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.
When I was graduating high school, the school decided to change the game when it came to graduation speeches. Instead of the top two folks being forced to give a speech and everyone else being forced to endure those speeches, they held a contest open to any student who wanted to give a graduation address. I entered with a speech that incorporated this very verse.
Solomon wrote these words as a sort of hymn to futility. He saw that one could be exceptional and still not be successful in their endeavors and felt the urge to throw up his hands in disgust. The battle did not always go to the warriors; those trained in warfare. Every now and again, the battle goes to the civilian. The story that probably persisted about Solomon’s father, David, and a certain giant named Goliath might have been part of this conclusion. The swift runner is not always the one who wins the race, hence the fable of the tortoise and the hare. He looked at the fact that everything seemed a throw of the dice and he mentally threw in the towel.
What Solomon left out of his calculations here is God. Sure, time and chance — what we often call the law of averages — catch up with everyone. And mediocrity is sometimes rewarded. Bureaucracy certainly does nothing to discourage it. But God (one of my favorite phrases) is not bound by averages, nor is He a fan of mediocrity. While time and chance will, if left alone, continue along their merry way, God has a history of getting involved. The battle does not always go to the warriors. Sometimes, it is just random chance that the dice fall on snake eyes for the ones who “should have” been victorious. Sometimes, God plays with loaded dice — as in the case of David against Goliath and Gideon and his three hundred against a couple hundred thousand and Jehoshaphat against similarly “impossible” odds. Sometimes the Tishbite on foot beats the chariots home. The Bible is brimming over with such examples.
Yesterday, I was told that yet another person has left the company for which I work. I can choose to see this as the way the dice landed; just some random thing. Or I can choose to see the hand of God moving everything — absolutely everything, including this seemingly ancillary detail — toward the end He has determined. The battle may not always go to the warrior. The race may not always go to the swift. Food may not always come to the wise nor wealth to the discerning. Whether those anomalies are the result of time and chance or the hand of God is not terribly important. My response is. Will I, like Solomon, want to throw in the towel and stop bothering to even try or will I receive both good and “bad” as Job did? Will I declare everything pointless (Solomon) or will I remember that the Lord gives and the Lord is well within His purview to take away (Job)?
Let me receive everything — good, “bad”, and indifferent — with the same view as Job. And let me learn from Solomon that wisdom divorced from God leads to exasperation.