Ecclesiastes 9:12
For surely no man knows his time: Like fish caught in a cruel net or birds trapped in a snare, so men are ensnared in an evil time that suddenly falls upon them.
Blessed IgnoranceHomilistEcclesiastes 9:12
Expectation of Long Life UnwiseN. Emmons, D. D.Ecclesiastes 9:12
Man Knoweth not His TimeB. Beddome, M. A.Ecclesiastes 9:12
Man's Ignorance of the Time of His DeathEcclesiastes 9:12
Snares in the Path of the YoungG. Fisk, LL. B.Ecclesiastes 9:12
The Uncertainty of Human LifeE. D. Griffin, D. D.Ecclesiastes 9:12
Prosperity - the Rule and the ExceptionW. Clarkson Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12
Time and ChanceJ. Willcock Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12

We shall find our way to the true lessons of this passage if we consider -

I. THE RULE UNDER GOD'S RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT. The Preacher either did not intend his words to be taken as expressing the general rule prevailing everywhere, or else he wrote these words in one of those depressed and doubtful moods which are frequently reflected in his treatise. Certainly the rule, under the wise and righteous government of God, is that the man who labors hard and patiently' to win his goal succeeds in gaining it. It is right that he should. It is right that the race should be to the swift, for swiftness is the result of patient practice and of temperate behavior. It is right that the battle should be to the strong, for strength is the consequence of discipline and virtue. It is right that bread and riches and the favor of the strong should fall to wisdom and to skill. And so, in truth, they do where the natural order of things is not positively subverted by the folly and the guilt of men, it is the case that human industry, resting on human virtue as its base, conducts to competence, to honor, to success. It does, indeed, happen that the crown is placed on the brow of roguery and violence; yet is it not the less true that wisdom and integrity constitute the well-worn and open road to present and temporal well-being.

II. THE OBVIOUS AND SERIOUS EXCEPTION. No doubt it is frequently found that "the race is not to the swift," etc. No doubt piety, purity, and fidelity are often left behind, and do not win the battle in the world's campaign. This is due to one of two Very different and, indeed, opposite causes. It may be due to:

1. Man's interfering wrong. The human oppressor comes down upon the industrious and the frugal citizen, and sweeps off the fruit of his toil and patience. The scheming intriguer steps in, and carries off the prize which is due to the laborious and persevering worker. The seducer lays his nets and ensnares his victim. There is, indeed, a lamentable frequency in human history with which the good and true, the wise and faithful, fall short of the honorable end they seek.

2. God's intervening wisdom. It may often happen that God sees that human strength or wisdom has outlived its modesty, its beauty, and its worth, and that it needs to be checked and broken. So he sends defeat where victory has been assured, poverty where wealth has been confidently reckoned upon, discomfiture and rejection where men have been holding out their hand for favor and reward. What, then, are -


1. Do not count too confidently on outward good. Work for it faithfully, hope for it with a well-moderated expectation, but do not set your heart upon it as an indispensable blessing. Be prepared to do without it. Have those inner, deeper, diviner resources which will fill the heart with grace and the life with an admirable contentment, even if the goat is not gained and the prize is not secured. Be supplied with those treasures which the thief cannot steal, and which will leave the soul rich though the bank be broken and the purse be emptied.

2. Guard carefully against the worst evils. Be so fortified with Divine truth and sacred principles within, and secure so much of God's favor and protection from above, that no snares of sin will be able to mislead and to betray - that the feet will never be found entangled in the nets of the enemy.

3. Anticipate the Divine discipline. Live in such conscious and in such acknowledged dependence upon God for every stroke that is struck, for all strength and wisdom that are gained, for all bounties and all honors that are reaped, that there will be no need for the intervening hand of heaven to break your schemes or to remove your treasures. - C.

Man also knoweth not his time.
"If ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." This applies to our ignorance in relation to the future. It is mercy that has woven the veil.

I. If we knew our future, ENJOYMENT would be IMPOSSIBLE. Suppose we knew all the bereavements, sufferings, adversities that are before us, and the time, circumstances, and place of our death, would there be any pleasure for us on this earth?

II. If we knew our future, DUTY would be IMPRACTICABLE. With all the dark events of our future clearly marked out before us, we should stand aghast, and be utterly unfit for the ordinary duties of life.

III. If we knew our future, LIFE would be INTOLERABLE. It would be utterly impossible for our fragile natures to bear such a vision.


These words suggest a few thoughts concerning death.

I. It is INEVITABLE. "His time": that is, his time to die; fixed by an irrevocable decree (Hebrews 9:27). Science, art, wealth, all have been tried, to avoid death; but all have failed.

II. It is INSIDIOUS. "The fish is pursuing its own course through the waters, in search of its prey, and unconscious of danger, when, all at once, it finds itself hopelessly entangled in the folds, or caught in the meshes of the fisher's net, and there is no escape. The bird is following its instinct, in quest of food, when the limed twig or the baited trap, on which it alights, robs it of its freedom, and consigns it into the hands of the fowler. As blind, oftentimes, is man himself to the coming stroke which is to smite him to the dust."

III. It is UNEXPECTED. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow," etc. "Take heed, for in such an hour as ye think not," etc.

( T. Manton, D. D.)

I. CONSIDER THE EVIDENCES OF THE FACT — that "man knoweth not his time."

1. With respect to men in general, they do not know the time of their visitation. This is evidently the case with the impenitent and unbelieving, who disregard the tokens both of the favour and displeasure of God. The founder melteth in vain, and the wicked are not plucked away. The day of opportunity is lost, perhaps never to be regained. Nor can Christians themselves be wholly acquitted of the charge of inattention. Too apt are we to deprive ourselves of the gracious presence of the Saviour for the want of a little more humility and self-denial.

2. Man knoweth not his time as to the seasonable performance of various duties. Sometimes we have had, loud calls to humiliation and prayer, when, like Israel of old, we have given ourselves up to joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine (Isaiah 22:13). Sometimes we have had a favourable opportunity of bearing our testimony to the important doctrines of the Gospel, or the equally important duties of practical religion: yet we have neither had a heart nor a tongue to speak, when a few words might have had a very happy effect.

3. We do not know the time when afflictions will come, or when we shall be delivered out of them. God has an appointed time for both. All events are safe in His hands, but they are at the same time concealed. His counsel shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure. We can no more advance or retard God's work than we can hasten the rising sun, or hinder its going down (Isaiah 60:22).

4. We know not the time of our continuance in life or departure out of it.

5. We know not the day of judgment, or the final period of all things. Our ignorance in this respect is best suited to that state of subjection to the wisdom and sovereignty of God in which we are placed, and to the nature of that economy which He has established, as well as to the limited extent of our frailties.


1. It tends to do honour to the Divine government (Proverbs 25:2).

2. The knowledge of times and seasons would be injurious to us rather than advantageous. Hereby faith, hope, and patience, so much adapted to a probationary state, are kept in continual exercise; and by being exercised are strengthened and increased.IMPROVEMENT:

1. This subject teaches us to repress a prying and inquisitive temper, and the wish of being wise above what is written (Deuteronomy 29:29; John 21:21, 22).

2. Learn to be thankful for that degree of information which God has been pleased to impart. All that is necessary to be known, both as to faith and practice, is sufficiently revealed; and the more necessary the knowledge, the clearer is the revelation.

(B. Beddome, M. A.)

I. WHY MEN ARE SO APT TO EXPECT TO LIVE LONG IN THIS WORLD. It needs no proof that they are apt to expect that their lives will be prolonged even to old age. It is the inward thought, hope and expectation of those in the morning, in the meridian, and even in the decline of life, that they shall live many days, if not many years. The health they have enjoyed, the dangers they have escaped, the preservation they have experienced, the means they have used and intend to use to lengthen out their days, all serve to corroborate and confirm their pleasing expectation that their lives shall be long continued. But their dread of death is another strong and powerful reason why they cherish the expectation of living to the latest period of human life.


1. Because God has designedly concealed the length of their days.

2. Because they are continually liable to innumerable unknown and unavoidable causes of death.

3. Because God, in His providence, is continually and solemnly warning them against such vain expectations. He is continually taking away the child before the youth, the youth before the man, the man of twenty before the man of forty, the man of forty before the man of fifty, or sixty, or seventy, or eighty, or any of a greater age. He promiscuously takes away the useless and the useful, the learned and unlearned, the rich and the poor, the religious and irreligious.

4. It will appear still more unwise and absurd for men to form and cherish high hopes and expectations of living long in this world, if we consider how expressly and repeatedly God, in His Word, has warned and admonished them against it.IMPROVEMENT:

1. Since mankind are so extremely apt to harbour and cherish expectation of the long continuance of life, there is reason to think that they generally die unexpectedly to themselves.

2. It appears from what has been said that death commonly comes to men in an evil time. To die is the great and last act to be done on the stage of life, and extremely solemn and interesting to the dying and to the living; and a sudden and unexpected time is certainly a very evil time to make the solemn and important transition out of this into the invisible and eternal world.

3. It appears from men's undue expectation of living why bereavements are often so heavy and grievous to be borne. Those who habitually expect to live long in the world themselves are almost equally prone to expect that their relatives and friends will be long-lived; and therefore their sudden and unexpected death brings with it a sudden and unexpected bereavement, which often gives a treble and sometimes a tenfold weight to it.

4. Since death so generally comes suddenly and unexpectedly to the living, we learn the wisdom and importance of early piety.

5. We learn from what has been said why God does cause so many sudden and unexpected deaths to take place in the world. It is undoubtedly designed more for the benefit of the living than for the dying.

(N. Emmons, D. D.)

It is an ancient aphorism that every man thinks all men mortal but himself. Rather than encounter a realizing view of death, and engage in a serious preparation to meet it, men will hazard all consequences. They are like soldiers marching up to the battery of an enemy with their eyes and ears closed, and dreaming of safety because they neither see nor hear the motions of the foe. Death will come, however much a stranger it may be to our thoughts; and it will come with double ruin for having been kept out of view so long. It may come suddenly, like the convulsions of an earthquake which at dead of night buries whole cities in ruins. "Man also knoweth not his time;" that is, he is ignorant of the time of his death and the time when overwhelming calamities may come upon him. He may be stripped naked in one day like Job; or in the midst of his dreams of earthly happiness he may open his astonished eyes in the world of spirits. "As the fishes that are taken in an evil net" — while they are wandering securely, or sporting among pearls, or rushing together for food, little thinking of being suddenly drawn up in the concealed net. "And as the birds that are caught in the snare," while they are skipping sportively without apprehension, or are eager to pick up the grain which is spread to decoy them to death. "So are the sons of men snared in an evil time" — while they are sporting and feeding themselves, secure in conscious health, ignorant of the shaft that is festering in their breast. "When it falleth suddenly upon them." While they are most secure the arrow of the Almighty reaches their heart. While they are saying, "Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry," the word comes, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee." Where are now the ancient empires of Assyria, and Babylon, and Persia, and Greece, and Rome? Where are the emperors, statesmen, philosophers, and bards of antiquity? Where is now the immense army of Xerxes, which seemed to darken Asia, and to sink with its weight the land of Greece? Where are now the many millions who have filled the world with noise and contention, with fame and folly for a hundred generations? Kingdom has trodden on the heel of kingdom, and nation has followed nation down to the land of forgetfulness. You hang over the grave by a thread on which the flame has seized, and you may look every moment to fall to rise not again "till the heavens be no more." Could the veil be drawn from eternity and discover to your astonished eyes the infinitely glorious or dreadful consequences depending on the present life; could then the veil be drawn from the many agents which are constantly striving within you to keep in order your complicated machine, and discover to you the many critical junctures which are daily occurring, which, without making you sensible of it, bring you within a bait's breadth of death; could the veil be also drawn from the course of nature around you, and disclose the dangers among which you walk by day and sleep by night; could you thus have a view of your hourly exposures and of the eternal interests at stake, you would start from your dream like a man awoke in a burning house, and flee for your life — ah, whither? whither but to the arms of Christ?

(E. D. Griffin, D. D.)

So are the sons of men ensnared
The sad truth here declared has been experienced thousands of times, not only by those who are now alive, but by others who have passed away to their great account. No one likes to be deceived in any matter; and yet how sin is constantly deceiving us! No man is willing to be ensnared by an enemy; and yet how Satan leads us captive at his will! and what a disclosure will the judgment-day present, of fraud and subtlety on the side of sin and Satan — of weakness and compliance on the part of sinners! From among the many sources of danger now presenting themselves to my mind I must select several of the most prominent and powerful.

1. There is the danger of speculativeness in matters of religion. Remember, speeulativeness proves nothing — faith "proves all things": speculative. ness deceives — faith cannot; speculativeness enfeebles the mind — faith strengthens it; speculativeness receives nothing truly — faith grasps and retains that which is revealed to faith; speculativeness is the false light of a carnal state — faith is the beacon-blaze of God set up in the soul; and this the apostle knew full well, when he said — "We walk by faith, not by sight."

2. Another source of danger is indecision with regard to personal religion. Multitudes of young men, we believe, who neither speculate upon the Bible, nor deny or even question its authority, but yield a full respect to religion itself and to the religion of religious friends, are in this sad state of personal indecision. No step of a positive kind has been taken. They wish to be religious — we give them credit for that; but then they are not. They hope to be so by and by — we believe they do; but where is the sustained effort that evidences the reality both of wishes and of hope? Indecision, long persevered in, may at length — and it is a solemn thought — acquire the force of decision, but acting in a wrong direction. It may be decision on the side of ruin, simply because the young man, knowing in a truth, may not have firmness to act on what he knows, nor grace enough, sought in persevering prayer, to decide at once for life, salvation and a glorious immortality, accessible to him at any moment, through faith in Christ Jesus by the Spirit.

3. I have next to set before you the danger of worldly conformity, even when you have been enabled to overcome your natural indecision, and have east in your let with the true people of God. Before this occurs, you are of necessity conformed to the world; it cannot be otherwise; you have no motive for separation from the world till then. In whatever degree a Christian conforms to the habits and principles which govern the world around him, in the same degree is his spirituality in danger of deterioration. And yet how many Christian professors live as like the rest of the world, as if they had never professed to come to a decision on the side of Christi The truth is, that the world makes concessions to religion; and the religion of these modern days is too liberal to withhold compliance to the demands which the world makes in return for its concession. Contact with the world is unavoidable; it is one thing, however, for us to submit to that which must be, but quite another to conform to that which should not be, just because it invites and pleases, or because it threatens. I know it is difficult to maintain your ground when the intercourse between Christians and the world is so familiar; but are you to give way when a difficulty crosses you in the path, and looks you in the face? Are you accustomed to do so in the ordinary pursuits of life? Is there not difficulty in the way of everything that is worth doing? Does not difficulty generally stimulate perseverance? To be aware of difficulty arising from the character of worldly society, with which you cannot perhaps at all times avoid mingling, is, if you will have it so, to be partly armed against it. If you fail in this, the worldly spirit around you will soon cast a successful snare; and you may find by bitter and humbling experience that, "as the fishes are taken in an evil net, and as the birds are caught in the snare, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them."

(G. Fisk, LL. B.)

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