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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 9:11

I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Race;  
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Race;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - War, Holy War;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Chance;   Games;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Ecclesiastes, the Book of;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Ecclesiastes, Book of;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Chance;   Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types - Battle;   Race;  
Daily Light on the Daily Path - Devotion for October 7;   Every Day Light - Devotion for August 23;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

Verse Ecclesiastes 9:11. The race is not to the swift — It is not by swiftness, nor by strength and valour, that races are gained and battles won. God causes the lame often to take the prey, the prize; and so works that the weak overthrow the strong; therefore, no man should confide in himself. All things are under the government, and at the disposal of God.

But time and chanceעת eth, time or opportunity, and פגע pega, incident or occurrence, -

Happeneth to them all. — Every man has what may be called time and space to act in, and opportunity to do a particular work. But in this TIME and OPPORTUNITY there is INCIDENT, what may fall in; and OCCURRENCE, what may meet and frustrate an attempt. These things should be wisely weighed, and seriously balanced; for those four things belong to every human action. While you have TIME, seek an OPPORTUNITY to do what is right; but calculate on hinderances and oppositions, because time and opportunity have their INCIDENT and OCCURRENCE. Coverdale translates this verse well: "I sawe that in runnynge, it helpeth not to be swift; in batayll, it helpeth not to be stronge; to fedynge, it helpeth not to be wyse; to riches, it helpeth not to be sutyll; to be had in favoure, it helpeth not to be connynge; but that all lyeth in time and fortune."

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These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:11". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Bridgeway Bible Commentary

Life’s opportunities (9:1-12)

A person may believe that life is under the control of God, but still not know whether the experiences one meets in life are a sign of God’s pleasure or a sign of his anger. The same fate, death, comes to all (9:1-3). Good people have no advantage over the bad. The only advantage is that of the living over the dead. The living can still do things, but the dead are useless and forgotten (4-6).
Therefore, people should enjoy life to the full while they have the opportunity, as there will be no further opportunity when they are dead. Festive occasions, marital relations and daily work are all part of the order that God has instituted for human society, and he wants people to enjoy them (7-10). Much in life seems to depend on chance. Those who deserve success may miss out because of some misfortune; those who do not deserve defeat may be overtaken by calamity (11-12).

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:11". "Brideway Bible Commentary". 2005.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible


"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 happeneth to them all. For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare, even so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them."

This passage, one of the most famous in Ecclesiastes, should be understood as dealing with unexpected exceptions to what may be generally expected. The swift usually win the race, and the battle usually goes to the strong, but not always! It was an untimely rain that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, and a purposeless bow-shot that slew Ahab. All kinds of happenings may intervene to make:

The best laid schemes of mice and men

Gang aft a-gley!

An' lea'e us naught but grief and pain

For promised joy.[10]

In the recent Olympic races, the swiftest runner, unanimously favored to win, suffered a fall; and another took the prize.

In his rebellious days, Solomon looked upon all such disappointments as more proof that, "all is vanity."

Incidentally, we have often cited Ecclesiastes 9:11 here as another reason why the righteous sometimes suffer, whereas the wicked sometimes prosper and are honored. This is only one among half a dozen other reasons.

"Time and chance happeneth to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11). All kinds of unpredictable and uncontrollable events may, and frequently do, change good fortune into bad fortune, or vice versa. Kidner thought that there was a bare possibility that Paul had this verse in mind when he wrote, "So it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy" (Romans 9:16); but he pointed out that, "Paul's concept is far different from that here. Paul noted that God has mercy upon all mankind, but there is not a trace of any thought of God's compassion here."[11]

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Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:11". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Read these six verses connectedly, in order to arrive at the meaning of the writer; and compare Ecclesiastes 2:1-12.

After the description Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 of the portionless condition of the dead, the next thought which occurs is that the man who is prosperous and active should simply enjoy his portion all through this life Ecclesiastes 9:7-10; and then Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 follows the correcting thought (see Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 note), introduced as usual Ecclesiastes 2:12; Ecclesiastes 4:1, Ecclesiastes 4:7 by “I returned,” namely, that the course of events is disposed and regulated by another will than that of man.

The person addressed is one whose life of labor is already pleasing to God, and who bears visible tokens of God’s favor.

Ecclesiastes 9:7

Now accepteth - Rather: “already has pleasure in.” Joy (the marginal reference note) is regarded as a sign of the approbation and favor of God.

Ecclesiastes 9:8

White garments and perfume are simply an expressive sign of joy.

Ecclesiastes 9:10

The works which we carry on here with the combined energies of body and soul come to an end in the hour of death, when the soul enters a new sphere of existence, and body and soul cease to act together. Compare John 9:4.

Device - See Ecclesiastes 7:25 note.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

Chance - Or, “incident,” that which comes to us from without, one of the external events described in Ecclesiastes 3:0. Compare Ecclesiastes 2:14 note.

Ecclesiastes 9:12

Time - See Ecclesiastes 3:1 ff.

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These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:11". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

Chuck Smith Bible Commentary

Chapter 9

For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knows either love or hatred by all that is before them. All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that fears an oath. This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead ( Ecclesiastes 9:1-3 ).

So one thing happens to everybody--they die whether you're good or bad, sacrifice or don't sacrifice. It doesn't matter. You're all going to die. And as far as Solomon was concerned, that was horrible. If all of your wisdom can't cause you to escape death, all of your wealth can't cause you to escape death, how dies the rich man? As the poor. How dies the wise? As the fool. They all die.

You can't escape death was the conclusion of his human wisdom, but Jesus taught us how to escape death. Jesus said, "He who lives and believes in Me shall never die" ( John 11:26 ). You can escape death by living and believing in Jesus Christ. But the human mind, human wisdom won't bring you to that. It takes the revelation of God. And if you're only coming at life from the human level and trying to find God from the human level, you'll never make it. God must reveal Himself to you by His Spirit. And God has revealed Himself through His Word. And God has revealed, "And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life and this life is in the Son, and he who has the Son has life" ( 1 John 5:11-12 ). "He that lives and believes in Me," Jesus said, "will never die."

For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion ( Ecclesiastes 9:4 ).

I guess so.

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead don't know any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten ( Ecclesiastes 9:5 ).

Now those who teach the annihilation of the soul immediately turn to this as their scriptural proof. The book of Ecclesiastes, a book that deals with human reason, human intellect apart from God. And they pick out this scripture to prove soul annihilation. "For the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing, neither have they any more reward. For the memory of them is forgotten." And then in verse Ecclesiastes 9:9 , their second proof text. No, I beg your pardon. The second text is right in here somewhere close.

But anyway, Jesus tells us that there was a certain rich man who fared sumptuously every day. Moreover, there was a poor man who was daily brought at his gate, full of sores, begging bread and eating bread that fell from the rich man's table. And the poor man died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. And the rich man also died, and in hell, lifted up his eyes being in torment and said, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus unto me that he may take his finger and dip it in water and touch my tongue, for I am tormented in this heat." And Abraham said unto him, "Son, remember that in thy lifetime you had good things." Now that's what Jesus said. The consciousness that exists after death.

Solomon with human reason and understanding said, "But the dead don't know anything." This guy knew that his tongue was tormented, he knew Lazarus, and he knew that he had brothers back on earth who were still living sinful lives. And he could remember his past sinful life. Now you have to either accept the word of Jesus or the word of Solomon in a backslidden state as he is trying to find the reason and purpose of life apart from God, life under the sun. It is wrong to take the book of Ecclesiastes for biblical doctrine. Better to turn to the words of Christ. He surely knew much better than did Solomon in his backslidden state.

Also their love [that is, of the dead], and their hatred, and their envy, [is forgotten] and it's perished [annihilated]; neither have they any more a portion for ever of any thing that is done under the sun ( Ecclesiastes 9:6 ).

They're through. It's over. It's all... it's the end.

Go thy way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts your works. Let your garments be always white; and let your head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest [all the days of your life] all the days of your empty life, which he hath given you under the sun, all the days of your emptiness: for that is your portion in this life, and in thy labor which you take under the sun ( Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 ).

That's all you're going to get, man, so you might as well go for it. That's life.

Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave ( Ecclesiastes 9:10 ),

That's their other proof text. "No work, device, knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going." It's not what Jesus said.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither 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 ( Ecclesiastes 9:11 ).

There is no purpose in life. There is no guiding hand in life. It's all a matter of time and chance. That's his conclusion. That is not a Scriptural doctrine. Only Solomon's conclusion of looking at things. Life is just time and chance. It doesn't matter how swift or slow, weak or strong, wise or foolish. Life is just time and chance.

For a man also knows not his time: as the fish that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them. This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great to me ( Ecclesiastes 9:12-13 ):

Now this is what I observed. It seemed like a great thing.

There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and he built great bulwarks against it: Now there was in this little city found a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then I said, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard. The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that rules among fools. Wisdom is better than the weapons of war: but one sinner destroys much good ( Ecclesiastes 9:14-18 ).

So his conclusions of observing a city spared by a wise man. "

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Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:11". "Chuck Smith Bible Commentary". 2014.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Wisdom does not guarantee a good job or a prosperous future. Likewise, sometimes the fastest runner does not win a foot race and the stronger army does not win a battle. Usually the best succeed, but not always. The reason for this is that everyone is subject to misfortune that we cannot anticipate or control (Ecclesiastes 9:12).

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:11". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

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, Psalms 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 המערכה עליונה, 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 μετα θεου τυχη και καιρος, Plato de Leg. l. 4. p. 827. f פגע "occursus", Montanus; "sive eventus", Mercerus, Rambachius; "occurrent", Broughton,

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:11". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible

The Disappointment of Hopes.

      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 favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.   12 For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.

      The preacher here, for a further proof of the vanity of the world, and to convince us that all our works are in the hand of God, and not in our own hand, shows the uncertainty and contingency of future events, and how often they contradict the prospects we have of them. He had exhorted us (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ecclesiastes 9:10) to do what we have to do with all our might; but here he reminds us that, when we have done all, we must leave the issue with God, and not be confident of the success.

      I. We are often disappointed of the good we had great hopes of, Ecclesiastes 9:11; Ecclesiastes 9:11. Solomon had himself made the observation, and so has many a one since, that events, both in public and private affairs, do not always agree even with the most rational prospects and probabilities. Nulli fortuna tam dedita est ut multa tentanti ubique respondeat--Fortune surrenders herself to no one so as to ensure him success, however numerous his undertakings. Seneca. The issue of affairs is often unaccountably cross to every one's expectation, that the highest may not presume, nor the lowest despair, but all may live in a humble dependence upon God, from whom every man's judgment proceeds.

      1. He gives instances of disappointment, even where means and instruments were most encouraging and promised fair. (1.) One would think that the lightest of foot should, in running, win the prize; and yet the race is not always to the swift; some accident happens to retard them, or they are too secure, and therefore remiss, and let those that are slower get the start of them. (2.) One would think that, in fighting, the most numerous and powerful army should be always victorious, and, in single combat, that the bold and mighty champion should win the laurel; but the battle is not always to the strong; a host of Philistines was once put to flight by Jonathan and his man; one of you shall chase a thousand; the goodness of the cause has often carried the day against the most formidable power. (3.) One would think that men of sense should always be men of substance, and that those who know how to live in the world should not only have a plentiful maintenance, but get great estates; and yet it does not always prove so; even bread is not always to the wise, much less riches always to men of understanding. Many ingenious men, and men of business, who were likely to thrive in the world, have strangely gone backward and come to nothing. (4.) One would think that those who understand men, and have the art of management, should always get preferment and obtain the smiles of great men; but many ingenious men have been disappointed, and have spent their days in obscurity, nay, have fallen into disgrace, and perhaps have ruined themselves by those very methods by which they hoped to raise themselves, for favour is not always to men of skill, but fools are favoured and wise men frowned upon.

      2. He resolves all these disappointments into an over-ruling power and providence, the disposals of which to us seem casual, and we call them chance, but really they are according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, here called time, in the language of this book, Ecclesiastes 3:1; Psalms 31:15. Time and chance happen to them all. A sovereign Providence breaks men's measures, and blasts their hopes, and teaches them that the way of man is not in himself, but subject to the divine will. We must use means, but not trust to them; if we succeed, we must give God the praise (Psalms 44:3); if we be crossed, we must acquiesce in his will and take our lot.

      II. We are often surprised with the evils we were in little fear of (Ecclesiastes 9:12; Ecclesiastes 9:12): Man knows not his time, the time of his calamity, his fall, his death, which, in scripture, is called our day and our hour. 1. We know not what troubles are before us, which will take us off our business, and take us out of the world, what time and chance will happen to us, nor what one day, or a night, may bring forth. It is not for us to know the times, no, not our own time, when or how we shall die. God has, in wisdom, kept us in the dark, that we may be always ready. 2. Perhaps we may meet with trouble in that very thing wherein we promise ourselves the greatest satisfaction and advantage; as the fishes and the birds are drawn into the snare and net by the bait laid to allure them, which they greedily catch at, so are the sons of men often snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them, before they are aware. And these things too come alike to all. Men often find their bane where they sought their bless, and catch their death where they thought to find a prize. Let us therefore never be secure, but always ready for changes, that, though they may be sudden, they may be no surprise or terror to us.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:11". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". 1706.