Ecclesiastes 9:11 reads as follows:
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.
The preacher says that ‘time and chance’ happen to them all. He is not here confessing the creed of the atheist. He is in fact reinforcing the sovereignty of God. That time and chance (or ‘occurrence’; as the same hebrew word for ‘chance’ here, is translated in 1 Kings 5:4) exist, he is asserting that the order and delegation of every event is appointed by the cause of these two effects. In other words, Solomon is saying that it is not based on personal effort that man may achieve a certain goal, it is because of the eternal decree of God. Time and chance are the tools in the hand of the master craftsman who fashions them out of nothing and uses them to keep in order the things He has deemed that should be, according to His good pleasure. The ‘Why has this happened?’ question, is only answered to our limited understanding with the answer, ‘Because God has decreed it’. Note here, we are not referring to the desire of God as much as we are pointing to His eternal decree.
Thomas Manton in volume 2 of his 22 volume works speaks of this and articulates it so much the better. This is a lengthy quote, but just hang in there! He is going to exposite this passage and connect it for us to see the beauty in how God orchestrates His-story and encourages us that we can rest in the fact that God is in control. Italics mine.
1. Time, whereby is meant occasion and opportunity. There is a certain time which God hath allotted to every purpose and action, which if men had the wisdom to take hold of, their business would better succeed ; ‘ but because man knoweth not his time, great is his misery upon earth/ therefore he effecteth not the things he goeth about.
2. The next word is chance, or occurrence ; so is the word translated 1 Kings v. 4, ‘ The Lord hath given me rest, so that there is neither adversary nor evil occurrent ;’ it is the same word. The success is such as the counsel of God hath foreordained, yet to us it chanceth to be a mere chance and adventure. In short, that which God hath from all eternity ordained, shall and must come to pass at such a time as God hath ordained it should be, and likewise in such a manner, and by such ways and means, as he hath ordained it shall be done. Things casual to us are counsels to him. What was chance to others is the Lord to Job, chap. i. 21. Therefore not uncertain chance is intended, but such as is ruled and governed by God, who disposeth of all occasions and events according to his own good pleasure, either in escaping out of danger, or obtaining victory, or being supplied with necessaries, or growing rich, or received into favour ; it is all as God will order it. The swift, the wise, the strong, though they are best prepared, disposed, and do most intend their business, yet the event is in God’s hand, who disposeth it according to His own will.
Before we draw the doctrine from hence, we shall remove the false inferences and deductions that some make.
1. Some think these words to be spoken in the person of the epicure or atheist, whom Solomon introduceth as reasoning against divine providence ; but it agreeth not with the preface, ‘ I returned, and saw under the sun ;‘ which is usually prefixed before his observations about the vanity and vexation that ariseth from mere worldly things.
2. This text must be vindicated from them who set up an idol of the heathens’ blind fortune, as if all things were carried by uncertain chance. No ; it is occurrence (as before) ; and though it be chance to men, it is providence to God, the universal and first agent, who ‘ worketh all things according to the counsel of his will.’ It is not chance to him, for he never misseth of his end, for his knowledge is infallible and his power insuperable.
3. From those who reject the use of means, and all operations, dispositions, and preparations of second causes, as if they moved not, and God did not act or move by them. No ; this a false deduction and inference both in naturals (unsaved) and spirituals (saved).