Time and Chance.

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

11 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. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.

17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:7-18 ESV

According to Solomon’s way of seeing things, there are two things that can make the life of man miserable and meaningless: Time and chance. He makes that clear in verse 11.

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 ESV

From his experience, these two things played irrefutable roles in the lives of men, determining the outcome of their lives far more often than ability, intelligence or preparedness. The fastest runner doesn’t always win. The most powerful army isn’t always the victor. Wisdom won’t necessarily put food on the table. A surplus of intelligence doesn’t guarantee wealth or success. And those with know-how aren’t always appreciated or given a chance to show what they know. Sometimes it’s all in the timing. Or it’s all a matter of chance. Things just happen. The faster runner trips and falls, leaving a slower runner to win. The wise go hungry. The weaker win. The one lacking discernment gets the promotion. It’s like a grand cosmic crap shoot, where no one knows how it is going to work out. It just happens. So, once again, Solomon offers up the sage advice to “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do” (Ecclesiastes 9:7 ESV). As we noted before, this is not a recommendation to embrace unbridled hedonism, or to spend your days in a drunken stupor. It is counsel designed to encourage the enjoyment of what you already have – your job, spouse, children, and life. Solomon knew what it was like to spend his life in pursuit of what he didn’t have. He had wisdom, but he wanted more. He had houses, but he built more. He had hundreds of wives and concubines, but always needed more. He spent so much time adding to his already overstocked life, that he never took time to enjoy what he had. So, writing the book of Ecclesiastes at the end of his life, he passed on what he had learned: To enjoy what you have while you have it. No one knows what tomorrow holds. In a sense, he is telling us to stop and smell the roses. And his advice is supported by a story Jesus told His disciples.

16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” – Luke 12:16-21 NLT

There is a danger in always living with our hopes set on tomorrow. This doesn’t preclude planing for the future, but if we do plan, we should not short-change the present day. None of us know what tomorrow holds. In that sense, Solomon is right. But notice the emphasis behind the story Jesus told. His point is that the man in story was neglecting his relationship with God. He found his significance and satisfaction in things. And it was only when he thought he had enough, that he believed he could truly enjoy life. There is a certain dissatisfaction and discontentment portrayed in the man’s decision-making. And that same problem seemed to have plagued the life of Solomon.

But in his latter years, Solomon had learned the lesson of being satisfied with what he had. He recommends seeing your wife or husband as a gift from God and a reward for all your hard work in this life. He strongly advises that we take time to enjoy good food, the feel of clean clothes, and the fragrance of fine perfume. But there remains a certain sense of nagging pessimism in his words. He says, “Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:10 NLT). In other words, this is it. Enjoy it while you can. Because once you’re dead, you won’t get the opportunity again. Solomon never qualifies or clarifies his views on the hereafter, but he gives the distinct impression that he prefers the here-and-now. All his emphasis is on what he can see, touch, and feel. He was a man driven by his senses. Pleasure was important to him. Enjoyment was a high priority for him. And he seemed to operate on the premise that death would bring all of that to an abrupt stop. So, he learned to live in the present, taking in all that he could while he could. And what drove that mentality was the recognition that “man does not know his time” (Ecclesiastes 9:12 ESV). He compares man to a fish caught in a net or a bird trapped in a snare. When we least expect it, our end comes. Which led Solomon to resort to his quest for immediate gratification. He seems to have lived his life based on the old Schlitz Brewing Company slogan from the mid-1960s: “You only go around once in life, so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto you can.” But as Jesus warned, what a waste of time if you don’t seek a right relationship with God.

Solomon next provides us with a real-life example of wisdom on display, but unappreciated. He tells the story of a city that was besieged by a powerful army. The citizens of the city were few in number and their fate was sealed. But help and hope came from an unexpected source: A poor wise man. Notice Solomon’s emphasis. The man was wise, but poor. Remember Solomon’s earlier point: “The wise sometimes go hungry.” And yet, this man’s wisdom saved the day. We aren’t t old how, but this man used his wisdom to rescue the city from destruction. “But afterward no one thought to thank him” (Ecclesiastes 9:15 NLT). His efforts went unrecognized and unrewarded. And Solomon concludes, “even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long” (Ecclesiastes 9:16 NLT).

And what insight does Solomon provide us from this story? It’s better to listen to one man speaking quiet words of wisdom, than to the shouts of a powerful king who rules over fools. And while wisdom is more beneficial than weapons, all it takes is one sinner to destroy all the good that wisdom brings. Once again, you can sense Solomon’s cynicism. The advise of the wise isn’t always heeded. Their efforts aren’t always appreciated. And it only takes one foolish, unrighteous sinner to undermine all the efforts of the wise.

You can see why Solomon repeatedly went back to the recommendation: Eat, drink and be merry. To him, the world was controlled by time and chance. Man is the unwilling occupant of a canoe hurtling through rapids without a paddle. The best he can do is hang on and enjoy the scenes along the way. He knows there’s probably a less-than-pleasant ending around every bend, but he has no way of knowing when it will come. So, as far as Solomon could tell, the best thing was to sit back and enjoy the ride. But what a defeatist attitude. There is some value in living life in the moment. There is truth in Solomon’s assessment that the strong don’t always win and the swift don’t always come in first. But the apostle Paul would strongly disagree with Solomon’s assessment, instead arguing: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT). And he supports that argument even further in his letter to the church in Philippi.

14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. – Philippians 3:14-15 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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