affections and strivings themselves have ceased (Rosenm., Hitzig, Zckl., and others), they lie (Kevar 'avadah) far behind them as absolutely gone; for the dead have no part more in the history which is unfolding itself amid the light of the upper world, and they can have no more any part therein, for the dead as not living are not only without knowledge, but also without feeling and desire. The representation of the state after death is here more comfortless than anywhere else. For elsewhere we read that those who have been living here spend in Sheol, i.e., in the deep (R. של, to be loose, to hang down, to go downwards) realm of the dead, as rephaim (Isaiah 14:9, etc.), lying beneath the upper world, far from the love and the praise of God (Psalm 6:3; Psalm 30:10), a prospectless (Job 7:7., Job 14:6-12; Job 18:11-13), dark, shadowy existence; the soul in Hades, though neither annihilated nor sleeping, finds itself in a state of death no less than does the body in the grave. But here the state of death is not even set forth over against the idea of the dissolution of life, the complete annihilation of individuality, much less that a retribution in eternity, i.e., a retribution executed, if not here, yet at some time, postulated elsewhere by the author, throws a ray of light into the night of death. The apocryphal book of the Wisdom of Solomon, which distinguishes between a state of blessedness and a state of misery measured out to men in the future following death, has in this surpassed the canonical Book of Koheleth. In vain do the Targ., Midrash, and the older Christian interpreters refer that which is said to the wicked dead; others regard Koheleth as introducing here the discourse of atheists (e.g., Oetinger), and interpret, under the influence of monstrous self-deception, Ecclesiastes 9:7 as the voice of the spirit (Hengst.) opposing the voice of the flesh. But that which Koheleth expresses here only in a particularly rugged way is the view of Hades predominating in the O.T. It is the consequence of viewing death from the side of its anger. Revelation intentionally permits this manner of viewing it to remain; but from premises which the revelation sets forth, the religious consciousness in the course of time draws always more decidedly the conclusion, that the man who is united to God will fully reach through death that which since the entrance of sin into the world cannot be reached without the loss of this present life, i.e., without death, viz., a more perfect life in fellowship with God. Yet the confusion of the O.T. representation of Hades remains; in the Book of Sirach it also still throws its deep shadows (17:22f.) into the contemplation of the future; for the first time the N.T. solution actually removes the confusion, and turns the scale in favour of the view of death on its side of light. In this history of the ideas of eternity moving forward amid many fluctuations to the N.T. goal, a significant place belongs to the Book of Koheleth; certainly the Christian interpreter ought not to have an interest in explaining away and concealing the imperfections of knowledge which made it impossible for the author spiritually to rise above his pessimism. He does not rise, in contrast to his pessimism, above an eudaemonism which is earthly, which, without knowing of a future life (not like the modern pessimism, without wishing to know of a future life), recommends a pleasant enjoyment of the present life, so far as that is morally allowable:
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