“I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”
Explanation and Commentary of Ecclesiastes 9:11
There are laws created by God that generally govern the universe. However, sometimes “chance” happens, and what seems as though it should be, isn’t what is. Occasionally the fastest runner falls before the finish line and various other chances and oddities cause surprise results in life. The world attributes this to bad luck, but we would do well to trust in the sovereignty of God, who ultimately is in charge of all outcomes.
A principle that runs right through the whole Bible is the principle of stewardship. Christians never have wonder if they should do their best at what they endeavor, for that is what we are called to do. But a Christian should not generally be too concerned with the outcome, as even the lot cast will fall where the Lord wants it (Pr 16:33). God will not hold us accountable for outcomes, only for our efforts. The steward who buried his one talent in the yard proved that he did not know or trust the master and was punished accordingly. Had he come and said, “I did business with the talent, but I failed,” he would have heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share in your master’s happiness” (Mt 25:21).
Solomon may have been complaining about the futility of life, but Christians should simply take it as a reminder to work hard but trust God for all the results.
Breaking Down the Key Parts of Ecclesiastes 9:11
#1 “I have seen something else…”
Solomon is considered to be one of the wisest men who ever lived “under the sun.” The Bible records that his wisdom was supernatural (1 Kgs 3:1-15). Solomon not only saw many things under the sun, but he sought to understand them and live accordingly. He ultimately failed on a key point, giving in to his flesh when it came to his many wives and concubines who ultimately led him to worship idols and lose a large portion of the kingdom for his son.
#2 “Under the sun:”
This is a way of saying, “on the earth.”
#3 “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned;”
In every contest, whether athletic, martial or the contest between life and death, there are odds. Occasionally, the long odds win. God is sovereign over all of this, and his plans will always be accomplished, if not always understood.
#4 “but time and chance happen to them all.”
Time and chance are logical reasons why what should happen, doesn’t always. If something should happen 90% of the time, nine times it might happen just as it should. But try it on the tenth time, and the result will be different. This is because, slim though the “chance” might be, time will widen the possibility of the oddity.
Bible Study on Ecclesiastes 9:11
Expert Overview of Ecclesiastes
Biblical Translations of Ecclesiastes 9:11
I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.
I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.
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.
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.
I returned and saw under the sun that— The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.