Online Bible Commentary
The Race is Not to the Swift
Ecclesiastes 9:7 Go, eat your bread with joy, And drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works. 8 Let your garments always be white, And let your head lack no oil. 9 Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going. 11 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. 12 For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, Like birds caught in a snare, So the sons of men are snared in an evil time, When it falls suddenly upon them. (NKJV)
The book of Ecclesiastes is classified as wisdom literature. Wisdom literature is especially concerned with helping us to deal with the issues of life. It is believed that Solomon wrote this book late in his life.
When Solomon became the king of Israel in 970 B.C. the first thing he asked of God was to be wise. God answered his prayer and made him the wisest man ever to live, at the age of nineteen (1 Kings 3:12).
In this passage Solomon continues to encourage us to enjoy our life. He is helping us to deal with the issues of life, namely death. He contends that God is accepting of eating, drinking, and being merry (v. 7). This does not mean that life should be just one big party, but that there is a time for everything, including the enjoyment of life.
He continues by suggesting that we wear bright clothing and perfume, instead of the mourning adornments of sackcloth and ashes (v. 8). This signifies that we should celebrate life and not mourn life.
And we should live “joyfully” with our wife, enjoying wedded bliss (v. 9a). He reminds us that our lives on earth, our play and our work, are in vain (v. 9b). Death will soon swallow them up, so enjoy them while we can.
Whatever we do in life we should do with all our “might”, because once we are “in the grave” we will have no longer have that opportunity (v. 10). “Time and chance” govern our lives. The fastest runner does not always win the “race”. The strongest does not always win the “battle”. Being wise does not guarantee that you will eat. Being smart does not guarantee “riches”. And being skillful does not guarantee success (v.11). Timing and fate, God’s providence, play a big part in our lives. We are unable to control much of what happens to us in life.
None of us know when that “evil time” will come, when death “falls suddenly upon them” (v. 12). So we should enjoy our life under the Sun while we can.
Solomon is writing from a human perspective. He is writing of our time on earth. He is not saying that we should discount an afterlife, but rather we should make the most of our time that God gives us on earth.
We should live full, balanced lives. There is a time for hard work and there is a time for enjoying the fruits of our labor. There is a time for celebration and there is a time for mourning. There is a time for love, and a time for death. God has given us these lives to use, not to waste.
Solomon wrote “the race is not to the swift” (v. 11). We should run our race with all our might, while recognizing at the same time that there are events that occur in our lives that we can not control. We may be the swiftest runner but that does not mean that we will win every race.
The Apostle Paul likened our life on earth to a race. Paul’s idea of winning the race was to stay faithful to God to the end. That is an outcome we can all control. We can all win that race!