Updated: Aug 15, 2019
Question or Topic
In the following verse, does the circumstances of "time and chance" relate only to men in general, or does it also refer to those who are in covenant?
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.
This question is even further complicated when we consider the entire context of the chapter. In Ecclesiastes 9:1 we are told – "the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God". We also learn in verse 2 that "All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked". Our objective then, will be to seek an answer to the question that will be consistent with all of this information, as well as with other related scriptural testimony. With these factors in mind, our conclusion is that time and chance does happens to all men, including the servant of God. We hope to qualify this conclusion as follows:
We know that "the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers" (I Peter 3:12). And "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). These thoughts certainly illustrate that the righteous and their works are definitely in the hand of God. But does that necessarily imply that time and chance are not related to their activities?
We pray "Give us this day our daily bread". And "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:11-13). If we ask in faith, and in the name of Jesus, we believe that we will be cared for and protected. This care will likely require, at least occasional, intervention in those circumstances that we would normally experience through time and chance.
Our prayers, asked according to his will, are answered through what we may choose to call "providence". Providence is simply a word that refers to a need being supplied through planning or forethought on the part of the provider. The word appears only once in scripture (Acts 24:2), where it is used in reference to the provision of Felix, a Gentile ruler.
Therefore, this particular word may not be the best way to describe the care that God provides for his servants. The general use of this term, as a description of God's care, has enabled us to accept it for the same purpose. God's providential care has been demonstrated in scripture to include miraculous intervention into, and the altering of circumstances. We could site numerous examples of this type of providence, where God's power has been used in both individual and national applications.
We know therefore that God intervenes in events, so that time and chance are not allowed to run their normal course. It should be noted, that this kind of intervention in natural events, Has been applied to those who are not in covenant, as well as to God's servants. God's direction of events is always consistent with his purpose, and in accordance with his will.
We can be certain therefore, that any beneficial altering of the circumstances relating to our own lives, will be consistent with his will. We read in his word about the experiences of the servants of old, and from these stories, we can be certain that their lives were effected. An example that quickly comes to mind is Hezekiah, whose life span was extended by 15 years. Unfortunately, it is not as easy for us to discern when the events of times and chance have been altered in our own lives.
Consequently, this subject, like many others in scripture, seems to have generated opposing views that are often carried to an extreme in their influence on individuals. There are those who are convinced that all events in our lives are only directed by time and chance, and that God simply monitors our reaction to these circumstances to determine our judgment. There are others who feel that every move, every action and reaction, is under the direct control of God. Blessings are seen as signs of favor and adversities are seen as disciplinary.
We believe that the truth of the matter is found somewhere in the middle of the extremes represented in these two concepts. As servants of God, we are all subjected to many circumstances in our lives that are dependent on time and chance. God watches and monitors our development as we experience the normal blessings and adversities of life. "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him" (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
As these circumstances provide us with the opportunities to bend and shape our lives into useful servants, There are times when special situations arise. Through our prayers, and through the wisdom of God who is interested in our growth, it may be necessary for him to manipulate events; to intervene in time and chance, so that his will and purpose for us may be done.
The degree to which this intervention occurs must certainly vary depending on both the individual and their own particular circumstances. It is reasonable for us to conclude that much may depend on our own relationship to him. If we acknowledge him in all of our ways, he will direct our paths. If we deny him, he will also deny us.
The answer to the question then, is that "time and chance happeneth to them all". It works, as a general rule, in the lives all men, including servants of God. God can intervene in the lives of all men. He has demonstrated his ways of providence and control, both among the nations, and in the lives of his servants. Men in general however, are normally affected only by those events that are natural to their circumstances.
On the other hand, God is committed to the care of his servants. "The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers" (I Peter 3:12). He will therefore intervene in their lives, whenever necessary, and in accordance with his will.
We do well to examine our own lives and our circumstances, always aware that of the potential that he has chosen to instruct us through the reproof of life. Let us at the same time, consider his guidance and care with the humility that allows him the prerogative of when and where to intervene in our time and chance.